Here are the latest rugby headlines on Thursday, January 19.
Ospreys console overlooked Smith
The Ospreys have put an arm around the “unbelievably good” Nicky Smith after his omission from Wales’ squad for the Six Nations.
Despite being arguably the top-performing prop on the regional scene this season, strong in the scrums and around the field, the 28-year-old loosehead saw just 35 minutes of action for Wales during the autumn Tests.
Now he’s been left out of the squad completely for the Six Nations despite a new head coach being installed in Warren Gatland.
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The call was surprising as Smith has been operating at close to the peak of his powers, although Gatland has said he was the subject of a long conversation among the selectors.
Ospreys head coach Toby Booth said: “I think Nicky’s been unbelievably good for us this year and I understand why people have asked the questions and he feels hard done by.
“That’s a question for Warren. All Nicky can do is play well when we play Leicester on Friday.
“He’s been one of our form players. But Nicky’s been around the block and understands it. Our job is to try and get him back there.
“We’ve had this situation before. Rhys Webb is back in with Wales now. Adam Beard is another. George North we’ve had it with, Gareth Anscombe, too. It’s part and parcel of what you have to get over and manage a player and help and support him to get him back to his best so he can keep knocking on the door, so when the opportunity comes he’s ready.”
Scotland international suspended after domestic abuse plea
Glasgow and Scotland winger Rufus McLean faces the prospect of being sacked today after pleading guilty to domestic abuse charges.
The 22-year-old appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Wednesday and his rugby union future will be decided at a disciplinary hearing today, the Daily Record report.
A Warriors statement read: "Rufus McLean is suspended from all club activity and is unavailable for selection following a guilty plea to charges under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 in December 2022.
"Glasgow Warriors does not condone abuse of any kind and therefore, along with Scottish Rugby, immediately suspended the player following his plea.
"An internal investigation has been instigated and a disciplinary hearing will be held this week.
"Legal proceedings in this matter are not concluded therefore no further comment will be made at this time."
McLean, who was born in the United States, has made 26 appearances for Glasgow and has three full international caps, scoring two tries on his Scotland debut against Tonga in October 2021.
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Gatland is 'big curveball' in Six Nations
Ed Elliot, PA
Former Ireland captain Rory Best believes the appointments of Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland have thrown "a big curveball" into his country's quest for Guinness Six Nations glory.
Borthwick was last month unveiled as Eddie Jones' successor as England head coach, just a fortnight after Gatland replaced Wayne Pivac for a second stint as Wales boss.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell will on Thursday name his squad for the championship following a stellar 2022 in which his side rose to the top of the world rankings on the back of a historic series success in New Zealand.
The Irish, who also clinched the Triple Crown last year, begin the tournament in Cardiff on February 4 as favourites, before finishing at home to England on March 18.
"It has probably brought a little bit of unknown," Best said of the coaching alterations.
"If it had been Wayne Pivac and Eddie Jones you would have a fair idea of what they are going to try to do.
"So that unknown creates a bit of instability in international rugby because Ireland are trying to prepare for a game against Wales at the start of a Six Nations based on historically what Warren Gatland's done. Will he bring something different? You don't know.
"You can only prepare for what you believe is going to happen and England are the same.
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Owens deserves to finally be Wales captain
Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel believes Ken Owens has earned the right to finally captain his country.
The veteran hooker will lead Wales at the Six Nations for the first time, having never worn the armband at international level before. That fact will surprise many given Owens has spent much of his career captaining the Scarlets, and even his club coach was taken aback.
"What he's done for this region and for Wales, I think he fully deserves it," said Scarlets head coach Peel.
"I didn't know he'd never been captain before for Wales.
"I know how much of a leader he is here, obviously, Foxy (Jonathan Davies) is captain here, but he has been captain here for many years before that and leads from the front. I can’t speak highly enough of him. The journey he has been on as well with his injury and the amount of work he has done to get back fit, to be awarded the captaincy is great for him.”
New competition begins
The inaugural season of the Celtic Challenge kicks off this weekend. Mike Hill, head coach of the WRU Development XV – the Welsh side taking part in the pilot cross-border competition, has named a diverse and flexible squad of 42 players for the campaign which includes some capped internationals along with Welsh club and international age grade players, along with some players signed to Allianz Premier 15s sides.
The initiative, in partnership with World Rugby, aims to bridge the gap between domestic and international game across the Celtic nations, will see one team from Wales, Ireland and Scotland play each other in home and away matches over the coming month. The intention is that the competition will develop further next season with up to six teams, two from each nation.
The WRU Development XV kicks off its matches at Scotstoun on Sunday against the Scottish team – Thistles – before welcoming both the Thistles and the Irish team, the Combined Provinces XV to Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday, January 29 and Saturday, February 11 respectively before travelling to Belfast for the return fixture against the Irish side.
Hill said: “We’ve been really impressed as coaches and the players have really bought into what we’re trying to do. There has been huge improvement in a short space of time and given the difference in age and experience across the squad, the players have made a real effort to gel and get to know each other. We are working closely with club and University coaches both in Wales and across the border and while more than 60 players have trained with us already, the door is certainly not closed.
“The programme is already paying dividends in terms of talent identification and allowing players to develop within a performance environment. There are certainly a number of girls who could well step up to the next level of rugby from this group."
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