Cipriani trains with England squad but police investigation hangs over him

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Innocent until proven: Cipriani is waiting to hear if he will be prosecuted by police.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster has begun the process of honing England into a cohesive unit capable of winning the Rugby World Cup, but the initial focus is on the absentees and the potential decision required over Danny Cipriani.

England began their summer training camp yesterday without centre Manu Tuilagi and hooker Dylan Hartley, who will miss the tournament after Lancaster responded decisively to recent lapses in judgement.

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Wing David Strettle has withdrawn from the squad ahead of a switch from Saracens to Clermont Auvergne, while Cipriani could join the absentee list.

The Sale fly-half was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence earlier this month and must wait until early August to discover the outcome of a police investigation.

For the time being he remains part of Lancaster’s initial 50-man squad for the World Cup, which will be cut to 31 ahead of the opening match with Fiji at Twickenham on September 18.

Lancaster said: “(I am) waiting to see what the police investigation will determine. At the moment he’s not been charged with anything so as a consequence is in camp and training as everyone else is. We’ll wait and see whether the police will charge or not as the case may be and I’ll deal with it as appropriate.”

Lancaster expects Cipriani to be able to go to the United States for the forthcoming high-altitude training camp in Denver, Colorado.

“My understanding is he went to the States anyway after the incident, he flew the following day, so he’s been to the States already,” Lancaster said.

Strettle is not alongside Cipriani in the squad, having told Lancaster of his wish to concentrate on his switch to France’s Top 14.

“He rang me towards the end of last week,” Lancaster added. “He’d been to France, he considered his options and alternatives and decided to withdraw from the camp. Obviously I was disappointed.

“I was really (surprised), but ultimately it’s his decision. I’ve got to respect his decision.”

Bath wing Semesa Rokoduguni has replaced him and will leave his break in Fiji imminently to join up with England, while Wasps’ Christian Wade remains in the selectors’ minds.

“Whilst he’ll miss week one of the camp, he won’t miss anything he can’t catch up on,” Lancaster said.

England yesterday held a group meeting in which Lancaster reminded his players of their responsibilities, having ruled he would not consider Tuilagi and Hartley to off and on-field indiscretions.

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#360Rugby: NZ prepare for RWC, Toulon bemoan Champions Cup draw

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RWC ambitions: The All Blacks are arguably the world's strongest international team.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen would have needed all of his experience to get the blend right for his latest 41-man Rugby Championship training squad.

Not only did the stern-faced Kiwi have to choose the correct group of players to win arguably the world’s toughest two international tournaments, but he also needed to protect the future of All Black rugby. And boy, has he done both with aplomb.

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After this year’s World Cup, there will more than likely be a mass exodus of players retiring, moving overseas or switching codes to sevens for a crack at Rio 2016. It means the All Blacks need to give future internationals experience of tournament rugby to ensure they do not suffer a similar fate as England post-RWC 2003.

In picking trusted veterans Kevin Mealamu, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, Hansen has a spine of experienced players used to performing under the most intense pressure.

The squad also reflects the Hurricanes and the Highlanders’ Super Rugby success, with the two franchises providing four of five uncapped players.

The most exciting rookie to watch out for is fullback-come-winger Nehe Milner-Skudder. While it is unlikely that the young Hurricane will oust incumbent 15 Israel Dagg, he has the ability to step his way out of a phone box untouched and would provide important variation in attack from the bench.

Toulon head up the Champions Cup group of death
The dust has barely settled on the inaugural European Champions Cup, but next year’s tournament has already caused a stir.

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal was enraged this week when the three-time champions and holders were drawn against Bath, Wasps and Leinster in Group B. To call this a group of death is an understatement given that the four sides have won nine out of 19 European titles combined.

Never shy to voice his opinion, Boudjellal has proposed that future seeding should take the current champions into consideration alongside the winners of the three domestic leagues.

In principle, the comic-book tycoon has a valid point. However, once the financial situations of the tournament’s participants are taken into context, it becomes clear that his idea would ruin the league.

The current, overly-complicated method of qualification centres on having a fair representation of each country. Given that there are budget restrictions on English clubs, the tournament would likely become lopsided with deep-pocketed French teams and the competition would lose some of its charm.

Springboks absent from Super Rugby semis
For the first time since 2003 there will be no South African franchises in the Super Rugby semi-finals, which is a hammer blow to the Springbok’s World Cup preparations.

Coach Heyneke Meyer has predictably shrugged off the African teams’ poor showing in the tournament, insisting ‘teams do not peak from February to October 31’.

Unfortunately for the former Bulls coach, history proves almost a direct correlation between Super Rugby finishes and subsequent performances in the World Cup.

When South Africa won the showpiece event in 2007, the team’s success was underpinned by Meyer’s Super Rugby winning Bulls side earlier that year.

Australia’s World Cup group opponents – including England and Wales – should take notice of the Brumbies and Waratahs’ deserved presence in the semi-finals.

Cooper’s departure could benefit both player and country
With all the predictability of similar rugby transfers, Quade Cooper’s move to France has not gone down well at home.

Following Duane Vermeulen’s ill-timed unveiling at Toulon this week (given his club’s focus on their Super Rugby quarter-final), Cooper has disappointed the Queensland Reds by also signing for the flush French outfit.

However, the Reds’ loss could be Wallabies’ gain. Under recently revised eligibility rules, a player earning his coin abroad can still represent Australia if they have 60 Test caps and have held an Australian Rugby contract for seven years.

Quade Cooper is one of the most skilful players to wear a Wallabies jersey.

Should Australia get to the final of this year’s World Cup and Cooper plays in every game, he will qualify for the 60 cap rule, but will more than likely be allowed to play given his seven-year association with the union.

Cooper’s departure means a younger Aussie will be groomed as his replacement, while the national side will still be able to call upon a ‘Test veteran’ from France, should they choose to.

Italian strike settled, but discord highlighted
Italy’s rugby bosses have brokered a deal to end the players’ strike and put their World Cup preparations back on track.

In an embarrassing situation for the struggling union, both sides accused the other of cancelling a planned training camp and Italy’s players refused to leave their base in the northern town of Villabassa.

It is an especially disappointing episode for a country that received plaudits for hosting a superb U-20 Rugby World Cup that ended this month.

The problem highlights a more significant issue for Italian rugby that holds the nation back from becoming a force in the international game.

The financial strain on the FIR means that players selected for the national team are rewarded in the majority for their success as a team, rather than for their selection.

Whilst this provides a large incentive to win, players feel alienated and less committed to training.

The new financial arrangement of a large base salary on top of performance-related bonuses reflects the needs of a modern professional athlete, but Italy’s challenge will be to sustain the model after the World Cup.

Extra time: The battle for New Zealand’s centre berths is simmering nicely before the Rugby Championship with Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Malakai Fekitoa battling for places. Unfortunately Chiefs playmaker Andrew Horrell felt the full force of Fekitoa’s desire to take the All Blacks No12 jersey against the Highlanders this week.

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New Zealand cult hero ‘Stormin’ Norman Berryman dead at 42

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Norman Berryman (L) was a fan favourite during his Super Rugby career.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said Tuesday that cult hero “Stormin” Norman Berryman has died at the age of 42.

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Reports said Berryman suffered a heart attack at his home near Perth, Australia, where he settled after his rugby career.

Berryman, a powerful winger, was a fan favourite during a long career in Super Rugby but played just one Test for the All Blacks, a 23-24 loss to South Africa in 1998. He was widely considered to be unlucky to miss out on more Test caps but was competing for spots against the likes of Jonah Lomu and Inga Tuigamala.

Berryman also did himself no favours with his outspoken criticism of then All Blacks coach John Hart, who he said “has got a vibe about him that projects negativity”.

He famously walked out of an All Blacks training camp in Auckland and hitch-hiked home to Whangarei after a disagreement with Hart.

Berryman won three Super Rugby titles in three years with the Canterbury Crusaders from 1998-2000, then moved to France and played for Castres and Bourgoin-Jallieu.

Tana Umaga said Berryman’s death was devastating so soon after ex-All Black Jerry Collins and his wife were killed in a car crash in France.

“He had amazing skills for a big man,” Umaga, who was Tuesday appointed the new Auckland Blues coach, told reporters.

“He always had a big smile, loved life, loved his family. He’s going to be a big loss.”

Berryman is survived by his wife Lena and six children. “Thoughts are with Berryman whanau (family) following passing of ‘Stormin’ Norman,” the All Blacks tweeted.

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