England lock Joe Launchbury losing fitness battle to feature in second Test v South Africa

Duncan Bech 12/06/2018
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Joe Launchbury is losing his battle to play in England’s second Test against South Africa after missing training once again on Tuesday.

The Wasps captain has been unable to practise with the squad since suffering a calf problem 11 days ago, an injury that prevented him from participating in last Saturday’s 42-39 defeat at Ellis Park.

And the outlook on his involvement in the second instalment of the series in Bloemfontein is looking increasingly bleak ahead of Thursday’s team announcement.

“Joe was at training this morning (Tuesday) but was training on his own. He was movingly reasonably well so we’ll see where he is later in the week,” scrum coach Neal Hatley said.

“We’ll see if he’s able to train tomorrow. We need to see how he feels after seeing the physios.”

If Launchbury is ruled out, England will be forced into a dramatic back five reshuffle in light of Nick Isiekwe’s tactical substitution shortly before half-time in Johannesburg.

Having been pulled early in the first Test, Isiekwe is unlikely to play again in this series leaving Maro Itoje and Jonny Hill as the only recognised second rows in the squad, with Brad Shields also an option in the position.

There is better news over hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, who has been cleared to play after picking up a hamstring niggle as a second-half replacement at Ellis Park.

“Luke was able to train. We did some live scrums and Luke took part in those. He’s good,” Hatley said.

England must topple the Springboks at Free State Stadium if they are to avoid a fifth-successive Test defeat and rescue the series after falling short in a pulsating opener.

“We’ve had a good look at the first Test and have identified the areas that we need to address and the areas which we thought we did well in,” Hatley said.

“First and foremost we want a win. We scored close to 40 points at Ellis Park so we’re pleased with a lot of the things we did in attacking including five tries. It’s just other areas that we need to tighten up on.”

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Awards night brings down curtain on thrilling HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series

Alex Broun 12/06/2018
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The winning women's teams in Paris jump in for a group photo.

The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018 Awards in Paris brought a fitting end to an enthralling season which saw South Africa and Australia crowned men’s and women’s series champions respectively.

It has been one of the most competitive seasons on record as both the women’s and men’s series were decided by just two-point differences and both tournaments went down to the final day.

South Africa fought an incredible battle with Fiji in the men’s series to retain their title with victory at the final leg in Paris, while Olympic champions Australia won their second overall title ahead of rivals New Zealand on the women’s series after reaching the podium at every one of the five rounds.

The end of season awards provided a chance to celebrate the men’s and women’s sevens players, coaches and teams that are the stars, ambassadors and role models of the sport.

Drum roll please…. and here are the winners

Top try-scorers

Portia Woodman is no stranger to the top try-scorer accolade and her 43 tries helped the Black Ferns Sevens win three rounds in finishing as runners-up to Australia.

Carlin Isles followed in his USA team-mate Perry Baker’s footsteps by claiming the men’s series award with an outstanding 49 tries. Upon receiving the award Isles said: “I’ve come a long way. I want to thank my teammates who share the workload. It is a blessing for me to be standing here.”

Rookies of the Year

Eroni Sau is the second Fijian to be named Rookie of the Year for the men’s series after being a clear winner in the fan vote ahead of his compatriot Alosio Naduva and Australia’s Ben O’Donnell. The 28-year-old featured in all 10 rounds in his debut season, using his powerful physique to score 37 tries.

France’s Coralie Bertrand, meanwhile, claimed the women’s accolade, having featured in all five rounds and helped Les Bleues enjoy their best season, reaching a first-ever Cup final in Kitakyushu and semi-finals in Langford and Paris to clinch the series bronze medal.

Fair Play Award

This award, selected by the match officials, recognises the teams who showcase rugby’s values of integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect. Japan were awarded the women’s accolade after an event that saw them lose their core team status on the series, with Kenya the men’s recipients following an exciting season which saw them reach the final in both Vancouver and Hong Kong.

TAG Heuer Don’t Crack Under Pressure Award

These inaugural awards voted for by fans went to Australia’s Ellia Green and Ireland’s Mark Roche.

Green’s try against New Zealand in the Cup final of the HSBC Sydney Sevens, when she finished off Emilee Cherry’s break, beat Maria Ribera’s try to sealed a first-ever series win over Australia in Kitakyushu and Charity Williams’ last-gasp winning try against Ireland in Langford.

Roche’s kick with the final play of the match against England to snatch the bronze medal for invitational team Ireland at the HSBC London Sevens was a clear winner of the men’s award, beating Fijian Alosio Naduva’s last-gasp winning try against Australia in the Singapore Cup final and Matias Osadczuk’s break and calm head to send Renzo Barbier over for the winning try in Argentina’s Cup semi-final against South Africa in Las Vegas.

Capgemini Coach of the Series

Another inaugural category, selected by the series’ global innovation partner Capgemini, was won by New Zealand women’s coach Allan Bunting after successive victories in the last three rounds of the series in Japan, Canada and France as well as the Commonwealth Games title in April.

South Africa coach Neil Powell who guided the Blitzboks to retaining their series title picked up the men’s coach of the series award and paid tribute to his victorious team: “The mental focus and composure they showed was fantastic, all credit to the boys for believing in their success.

“We had everything to play for and the team did an incredible job, not just today but over the whole season. I also want to congratulate Fiji on an amazing season, they were phenomenal.”

DHL Impact Player

The race to be named DHL Impact Player of the Year in both the men’s and women’s series went right down to the final matches. In total 16 players from 12 nations won tournament awards during this season’s series.

New Zealand’s Michaela Blyde was delighted to win the women’s award: “This is pretty special. I’m shocked and truly grateful. I put this down to my teammates who create the opportunities for me and I thank them.”

Justin Douglas of Canada won the men’s award which credits players for their all-round game including factors such as number of tackles, carries, line breaks and offloads as well as tries and points scored.

HSBC Dream Team

The men’s and women’s HSBC Dream Team takes into consideration players’ performances across the season and previous nominations in the individual tournament dream teams.

Series champions Australia have two players in the women’s HSBC Dream Team in Evania Pelite and Emma Tonegato, while runners-up New Zealand have two in flyers Portia Woodman and Michaela Blyde.

Russia’s Baizat Khamidova, Spain’s Patricia García and France’s Montserrat Amédée complete the line-up.

The men’s HSBC Dream Team features four players from series runners-up Fiji, who won five of the ten rounds.

The Fijians included are Kalione Nasoko, captain Jerry Tuwai, series second top point scorer Amenoni Nasilasila and Rookie of the Year Sau. They are joined by Kenya’s Oscar Ouma, Australia’s Ben O’Donnell and Dylan Sage from series champions South Africa.

Attention now turns to the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco from 20-22 July, where 24 men’s and 16 women’s teams will battle it out to become world champions over three days of exciting action. Over 72,000 tickets have already been sold and further details can be obtained HERE.

The 2018-19 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series kicks off with a new addition to the series, the HSBC USA Women’s Sevens at Glendale, Colorado on 20-21 October 2018. The full schedules for the 2018-19 series will be announced soon.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “It has been another tremendous year for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, which continues to go from strength to strength.

“I hugely admire the skill and physicality of rugby sevens and thank the players for their outstanding commitment which makes the series such a success. It is great to see the series capturing the imagination on and off the field with year-on-year increases in attendances, broadcast and fan-engagement figures, and that is a great testament to the players, coaches, host unions and everyone involved with the events.

“Rugby sevens took a quantum leap when it joined the Olympic programme in 2016 and now we look forward to a Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in just 40 days time in an iconic city and a market with great potential. It promises to be a thrilling and spectacular event.”

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Faf de Klerk reveals Springboks sensed England were vulnerable due to being based at sea level

Duncan Bech 11/06/2018
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England‘s approach to playing at altitude has come under scrutiny after South Africa‘s Faf de Klerk revealed the Springboks sensed they were vulnerable due to being based at sea level.

De Klerk was the ringmaster as Eddie Jones‘ men slumped to a fourth successive Test defeat (and fifth loss overall after last month’s defeat to the Barbarians) by allowing a 21-point lead established inside the opening quarter to slide into a 42-39 loss.

To rub salt into English wounds, the result has seen them drop to fifth in the global rankings.

Tries from Mike Brown, Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell delivered a stunning start before the collapse began as South Africa took a grip on the match that they retained until the final 10 minutes.

Jones has located his squad in Umhlanga by the Indian Ocean rather than on the Highveld even though the first and second Tests are staged at altitude and established protocol dictates teams should arrive at least 10 days earlier or less than 24 hours before kick-off.

England had the scope to accommodate both of those time frames in their schedule and De Klerk has revealed their choice of training venue was noted with interest by the Springboks.

“We knew they were based in Durban and that coming from the UK the altitude was going to be a factor,” De Klerk said.

“I think the altitude plays a part. England made a few errors they don’t usually make and that played into our hands.”

Hooker Jamie George admits that the thin air at the sport’s highest venue which stands over a mile above sea level took its toll on the players, who face a similar challenge to their conditioning in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

“It was tough after 20 minutes. It really did kick in. After 20 to 30 minutes it definitely hit us quite hard,” George said.

“At the same time, we’d had good plans in place from a strength and conditioning point of view. We probably need to get better at that.

“We are still at altitude in Bloemfontein, although not quite as high. We’ll look to learn our lessons.”

Eddie Jones after Boks

Jones remains satisfied with his plan despite a defeat in Johannesburg that has increased the pressure on his stewardship following an abysmal fifth-place finish in the recent Six Nations.

“We don’t think the benefits of staying at altitude are massive enough. And we didn’t lose the game because of altitude,” he said.

“The way we started the game and thereafter, you wouldn’t have thought altitude was the problem. It was a momentum game based on possession.”

A indicator of the tension that has set in amid England’s slump was Jones’ snappy response when pushed on their recent form.

Including last month’s nine-try rout by the Barbarians at Twickenham, the run stands at five losses but Jones is eager to scrub the non-cap international from the record books.

“We’ve not had five defeats. We have lost four Test matches,” he said.

When pressed on the dismal sequence, Jones replied: “I’m not going to answer that question because I will lose my patience.”

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