Ashton axed as England trim squad

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Kyle Eastmond has been dropped ahead of Bath teammate Sam Burgess.

Chris Ashton was one of seven players axed from England’s World Cup training squad as head coach Stuart Lancaster fine-tunes the hosts’ preparations.

With the tournament due to get underway in September, Lancaster has to reduce his squad to a final 31-man group by August 31 and Ashton was the highest-profile casualty of his round of cuts.

Fellow wings Semesa Rokoduguni and Marland Yarde, centre Kyle Eastmond, scrum-half Lee Dickson, flanker Matt Kvesic and prop Matt Mullan have also been dropped.

As expected, rugby league convert Sam Burgess remains in the squad, while Danny Cipriani also makes the cut alongside fellow fly-halves George Ford and Owen Farrell.

The changes reduce the number of players who will be returning to the squad’s training camp to 39. “It has been difficult to narrow down the squad as everyone has contributed and given their all,” Lancaster said.

“But what I’ve said to those guys who are not coming back in on Sunday is that the door is not closed by any means.

The removal of Ashton, Yarde and Rokoduguni leaves England with only three wings left in contention with Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell and Jonny May the trio who will return to camp on Sunday.

England have their contingent of scrum-halves now that Dickson has gone, leaving Ben Youngs, Richard Wigglesworth and Danny Care on course to make the final cut.

Nick Easter, who Lancaster revealed earlier this week is behind his team-mates in conditioning due to his injury problems, was thought to be among those most in danger of losing out. But he has been retained while Ben Morgan seeks to prove his fitness after recovering from a broken leg.

“Overall we are in good shape. Both Nick Easter and Ben Morgan are now fit and we want to give them both opportunities to train fully and prove their form and fitness next week,” Lancaster said.

“We had a great two-week camp in Denver where the entire squad worked extremely hard and were exceptional in the way they went about the training.

England play the first of three warm-up games against France on August 15 at Twickenham, where the World Cup starts when Lancaster’s side face Fiji on September 18.

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France captain Thierry Dusautoir major doubt for England friendly

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France captain Thierry Dusautoir is a doubt for next week's warm-up game against England.

France captain Thierry Dusautoir is a major doubt for next weekend's World Cup warm-up against England due to a knee injury, team management revealed Friday.

Dusautoir, 33, is suffering from severe bruising of the knee from training on Wednesday and is due to rest up until the beginning of next week.

France are unlikely to risk him against the World Cup hosts at Twickenham on August 15, but he should be available for selection a week later when the same two sides meet at the Stade de France.

The World Cup begins on September 18 with the final on October 31 at Twickenham.

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#360Rugby: Hooper back, Slade recieves backing for RWC

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Will England choose Henry Slade or Sam Burgess for the World Cup?

In our weekly round-up of all things rugby, #360Rugby takes in Michael Hooper’s victory over SANZAR to make the Rugby Championship decider, Samoa’s costly fallout from hosting the All Blacks and an expat boost for UAE sevens.

– RWC15: May in pole position for England wings
– SANZAR: De Villiers to complete remarkable comeback
– UAE Premiership: Jebel Ali Dragons looking to roar again

Hooper back for Rugby Championship decider
The Wallabies were handed a huge boost ahead of their must-win match against New Zealand with the news that Michael Hooper will be available for selection following an unsuccessful SANZAR appeal.

The Rugby Championship’s governing body deemed his ‘strike’ on Argentinean playmaker Nicolas Sanchez a more serious offence than his one-week ban suggested.

The incident in question has received a lot of air time and SANZAR can rightly feel (stupid) for having their appeal dismissed. Hooper was being dragged away from a try-scoring opportunity illegally and reacted with an open palm ‘slap’.

Sanchez went down as if he had be shot and if anything, deserves the ban for behaving more like one of his football-playing countrymen than a rugby player. As the honourable rugby philosopher and former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers once said, “This isn’t ballet dancing.”

Hooper’s presence in the team will go a long way in nullifying the threat of a rejuvenated Richie McCaw at the breakdown and if the Waratah can give his team early momentum, Australia will fancy their chances of winning this match and the tournament.

Samoa Rugby Union suffers US$620,000 (AED2.3m) loss after hosting All Blacks
It was supposed to be the start of a fresh and lucrative new beginning for the Pacific Nation, but hosting the mighty New Zealand has proved a costly exercise.

Many reasons have been suggested for Samoa’s inability to produce a profit from hosting the world’s best team from managerial miscalculations to greedy player fees.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi claimed that the money was spent on ‘preparations… and player allowances’ leading to a venomous response from lock Dan Leo, who claimed that the players received only $780 each and subsequently cannot be blamed.

The fiscal hangover from the Apia Park test will come as a hammer-blow to the nation’s hopes of turning the one-off fixture into a regular occurrence and once again highlights the administrative errors that prevent the cash-strapped Pacific Island from developing at Test level.

RFU looking to cash in on USA-hosted Premiership matches
The RFU has dropped the strongest hint yet matches will be played in the States by way of a unique investment deal with its American counterpart, which will aim to primarily stimulate growth of the game in America.

It is no secret that rugby is the fastest growing team sport in stateside, with New Zealand’s sold-out match in Chicago and San Fransisco’s successful bid to host the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 demonstrating this feat.

In recent months several English teams including Gloucester and London Irish have been rumoured to be considering staging matches in USA in a bid to create new revenue streams and support their global expansion. This investment turns those rumours into sure-fire bets.

The size of the investment is unlikely to be outrageous and will not represent any commercial value for England Rugby in the short-term, but if the sport takes off as predicted, the RFU may have just made one of its most shrewd investments to date.

Baxter backs Slade over Burgess
With nine players due to be trimmed from England’s 45-man squad, Exeter boss Rob Baxter has thrown his full support behind his young utility back Henry Slade to make the cut.

With Brad Barritt, Jonathan Joseph and Luther Burrell believed to have occupied three out of Stuart Lancaster’s four centre berths and Kyle Eastmond and Billy Twelvetrees out of favour, it looks like the final spot could be a two-horse race between Slade and Burgess.

Given the contrasting styles of the two backs, the pair could potentially line-up together in England’s first World Cup warm-up match against France at Twickenham.

While Burgess boasts favourable leadership qualities, experience on the big stage and superb physical ability, Slade would provide England with a more controlled, less predictable kicking game and cover over several positions.

England (and France) fans will remember Mike Catt’s match-winning cameo alongside Jonny Wilkinson in the 2003 World Cup semi-final and Slade could be called upon to perform a similar role.

Expat boost for UAE
Following UAE’s disappointing failure to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, head coach Roelof Kotze has decided to reintroduce expatriates to the seven-a-side format of the game. 

In 2013 UAE made a decision that only Emirati passport holders would be eligible to play sevens for the country in a bid to improve the domestic talent-pool.

Unfortunately the move proved short-sighted and without the extra experience of expatriate players to train alongside and learn from, Emirati players have not improved at the rate UAE Rugby hoped for.

The national team has begun preparations this week ahead of the Asian Sevens Series in September and October with a few more expatriate players from the UAE 15-a-side team that recorded wins over Thailand and Chinese Taipei but fell short of winning promotion to Division I following a 20-19 loss to hosts Malaysia.

While it is vital that as many Emirati-born players are given the opportunity to represent their country as possible, almost every international rugby team in the world acknowledges the benefits more experienced expatriate players can bring to local talent.

With reformed rules in place, UAE will improve at a much-improved rate and should be looking to qualify for San Francisco 2018.

Extra Time
At some point in time, every self-respecting rugby fan has engaged in a conversation about rugby XVs comprised of unlikely species e.g. animals, cars and footballers. I have always said that the footballing skills of France 1998 World Cup winning midfielder Zinedine Zidane would make for a great fly-half. I was right.

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