When Saracens moved in to their new Allianz Park stadium for the final games of the 2012/13 Aviva Premiership season, natural scepticism engulfed the European rugby community that the men in black would now be playing their home matches on synthetic turf. Fast forward four months and it now appears that there is a growing clamour for this to become the norm around English rugby.


The project cost Saracens £500,000 and one suspects that other clubs and countries were happy to sit back and let the North London based club take the plunge and form a reactive plan instead of the proactive members of the Saracens hierarchy. English club sides are of course not as wealthy as their counterparts across the Channel; so naturally the aforementioned figure was bound to raise a few eyebrows.


The benefits are there for all to see however, and with other semi-professional clubs around the country having already spent vast sums of money on such surfaces, others may look to follow suit. The Welsh Rugby Union is already looking into the possibly of such an investment for the Millennium Stadium, where there have been longstanding issues with the turf since the ground's opening in 1999, attracting criticism from some of Wales' rugby and football stars alike.


It is fair to say that the hefty upfront payment stipulated for any such project will determine which clubs – at any level – will be able to benefit from the introduction of synthetic turf surfaces, but these benefits are there for everyone to see. Synthetic turf pitches require minimal maintenance in comparison to natural turf and they will often have a longer lifespan, even with greater usage. Additional revenue streams are created as the pitch becomes dual purpose, used by local community and other stakeholders during the summer months, without the risk of impacting on the recovery time which would be required for any natural grass surface. English weather is also never something that can be relied upon and synthetic surfaces will allow teams to train and play in much more severe weather conditions.

There is also the case to answer that the Southern hemisphere's Super 15 is played at a much quicker pace, with far more attacking impetus, thus creating national sides that the Northern hemisphere simply cannot deal with on the international stage. One idea, regularly banded about, is to scrap relegation and promotion, consequently creating a less pressurised and finance-driven environment which would induce a more free-flowing style of rugby. The other is simply the pitches that British sides play on; harder, quicker pitches naturally encourage a quicker game at the breakdown and hence more of a running game occurs and a greater number of try-scoring opportunities are created.

There are of course some detractors who question the purity of the sport should it be switched to synthetic surfaces and that rugby should always be played on good old grass. We've all been unfortunate enough to experience those wet days where an out-of-hand kicking duel takes place and scrums take five minutes apiece to get going, is that really what spectators or players want? When weather conditions can play such a huge part in a rugby match, then why let it be a factor? Hats off to Saracens for trailblazing the way forward in the professional game, it will prove money well spent and long may others follow their courageous example.

 

By Gareth Beddoes

Following months of speculation, the IRB has announced that the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament will be retained and integrated into the Olympic Games cycle.

The decision, which followed consultation with member unions and major stakeholders, was made to achieve what the IRB has described as a 'key high performance pathway for teams around the world', in support of the sport's inclusion in the Olympic Games from 2016.

Following this month's RWC Sevens in Moscow, the next tournament will take place in 2018, two years before the 2020 Olympics.

IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "RWC Sevens provides an opportunity for a large number of nations to compete at a high level. Like all Olympic sports, we believe that a world championship event will increase competitiveness, interest and participation, slotting into the multi-sport Games cycle and enhancing Rugby Sevens in the Olympic Games and the sport as a whole."

"Moscow 2013 is a reflection of the truly global reach of our sport and the event is on track to be a wonderful success. With unprecedented interest in hosting Rugby Sevens events, spurred on by inclusion in the Olympic Games, I am sure we can anticipate a keenly contested tender process for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018."

Howard Thomas, deputy managing director of the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013, Russia and Rugby247 columnist recently shared his thoughts on the possibility of losing the much-loved tournament. Click here to read his article.

USA Rugby has confirmed its intentions to bid for the right to host the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens.

The USA Rugby Board has appointed Board Director Will Chang as Chairman of their bid. Chang, an international businessman, sports enthusiast and part owner of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, will visit Moscow later this month to study the Russian capital's hosting of the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens.

The announcement follows yesterday's confirmation from the IRB that Rugby World Cup Sevens will be retained, after fears the tournament would be scrapped in the wake of Sevens achieving Olympic status. Following RWC Sevens 2013, the next tournament will take place in five years, a change to the traditional four year gap, to integrate it into the Olympic cycle.

"I'm excited for the opportunity to head the bid committee and potentially bring the Rugby World Cup Sevens to America," Chang said. "Hosting this tournament will support our goals of developing the Game and further its popularity in the United States. We are looking forward to hearing more about the bid process and will do everything we can to ensure the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens will take place on United States soil."

USA Rugby hopes to capitalize on the IRB's goals of showcasing the Game to a global audience and drive interest and participation in key rugby development markets like the United States.

"Rugby is now one of the fastest growing sports in America," USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer and President of Rugby Operations Nigel Melville said. "We want to continue our growth, showcase the new Olympic sport of Rugby Sevens and take the sport to unprecedented levels in the USA."

It is fair to say that Scottish rugby has certainly seen brighter days, with the enterprising back play from the likes of Gavin Hastings and Gregor Townsend and others a thing of the past. However, after a decent showing in this year's Six Nations, there are signs that the tide could perhaps be slowly turning for the boys in blue. Add to the mix their recent acquisition of Clermont coach Vern Cotter, a real coup given his reputation and the fact his club side are arguably seen as the best in the Northern hemisphere, then all should be pointing to solid progression towards the 2015 World Cup. Think it all seems a little too rosy? You'd be right. Cotter will only be joining the Scots after the 2013/14 domestic season due to Clermont's adamant stance not to release him from his contract early, leaving Scott Johnson in temporary charge until then. Interim coaches... A recipe for disaster?

There is definitely a strong case for the fact that Scotland could simply not afford to miss out on their man, who many club and international sides would take in an instant. Clermont team manager and former Borders player Neil Mcllroy is confident Scotland will benefit in the long run. "I think it's a shrewd choice, a wise choice. If you want the best person, sometimes you have to be flexible and wait." This seems exactly the philosophy that the Scottish Rugby Board has taken and whether they are made to wait the full length of Cotter's contract remains to be seen.

There is no denying Cotter's credentials, but where exactly does this leave Scott Johnson? While he is all set to step in to the Director of Rugby hot seat when Cotter arrives, would the situation change at all if he were to lead Scotland on a string of victories? Johnson is certainly saying all the right things presently and is thought to be highly respected in the Scottish camp but one can't help but feel that with temporary stints in charge of both Wales and now Scotland and a brief spell in charge of the USA he may feel he has unfinished business as an international head coach.

Wales, of course, adopted the role of interim coach recently when Rob Howley led the team in Warren Gatland's Lions and injury-induced absence; providing an example of how badly events can unfold. They went from Grand Slam champions and the toast of the Northern Hemisphere, to perennial nearly men Down Under to a laughing stock during the Autumn Internationals. It undoubtedly was a sombre period for Welsh rugby interjected between the euphoria of Six Nations triumphs and at a time when, as the Lions squad proves, they certainly had the players at their disposal. If Scotland's recent defeat to Samoa and their subsequent slide outside the world's top 10 is anything to go by then it could well be a long and challenging year ahead.

With the 2015 World Cup in the not too distant future, surely this halts possible Scottish progress, with players and coaches in the current setup merely looking to the future and Cotter's arrival. The modern obsession is for 'teams to build for four years' leading up to a World Cup.

With the present arrangement, Cotter will have just over a year to create and mould a team to his liking for the tournament. Surely more time is needed to help a Scottish side who have been largely uncompetitive on the major stage for more than a decade. Whatever happens in due course, Scottish rugby will be an interesting place to be and well worth keeping an eye on in the lead up to the 2015 World Cup.

By Gareth Beddoes

The Rugby Union Players Association Inc. (RUPA) is proud to announce a new relationship that RUPA has entered into with NAB Private Wealth, which will provide significant new benefits to the membership.

"NAB Private Wealth represents one of the peak financial bodies in Australia who have a unique understanding of the particular circumstances which our members face, their employment and income earning situation. RUPA would like to welcome NAB Private Wealth and thank them for their support of RUPA and the players, and we look forward to developing a strong relationship over the next three years" said RUPA CEO Greg Harris.

NAB Private Wealth is Australia's largest private bank, offering a wider range of advice and specialist expertise than any other private bank in Australia. "We draw on the combined expertise across the NAB Group to create a single, holistic offering to manage the complex financial needs of wealthy individuals and their families," says Gary McMahon, Private Client Director at NAB Private Wealth.

"We have combined the personalised service of a boutique bank with the breadth and experience of one of the world's most successful wealth management groups. With services extending from personal banking and finance to investment, wealth management, risk protection, estate planning, trusts, philanthropy and strategic advice, our clients receive timely access to the right people, the right advice and the right solutions - backed by the heritage, stability, strength and security of the NAB Group."

Gary manages a team specialising in servicing sports and entertainment figures, and couples an in-depth knowledge of the finance industry with an appreciation of the unique concerns and ambitions facing his clients.

"I'm particularly excited to be part of a team that's structured to ensure our sports and entertainment clients have three dedicated points of contact - it helps us stay relevant and deliver an outstanding client service proposition," Gary said. "My team allows me to focus more time on exploring solutions and connecting with trusted advisers who can deliver exceptional outcomes for our clients. We also understand that agents and managers are an important part of our clients' futures, and we partner with these advisors to ensure our clients' careers - and finances - stay on track."

RUPA's contacts will have an opportunity to hear more from Gary as part of upcoming presentations at selected events over the coming year, including the Annual Agent Accreditation Professional Development Conference in September and the RUPA/ARU Induction Camp in December.

A number of the recipients of the benefits that NAB Private Wealth will provide are currently preparing to face the British and Irish Lions, who play their fourth game of the 2013 our against a New South Wales / Queensland Country XV on Tuesday 11th June. The Qantas Wallabies will play the first test against the Lions on Saturday 22nd June in Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.

Suzuki has extended its premium partnership with Melbourne Storm for a further three years, teaming together until the end of the 2016 season.

The new agreement will see Suzuki retain its sleeve sponsorship branding position with the reigning NRL premiers and world champions, as well as exclusivity in the club's motor vehicle partner category.

Announcing the sponsorship agreement today, Suzuki Australia Automobiles General Manager Tony Devers and Melbourne Storm chairman Bart Campbell, said the partnership was a significant one for both parties.

"In its 105-year heritage, Suzuki has a culture of developing profitable and long-standing partnerships and we are very excited about continuing with Melbourne Storm," said Devers.

"Partnering Storm, we have been through the good times and bad, but importantly we have stuck together and established ourselves as powerful players in our respective competitions.

"The NRL remains one of the highest profile sports in the country we see Melbourne Storm as the perfect vehicle for Suzuki to continue growing its image."

Storm Chairman Bart Campbell welcomed the extension of the Suzuki partnership.

"We are thrilled that Suzuki has re-signed with Melbourne Storm for another three years. Not only have they invested in the Club throughout our long partnership, importantly they have demonstrated exceptional support and loyalty over the past six years.

"Suzuki is a terrific brand and we are pleased they will continue their coveted position on Melbourne Storm's jersey.

"I regard it as a wonderful endorsement of the vision both parties have for the future of the club and with the ongoing commitment from an organisation like Suzuki, we look forward to the next chapter in the club's rich history.

Storm Head Coach Craig Bellamy praised Suzuki for its
ongoing support.

"The football department has appreciated Tony and the team at Suzuki's ongoing support of the club; they are very much a valued part of our team," said Bellamy.

Suzuki are continuing their successful involvement with Melbourne Storm, a partnership that began in 200 and which has seen them ranked in media surveys as one of the most recognisable sports sponsors in Australia.

South African pay-TV operator SuperSport has sub-licensed the TV rights to three major sporting events to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

As part of the agreement, SABC will provide free-to-air coverage of the Castle Rugby Championship and Castle Lager Inbound Test Series, as well as coverage of cricket's ICC Champions Trophy 2013.

The rugby matches that are included in this deal, all inbound South African Tests, will be aired by the public service broadcaster through delayed coverage on TV, with live coverage available on radio.

SABC will also broadcast live three of South Africa's matches in the group stages of the ICC Champions Trophy , as well as one of the semi-finals and the final.

Highlights from all other matches are also included, alongside live radio rights to the entire tournament.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC acting chief operations officer, said: "With these events happening around the same time, we made a decision that we would try our best to get these broadcasting rights, as the nation of South Africa, with its diverse sporting tastes, deserves the right to watch their favourite sporting teams. We believe that the public will also enjoy the high-quality programming that has been put together to support the respective tournaments."

Happy Ntshingila, chief executive of SuperSport International, added: "We are pleased to have concluded an arrangement with the SABC regarding this content on commercial terms which are satisfactory to both parties".

Following the announcement by London Welsh yesterday morning of the departure of Lyn Jones, the club has moved very quickly to fill the vacancy and is pleased to announce the appointment of Justin Burnell as its new Head Coach.

As indicated in its press release of June 7, the club had drawn up a shortlist of three very strong candidates for the position and, following its Board meeting yesterday afternoon, the club decided to offer the now vacant position to Burnell, who was delighted to accept.

Hugely experienced, Burnell was previously joint head coach and forwards coach of Cardiff Blues and guided them to a Heineken Cup quarter-final appearance in 2012.

Appointed forwards coach at the Blues in 2008, he helped Dai Young take the club to the Heineken Cup semi-finals and to Amlin Challenge Cup success.

He took over as joint Head Coach at the Blues in 2011, alongside Gareth Baber, following Young's departure to Wasps. Burnell left the Blues in 2012, bringing to an end eight years as part of the club's coaching set up.

Burnell has also enjoyed international coaching success. During his three years as Head Coach of the Wales Under 19 side [2005-07] he guided them to a Grand Slam in 2006, and led them in two World Cup campaigns, finishing sixth in Dubai and fourth in Belfast.

He was also Assistant Coach of the Wales Under 21 side between 2004-05.

Between 2003-04 he combined the roles of Academy Manager at the Celtic Warriors and Head Coach at Pontypridd RFC, before taking up the positions of Cardiff Blues Academy Manager and Cardiff RFC Director of Rugby between 2004-08.

As a player, the former back row forward can list Pontypridd, Treorchy, Bridgend and Neath among his former clubs. He also gained representative honours with Wales A.
Burnell will be able to join the club's coaching team almost immediately and he will be able to participate fully with the staff and players when pre-season training commences on June 17.

Commenting on the appointment, London Welsh Chairman,  Bleddyn Phillips, said: "We are very fortunate to have been able to secure the services of someone with a track record such as Justin's so quickly. Not only did he have an excellent reputation while Forwards Coach at the Cardiff Blues, helping to guide them to the latter stages of the Heineken Cup, but he also demonstrated an enthusiasm, high degree of technical knowledge and considerable empathy with the players, which helped earn him great respect from people currently occupying very senior positions within English Premiership rugby. He has previously worked successfully with both Huw Wiltshire and Ryan Campbell and has already had meetings with senior coaching staff at the club, who are equally excited by the appointment.

"I was most impressed when I met Justin earlier this week and was struck by his candour, commitment and understanding of the key challenges facing London Welsh as it prepares for next season. I have no doubt that he will be a considerable force for good for the club and a worthy successor to Lyn Jones. We wish him every success and will do all we can as a Board to support and encourage him in his new role."

Commenting on his appointment as London Welsh Head Coach, Justin Burnell said: "Following eight years of elite player development and coaching with the WRU and Cardiff Blues, I am proud and absolutely thrilled to be moving onto the next chapter and to be joining London Welsh.

"This represents a huge and exciting opportunity for me to be part of an ambitious club and one that is steeped in so much history. I have been extremely impressed with the Board's ambitions.

"With the help of the players, staff, Board and loyal supporters, I aim to move the club forward and look to build upon the foundations laid over the last couple of seasons, with the aim of regaining Premiership status."

London Welsh has agreed with its head coach, Lyn Jones, that he can be released from the third and final year of his contract with the Club.

The release is for personal reasons and reflects a wish by Lyn to move back to Wales to be nearer his family and home. The Club entirely understands the reasons for the move, is sympathetic to Lyn's request and is ready to accommodate it and provide all the support it can to ensure the move works well for Lyn and his family.

Commenting on the move, the Club's Chairman, Bleddyn Phillips, said: "We are very sad to lose Lyn but after several meetings with him over the past week or so it is abundantly clear that he wishes to move back to Wales for very understandable personal reasons and to be closer to his family. We are very fortunate to have had someone of Lyn's calibre as our head coach these past two seasons and, as a Club, owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for all that he has achieved for London Welsh.

"I have got to know Lyn very well on a personal basis and we will miss his intuitive feel for the game, as well as his wise counsel, greatly. I know that the players and fellow members of the coaching staff will equally miss his utter dedication and commitment to the Club coupled with his professionalism and strive for excellence across all elements of the game.

"The Club is well under way in the process of choosing a successor to Lyn and has already identified a short list of three eminently qualified people to take over the role of head coach. We very much hope to be able to move forward and finalise such discussions in the next few days and then make an announcement. Meanwhile we offer Lyn, his wife, Helen, and all his family our very best wishes for the future and can assure them always of a very warm and grateful welcome at the Club."

Lyn Jones said: "It's been an unbelievable journey with London Welsh, but sadly, and I do sincerely mean sadly, it now personally draws to a close.

"Just when I thought, as a coach, I'd experienced all what the game can offer, London Welsh happened.

"The last two years have proved both exhilarating and challenging in Richmond, but my return to Wales has to happen and I leave with hope that I have helped players improve in a small way.

"The Club has the vision and ambition to ensure a successful pursuit of retaining its position as one of the top teams in English rugby, and I wish it all the very best for the future.

"I've made many life long friends here and I'll make sure our paths will cross again one day. To all at London Welsh I say a heartfelt thank you."

IMG Media has announced that its live sports channel for alrlines and cruise ships, Sport 24, will broadcast all remaining matches from the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia. 

The agreement, which commenced yesterday with the Lions beating Western Force in a convincing  69-17 win, will also show the three Test matches against Australia, starting on June 22. 

Richard Wise, senior vice president, IMG Media said: "The British & Irish Lions has a unique place in world rugby and the tours only happen once every four years so we are delighted to be offering passengers across the world the opportunity to see the team live in the air and at sea. The tour is another exciting addition to the top-class offering from the channel and we have more to announce soon."

Greg Peters, chief executive of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby (Sanzar), the organisers of the Super Rugby competition, added: "This broadcast partnership is an exciting new development for sport content. The British & Irish Lions Tour commands immense interest across the globe and we are thrilled to have a platform in Sport 24 to showcase all the games live to fans at 30,000 feet or cruising the oceans of the world. This is a first for rugby union as never before have travellers been able to watch live games in this manner."