Robert Kitson

Author's details

Name: Robert Kitson
Date registered: October 11, 2014

Latest posts

  1. Exeter’s Harry Williams: ‘The idea of international rugby is forming a bit more’ — April 28, 2017
  2. Exeter’s Rob Baxter sounds warning about playing fewer top-flight games — April 26, 2017
  3. Holding 2023 Rugby World Cup in Ireland would capture hearts and minds | Robert Kitson — April 25, 2017
  4. England squad for Argentina shows Eddie Jones is still hunting surprises | Robert Kitson — April 20, 2017
  5. Blend of Anglo-Saxon power and Celtic thunder will give Lions heart | Robert Kitson — April 19, 2017

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Apr 28

Exeter’s Harry Williams: ‘The idea of international rugby is forming a bit more’

The Chiefs prop may have been a late developer but, with an England cap on the horizon, there is a lot more to the 25-year-old than meets the eye

In Exeter they do not mind what their rugby players look like. “We’re not big ones for the colour of a player’s boots or hairstyles or tattoos,” says Rob Baxter, the Chiefs director of rugby, glancing over at his distinctively pony-tailed, 20-stone prop Harry Williams. “We’re happy for them to be their own men as long as they buy into what we want to achieve as a club. He can wear white boots and have whatever hairstyle he wants as long as he trains well and plays well.”

A sense of stylistic freedom has clearly done Jack Nowell no harm from a Lions perspective and following his call-up to the senior England squad for this summer’s tour to Argentina, the idiosyncratic Williams is the latest example. While Eddie Jones is not an instant fan of his new tighthead’s barnet – “He needs a haircut so I will have to chat to him about that” – he will soon discover there is a heap more to the 25-year-old than meets the eye. Taking the clippers to Samson’s locks did not end well and it might work best to keep England’s new giant-sized recruit away from the barbers.

Related: Exeter’s Rob Baxter sounds warning about playing fewer top-flight games

Related: Bristol may get relegation reprieve from the Championship play-offs

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Apr 26

Exeter’s Rob Baxter sounds warning about playing fewer top-flight games

• Rugby clubs need to find a way to make a profit, Baxter adds
• Exeter prepare to take on Northampton and eye Premiership final

Leading players campaigning for fewer matches and shorter seasons have been warned by a top Premiership coach to wake up to the economic realities of their profession. Exeter’s Rob Baxter, believes the club game is not yet financially stable enough to justify a reduction in players’ workloads and says jobs could be lost if the sport does not adjust its mind-set.

“We need to be careful in rugby not to become turkeys voting for Christmas,” said Baxter, whose Chiefs squad are vying to reach the Premiership final for the second successive year. “Premiership rugby is not some business that is making millions. The players aren’t being exploited because no one’s making any money out of it.

Related: Holding 2023 Rugby World Cup in Ireland would capture hearts and minds | Robert Kitson

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Apr 25

Holding 2023 Rugby World Cup in Ireland would capture hearts and minds | Robert Kitson

As Irish fans have amply demonstrated there is a deep well of passion for rugby in the country which the sport’s premier tournament would do well to tap into

Imagine, for a moment, it is 2023. People have had enough of politics and onrushing global warming and need something more fun to talk about than imminent Armageddon, assuming it has not already happened. What better than a Rugby World Cup, still relatively pure of heart compared with the football version held in Qatar the previous year? If ever there was a moment to showcase the sport as a force for good, this is it.

Where, then, should this feelgood event ideally be held? Where will it not simply generate a few quid but create the kind of positive vibe that might make sponsors, advertisers and TV companies wonder whether rugby merits a bigger slice of their pie? Where will rugby’s most compelling virtues and off-field spirit be best illustrated? There are three different options on the table – South Africa, France and Ireland – with an independently assessed recommendation due to be made this summer and a final vote due on 15 November.

Related: Warren Gatland can give Lions nous and substance for All Blacks challenge | Robert Kitson

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Apr 20

England squad for Argentina shows Eddie Jones is still hunting surprises | Robert Kitson

With several teenagers, the list of 31 proves Eddie Jones is determined to unearth fresh contenders for his 2019 Rugby World Cup squad, players better than England’s 16 Lions

Those who thought England’s Lions-depleted squad to tour Argentina would be a largely predictable list do not know Eddie Jones very well. Fifteen uncapped players will be heading to South America for two Tests in June, with Sale’s cross-code wing Denny Solomona and Auckland’s Piers Francis among some eye-catching inclusions in a 31-man party.

Several of Jones’s picks are still in their teens. Sale’s 18-year-old twins Ben and Tom Curry are joined by two 19-year-olds in the Saracens lock Nick Isiekwe and the London Irish wing Joe Cokanasiga. Among other up-and-coming talents named are the 20-year-old Exeter scrum-half Jack Maunder, the athletic Saracens winger Nathan Earle and the Northampton back Harry Mallinder.

Related: Gatland’s Lions will follow Ireland and look to feed off All Black mistakes

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Apr 19

Blend of Anglo-Saxon power and Celtic thunder will give Lions heart | Robert Kitson

Warren Gatland has selected an abrasive and battle-hardened Lions squad for the formidable challenge of taking on the All Blacks in their own backyard

There can be a slight sense of anticlimax in the immediate aftermath of a British & Ireland Lions squad announcement. Not every deserving individual gets picked, not every country feels fairly represented and the brutal realities of the schedule, particularly this summer, are not easily ignored. It generally takes a while for everyone to calm down and appreciate precisely what the selectors are seeking to achieve.

In the case of the 2017 Lions, ultimately, it is less the shortage of Scots that leaps out than the bristling bundle of competitive energy heading New Zealand’s way. This is not a squad picked for some vague trip to a generic location but specifically with the world champions’ backyard in mind. Warren Gatland is a Kiwi himself and not one of the 41 seats on the plane south will be filled by a player who dissolves at the first hint of pressure.

Related: Lions: the key issues for Warren Gatland and his squad in New Zealand

Related: Lions 2017 squad announcement: Warburton captain, no place for Hartley – as it happened

Related: Sam Warburton: ‘If you get criticism, so be it – you take rough with smooth’

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Apr 18

Wales centre Jamie Roberts set to make cut in Gatland’s Lions squad

• Half of England starting XV who faced Ireland in Six Nations could miss out
• Sam Warburton to be named Lions captain for New Zealand tour

Several high-profile England players are set to miss this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour but the Wales centre Jamie Roberts is poised to be a surprise inclusion when Warren Gatland announces his squad to tour New Zealand on Wednesday. The experienced Roberts has leapfrogged a number of midfield contenders but almost half the English starting XV beaten by Ireland in the Six Nations last month are struggling to make the cut.

Established England players such as George Ford, Mike Brown, Jonathan Joseph, Joe Launchbury, James Haskell and Chris Robshaw are all likely to be squeezed out when the party is unveiled at midday, with Wales’s Sam Warburton captaining the squad for the second successive tour. Among the other England Six Nations winners poised to tour Argentina under Eddie Jones instead are Danny Care, Jonny May and Nathan Hughes.

Related: Warren Gatland can give Lions nous and substance for All Blacks challenge | Robert Kitson

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Apr 18

Warren Gatland can give Lions nous and substance for All Blacks challenge | Robert Kitson

Whatever squad is unveiled on Wednesday, there should be enough ballast in the Lions party to compete in rugby’s most formidable environment in New Zealand

Soon enough the longest wait in rugby will be over. Warren Gatland can still expect loads of advice between now and the first Test against the All Blacks on 24 June but after this week’s selection excitement the tone will swiftly change. Picking a British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand is a lot easier than coming back victorious.

It certainly pays to hear from those who have made the same trek in the past and experienced, rugby-wise, a parallel universe. “Their rugby was different from anything I had experienced before; at times it was just wave after wave after wave,” recalled Ollie Campbell, the great Irish fly-half who was part of the 1983 squad. “It was like standing on the beach trying to keep the tide back; eventually it just goes over you.”

Related: England’s Joe Launchbury and Jonathan Joseph to miss out on Lions squad

Related: A hell of a job: why the Lions selection process is almost as tough as the tour

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Apr 07

Do Premiership rugby’s London days out signal rude health or desperation? | Robert Kitson

The crowds flocking to Twickenham and Wembley for Bath v Leicester and Saracens v Harlequins will be cited as proof of the game’s growth but they mask concerns ranging from fixture congestion to financial uncertainty

Here is a quick quiz question: name the sport rivalling the Premier League and the Grand National for popularity in the UK this weekend? The answer is Premiership rugby union, with as many as 125,000 people set to attend games at Wembley and Twickenham. The “What time can you get here?” gags have gone the way of jockstraps, duckboards and half-time oranges.

These are not finals either, but regular league fixtures, albeit jazzed-up editions. While Bath and Saracens are hardly Manchester United and Arsenal, there is a hunger – or should that be a thirst? – for watching English club rugby union that did not exist 20 years ago. Premiership crowds have doubled since 2000 and live TV audiences are up 50% since 2010-11. As Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby’s chief executive, says: “The appetite is definitely there. I can’t see why, even if we only get most decisions right, it won’t keep increasing. It feels like there’s another phase of growth coming.”

Related: Fixture crush has players talking of strike action – World Rugby must step up

It could be incredibly positive for the game or wreck the whole model. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out

Related: Joe Marler says six-week Six Nations proposals are ‘ridiculous’

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Mar 31

Ghostly presence of Elliot Daly gives Wasps hope in Leinster examination

Wasps travel to Leinster on Saturday for a Champions Cup quarter-final at the location of one of only two of this season’s losses for the gifted centre

It says everything about Elliot Daly’s ability that Eddie Jones went to Coventry this week specifically to consult Wasps about how best to utilise it. Jones would not be bothered were Daly just another average Joe or one of the fly-by-night opportunists to whom England once dished out hasty caps. When the Australian goes into flying doctor mode, there is always a very good reason.

To date, it has mattered little what position Daly occupies. He had No11 on his back when he scored the thrilling late try that sunk Wales in Cardiff during the Six Nations and will be at No13 for Saturday’s potentially epic Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin. Jones, though, reckons he could be England’s next long-term full-back, hence the trip to the Midlands for talks with the 24-year-old’s club coach, Dai Young.

Related: Wales superb but pay price for Elliot Daly’s moment of brilliance | Michael Aylwin

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Mar 21

Warren Gatland refines search for bearers of Lions pride | Robert Kitson

Coach has four weeks to put together a squad capable of overpowering the All Blacks for the first time since 1971

Picking the best British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand has long been a fraught job. In 1993, as now, England had just lost to Ireland in Dublin on the final weekend and the selectors were required to gather the following day. “We spent the next eight hours arguing,” recalls the then assistant coach Dick Best. “At one stage we had 21 England players on the tour but because we’d lost to Ireland it got whittled down to 17. Afterwards Ian McGeechan said: ‘I’m not going again unless I can select the team.’”

Related: Six Nations 2017 verdict: Guardian writers choose their highs and lows

The hardest thing is normally the last four or five players, with the right personalities, people who are going to be good tourists

Related: New Zealand media on England loss: ‘Stuffed plastic bags in need of a trolley’

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Mar 19

England’s defeat by Ireland a necessary wake-up call for Eddie Jones

There is no shame in losing 13-9 to Ireland but, regardless of the tricky conditions, England also made a major contribution to their own downfall

In 30 years’ time most people looking at the 2017 Six Nations table will assume England enjoyed a truly golden season. Dylan Hartley’s team retained their title, finished the tournament with their second-highest haul of tries since 2004 and equalled the world record for successive major Test victories. The squad is still mostly young and only New Zealand are placed above them in the world rankings.

Those with longer memories, though, will not forget the hefty dose of perspective dished out by Ireland on the concluding weekend in a contest that left numerous uneasy questions hanging in the drizzly Dublin air.

Related: England pursuit of grand slam and record foiled by defiant Ireland

Related: England finishers hit endgame against Ireland’s unyielding Johnny Sexton | Andy Bull

Related: Ireland 13-9 England: how the Six Nations players in Dublin rated

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Mar 17

Ben Youngs: ‘It won’t feel like we’ve won the Six Nations unless we beat Ireland’

England scrum-half is embracing the challenge of chasing history and aims to avoid the strange feeling of losing but winning in 2011

Just occasionally, photographers are right to insist a picture says more than a thousand words. The victory photos taken on the final night of the 2011 Six Nations are a prime example: England in their Dublin hotel, ties at half-mast, trying to look like contented champions but fooling no one. Such is bittersweet life for tournament winners who have just missed out on a grand slam.

Even six years on, Ben Youngs does not even try to supply an upbeat caption. “That was a strange one,” he says, recalling the last time England crossed the Irish Sea in search of a clean sweep only to lose 24-8 and have the edge removed from their title celebrations. “It just doesn’t seem right to lose a game and then go and get a trophy, does it?” This time the scrum‑half, one of six 2011 survivors in the visitors’ squad, would prefer a more uplifting memento for his downstairs loo.

Related: Six Nations: seven things to look out for this weekend

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Mar 15

‘We were blown away by the fervour of the Irish. We weren’t ready for it’

A decade on from England’s historic visit to Croke Park their head coach at the time, Brian Ashton, recounts how his players became overawed by the occasion

Brian Ashton remembers the sense of foreboding, even now. As an ex-head coach of Ireland he should, theoretically, have been more prepared than most for England’s Six Nations trip to Dublin 10 years ago. Even before the anthems at Croke Park, however, he had a feeling in his bones: “I remember going on the pitch 45 minutes before kick-off. It is very rare for modern stadiums to be full that early but Croke Park was. You could have cut the atmosphere with the proverbial knife. I wouldn’t say it was scary but it was quite intimidating.”

Whatever the physical reception grand slam-chasing England receive from their hosts this weekend, it will be nothing compared to that 2007 fixture, switched to the Gaelic Athletic Association’s giant citadel while the crumbling old Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped. All the pre-match talk had been of ‘Bloody Sunday’ , when British soldiers opened fire on crowds watching a GAA match at Croke Park in 1920, killing 14 people, and the prospect of Ireland losing to England at rugby union was out of the question. “It was phenomenal,” recalls Ashton, reflecting on Ireland’s 43-13 victory. “I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in anything remotely like that.

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Mar 14

England’s class of ’92 offer lesson in collective improvement for current crop | Robert Kitson

The team heading to Dublin seeking consecutive grand slams for the first time in 25 years ‘could become the best England side ever’, believes Peter Winterbottom

Back-to-back grand slams take some winning. The last time England managed the feat was in 1992, the heyday of Will Carling, Peter Winterbottom, Dean Richards, Jeremy Guscott, Rory Underwood et al, which shows the exalted company Dylan Hartley’s team are trying to join. If they do defeat Ireland on Saturday to complete a second successive full house, their achievement will stand history’s definitive test.

Even a quarter of a century later, the class of ’92 can still recall every little detail of their fabled campaign. They had great players but, then as now, were bruised by previous failure, most recently their 1991 World Cup final defeat to Australia. Their newly appointed coach, Dick Best, was certainly feeling the pressure before the championship. “I thought: Jesus, the only difference from last year is me,” Best says. “If we don’t win another grand slam, guess who they’ll point the finger at?”

Related: England happy to wait until they can step out from All Blacks’ shadow | Andy Bull

Related: How Ireland mood music has changed as record-chasing England loom | Brendan Fanning

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Mar 13

Eddie Jones stokes All Blacks rivalry but warns of Ireland backlash

• England coach likens New Zealand’s Steve Hansen to Big Bad Wolf
• ‘Winning back-to-back grand slams is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

Eddie Jones has stoked the rivalry between England and New Zealand by comparing his All Black counterpart, Steve Hansen, to the cunning Big Bad Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood and warning his players not to be seduced by the warm words of praise from the southern hemisphere over the weekend.

New Zealand’s head coach was complimentary about England following their 61-21 win against Scotland, suggesting they looked fitter and more motivated than they had done previously. Jones, however, suspects Hansen of trying to lull his squad – and, potentially, the British & Irish Lions – into a false sense of security. “It’s a bit like Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf when the wolf comes dressed up as the grandmother,” Jones said. “When an All Black coach is complimenting you, you always have to be careful.”

Related: England happy to wait until they can step out from All Blacks’ shadow | Andy Bull

Related: How England equalled New Zealand’s 18-match winning streak, match by match | Gerard Meagher

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Mar 12

George Ford says England are in no mood to ease up against Ireland

• England fly-half excited about making history in Dublin
• New Zealand coach Steve Hansen praised Eddie Jones’s work

England’s players are looking to “create history” in Dublin on Saturday despite having already sealed this year’s Six Nations title with a record-equalling 61-21 win over Scotland. The players are not simply determined to be the first English side since 1992 to complete back-to-back grand slams but are also motivated by the chance to overhaul New Zealand’s world record of 18 successive Test victories by a tier-one nation.

Related: England and Jonathan Joseph thump Scotland to seal Six Nations title

Related: George North’s two tries drive Wales past Ireland in thundering win

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