Robert Kitson

Author's posts

Oct 17

George North and Ben Te’o set to miss autumn internationals with injuries

• Wales winger and England midfielder the latest injury casualties• Ben Te’o awaiting verdict on whether he needs operation on ankle problemThe British & Irish Lions team-mates George North and Ben Te’o are both set to miss this autumn’s Test match…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/oct/17/george-north-ben-teo-autumn-internationals-injuries

Oct 17

Could Saracens win the Six Nations if they were allowed to enter it? | Robert Kitson

If you took the Saracens players out of their national sides and put the team in the Six Nations, their hammering of Northampton suggests they could win itAwaiting its UK cinema release next month is the Battle of the Sexes, the film based around the f…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/oct/17/could-saracens-win-six-nations-rugby-union

Oct 11

Exeter’s Jack Nowell could be out until December with fractured eye socket

• England wing may need surgery for injury sustained against Newcastle• Munster confirm Johann van Graan will replace Rassie ErasmusExeter fear Jack Nowell will need an operation after fracturing his cheekbone and eye socket against Newcastle on Saturd…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/oct/11/exeter-jack-nowell-fractured-eye-socket-england-rugby-union

Oct 09

England’s Jack Nowell set to miss Australia and Argentina Tests

• Jack Nowell injured a cheekbone playing for Exeter Chiefs• Stuart Lancaster responds to Rob Andrew criticismEngland’s autumn international plans are facing further disruption with Exeter’s Jack Nowell the latest player to be forced out through injury…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/oct/09/england-jack-nowell-miss-australia-argentina-tests

Oct 06

Worcester’s Gary Gold: ‘We don’t have a crisis. We’ve got a problem’ | Robert Kitson

The Warriors have only one point this season but the South African is determined to leave on a high and desperate to spring a surprise at Bath – to where he returns with a ‘sore heart’

Imagine you are a well-regarded rugby coach, presiding over the league’s bottom team. What would you do if someone with an American accent offered you a fistful of dollars and the biggest job in US rugby? Gary Gold has duly signed up as the next Eagles head coach but the high‑fives are on hold. After five successive Premiership defeats, Worcester are less bothered about American dreams than extracting themselves from an increasingly Grand Canyon-sized hole.

Not that Gold is the type to jump gleefully to safety without a backward glance; he was due to return home at the end of this season anyway, having initially arrived merely as a consultant. It is also only four years since he suffered the cruellest of coaching cuts, ousted from Bath shortly after having relocated his family to Somerset. His return this weekend to the Recreation Ground with Worcester will arouse understandably mixed emotions. “I haven’t been back to Bath since. I’ve no idea how it’s going to be. I’ll be going back with quite a sore heart.”

Related: Worcester face fresh turmoil after Gary Gold announces departure to US

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/oct/06/worcester-gary-gold-rugby-union

Oct 03

Naming rights are part of modern sport but Twickenham should resist | Robert Kitson

The financial benefits of stadiums having a sponsor are clear and the old cabbage patch has no divine right to remain sacred, but the RFU has the means to not follow the trend

Here are two lists, purely for purposes of comparison. The first is an evocative Who’s Who of instantly recognisable rugby arenas: Ellis Park, Ravenhill, Lansdowne Road, Murrayfield, Newlands. Now here is the second: Coca-Cola Park, Kingspan Stadium, Aviva Stadium, BT Murrayfield, DHL Newlands. Same stretch of turf, a far less romantic feel.

Do people’s sensitivities over such issues still count for anything? The Rugby Football Union clearly does not think so, judging by its apparent interest in flogging the naming rights to Twickenham. Welcome, one and all, to Hooters Twickenham? Or Twickenham brought to you by Carpetright? Or Twix Twickers? Talk about an idea that deserves two fingers stuck up at it.

Related: Rugby union: talking points from the weekend

Related: Lure of cash and fame leaves sport caught in concussion’s moral maze | Sean Ingle

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/oct/03/stadium-naming-rights-twickenham-england-rugby-union

Sep 29

Sam Underhill, Bath’s new No7, well-placed to solve old problem for England

Openside is settling into new life after Ospreys on and off the field and may be the long-awaited solution for Eddie Jones and England

These are supposedly tough days for specialist open-side forwards. Not only is their profession increasingly brutal but the laws of the jungle have altered, banning the tackler’s old freedom to get up and cause legitimate mischief on the opposition’s side of the breakdown. It is not intended to make life easier for defenders, let alone up-and-coming English ball poachers like Sam Underhill.

So why did Underhill, with a solitary cap behind him, appear so unconcerned this week at England’s training camp in Oxford? Perhaps for the best of reasons: he is good and clever enough to adjust instantly to whatever lawmakers and referees decree. The grapevine has been suggesting for two or three years that England have a natural-born predator at No7 who could become as crucial to his country as Richie McCaw was to New Zealand.

Related: England’s Sam Underhill takes ‘the new Neil Back’ hype in his stride

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/29/sam-underhill-bath-england-ospreys-openside-eddie-jones

Sep 28

Newcastle Falcons flying high in Premiership after years of turbulence | Robert Kitson

It would be a landmark of genuine local significance should Dean Richards’ side beat London Irish on Friday and finish the weekend top of the Premiership

Exactly 20 years ago Newcastle Falcons were in the process of revolutionising English rugby. No club was quicker – thanks to Sir John Hall’s chequebook – to embrace the possibilities of professionalism and no side had ever lifted the domestic title within a year of being promoted. It lingers all the more clearly in the memory because the Falcons have achieved nothing like it since.

Related: Mark Wilson swoops for Newcastle in thrilling last-gasp victory at Bath

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/sep/28/newcastle-falcons-premiership-london-irish

Sep 26

RFU’s Steve Brown will listen to player concerns in bid to avert strike

• Chief executive Brown: ‘If we have no players we have no England team’
• Brown refuses to rule out southern hemisphere successor to Eddie Jones

The new man at the helm of the Rugby Football Union has admitted averting a possible player strike is among his most pressing priorities. Steve Brown, who has taken over from the retired Ian Ritchie, says player welfare is at the top of his bulging in-tray and wants to see a swift resolution to the dispute over the future length of the domestic season.

Brown has been at Twickenham long enough as chief financial officer to know precisely how costly it would be if leading players took industrial action in protest against plans to extend the Premiership season to the end of June from 2020. “If we have no players we have no England team,” Brown said. “Our core business is seven big games a year … that would be a very challenging time for us. It is a concern and we can’t ignore it. The players have a voice and we need to listen to them. It’s not just the physical concerns but also the mental and psychological pressures players are under.”

Related: Billy Vunipola out for four months and facing fight to make Six Nations

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/26/rugby-football-union-steve-brown-players-avert-strike

Sep 26

The Premiership’s injury price tag is mounting and attitudes need to change | Robert Kitson

You can tell things are in danger of getting out of hand when several clubs turn up for round four of the season with a third of their squads already sidelined

It is approaching 40 years, remarkably, since two tone music was in vogue and The Specials were topping the charts with Too Much Too Young. The lyrics related to teenage motherhood not professional club rugby, which did not yet exist, but they still sprang to mind over the weekend. Too much pain, too many rugby players going off prematurely, too many contenders for an arthritic (or worse) old age.

You can tell things are in danger of getting out of hand when several clubs turn up for round four of the Premiership season with a third of their squads already sidelined. Wasps have been heavily hit, the table-topping Exeter Chiefs even more so. Worcester Warriors are a casualty ward dressed up as a professional sporting team. In the Harlequins v Leicester game the England flanker Chris Robshaw was knocked out, there were two further failed head injury assessments and his colleagues Mike Brown and Marcus Smith also limped into England’s training camp in Oxford. It is not yet October.

Related: Ban ‘harmful contact’ from school rugby games to reduce injury risk, say experts

Related: Charles Piutau: ‘I felt invincible as an All Black … but it’s such a short career’

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/26/premiership-injury-price-tag-mounting-rugby-union

Sep 25

Long seasons are pushing players to their limit, says England’s Ben Youngs

• England and Leicester scrum-half joins debate over early-season injuries
• ‘Players have power to strike but I don’t think any player wants to get to that’

Another senior England international has claimed leading players are “at the limit” of what their bodies can sustain amid rising concern over the number of injuries in the early weeks of the season. Leicester’s Ben Youngs says the players currently wish to avoid strike action but reveals there is increasing disquiet in dressing rooms about the sport’s attrition rate.

The topic of player welfare was impossible to avoid in Oxford, where England are engaged in a three-day camp, with Billy Vunipola the latest long-term casualty and eight other squad members unable to train fully. According to Youngs, the game grows steadily more demanding and common sense is needed in terms of season length.

Related: Charles Piutau: ‘I felt invincible as an All Black … but it’s such a short career’

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/25/players-at-limit-number-of-games-length-of-season-ben-youngs

Sep 22

Eddie Jones spells out his terms as England take first step to Japan 2019 | Robert Kitson

National coach has named a slimmed-down training squad and omitted Joseph, Haskell and Sinckler, three of the summer’s British & Irish Lions

For every England rugby coach there are three steps to heaven: identify the best players, decide how to harness their collective talents and then pursue every available avenue to ensure they peak when it really matters. With 19 wins in his first 20 games in charge, Eddie Jones has made a confident start on the rocky ascent towards 2019, and his 33-man training squad for next week’s camp in Oxford represents the next phase of that climb.

Related: Marcus Smith of Quins can be our X-factor rookie, says England’s Eddie Jones

Related: Eddie Jones to name most of his Lions in England squad for autumn series

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/sep/22/eddie-jones-england-japan-2019-training-squad-autumn-internationals

Sep 21

Eddie Jones to name most of his Lions in England squad for autumn series

• England coach’s decision to reignite debate over player welfare
• Exeter’s Rob Baxter says overworked players claim is ‘codswallop’

Eddie Jones will on Friday reignite the debate over player welfare by naming the vast majority of his British & Irish Lions stars in a 33-man England squad for next week’s training camp in Oxford. Jones had indicated he might rest some Lions for the autumn series but it is now understood most will be involved at some stage during November.

Virtually all the Premiership-based Lions are back in action for their clubs and key men such as Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, who played prominent roles in the summer drawn series against New Zealand, will have precious little scope for a lengthy break next year. England are due to play a best-of-three series in South Africa in June and four further autumn Tests at Twickenham in the buildup to the 2019 World Cup.

Related: Strike talk will only grow louder as rugby union demands on players increase | Paul Rees

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/21/eddie-jones-lions-england-autumn-series-rob-baxter-exeter

Sep 19

Danny Cipriani’s hopes of England recall ended by knee ligament tear

• Cipriani out for eight to 12 weeks with injury suffered against Harlequins
• Wasps No10 at best fifth in Eddie Jones’s fly-half pecking order

 Danny Cipriani may be out of action until December after sustaining a medial knee ligament tear in Wasps’ Premiership defeat by Harlequins. He is not expected to resume playing for between eight and 12 weeks, ending the fly-half’s already remote hopes of a recall to England’s preliminary autumn training squad.

Related: Joe Marler reprimanded but not suspended over James Haskell fight

Related: Premiership, Pro14, international and Premier 15s rugby union talking points

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/19/danny-cipriani-england-knee-ligament-injury-wasps-harlequins

Sep 19

Two years to Japan’s World Cup and rugby union is in a state of confusion | Robert Kitson

Emtpy stadiums, threats to the 15-a-side game and the decline of the Springboks and Wallabies means that the possibility of only two teams being genuinely in contention come Japan 2019 is very real

Exactly two years from now the next Rugby World Cup will kick off in Japan, and World Rugby are starting to twitch, judging by their public warnings to local organisers about the sluggish pace of preparations. Get your pagoda in order now has been the theme ahead of this week’s two-years-to-go anniversary extravaganza at Shibuya 19 in central Tokyo.

Normally this would be a high-profile story but, right now, there seem to be more serious concerns, not least that Japan is at the heart of global geo-political tension with North Korea given a second missile test fired over the country in the past week. Rugby, meanwhile, has its own worrisome long-term problems to fret about. Those South Africans still shaking their heads at last weekend’s 57-0 thrashing by the All Blacks are not alone: the scoreline sent a shiver down every traditional rugby spine from Bloemfontein to Buenos Aires. The Springboks were supposed to be improving, the men in black still rebuilding. What if this yawning gap widens further between now and 2019? Only the most sand-obsessed ostrich could ignore the possible ramifications.

Related: Damp squib in Philadelphia exposes distance of American rugby dream

Related: Wallabies’ killer instinct eventually emerges in win over Pumas | Bret Harris

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/sep/19/rugby-world-cup-2019-japan-south-africa-decline

Sep 15

Billy Twelvetrees: ‘Welford Road can be intimidating – but it’s also why you play’

The Gloucester centre returns to Leicester with plenty of fond memories for the atmosphere at his former club’s ground

Next time someone says rugby grounds are all the same, refer them to this description of playing at Welford Road. “The Crumbie Stand feels like it surrounds you. When you run out you feel like you’re coming through the crowd to play. You can hear their feet stamping above you when you’re changing.

“Going down the touchline the fans are there with you. You can smell the food and see the beers. Sometimes you’ll get sprayed on. It’s why I like goal-kicking there. They’re so close they’re sometimes tapping you on the back – or telling you you’re going to miss it. I absolutely love it. It can be intimidating – but it’s also why you play the game.”

Related: Jason Woodward’s late try gives Gloucester win over champions Exeter

Related: Premier 15s league will make huge difference to women’s rugby union | Katy McLean

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/15/billy-twelvetrees-gloucester-fond-memories-leicester