Shields seeks New Zealand release to play for England

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Brad Shields wants an early release to link up with Eddie Jones' England.

Hurricanes captain Brad Shields has asked New Zealand Rugby for permission to play for England in South Africa later this year, chief executive Steve Tew said Friday.

The highly-rated flanker is heading to Premiership side Wasps at the end of the Super Rugby season after giving up on All Black selection.

Kiwi-born but eligible for England through his parents, the 27-year-old was expected to feature in coach Eddie Jones’ plans for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

But it appears Shields’ chance may come sooner than initially expected, with reports in Britain saying Jones wants him in the England squad to tour South Africa in June.

The England coach is attempting to get his side back to winning ways after an underwhelming defence of their Six Nations crown which saw them lose three successive matches.

Shields has led the Hurricanes to the top of the Super Rugby standings and his physical presence would be an asset for England against the Springboks.

However, his contract with the Hurricanes runs until the end of the Super Rugby season in August, meaning he needs permission from New Zealand Rugby.

“We’re looking at it and considering the ramifications of releasing him to play for England in the middle of a competition that he’s committed to,” Tew told reporters.

NZR would not normally be expected to do England any favours, particularly since the All Blacks will meet Jones’ team in November.

But Shields is a widely-respected figure in New Zealand — regarded by many as unlucky to miss All Blacks selection — and Tew said this would be considered in NZR’s deliberations.

“There’s no point not acknowledging that Brad’s been a very good servant of the game for a long period of time,” he said.

“He’s asked for some dispensation and we’ll give that serious consideration.”

If NZR refuse to release Shields, England could take the matter to arbitration before World Rugby.

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New Zealand captain Kieran Reed set to miss France tests in June

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Kieran Reed is still recovering from offseason surgery.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read is set to miss the upcoming Test series against France as he recovers from off-season surgery on a back injury, coach Steve Hansen said Thursday.

Read has been sidelined since November after suffering a nagging injury last season that was eventually diagnosed as a prolapsed lumbar disc.

The All Blacks initially estimated he would be out for four months but Hansen on Friday pushed out his recovery time, saying the inspirational number eight’s long-term future could be jeopardised if he returned too early.

He was pessimistic about Read’s chances of making New Zealand’s three-Test home series against France in June.

“I don’t think he’ll be back until after the French series but that’s not a fait accompli at this point,” Hansen told Radio Sport.

“We’ll just take our time. He knows his body and we can’t afford to risk bringing him back too early and then damaging it again and being out for another six months and maybe even missing the World Cup.

“We’ll just take it one day and one week at a time. It’s an old cliche but it’s what we’ve got to do.”

Hansen was also doubtful about hooker Dane Coles’ prospects of featuring against Les Bleus after he ruptured a ligament playing against France last November.

“Dane’s having a few problems with his knee, he can’t seem to straighten it out at the moment so the surgeon’s put him in a brace at night to help him get full extension,” he said.

“If that happens he’ll make quick progress. Unlikely to be involved in June but after that (he) should be there.”

New Zealand play France at Eden Park on June 9, then in Wellington on June 16 and Dunedin on June 23.

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Israel Folau puts Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle to the test - and she fails miserably

Alex Broun 17/04/2018
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Israel Folau has cast a long shadow over Australian Rugby

New Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle faced her first major hurdle in the Israel Folau saga and has sadly failed miserably.

Folau is the highest profile and most popular player in the country, not to mention one of the best, who drew controversy in Australia and around the world with an Instagram post on April 14.

With numerous sponsors and stake-holders threatening to walk-away from rugby, Castle was forced to act.

She called in Folau for a meeting on April 10, along with his provincial CEO from the NSW Waratahs, Andrew Hore, afterwards holding a press conference where she said Folau understood “he’s caused some grief in this”.

“Israel acknowledged he could have put a more positive spin on the message,” said Castle, “but RA (Rugby Australia) has got a policy of inclusion and using social media with respect.

“Israel’s gone away to think about that. He doesn’t want to be disrespectful.”

Case closed. Not quite.

Raelene Castle fronts the media

Raelene Castle fronts the media

On Monday night Folau hit back with a long, carefully worded statement on playersvoice.com, a website which he is a founder of, saying that Castle had “mis-represented him”, that he did not back down from his comments and saying he “offered to walk away from the game” if the situation became “untenable”.

Cue panic stations from RA and on Tuesday morning a hastily put-together statement was sent out saying that Folau would not be sanctioned and that his comments were acceptable because “he provided context behind his social media comment”.

In other words – say what you like – just explain it afterwards.

All this of course makes Castle’s position, which she took up just four months ago, untenable.

Faced with the prospect of losing the nation’s best player a year out from the Rugby World Cup or facing scorn from the community and possible withdrawal of sponsors, such as Qantas, Castle chose the former.

It showed incredible weakness and is perhaps the final nail in Australian rugby’s coffin.

In backing down to Folau, Castle has instead shown that one player is bigger than the game – and that Israel Folau, not her, runs rugby in the country.

Whatever Castle believes, this is far from over and the likely ending is a lose-lose: Folau playing his rugby in another country and Castle out of a job.

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