Six Nations chief backs struggling Italy and keeps door shut on South Africa

  • New event for emerging nations to fit in international calendar
  • Ben Morel says: ‘I don’t believe there’s a question of credibility’

The Six Nations chief executive, Ben Morel, has denied that Italy’s dismal recent record is damaging the credibility of the tournament and kept the door shut on South Africa joining Europe’s premier rugby event.

Speaking at the launch of the 2022 men’s edition, which begins a week on Saturday, Morel rejected the idea of promotion and relegation in the Six Nations, but said the organisation is instead putting “all our resources” into plans for a new event within existing international windows.

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Joe van Niekerk: from rugby fields to a farm in the Costa Rican jungle

After becoming a European champion, Van Niekerk retired and travelled the world in a campervan looking for the pure life

By Jonathan Drennan for the Guardian Sport Network

Joe van Niekerk’s rugby career ended seven years ago with Toulon winning the French championship and European Cup. It was a fairytale finish for a player who had regularly led a cast of rugby superstars, including Bryan Habana and Jonny Wilkinson, to success. The South African had captained the club for four years but in his final season he knew that, while the spotlight continued to blare down on his teammates in the picturesque port French city, it was slowly dimming on him. Time was moving on ruthlessly. Van Niekerk celebrated the successes with his teammates heartily and then exited the stage quietly. He was barely seen for the next two years.

Van Niekerk emerged from those two years a different man, both physically and mentally. “Nobody had seen me for a very long time,” he remembers. “I spent that time really getting to grips with my mind and my body. I was getting comfortable with solitude, and studying yogis. I needed to cleanse my body from the absolute carnage of 15 years of professional rugby.

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