Warren Gatland announced as Lions head coach for 2021 South Africa tour

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Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland has been officially unveiled as the British and Irish Lions head coach for the 2021 tour to South Africa.

Gatland will relinquish his role as Wales boss after the World Cup and will then start his official Lions duties in August 2020.

The 55-year-old will lead the Lions for the third consecutive tour, having assisted Sir Ian McGeechan in South Africa in 2009 before winning the 2013 series in Australia and drawing with New Zealand in 2017.

“I’m hugely honoured and delighted to lead the Lions again,” said Gatland.

“It is exciting and a great challenge to coach the best players from the four Home Nations.

“The Lions rightly have a truly special place in the game and I jumped at the chance to be involved again when I was approached about the role.

“South Africa is a special place to play rugby.

“They have some of the most iconic stadiums in the world which will be packed full of passionate fans, and the Springboks have shown in recent times that they are back to being one of the dominant forces in the game.

“Having toured there in 2009 I know the scale of the task ahead of us – playing in South Africa presents a number of unique challenges such as playing at altitude, while the Boks will always be physical, aggressive and highly motivated.

“History tells you it’s a tough place to tour, but I am 100 per cent confident that we can go there and win. I would not be here if I thought differently.

“I’m delighted to now have everything in place to begin full-time in August 2020 as that gives me the best possible chance to plan for South Africa, but for the time being my focus is entirely on the Rugby World Cup and delivering a successful campaign for Wales.”

Gatland has committed himself fully to the Lions until after the 2021 tour.

The in-demand boss’ long-term future remains up for debate, but he will first bid to leave Wales on a high at the World Cup.

Gatland has coached Wales since 2008, and now has the chance to become the first Lions head coach to remain unbeaten on tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

He revealed he had “unfinished business” in South Africa, who won the 2009 series 2-1.

“Being a part of the Lions is an opportunity to go to South Africa and finish some unfinished business. We spoke about the potential and I couldn’t turn my back on the challenge,” he said.

But the New Zealander admitted this would be his last tour as Lions head coach.

When asked if it would be his final one, he said: “I think so, yeah.”

Lions managing director Ben Calveley described Gatland as a “world-class coach” with a “proven track record”, who “knows the Lions better than anyone else currently coaching in world rugby”.

“This was a unanimous decision from the Lions board and it was important that we moved swiftly and proactively to secure Warren’s signature,” he said.

“Appointing him two years ahead of time ensures Warren can also be involved in planning the logistics and scheduling elements of the tour. I’m looking forward to working alongside him to give the Lions the best chance of success in South Africa.

“The supporters are central to what make the Lions special, and with the world’s finest coach at the helm, excitement will grow even further.”

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Israel Folau launches legal action against Rugby Australia

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Israel Folau has launched legal action against Rugby Australia and club side the Waratahs after his playing contract was terminated over controversial social media posts.

Folau’s £2.15million, four-year deal was cut short after an independent panel backed RA’s position that the comments he made on April 10 warranted his sacking rather than a fine or suspension.

The 30-year-old devout Christian said on his Instagram account that “hell awaits” for “drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters”.

Legal representatives for Folau have confirmed to Press Association Sport they have filed an application to the Australian Fair Work Commission and are seeking a declaration that his employment was unlawfully terminated because of his religion.

Folau, who also played rugby league for the Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos before switching codes, said: “I will forever be grateful and proud to have played the sport I love for our nation.

“Ours is an amazing country built on important principles, including freedom of religion. A nation made up of so many different faiths and cultural backgrounds will never be truly rich unless this freedom applies to all of us.

“The messages of support we have received over these difficult few weeks have made me realise there are many Australians who feel their fundamental rights are being steadily eroded.

“No Australian of any faith should be fired for practising their religion.”

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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Gallagher Premiership report card: Exeter, Saracens top of the class as Newcastle fail

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Saracens beat Exeter last weekend to clinch their fourth Premiership title in five seasons.

Here, we grade the performances of all 12 teams in the competition.

BATH

2018/19 record: Won 10, Draw 2 Lost 10

Another mixed season for a talented team sprinkled with seasoned internationals. It was a tale of inconsistencies and missed opportunities as Todd Blackadder’s side finished sixth and scraped into the Champions Cup for next season. With the Kiwi set to depart the club, can new coach Stuart Hooper turn around fortunes at the Rec next season?

Grade: C

BRISTOL

2018/19 record: Won 9, Draw 1, Lost 12

A cracking first season back in the Premiership. The Ashton Gate outfit may have finished ninth, and 20 points off relegation, but were only a bonus-point win away from finishing fourth, such was the close gap between the middle teams. If late kicks were converted against Sale and Worcester, they could have qualified for a semi-final.

Grade: B-

EXETER

2018/19 record: Won 17, Lost 5

Exact same record as last season and exact same finish. Runners-up to Saracens. Rob Baxter’s side will be disappointed with their European form, but showed no signs of wilting on the domestic stage, reaching a fourth consecutive final. For a team once considered average, there is so much to admire about their rise to the top of English rugby.

Grade: A-

GLOUCESTER

2018/19 record: Won 13, Draw 1, Lost 8

Johan Ackermann’s men were one of the teams of the season, reaching the league semi-finals and looking like a vibrant force for much of the campaign. It was the club’s best finish for eight seasons before losing to European champions Saracens in a one-sided last four clash. Boasted the league’s finet player in Danny Cipriani.

Grade: B+

HARLEQUINS

2018/19 record: Won 10, Lost 12

A vast improvement upon last season. The one disappointment will be that they looked odds-on to secure a play-off spot for most of the season, but finished poorly with six defeats in their last seven games. In Alex Dombrandt, ‘Quins had one of the stand-out players of the season.

Grade: C+

LEICESTER

2018/19 record: Won 7, Lost 15

A poor season for Geordan Murphy and Co. One of the worst years in the club’s history saw them finish 11th and fortunate not to be relegated. Mike Ford is a significant addition to the coaching ticket, but removing Murphy will not be the answer to their problems if the struggle continues. The board needs to be held accountable for some poor appointments and terrible squad recruitment.

Grade: D

NEWCASTLE

2018/19 record: Won 6, Lost 16

A disastrous campaign for a team that reached the semi-finals the previous season. The Toon outfit suffered relegation after winning just six matches. Will be hoping to push for championship promotion straight away.

Grade: F

NORTHAMPTON

2018/19 record: Won 11, Lost 11

Saints were in a bad place 12 months ago, finishing 10th in the Premiership, without a director of rugby and with a squad who had forgotten what it was like to produce consistent and winning rugby. For them to respond so effectively this season and reach the last four is a credit to the hard work of the players and coaching staff.

Grade: B+

SALE

2018/19 record: Won 11, Draw 2, Lost 9

The Manchester side will be disappointed to have missed out on Champions Cup qualification, finishing eighth in the table. Poor
defeats against Newcastle and Leicester cost them a place in the top-five, but to see highly-rated Tom Curry step up another level is something for the Sharks to be excited about.

Grade: C

SARACENS

2018/19 record: Won 16, Lost 6

The Men in Black are comfortably the best club team in the game, winning a fourth domestic title in five years. With the signing of Elliot Daly from Wasps, it is hard to see the North London side relinquish their European or league crowns any time soon. Boast the best attacking record and second best defensive record. An immovable force.

Grade: A+

WASPS

2018/19 record: Won 10, Lost 12

A major rebuilding project will continue this summer as 12 players depart the Ricoh Arena, including key men Nathan Hughes, Willie le Roux and Daly. Head coach Dai Young has the backing of the board but performances look way off two seasons ago when they reached the league final. The Coventry side drop into the European second-tier competition for the first time since the 2013/14 season.

Grade: C

WORCESTER

2018/19 record: Won 9, Lost 13

The Warriors endured a poor season despite two more wins than their 2017/18 campaign. Their attacking and defensive record was worse also. However, they finished season strongly with three wins in last four games, including a narrow home victory over champion Saracens.

Grade: D

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