RFU chief would let Lancaster take up British Lions role

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Lancaster casts his eye over England training.

England would release Stuart Lancaster for the British Lions if he was chosen to be head coach for the tour to New Zealand in 2017, the Rugby Football Union’s chief executive Ian Ritchie has disclosed.

The decision on the coach is due to be made next year and Ritchie said it would be “an honour” if Lancaster was selected – and pointed out that much is likely to depend on England’s success in the Rugby World Cup which starts next week.

Lancaster’s contract runs until after the 2019 World Cup but Ritchie said the RFU would give him time off if the Lions came calling – as Wales did with Warren Gatland in 2013.

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Ritchie, speaking at the Soccerex conference in Manchester, said: “The timetable for looking at Lions coaches is into 2016, so no doubt everyone will evaluate that against the World Cup performance.

“We had Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree as assistant coaches on the last tour and I think it’s a great honour to be the Lions coach, so if Stuart was selected and if he wanted to do it, we’d regard it as an honour and of course we’d release him for it.”

Earlier this year, Ritchie said a fourth consecutive second-placed finish for England in the Six Nations was “not acceptable” but he would not be drawn on what was the minimum achievement necessary for Lancaster in the RWC.

He added: “I’m not going to deal in hypotheticals. I think we should be going into every game trying to win it and I think that’s what we’ll try and do. We are in here to try and win the event, we will worry about the hypotheticals afterwards.

“We have won a few games on the bounce at Twickenham. That’s very important to sustain that feeling that Twickenham is a place we feel confident and I thought it was a really good performance against what is a really good Ireland team. It looked pretty good to me.

“Knowing the squad and the coaching set-up, they are all very focused on doing their very best to win and I think we have a chance of doing that.”

Ritchie added that it would be “a tragedy” for Wales to potentially lose Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb for the tournament due to injury.

“To play in a World Cup is the ultimate for a player and if somebody is going to miss it because of injury, I think it’s a tragedy. I hope they get well and recover and get back to playing,” he said.

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Wales must press on after injuries to Halfpenny and Webb - Biggar

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Onwards and upwards: Biggar will assume kicking duties if Halfpenny is out.

Dan Biggar has backed Wales to display fighting qualities in adversity after their Rugby World Cup preparations took a severe double hit.

Medical updates are awaited on full-back Leigh Halfpenny and scrum-half Rhys Webb after they suffered potentially serious injuries during Wales’ final tournament warm-up Test against Millennium Stadium visitors Italy.

Although Wales won 23-19 following a disjointed display, the result appeared immaterial as Halfpenny (knee) and Webb (ankle) – 78 caps between them and proven match-winning prowess in their lockers – left the pitch on medical carts.

Halfpenny will undergo a scan  on his right knee today amid fears of ligament damage while Webb has a possible ankle ligament injury.

The diagnosis could prove to be bleak for both players, but fly-half Biggar knows it must be a case of onwards and upwards with Wales’ opening World Cup game against Uruguay only a fortnight away.

Asked whether it was a worst-case scenario for Wales, Biggar said: “Yes it is. Just a couple of weeks before the tournament starts, we have two injuries to two key players. It’s disappointing and frustrating, and we will have to see how they pull up before commenting further, but it does not look good.

“We are going to have to do it the hard way now, but we have a lot of character in the squad and a fair few winners.

“We are going to have to call on all that experience and to do something special. We are a team when we have our backs against the wall we come out swinging better.”

In the event of Halfpenny missing out on the World Cup – he has amassed 508 points in 62 games for Wales – Biggar will undoubtedly assume main goal-kicking responsibility.

“If Leigh is out injured, I will probably step up,” he added.

“I like to goal-kick, and it’s frustrating when you don’t, but the quality of Leigh speaks for itself.

“I will just try to do the best for the team. I have done my best as a kicker over the years, but I am not going to measure myself against anyone. I will work as hard as I can and help the team.”

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Wales’ stop-start Italian job provided a stark contrast to their victory over reigning Six Nations champions Ireland in Dublin seven days previously, although – injuries apart – it meant little in terms of the bigger World Cup picture.

“We missed three open goals in terms of scoring tries, and if we had taken those chances then maybe we would have had more control,” Biggar said.

“We have to give them (Italy) credit because they made a mess of the breakdown and their set-piece was dominant. We found it tough going, but we found a way to win as well, which was pleasing.”

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Australia coach warns players of Fiji World Cup test after win over US Eagles

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The Wallabies saw off the USA challenge.

Australia coach Michael Cheika warned his players about the threat posed by World Cup opponents Fiji after the Wallabies wrapped up their World Cup preparations with victory over the US Eagles here Saturday.

An experimental Australia side pulled away to register a 47-10 victory over the Eagles at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the final match before Cheika’s men open their World Cup campaign against the Fijians in Cardiff.

Australia, England and Wales are the three sides expected to be vying for the two quarter-final places on offer from the World Cup’s “Pool of Death” — but Cheika insists he is not looking beyond his team’s opening tie with Fiji.

Cheika believes the fact that so many Fijian players are now plying their trade at the highest level of the game in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is cause for concern.

“Fiji are going to be a massive threat,” Cheika said.

“I’m not saying that with any type of lip service. I’ve coached in Europe, I’ve seen a lot of those players who are playing in Europe evolve over a long period of time.

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“Half of them are playing in the southern hemisphere in Super Rugby. They’ve got experience now of the top level of rugby provincially which they probably didn’t have before and I think they’re going to be a massive challenge.”

The unorthodox attacking threat posed by Fiji, who won the Pacific Nations Cup in July with victory over Samoa, meant Australia’s defensive game would need to be at its meanest, Cheika added.

“If there’s one area that we want to be solid on it’s probably defence,” he said. “We need to be rock solid there.”

Cheika believes the USA game had been useful preparation for the Fijian challenge.

“It was a good match for us because the physicality the American team brings would have been a really good test for our forwards,” Cheika said. “We knew they had some big hard runners. I think it was a really good match to have in this block of two weeks while we were here.”

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