Harlequins boss John Kingston to leave at end of season

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Harlequins rugby director John Kingston will leave the English Premiership side at the end of the season, it was announced Monday.

London club Quins said Kingston, promoted from head coach to director of rugby in April 2016, would leave the Twickenham Stoop by “mutual agreement”.

Quins are currently ninth in the 12-team Premiership and suffered an embarrassing 35-5 loss at home to bottom club London Irish last weekend.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I will be leaving Harlequins at the end of this season,” said Kingston in a club statement.

“I have been at Harlequins for 17 years in differing roles and have grown to love the club almost as if it were part of my family.

“The obstacles this season have been well-documented, and no one has been more disappointed by our results than me.

“In my opinion, this is the strongest squad ever assembled in all my time at Harlequins, and this leaves the club in a sound position to go forward.

“Nothing would give me more pleasure than to see the squad achieve in the near future what I deeply believe it can – winning trophies.”

Quins have won just seven of their 19 league games so far this season and they made a pool-stage exit from the European Champions Cup, finishing last in a group that also included Wasps, Ulster and La Rochelle.

“This season has been hugely frustrating and disappointing for everyone at Harlequins, and for none more so than John,” said Harlequins’ chief executive, Dave Ellis.

“With considerable regret, we have agreed that John should step down as director of rugby.

“John has much to be proud of during his time at The Stoop, most notably when, while head coach, the team won the Aviva Premiership, the Amlin (European) Challenge Cup and the LV= (Anglo-Welsh) Cup, as well as reaching two Heineken (European) Cup quarter-finals.

“The club will not make any comment about the appointment of a new director of rugby until we are ready to do so. The process to recruit someone new who can take Harlequins to the very top of English and European rugby is in hand.”

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Exeter Chiefs coach Ali Hepher wants to improve performances as Premiership title defence gets interesting

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Ali Hepher says Exeter want to “put the hammer down” as their Aviva Premiership title defence gathers pace.

The Chiefs host Gloucester on Sunday and victory could be enough to secure a top-four finish and a place in next month’s knockout phase.

“We’ve been working towards this for a long time now,” said Exeter head coach Hepher.

“Things are getting more exciting by the week, but we know we have a tough challenge at the weekend against a Gloucester side flying high and going strong at the moment.

“We are expecting Gloucester to be full bore, but they will also get us full bore. It’s a great challenge for us to have, but these are the challenges you need to make sure you peak at the end of the season.

“We know Gloucester have threats across the board. They play with an open style, bring lots of line-speed and come at you from all angles.”

England internationals Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Nowell return from injury – hooker Cowan-Dickie starts and wing Nowell is on the bench – with only fly-half Joe Simmonds and flanker Dave Dennis remaining on starting duty following last week’s Anglo-Welsh Cup final triumph against Bath.

“We’ve got a large majority of the squad available to us,” Hepher added.

“The medical team have done a great job in getting a few of the guys back from injury, so now we are looking to put the hammer down and really hit our straps in terms of performance over these last few weeks.”

Gloucester are outsiders to make the play-offs, with a top-six finish and automatic European Champions Cup qualification for next season looking a more realistic goal.

Head coach Johan Ackermann has made four changes from the side that gained a thrilling European Challenge Cup victory over Connacht last weekend, with Tom Hudson, Josh Hohneck, Tom Savage and Ruan Ackermann all gaining starts.

“Personally, I am proud of the character shown by the players against Connacht,” Ackermann said. “Hopefully, collectively as a team, the players will take confidence from that.

“But we will have to be a lot better on Sunday at Exeter. We are not happy with our inconsistency at the moment. It cost us against Newcastle, it cost us in the draw against Wasps.

“It’s water under the bridge and we don’t want to look back on it. But, then again, you look at how badly we started at London Irish (two weeks ago), and we were up and down as well at Connacht. We made it quite hard for ourselves.

“Exeter won’t let you get away with that. You give them a 17-0 start like we did at London Irish, and you are going to have a long day coming back from that.

“Our whole performance, for the whole 80 minutes, against the defending champions will have to be a much improved one.”

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Saracens' Mark McCall takes little comfort from past glories after Leinster defeat

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Mark McCall insists Saracens can take only limited consolation from their two-year reign over Europe knowing it will come to an end next month.

The Champions Cup holders were dispatched 30-19 by Leinster in Sunday’s quarter-final in Dublin and must now switch attention to regaining the Aviva Premiership crown lost to Exeter last season.

Winning successive European titles has secured Saracens a place among the continent’s heavyweights, but for McCall the pain of a conclusive defeat at the Aviva Stadium casts a cloud over past achievements.

“It’s such a difficult competition that it’s hard enough to get out of your pool,” director of rugby McCall said.

“For us to go two years and 20 games in a row unbeaten in the competition is something that we should be rightly proud of.

Dan Leavy was superb for Leinster.

Dan Leavy was superb for Leinster.

“But you want to forget about the past and move on with the present, so it’s been a very mixed campaign for us.

“In the pool stages we’ve had a lot of stuff to contend with injury wise, but no excuses against Leinster, we were beaten by the better side. We’re a good club and a good side and hopefully we can bounce back from this.”

Saracens trailed 13-12 at half-time but a flurry of 10 points underpinned by Dan Leavy’s marauding 46th-minute try ultimately swept the tournament favourites out of sight.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen insisted the Irish province – and particularly their rampaging openside Leavy – benefited from what he felt was a deliberate tactic by the champions to target Johnny Sexton.

“There was definitely space on some of the short sides. Saracens defended very hard on Johnny, particularly in the first half,” Cullen said.

“They were playing him … which is the best way to describe it. They were going aggressively at him, so there was going to be space for somebody else.”

Sexton conceded a petulant penalty by kicking the ball away when they were due to take a restart, but Cullen refused to condemn his fly-half.

“It’s tough on Johnny because he was played off the ball a few times during the first half. It’s hard for him to not get frustrated,” Cullen said.

“I’ll have a look back at the game, but there are three or four instances when he’s been hit, played late off the ball. I will have to see how that unfolds because it’s important to take that in the context of the game.”

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