These are your evening rugby headlines on Monday, February 12.
Star set to leave Welsh rugby
Scarlets star Vaea Fifita is in ‘very advanced talks’ to join Top 14 side Montpellier, according to reports in France.
The ex-All Black, who now represents Tonga, moved to Parc y Scarlets from Wasps in 2022 in a major coup and has scored nine tries for the URC side in 39 appearances in all competitions. However, he now looks set to leave Welsh rugby and move closer to his brother Leva, who also plays in France.
Midi Olympique reports that Montpellier are aiming to add depth to their back row and are looking to secure the services of 31-year-old Fifita ahead of next season.
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“A former All Black should land in the Top 14 next offseason,” a report from the publication reads. “Indeed, according to our information, Montpellier is in very advanced discussions with back row Vaea Fifita who has been playing in Europe since the summer of 2021. After a season with Wasps, the back row, in 2022, joined the Scarlets, where he still plays.
“His arrival in Montpellier should quickly be official because the player would be delighted to join the Top 14 while getting closer to his big brother Leva. He returned to France this season by signing up as a medical joker at Oyonnax, playing four matches before seeing his contract end during January. He signed for Narbonne in February.
Barnes calls for change after England v Wales incident
Wayne Barnes has called on World Rugby to make a change after an incident during Wales’ Six Nations defeat to England led to referee James Doleman being jeered and heckled by the Twickenham crowd.
Doleman issued yellow cards to two England players inside the first 16 minutes of Saturday’s clash, with Ollie Chessum being sent to the bin for a high tackle on Keiron Assiratti before Ethan Roots was carded for pulling down a maul near his own line. There was a lengthy pause in proceedings as the first incident was discussed, with the official waiting a long time for footage to be shown on the big screen.
Unsure what was going on, the confused crowd aimed their frustations at Doleman as they waited for answers. Barnes claims that action must now be taken if World Rugby are to properly honour their commitment to protecting match officials.
“Once the footage was put on the screen, and it took a long time to get there, James Doleman had little option,” he wrote in The Times. “There was head contact, it was pretty forceful and as Chessum could have lowered his height further, he was at fault and it was at least a yellow card.”
“World Rugby urgently needs to ensure that broadcasters get the footage to the referee a lot quicker. Saturday saw the Twickenham crowd, who didn’t know what was going on, become needlessly frustrated and hostile towards James, as his face was put up on the stadium screen to fill in for the lack of replays.”
Barnes also weighed in on the controversy surrounding George Ford’s denied conversion attempt, with the legendary referee telling the England fly-half to change his kicking routine to avoid punishment in the future. “The law says that a team can charge down the kick once the ‘kicker moves in any direction to begin their approach to kick’,” he wrote. “Ford clearly moved, but was that part of his preparation or was it part of his approach? The law doesn’t spell out what beginning their approach actually means, so there will be split opinions in the referee meeting this week as there were in the stands of Twickenham.
“If I was George, I would not only be speaking to the referee ahead of the Scotland game to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself, but I’d remove that ‘late’ sidestep out of my kicking routine altogether.”
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Borthwick questioned ahead of Scotland clash
They may have reached the semi-final of the World Cup and earned two wins from as many games in this Six Nations, but Brian Moore claims that England will only truly prove they have improved under Steve Borthwick by beating Scotland in a fortnight’s time.
Borthwick’s men edged past both Italy and Wales to put them second in the tournament table, but have won just one of their last five Calcutta Cup matches. With the two sides looking to mount a challenge to Grand Slam favourites Ireland, there is still everything to play for.
Win and Moore will be convinced by the work done by Borthwick, with a “seismic” clash against Andy Farrell’s side on Super Saturday on the cards. But lose and, in his words, England “belong at the bottom end of the table”.
Writing for the Daily Telegraph, he said: “England’s recent record against teams ranked higher than them is poor. Thus, their next game, against Scotland at Murrayfield, is the ideal opportunity to take the next step on the path back to rugby’s top table
“A win would open up a genuinely seismic game against the Irish, with the winner left the sole contender for a Slam. A loss would mean England had won just one out of the last six Calcutta Cup games and that they belong at the bottom end of the table, where they have dwelt for the past three years,” Moore added.
“Though it will not be accepted as such by Borthwick, this is a vital game as it will show whether there has been any genuine improvement under him in this Six Nations.”
Lynagh leaves for Italy
Highly-rated Harlequins wing Louis Lynagh will join Italian side Benetton next season, the club has confirmed.
The 23-year-old, who is the son of former Australia captain Michael Lynagh, was named in an England training squad by Eddie Jones back in 2021. But the star now hopes to earn an Italy call-up, having been born in Treviso while his father also represented Benetton.
Lynagh joined Quins at under-13 level and has scored 27 tries in 58 senior appearances for the club. He burst onto the scene during the 2020/21 season, when he scored six tries in 11 matches to help his side claim the Premiership title, bagging a brace in the final.
Confirming his move, the wing told the club’s website: “It’s been a difficult decision to leave my boyhood club, but I feel the time is right for a new challenge in Italy. I have loved my time at Quins and made lifelong friends, working with some of the best players, coaches, and staff, and achieving the ultimate Premiership success in 2021.
“I would like to thank all the Quins fans who have supported me over my career. It’s been amazing to play in front of a packed Stoop every week, and I can’t wait for a massive finish to our season.”
Harlequins Director of Rugby Billy Millard added: “Louis has been a pleasure to work with and we have been proud to see him develop from our Academy to the first-team squad. He has certainly had some great moments in his short career to date and is a popular figure across the Club.
“His 2020/21 season in particular showcased his ability and try-scoring strength. We’re excited to watch his career develop further at Benetton and potentially for Italy. We wish him the very best as he seeks to build his career in Italy.”