Saracens' Billy Vunipola will come back stronger than ever

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Billy Vunipola in action for Saracens

Billy Vunipola will come back stronger from his latest injury setback and could peak at the right time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, according to Saracens coach Alex Sanderson.

Vunipola refractured his right arm during England’s tour of South Africa, just two months after returning to action following an initial break suffered in January.

The 25-year-old Sarries number eight has avoided surgery and resumed work with the Gallagher Premiership champions.

“His arm’s fine, his arm’s healing well, he’s back in the club. He’s been doing bits and bobs and he’ll be back in the week after next, not full training but rehab,” said Sanderson, speaking at the Premiership fixture launch.

“I think whenever he plays for any length of time, Billy’s going to have a big season.

“I hope and I pray and I think the bad luck he’s had might have come at the right time for him with respect to England and this World Cup; that he’ll see this World Cup through injury-free because he’s a big part to play in that side as well.

“Every time Bill’s come back, he’s been better for it.”

Vunipola has been plagued with injuries, dating back to the 2015 World Cup when he was ruled out of the tournament with knee ligament damage sustained during the pool stages.

He suffered a further knee problem the following year before missing the British and Irish Lions’ tour of New Zealand last autumn while undergoing surgery.

His initial arm break came at the start of the year when playing for Saracens against Ospreys, ruling him out for four months, and he then was forced off in the first half of his country’s second Test against the Springboks in Bloemfontein on June 17.

Saracens begin the new Premiership season at Newcastle on September 2, with the World Cup in Japan scheduled to start 12 months later.

And Sanderson, who was forced to retire at the age of 26 due to injury, believes the mental challenge of being sidelined is the biggest hurdle facing Vunipola.

“It’s more so his head, it’s his third time he’s been through it,” added Sanderson.

“I think it’s the toughest thing because as soon as you get injured, you’re out of the squad. You feel out of the squad, even if you’re not.

“Every player goes through injuries and it’s how you come out the other side that will determine the kind of player you’re going to be. I didn’t come out the other side; Billy will.

“You either let the injury affect you mentally and physically and then try and get back to near where you were, or you use the time when you’re injured to get bigger and stronger and faster to become a better player, cognitively-speaking.”

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French rugby seeking approval for radical move to introduce 12 replacements

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The Top 14 want to bring in 12 replacements from next season

Teams in the French professional rugby leagues of the Top 14 and Pro D2 might be able to field 12 replacements per match next season, up from the current eight.

In a joint statement, the French rugby federation and the LNR, the body that runs professional rugby in France, said the proposed increase in the number of subs was in response to a medical study on how to best avoid injuries in the sport.

The proposal requires the stamp of approval from World Rugby, but the LNR told AFP it was confident of getting the green light for the radical change. A response from World Rugby was expected within two weeks.

Should the proposal go through, it would allow any “tactical” replacement to come back on for a teammate who had been injured or suffered a knock to the head.

Currently, only front-row forwards are allowed to re-enter the field of play in case of injury to the vital positions of prop and hooker.

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Crusaders stalwart Wyatt Crockett set to record Super Rugby double century

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Wyatt Crockett is set to bring up his double century in Super Rugby

Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett will make rugby history yet again this week, becoming the first player to record 200 Super Rugby caps.

Crockett has been named to play in the Crusaders’ home game against the Highlanders on Friday night, in a match that marks a historic double century of appearances since his Crusaders career began against the same side back in 2006.

Crusaders CEO Hamish Riach said: “200 games is an unprecedented achievement, and for Crocky to have represented the same club throughout his Super Rugby career is testament to his dedication and loyalty to this Crusaders team.

“This milestone not only resonates with the current Crusaders squad and management, but former coaches and team mates, as well as rugby fans worldwide. There is no one more deserving of this accolade and we congratulate Crocky on what is a proud moment for himself and his family.”

Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson added: “To reach 200 games at this level takes an immense amount of talent, commitment, and personal sacrifice over a long period of time, and Crocky certainly sets the benchmark for passion and professionalism among our group.

“Crocky continues to make a massive contribution to the Crusaders jersey in what is his 13th season with the club. He’s well-respected by the squad and management alike, and is the ultimate team man. We are proud to be able to celebrate this achievement with him.”

The Christchurch-born prop became the most capped Super Rugby player of all time in April 2017 when he broke Keven Mealamu’s record of 175 games.

To date, he has 55 Super Rugby points to his name, and three Super Rugby Championships – in the 2006, 2008 and 2017 seasons. In 2011 Crockett was recognised as New Zealand Super Rugby Player of the Year.

Crockett said: “This milestone simply wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the many coaches, management, team mates and supporters I’ve had along the way.

“I’m humbled by the support I’ve received this season and throughout my rugby career, which has made each game I’ve played for this club just as memorable and special as the last.

“I am honoured to have represented a team that I am immensely proud of for the past 13 years, and to have the opportunity to reach 200 games at home, in front of my family and friends, is something I know I’ll look back on fondly at the end of my Super Rugby career,” Crockett finished.

Crockett’s first class career began in 2005 with Canterbury, and he went on to earn 73 caps for the provincial side.

He made his All Blacks debut in 2009 and played the last of his 71 tests against Wales in November last year. In 2015, he was a member of the successful All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad.

The 35-year-old played his 200th Crusaders game against the Chiefs on Saturday June 2, but this weekend’s match will be recognised officially by New Zealand Rugby as it marks 200 appearances in Super Rugby (Crockett was a member of the Crusaders side that played the British and Irish Lions in June last year). An official presentation will follow after the final whistle on Friday night.

New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew said Crockett had cemented a place in New Zealand rugby history: “On behalf of New Zealand Rugby, we salute Crocky on his 200 Super Rugby games.

“He’s done so much for the game here in New Zealand and this is a very special milestone achieved by a very special man.

“Crocky has played his entire Super career – 13 seasons in all – for the one team, his beloved Crusaders, and it’s fantastic that he’ll play this 200th match in front of his wife Jenna, sons Sonny and Emmett, the rest of his family and friends, and the Crusaders fans.

“When he hangs up his Crusaders jersey at the end of the Super Rugby season, he can do so knowing that he will leave as one of the greats of our game,” Tew said.

SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said: “SANZAAR would like to congratulate Wyatt on reaching this amazing milestone of 200 Super Rugby matches.

“He is the first player to ever reach this milestone, and to play so many matches at this level is testament to his professionalism and strength of character.

“He has been an outstanding servant and ambassador to the game of rugby and, of course, to the Crusaders since his Super Rugby debut in 2006.

“We wish him all the very best on Friday against the Highlanders.”

Yesterday it was announced that the stadium in Christchurch would be renamed ‘Wyatt Crockett Stadium’ for this game, in recognition of Crockett’s 200 match milestone.

Fans will also have the opportunity to show their support for Crockett at the game.

5000 ‘Crockzilla’ headbands will be given away at the gate, with those fans who wear the headbands given the chance to win one of seven jerseys signed by the man himself, from one of the 13 seasons he has been in the team.

Crockett brings up 200 Super Rugby games in what will be his final season with the Crusaders.

He announced his retirement from international and Super Rugby in February this year, but will join the Tasman Mako for the next two Mitre 10 Cup seasons.

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