#360Rugby: Ashton cops ludicrous ban, TV deal to transform UAE rugby

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Chris Ashton is set to miss the entire Six Nations after a ludicrous 10-week suspension was handed down to him following a ‘gouging incident’ with Ulster centre Luke Marshall in the Champions Cup.

Referring to the incident on social media, former England winger Tom May correctly pointed out that the Saracens winger was not even looking at Marshall, and therefore there cannot have been any intent.

May went on to suggest that it should have been a two week ban, but this is no solution either. Either Ashton has committed a grievous act of foul play and should be handed a David Attoub-style 70-week ban, or the authorities must recognize that is was an unfortunate mistake and allow the player to continue with no penalty.

The former rugby league star was recalled to the England squad last week by new head coach Eddie Jones after an 18-month absence and it will come as a hammer blow to both player and country if he is denied a chance he has earned with some his potent form this term.

There is still hope for the 28-year old (and for the authorities to come to their senses) as Saracens’ lawyers will probably appeal the decision.

Gatland remains loyal to World Cup warriors

With young scrum-half Aled Davies the only uncapped player in Wales’ 37-man squad, Warren Gatland seems content with how his men faired in the World Cup.

The only surprise selections came with the inclusion of Rhys Priestland and Alex Cuthbert. Out-of-form playmaker Priestland has been restricted to a handful of appearances for Bath this season, while Cuthbert was one of the few Welsh players who diminished his reputation at England 2015.

Some fans have taken particular exception to the selection of Priestland as it makes a mockery of Gatland’s policy of favouring home-based players.

It’s not like the Kiwi doesn’t have any other options either. Dan Evans, Rhys Patchell and Eli Walker have all been outstanding in the Guiness Pro12 this season and must be wondering what else they can do to break into Gatland’s circle of trust.

Oh, and for those not familiar with the outlandish methods of Gatland, don’t pay a blind bit of notice to his claims this week that Ireland are odds-on for the title. Wales perform best when they are underdogs but as World Cup quarter-finalists, the men in red must start this tournament as favourites.

Toulon waiting to have European crown knocked off their head

Drew Mitchell’s extra time try to deny Wasps an unlikely win may have excited the Toulon crowd, but it serves only to paper over the ever increasing cracks on the Côte d’Azur.

After the departure of first Jonny Wilkinson and then 2015 heroes Carl Heyman, Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha, it would appear that Les Toulonnais have failed to replace the leadership required to guide their endless list of talent to a fourth-consecutive European title.

This season’s recruitment policy should have made alarm bells ring to the Toulon faithful. After failing to secure the services of now Racing fly-half Dan Carter, Mourad Boudjellal moved to secure Quade Cooper and Ma’a Nonu instead.

The duo have been so uninspiring this season that Boudjellal publically lambasted both players in the press this week, but really the firebrand owner has only himself to blame for the team’s lack of cohesion. Cooper is not exactly known for his consistent performances (on or off the field), while Nonu has changed club five times in five years – highlighting his inability to settle at domestic level.

In Matt Giteau, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Smith, Toulon have the talent to arrest their decline, but with the quarter-finals looming it may be too little, too late.

TV deal to accelerate UAE domestic rugby’s transformation

The introduction of the first ever television programme featuring UAE rugby will speed up the progress of the game eventually turning professional in the Emirates.

Clubs have unanimously backed the UAE Rugby Show, which will broadcast weekly highlights of the domestic game and national team matches from the first week of February.

The UAE Rugby Federation and Dubai Sports Channel yesterday finalised a two-year agreement that will see a weekly broadcast during the UAE rugby season.

The benefits of increased media coverage cannot be underestimated when it comes to participation rates, investment and playing standards – particularly when a game is still growing within a country.

Rugby in the UAE is still a working progress but with the new TV show to be broadcast in English (with Arabic subtitles), the historic partnership is a huge step in the right direction.

Doha early favourites for West Asia Championship

Rugby is a team sport but early West Asia Championship pacesetters Doha showed in defeating Abu Dhabi Saracens on Friday night they possess several outstanding individual talents which make them serious contenders to win the inaugural competition.

Doha gained a small slice of revenge for their West Asia Cup heartbreak suffered at the hands of Sarries 10 months ago while possibly ending the UAE side’s bid to retain their crown with a thrilling 31-22 win under the Al Ghazal lights.

Livewire full-back Aaron McLelland, fly-half Brook Tremayne and pack leader Caine Elisara are three such stars that could help erase the pain of that madcap March 20 day when Sarries became West Asia Cup champions with an enthralling 26-20 victory in Qatar.

Revenge was sweet for the visitors but tasted bitter for the hosts, with most of the damage done by the fleet-footed full-back who scored two tries.

Extra time

Another season, another ridiculously exciting back emerges from New Zealand. Presenting Damian McKenzie: The fly-half with a deadly accurate boot and a penchant for running rugby. While employing a sevens-style of playing what is in front of him, it is his versatility and maturity with the boot that will make him a handful in all conditions and one to watch in this year’s Super Rugby competition.

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