Premiership round-up: Exeter lead the way but Saracens looking ominous while London Irish set for the drop

Alex Broun 9/04/2018
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Henry Slade in action for the table topping Chiefs

With three rounds to go in the English Premiership the reigning premiers Exeter Chiefs our well on track to make it back-to-back titles.

After an impressive 46-10 hammering of Gloucester on Sunday they have sown up their play off spot with an eight-point buffer at the top of the table on 70 points.

One more win over the next three weeks will see them finish as the no1 seeds, giving them home advantage in the semi-finals.

After a slow start, and an early exit from the Champions Cup, Saracens (62 points) – the 2014/15 and 2015/16 winners – have begun to hit top form with a 63-13 hammering of Northampton after leading just 15-13 at half time.

They need just one more win to guarantee their play-off place but will be aiming for two to definitely host a home semi.

From there things are much tighter with no less than five teams in the running for the final two playoff spots: Leicester (56), Wasps (56), Newcastle (54), Sale (53) and Gloucester (51).

Most likely are the Tigers and last year’s runners-up Wasps who both have relatively easy run-ins but many will be hoping for the Falcons to return to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years or Sale to make their first appearance in the final four since 2005-06.

Newcastle host Sale this Friday night in a crucial clash, with the loser sure to end their playoff hopes.

At the other end London Irish look set for the drop, despite improving form under new coach Les Kiss and Technical Advisor Declan Kidney.

To survive they would need to win their last three matches with either Worcester or Northampton losing all of theirs.

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Wallabies star Israel Folau may have played his last game of rugby

Alex Broun 7/04/2018
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Israel Folau has painted himself and rugby into a corner with his comments

For rugby fans across the globe especially those from Australia, the next statement will send shudders down your spine – Israel Folau may have played his last game of rugby.

Still recovering from one scandal – ball-tampering – Australian sport has now been plunged into a second scandal with hardline comments from Folau on his Instagram account dividing the nation.

Folau makes no secret of his devout beliefs and has no hesitation to express those beliefs – but not for the first time his strong stance has caused uproar among sectors of the Australian community.

But these latest comments have caused great uproar not just in Australia but also in New Zealand where reports have emerged that he could be banned from entering the country.

“There can be no doubt that he is a threat to the public interest and a threat to the public order,” said NZ’s former immigration minister Tuariki Delamere, who now works as an immigration lawyer.

This could cause problems for Folau both personally and professionally as he is married to Kiwi netball star Maria Tutaia and travels to NZ regularly with the Waratahs and Wallabies.

If a ban was to be enforced Folau would not be able to travel to New Zealand to take on the All Blacks at Eden Park in August.

The firestorm was further escalated when Folau’s Waratahs team mate and Wallabies captain Michael Hooper defended his right to free speech.

“We’re all different people and have different… beliefs and everyone is entitled to them” said Hooper.

While Qantas, the team’s leading sponsor expressed their concern saying through a spokesperson “as a sponsor of Rugby Australia… we’ve made it clear that we find the comments very disappointing.”

Rugby in Australia could not survive losing such a major sponsor.

Now the game’s governing body has been forced to get involved and have called Folau in for a meeting.

“Folau’s personal beliefs do not reflect the views of Rugby Australia,” RA said in a statement.

It places new RA CEO Raelene Castle, brought in with a mandate to make the code more palatable after a horror 2017, in a very difficult situation.

She cannot allow the comments to stand or rugby in the country will be thrown into another crisis, but Folau is highly unlikely to apologise or rescind the comments.

In the end it may come down to an ultimatum with Folau forced to choose between a retraction or having his contract cancelled.

Folau is a man of quiet pride and dignity and is also seen as a role model for many in his community. In these circumstances a retraction would be highly unlikely.

The only option would then be to walk away from the game in Australia and continue his career in Japan or France.

Or even return to Rugby League where the fans, sponsors and broadcasters would welcome him with open arms – no matter what he said.

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Saracens Chairman denies club is up for sale as South African investors pull-out

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Nigel Wray in happier times with Saracens.

Saracens chairman Nigel Wray is to take full control of the English Premiership club after its South African investors opted to pull out.

Wray, who has co-owned Saracens with entrepreneur Johann Rupert’s Remgro company for the last nine years, moved to reassure supporters of the club’s future after news emerged of a sell-out.

Wray says he has bought Remgro’s 50 per cent stake in the two-time Champions Cup winners and has begun a search for new investment partners.

In a statement, Wray said: “Remgro has been a fantastic shareholder in Saracens for the last nine years and, as shareholders do, they have decided to reduce their shareholding.

“I am very happy to say that I’ve decided to buy all their shares as I have huge faith and commitment to this club and everything it stands for.

“We have a great bunch of people, a great team and I like to believe that we are not just a rugby club.”

Saracens made an operating loss of £2.74million last year but Wray is looking for investment to help fund a new £22m West Stand at Allianz Park to increase the capacity to 10,500 and provide sport and fitness facilities to generate more revenue.

“If you believe you have something great, then you must build in succession and sustainability,” Wray added.

“We all want Saracens to be great for the next 100 years and… I won’t be here for the next 100 years, so in due course we need to bring in extra investment into the club from outside.

“Club rugby in my view is going to expand hugely in the years ahead, so we are already speaking to people, good people, who wish to invest in the club and take it forward but there is no rush for the moment, as it is so important to find really good people who share our values.”

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