Here are the rugby headlines for Monday, June 21.
Two more Lions join in
Kyle Sinckler and Tom Curry joined the British and Irish Lions team in Jersey after the Bristol Bears and Sale Sharks were eliminated in the Gallagher Premiership play-off semi-final.
This means 28 players are now in the camp, with Irishman Ronan Kelleher also staying with the squad for training, although he is not officially part of the squad.
The Lions contingent from the Saracens have yet to join the Lions after Sunday’s championship final victory over Ealing secured their return to the top flight.
Jamie George, Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola will soon join their new teammates.
Warburton warning for Lions players
Sam Warburton says Warren Gatland will already have a Lions starting XV in pencil for the Test Series, but that could still change everything.
The Lions play six games before the first test on July 24, starting with Saturday’s warm-up against Japan.
And former Warburton skipper says players can’t afford to play badly in any of them.
Warburton told the BBC : “If someone has been in great shape and seems a shoo-in and has two chances to start the round and is terrible in both games, he doesn’t start the test game,” Warburton said.
“The coaches would have done an exercise where they know what their starting XV would be if it was tomorrow, but that will have to be negotiated and changed.
“Players will be able to fit into the test team depending on the warm-ups and how they train.
“There will be people who would have been on the minds of the coaches as test starts and, in a few weeks behind closed doors, they may have realized that they are not.
“So the impression that the players can make in the six games before the Tests is important.”
McGeechan wants Watson against Tipuric
Former Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan is hopeful Warren Gatland will opt for Hamish Watson ahead of Justin Tipuric for next weekend’s warm-up game against Japan in Edinburgh.
The number seven jersey is expected to be one of the squad’s most contested places throughout the tour, with Watson and Tipuric v Englishman Tom Curry, who has yet to join the squad due to club engagements with Sale Sharks.
McGeechan wrote in his telegraph column : “It would be nice to see Hamish Watson play in front of his home fans.
“One of the big lessons I learned as a Lions coach was to train new Lions as soon as possible. That would be another good reason to choose Watson at openside over, say, Justin Tipuric, who already has a lot of experience with the Lions, but you mainly think of the game it takes to beat South Africa.
“Gats could go with a fourth hunter on the blind side, for example – Tadhg Beirne or Courtney Lawes – because I’m sure he will think that way for South Africa.”
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New competition paves way for South Africa to join Six Nations
Frankish expert Stuart Barnes says forming the United Rugby Championship is just the first step in bringing South Africa to the Six Nations tournament.
The new competition kicked off last week, with the Bulls, Stormers, Lions and Sharks joining the four Welsh regions, four Irish provinces, two Scottish and two Italian starting next season.
Barnes doesn’t think the new competition will capture the imagination, but he does believe South Africa’s Six Nations membership is now seemingly inevitable.
Write in the Sunday Times, he said: “The Pro 14 falls short of its French and English rivals as it lacks the constant clamor of regional and local rivalry. Admitting the South African heavyweight quartet, it has further dispersed the most atmospheric assets.
“At least one South African team will qualify for the European Champions Cup. Names, nationalities, they don’t seem to matter in the growing world of rugby.
“Policymakers, meanwhile, are looking higher. With South Africa in Europe at club level, it’s only a matter of time before they find their place in the Six / Seven who knows how many nations.
“This is where the money is – for besieged South Africans, gambling in general and the profit for businessmen who market the sport like any other product available on Amazon.
“This is not so much the start of a new Super Tournament as the first step in the movement to make Test Rugby the only game that matters. The rest is broadcast in small pockets.”
The Saracens return to the Premiership
The Saracens celebrated their return to the Gallagher Premiership after Ealing was sentenced to another heavy defeat.
The Greene King IPA Championship final second leg at StoneX Stadium saw the Saracens come out on top 57-15, their total score of 117-15 sending them back to England’s top flight in a scramble.
It marked the end of a troubled period after the north London club were relegated for repeated salary cap breaches.
“It feels good. It’s been 18 to 20 months and we’re looking forward to this day. Now that it’s happened, it’s great,” said rugby manager Mark McCall.
“It’s good to do the job. We were in crisis mode around November 2019 and anything could have happened at the club.
“But unity and solidarity got us through. We return to the Premiership with many of the same players who have stayed with us and trusted the club.
“The players relished the challenge of putting the club back together. I was particularly delighted with the way the international players played and showed real commitment and a desire to continue with Sarries.”
The Saracens’ contingent of five British and Irish Lions made revealing contributions as Ealing was put to the sword, Mako Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Jamie George all competed in the trials.
The club are expected to issue an immediate challenge for the Premiership title.
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Arrival of the Marler helicopter for big game
Joe Marler was dramatically helicoptered on the morning of Harlequins’ stunning Premiership semi-final victory over Bristol after the birth of his fourth child.
BBC report the baby was born on Thursday and the club wanted to make sure the 30-something could spend as much time as possible with his wife and kids
As the rest of the squad flew to Bristol on Friday, a helicopter was arranged to land at Tonbridge School near his home in Kent and fly to the North Bristol Rugby Club on Saturday morning.
Marler started as the Harlequins came back 28-0 to beat the Bristol Bears 43-36. He returned home in the same helicopter immediately after the game.