Jonny Wilkinson comments on the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour and recent reports that Leicester's Manu Tuilagi could move to French club Toulouse this summer.
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The Top 14 will see a new champion after a huge semi-final upset, while rugby is in mourning after tragically lost one of its best loved players in former New Zealand captain Jerry Collins.
Here are five talking points from the week.
RIP JERRY COLLINS
On Friday morning, the rugby world awoke to the awful news that former All Black star Jerry Collins and his wife had been killed following a car crash in the south of France. The couple’s daughter, Ayla, survived but is in a critical condition after the collision with a bus.
Tributes to the Narbonne player have flooded social media for a man who had built a reputation as a fearless competitor on the field, but as a true gentleman off of it.
Samoa-born Collins made his debut for New Zealand in 2001 against Argentina and was renowned for his bleach-blonde hair and ferocious tackling. The former dustbin collector went on to win 48 All Black caps and was selected for two World Cups in 2003 and 2007.
Collins’ positive attitude towards rugby and life was encapsulated when the flanker famously accepted an invitation to turn out for English amateur side Barnstaple’s second XV in one of rugby’s greatest stories. He also wore the team’s socks when he played for Barbarians in a win over South Africa later that year.
Another of Collins’ former sides, Super Rugby outfit Hurricanes, held a minute’s silence before Friday’s Super XV game against the Highlanders as a mark of respect for one of the game’s best-loved characters.
— James Tennant (@_jameslt) June 5, 2015
ALL CHANGE IN FRANCE
Stade Francais’ remarkable 33-16 win over European champions Toulon on Saturday has set-up a thrilling Top 14 final against Clermont, who ran out 18-14 winners over Toulouse.
Italian back row forward Sergio Parisse was at his irrepressible best for Stade, whose tries came through flankers Raphael Lakafia and Antoine Burban with an opportunist late score from wing Julien Arias.
The Parisians’ win is sad end for a number of Toulon veterans, whose club careers concluded with this defeat – including South Africa’s Bakkies Botha, plus Ali Williams and Carl Hayman of New Zealand.
Stade’s own veteran former Springbok Morne Steyn played a key role in the victory with his trademark 50m penalties keeping his team in the game after an early onslaught from Toulon.
The game’s turning point came when Parisse plucked a loose pass out of the air one-handed, before playing a pass behind the back, taking out two tacklers in the process, for Lakafia to dive over and send the men in pink to their first final since 2007.
Clermont’s close-fought semi-final win signified the ends of a 22-year association with Toulouse for Guy Noves, who takes over from Philippe Saint-Andre as France coach after the World Cup.
Toulouse were seemingly in control of the game until the introduction of Clermont fly-half Brock James, who chipped away at Toulouse’s lead in sweltering conditions with a penalty before landing the killer-blow drop-kick to win the match.
All the money in the world couldn’t buy the spirit Stade Francais played with tonight. Men possessed. Toulon beaten in the play-offs.
— Nick Mullins (@andNickMullins) June 5, 2015
ENGLAND’S DISCIPLINE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Danny Cipriani’s chances of playing in a first World Cup are in the balance as Stuart Lancaster awaits the outcome of a police investigation after the Sale fly-half’s arrest on suspicion of drink-driving. If found guilty, Cipriani would join errant team-mates Manu Tuilangi and Dylan Hartley in the stands for the tournament.
Cipriani’s transgression will particularly frustrate Lancaster as, not only will be losing one of the most consistent and talented performers in the Premiership this season, it will mark a huge step back for a player that had appeared to have banished the disciplinary demons that have plagued his whole career.
These issues have prevented the former Wasps playmaker from adding to his 12 caps, despite winning his first in 2008.
Hours before his arrest Cipriani had delivered a fly-half master class in England’s whopping 73-12 win over the Barbarians, a performance that made even his most staunch critics concede that Cipriani was a more mature, reformed man capable of pulling the strings for England at a World Cup.
A guilty verdict, however, will almost certainly end Cipriani’s last chance to play for England under Lancaster.
The cash-rich clubs of France will be monitoring the situation closely and will be ready to pounce should the troubled 27 year old be looking for another new start.
If he’s driven drunk he’ll be rightly hammered. Until then let’s retract the kitchen knives and give Cipriani the benefit of the doubt
— David Flatman (@davidflatman) June 2, 2015
SCOTLAND’S ADOPTED SOUTH AFRICANS
Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has this week been forced to defend his decision to include South African duo Josh Strauss and WP Nel in his 46-man training squad for the World Cup.
Edinburgh prop Nel completes World Rugby’s three-year residency rule month, while back-row forward Strauss, who captained Glasgow to the Pro12 final last week, will be eligible to play for Scotland four days before their opening World Cup pool match against Japan.
The New Zealand coach has come under fire for picking the duo but fired back to a minority of disgruntled fans, saying: “I don’t see it in any political form whatsoever. All I see is players who want to pull the jersey on and do their best for the country where they live.”
Scotland’s squad was announced just days after news broke that Glasgow had secured the signature of Super XV star winger Taqele Naiyaravoro. Scottish Rugby’s chief executive Mark Dodson described the acquisition of the Fijian-born star as a “box-office” signing and it may be a taste of Scotland’s recruitment strategy moving forwards.
Notable absentees from the World Cup squad include Johnnie Beattie, former skipper Kelly Brown, Geoff Cross and Dougie Fife.
Am I comfortable with Josh Strauss and WP Nel representing @Scotlandteam? I suppose I have to be. Welcome to modern rugby. Sign of the times
— James Tennant (@_jameslt) June 3, 2015
FINE FOR GLOUCESTER
Gloucester have been docked two points and fined Dhs 28,000 (£5k) for fielding un-registered Argentinean Mariano Galarza.
The two-point deduction sours what had been a positive second-half to the season, which saw the West Country outfit lose a thrilling European Challenge Cup final. The fine had initially been suspended for two years, but after an appeal by the Rugby Football Union was made immediate.
Gloucester Rugby described the ruling as “unduly harsh” but did not appeal the decision.
The deduction does not affect the Cherry and Reds’ ninth-place standing in the Premiership table as London Irish ended the season eight points below them in 10th place.
— Marcus Williams (@h_m_williams) June 4, 2015
BONUS POINT: NEW ZEALAND U20s’ FAREWELL HAKA
Playing at the junior Rugby World Cup in Italy, the New Zealand under-20s performed an emotional haka in tribute to Jerry Collins before their match against Argentina last weekend.
Australian fly-half Brock James came off the bench to kick a penalty and drop goal as Clermont turned in a late burst to defeat Toulouse 18-14 in the French Championship semi-finals on Saturday.
The defeat denied Toulouse a chance to win a record-extending 20th domestic title and also ended the reign of mythical manager Guy Noves who will take over as coach of France following this year’s World Cup.
Clermont will now meet Stade Francais in the final at Stade de France on June 13 after the capital club stunned defending champions Toulon 33-16 on Friday.
However, some sustained early pressure from Toulouse had provided them with the only try of the match as a line-out deep in Clermont territory was recycled wide for winger Maxim Medard to touch down in the corner.
— Martin Gillingham (@MartGillingham) June 6, 2015
Both teams neutralised each other in a midfield battle of the forwards but Toulouse won an allimportant penalty with 17 minutes left that Luke McAlister slotted home as Noves’ men took the lead.
Clermont hammered away in attack, and despite Morgan Parra’s injury, James kicked a crucial three pointer from the sidelines to regain the advantage 15-14 with nine minutes to go.
As Toulouse attempted to fight their way out of their own half, a turnover set up the 33-year-old James to smash over the drop goal that settled the match with six minutes left.
In the other semi-final, Stade Francais toppled triple European champions Toulon.
Led by the irrepressible Italian back row forward Sergio Parisse, Stade scored tries through flankers Raphael Lakafia and Antoine Bourban, before a freak late score from wing Julien Arias gave a flattering skew to the final score as they reached their first final since 2007.
Lakafia said: “I’ve no preference between Clermont and Toulouse, may the best win, as long as we’re champions at the end!”
It proved a sad end for a number of Toulon’s veteran stalwarts whose club careers ended with this defeat, including South Africa’s Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams and Carl Hayman of New Zealand.