James Haskell joked "highly influential" England coach Eddie Jones still scares him and backed the Australian to secure Six Nations glory when the competition is finished this month.

The annual northern hemisphere tournament was suspended back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the final four matches to take place at the end of October.

Jones' side are top of the table on points difference from France, whose win over England in round one means a grand slam is out of the question.

But Haskell believes the meticulous Jones will have consumed so much rugby that England, whose remaining match is away to Italy on October 31, will get the job done.

"I think I'm going to back England. Obviously, France had their opportunity but let it slip just before lockdown and the wheels sort of fell off the world," Haskell told Stats Perform News.

"I think the reason I'm backing England is I know what Eddie would have been like in terms of communicating with the clubs and the players and he will have been watching, scrutinising these games.

"There's been so much rugby for him to digest, two games a week when guys are getting opportunities, they're playing lots of rugby, they're going to be fit and ready to go during this period.

"There's no building time, you have to hit the game straight off the bat - I think England are in a great position to do that, I can see them winning it. It obviously won't be a grand slam Six Nations but it'll be potentially another trophy in the locker.

"However, you just don't know how the other teams have reacted, I think this period will probably be negative for France. They've played bits of rugby but been out of the mix for quite a while."

Former England forward Haskell was speaking to promote his autobiography 'What a Flanker', in which he discusses his relationship with Jones.

Haskell has nothing but admiration for Jones and the impact he had on his career, even if the Australian can still strike fear in him.

"Yeah of course, I spoke to Eddie about it [the book], he's asked about it," Haskell added.

"He was responsible for some of the best rugby of my career, he created an unbelievable winning environment, he showed me how to be the best player I could be.

"I always spoke to Eddie about stuff, I still speak to him now. I'm still scared of him now as I think most people are!

"He was hugely influential, I really admire the way he does things, his own path to self-development, his desire to keep getting better, his ever-evolving thought process and the fact he's made mistakes and done things really well and learnt everything in between.

"That was really important to me, I speak about him in glowing terms, so he's got nothing to worry about!"

James Haskell's autobiography 'What a Flanker!' is now available through HarperCollins.

Eddie Jones has named 12 uncapped players to join up for an England training squad a few weeks before their final match of the Six Nations against Italy.

Jones was unable to call on players from six Premiership clubs, with the season still in progress.

The England head coach on Monday included a dozen players who have not yet represented their country, with Ali Crossdale, Fraser Dingwall, Nathan Earle, Alex Mitchell, Ollie Thorley and Jack Clement given the nod.

Alex Dombrandt, Joe Heyes, Simon Kerrod, Lewis Ludlow, Alex Moon and David Ribbans were also in the 28-man squad for a three-day training camp - which starts on Tuesday.

England face the Barbarians on October 25 before taking on Italy in Rome - a match that was postponed in March due to the coronavirus crisis - six days later with the Six Nations title up for grabs.

They will then play four matches as part of the Autumn Nations Cup.

Jones said: "Our preparation to build the team for the Italy game starts now. We have a three-day camp this week and another one next week then we're into the week of our Quilter Cup match against the Barbarians.

"We'll be slowly building up, working on the basics and working on team cohesion. We're excited to be back together in camp representing England. This autumn we want to play for the fans and give them something to smile about."

 

England training squad:

Backs: Ali Crossdale, Elliot Daly, Fraser Dingwall, Nathan Earle, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Piers Francis, George Furbank, Willi Heinz, Joe Marchant, Jonny May, Alex Mitchell, Ollie Thorley, Ben Youngs.

Forwards: Jack Clement, Alex Dombrandt, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Joe Heyes, Maro Itoje, Simon Kerrod, Lewis Ludlow, Alex Moon, David Ribbans, Jack Singleton, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Mark Wilson.

Michael Cheika will attempt to plot Australia's downfall during the Rugby Championship after taking up a role with Argentina. 

Cheika, who stepped down as Wallabies head coach following the Rugby World Cup last October, has agreed to work as an external advisor for Pumas boss Mario Ledesma, who served as his assistant during his Australia tenure. 

Ledesma believes Cheika can have a significant influence during the six-week tournament in Australia, which starts on November 7. 

"With Michael, we started talking at the beginning of the year," Ledesma said. 

"I proposed to him the idea of working together again and he was immediately interested. We agreed from the first moment. I noticed [he was] very excited. He always liked Argentine rugby a lot. 

"He is a person who can bring us a lot of experience both to the group of players and to the staff. As was the incorporation of 'Tano' [Marcelo Loffreda], in the first days of August. 

"Undoubtedly, it is an excellent opportunity to continue learning because he is a person who thinks a lot about things outside the box who has an innovative and super creative vision, different from that of many coaches that I could cross. 

"In addition, when the Championship was confirmed in Australia, we were able to dialogue and listen to their recommendations about places to train, schedules and even issues related to the weather. 

"For his part, we have already been conducting several talks with him and the entire staff, about issues of the game, defence, attack, types of exercises, individual techniques and others. So that exchange was spectacular."

Rugby Australia has vowed to do "everything in its power" to find a "reasonable resolution" after New Zealand Rugby (NZR) refused to rule out boycotting the Rugby Championship.

NZR on Thursday stated it had not agreed to a schedule that is due to see the All Blacks play their last match of a six-week tournament on December 12, which would leave the players in quarantine for Christmas.

Mark Robinson, the NZR chief executive, said the fixture list broke a commitment from Rugby Australia and governing body SANZAAR for the All Blacks to play their final game of the competition on December 5 - enabling them to spend the festive period with their families.

Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke says there is ample time to reach an agreement over the scheduling and is confident the four-team competition will be a success.

Clarke said: "For absolute clarity - on two formal occasions - Rugby Australia was supportive of altering the draw so that the Rugby Championship could be played over five weeks.

"On both occasions, that proposal was rejected which means there was never an agreement to finish the tournament on Saturday 5 December 2020.

"That being said, no one wants players and team management to be away from their families and in quarantine over Christmas."

Clarke added: "Rugby Australia will do everything in its power to help assist New Zealand Rugby and the team in finding a reasonable resolution, and in urging them to exhaust every possible alternative.

"There are still more than two months to go before December 12 so we have plenty of time to find a solution.

"We will continue to work with New Zealand Rugby and support them however we can, just like we are doing with the Springboks and Argentina in assisting with their travel plans, as well as making their stay in Australia as safe and as comfortable as possible during the tournament.

"There have been a number of sacrifices made by each of the SANZAAR joint venture partners to get this far and I want to thank all of them for their flexibility and adaptability.

"There is obviously a lot to achieve in the coming months but I'm confident that under the leadership of each of the joint venture partners, that the 2020 Rugby Championship in Australia will be a great success."

Australia's new era will begin with the same captain as Michael Hooper was reappointed by Dave Rennie on Wednesday.

Head coach Rennie, who replaced Michael Cheika after last year's Rugby World Cup but began work in June, named a youthful first squad earlier this month - including 16 uncapped players, eight of whom debuted in Super Rugby this season.

However, there was still room for six-year Wallabies skipper Hooper, although no captain was initially indicated in the selection.

Rennie had previously said no decision had yet been made on the identity of his on-field leader, but he announced a "straightforward decision" on Wednesday.

"I've been really impressed with Hoops," Rennie said. "We've spoken a lot over the past nine months and it's highlighted his passion and commitment.

"He's a good man with an outstanding work ethic and he's a great role model for our young men coming through.

"He's keen to lead and is highly respected by the Wallaby family. In the end, his appointment was a straightforward decision."

Hooper added: "It's an absolute honour to be the Wallabies captain and I want to thank Dave and the Wallabies management team, as well as Rugby Australia, for their support and endorsement. 

"It's a privilege to wear the Wallabies jersey, I feel proud to lead my team-mates and to represent those players that have before and all Australians.

"I'm really excited about this group and the direction we are heading. We have already spent some quality time together, defining who we are and what we stand for and what we plan to achieve in the coming months."

Former Scotland captain John Barclay has announced his retirement at the age of 33. 

The back-rower won 76 caps for his country and played in three Rugby World Cups during an illustrious 16-year professional career. 

Barclay played for Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh either side of a spell with the Scarlets, winning the Pro14 title with the Welsh region in 2017. 

Edinburgh announced in April that Barclay would be leaving the club and he has now decided to hang up his boots.

Barclay told Scottishrugby.org: "After much thought I've decided to call time on my career. When you know, you know and whilst COVID-19 has left a frustrating finish, the end isn't about the fairytale. The whole story has been a fairytale. 

"The opportunity to get to do the thing I loved as a job for 16 years has provided me with enough memories to last a lifetime. 

"Whilst there are games that were particularly memorable, and undoubtedly I will miss the physical brutality of the game, what I'll miss more than anything is the camaraderie and sense of fulfilment after a game, that comes from sharing a joint goal and purpose with friends. The memories off the pitch were as remarkable as the ones on it. 

"To get capped was beyond my wildest dream as a child growing up. To be able to captain my country will be something I will be eternally proud of beyond anything else. 

"To know I will never run out at Murrayfield does leave me with a tinge of sadness, but I was a supporter before I played for the team and I will be there as the team's most fervent supporter."

Six Nations has confirmed the tournament will be completed in October and guidance on potential spectator attendance will follow "in due course".

The World Rugby Council last week approved for Ireland to face Italy on October 24, with the final round of matches taking place a week later.

Ireland will stage bottom side Italy at the Aviva Stadium in a showdown that should have taken place on March 7, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wales will take on Scotland on October 31 at a venue that has not yet been confirmed, with England travelling to face Italy at Stadio Olimpico and France doing battle with Ireland at Stade de France on the same day. 

England were above France on points difference when the vast majority of sport worldwide was halted in March and it remains to be seen whether fans will be allowed in to see the conclusion of the competition.

A Six Nations statement released on Wednesday said: "In rescheduling these matches, the health and safety of players, associated staff and supporters has been at the forefront of our thinking.

"We remain in close contact with all relevant authorities across the respective jurisdictions to ensure these matches take place in a safe environment and we will announce further details of health and safety protocols and guidance on spectator attendance in due course."

Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel said: "Public health remains the number one priority and while we must continue to be vigilant and cognisant of the dynamic and fast changing external environment, we are nonetheless extremely pleased to be moving in the right direction."

Eddie Jones has expressed delight at Manu Tuilagi's decision to stay in England and is not concerned that Owen Farrell will be playing in the Championship next season.

Tuilagi this week joined Sale Sharks on a deal until the end of next season after failing to agree terms to remain with Leicester Tigers.

The British and Irish Lion was linked with a move to France or a code swap, options which would have ended his England career.

Jones says the 29-year-old's switch to Sale is great news for the Rugby World Cup runners-up.

The England head coach said: "Manu made up his mind what he was going to do. We had a couple of phone calls, we kept in contact the whole time.

"I gave him a small piece of advice, but he knew what he wanted to do. He's a valuable Test player, his performance in the World Cup and Six Nations indicated there is still more in him and I'm delighted by his decision.

"It's obviously a difficult time for everyone at the moment and we are glad he's made that decision."

Farrell will not be on the move after committing his long-term future to Saracens, who are heading for the second tier due to persistent salary-cap breaches.

It was also revealed that Mako Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Jamie George will stay with Sarries this week and Jones says the European champions’ England contingent will be picked if they are performing well enough.

He said: "I'll be comfortable [picking Saracens players] if they're in good form. Players who have a track record of Test match success, I'll have a pretty good idea of where they are and where they need to be.

"My understanding is most of the younger guys at Saracens are moving to other clubs so they will not have the same issues that the older players have. 

"Without sounding too grandiose, if I look at Owen Farrell it doesn't matter what game he plays I've got a pretty good understanding of where he needs to be."

The British and Irish Lions' tour to South Africa will go ahead as scheduled in 2021. 

There were concerns the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could cause a postponement to the trip, but the original dates for all eight fixtures have now been confirmed. 

The Lions will take on the reigning world champions in a three-Test series, with those games against the Springboks taking place in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Gauteng.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to the sporting calendar, but after extensive discussions we are now able to confirm that the Tour dates are as previously announced," said Ben Calveley, managing director of the Lions. 

"An enormous amount of planning, especially from a logistical perspective, goes into putting on a Lions series, so it was crucial that a decision was agreed upon in good time."

Steve Hansen says New Zealand Rugby owes Australian counterparts nothing and urged officials to be strong in talks over the future of Super Rugby.

NZ Rugby commissioned the Aratipu review to look into the Super Rugby model and put plans in place to rebuild finances after being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

There has been talk of reducing the number of Australian teams in a new-look trans-Tasman competition.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan this week compared the relationship between his governing body and NZ Rugby to a "master-servant" dynamic.

Former All Blacks head coach Hansen has urged NZ Rugby to stand firm when negotiations take place.

"Without being controversial, we have been looking after the Aussies for years," Hansen told Stuff Media.

"And every time we have required something from them, particularly at a high level, sometimes they have gone missing.

"Do we owe them something? No. But because we are the nation we are, and we care about the game more than just ourselves, we bend and buckle a bit.’"

He added: "I think NZ Rugby are in the mood for having strong discussions … because they only get one shot at it."

Hansen does not believe it would be a wise move to have more New Zealand teams in a Super Rugby competition and feels less travel can be a benefit for players.

"You don't want to be diluting the talent pool. And then you have to ask, 'Do we want our athletes travelling all around the world as much as they have been?'.

"If the answer is 'no', you look internally into New Zealand or maybe Australia [for a structure of the tournament) because it's not far away."

Former South Africa hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle has been given an eight-year ban after testing positive for a banned substance. 

The 33-year-old tested positive for the anabolic agent Zeranol in an out-of-competition sample taken in January 2019. 

Ralepelle, who also failed tests in 2010 and 2014 - the first was ruled a 'no-fault' case and he received a reprimand, challenged the latest charge, but the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) has banned the player until 2027. 

The ex-Sharks, Bulls and Toulouse forward, who won 25 caps for the Springboks, has three weeks to lodge an appeal.  

A statement from SAIDS sent to Stats Perform News read: "The Independent Doping Tribunal Panel handed down its decision in two parts this week on the doping charge against former Springbok and Sharks rugby player, Mahlatse 'Chiliboy' Ralepelle.  

"The player tested positive for the banned anabolic agent Zeranol during an out-of-competition test on January 17, 2019. 

"The athlete challenged the doping charge and was afforded the opportunity to seek legal counsel to present his case and version of events to the tribunal panel. The hearings were adjourned multiple times and were held over a period of six months. The panel reached a decision first on the merits of the case where they found the player guilty of a doping offence. 

"Ralepelle had previously tested positive on two separate occasions while playing overseas. The Zeranol positive case was his third positive dope test during his playing career within a 10-year period, however the player's first positive case was ruled a 'No Fault' decision and he then received a reprimand. 

"The panel had to refer to sports jurisprudence to determine the appropriate sanction which they ruled to be the player's second doping offence. 

"The Independent Doping Tribunal Panel ruled that Mr Ralepelle must serve an eight-year ban for doping. The ban will expire on January 27, 2027. The player has 21 days within which to file an appeal against the sanction."

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett will miss the rest of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season as he requires surgery on a big toe injury.

The New Zealand lock was hurt playing in an internal game on June 13 and, following medical consultation, the decision was taken for Barrett to go under the knife.

Alex Ainley comes into the squad to cover for Barrett, while Codie Taylor takes over the armband.

A Crusaders statement read: "Crusaders Captain Scott Barrett sustained a significant injury to the structures supporting his big toe, while playing in the Crusaders internal game on Saturday 13 June.  

"After consultation with a foot specialist, it has been determined that Scott will miss the remainder of the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition to undergo surgery and allow sufficient time to recover. Exact return to play dates are uncertain at this stage. 

"Alex Ainley has joined the Crusaders squad as injury cover for the competition, and Codie Taylor will take over captaincy of the side for the remainder of the season."

Barrett signed a new deal to stay with New Zealand Rugby and the Crusaders until 2023 last month.

Michael Hooper is not guaranteed to keep the captain's armband under new Australia coach Dave Rennie.

Rennie will formally assume the role next month and he revealed the team will be selected before a skipper is chosen.

The incoming Wallabies boss also expressed disappointment that Izack Rodda and Harry Hockings will not be at his disposal after refusing to accept pay cuts that were signed off by the Rugby Union Players Association and Rugby Australia.

After a tough spell under Michael Cheika, beaten 2019 Rugby World cup quarter-finalists Australia will hope for a brighter future under former Glasgow Warriors coach Rennie but he is not sure who will lead his team.

"We haven't spoken about captaincy at all, and I've spoken with Hoops a lot on various things," Rennie said when asked on a Zoom call if Hooper would stay on as captain.

"All we've talked about at the moment is earning the right to play, so it's about playing well enough to win the jersey and then we'll sort out who the captain will be."

Hooper recently stepped down from the captaincy role with the Waratahs and Rennie believes the flanker's performances have improved as a result.

"Clearly, he's not doing it at the Waratahs, and that's been good for his game to be honest, I think he's played really well. He's still leading, no doubt, he just hasn't got the 'C' next to his name," Rennie said.

"So, he's a strong contender for captain but we haven't firmed up any decisions around that; we'll just work out what the team is and then we'll select the captain. But there [are] lots of good leaders in amongst that group."

On the issue of Rodda and Hockings, both of whom have come in for heavy criticism, Rennie felt perhaps the full story had not come to light.

"I've spoken a lot to Izack, I don't know what's been reported, I don't tend to read a lot of papers, but the full picture probably hasn't been painted," he said.

"I had a good chat to him last week, but he's gone and the whole situation is really messy and could have been handled a lot better. So that's disappointing.

"With young Harry Hockings gone, who I think could have been an outstanding international lock, and with Izack gone, and when you look at guys like Rory Arnold heading off last year, there's certainly an opportunity for some guys [locks] coming through. So not ideal but it is what it is, and we've got to get on with it."

Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu has signed a new deal with New Zealand Rugby until the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

It was announced on Monday that the New Zealand lock has agreed terms on the back of the Blues' 30-20 victory over the Hurricanes at a packed Eden Park on the opening weekend of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The 27-year-old has won 30 caps for the All Blacks and played 74 times for Auckland franchise the Blues since making his debut in 2014.

"I am pleased to continue to play for New Zealand Rugby and the Blues until 2023 and I'm excited about the future," said Tuipulotu.

"During the [coronavirus] lockdown I realised more than ever how much I love this game and love playing for the Blues. We are beginning to develop into a really good side and it is an honour to lead them.

"I am still young and learning all the time, and I want to establish myself as an international player."

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said: "This is fantastic news for New Zealand Rugby and the Blues.

"Patrick has grown considerably over the last few years, both on the field as a player and off field with his captaincy and leadership.

"The fact that he has re-signed through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup is a sign of not only NZ Rugby's commitment to him, but also Patty's desire to achieve his own goals in New Zealand over the next few years.

"We congratulate him on making that commitment."

John Morris was "totally blind-sided" by reports that he is under pressure after Eddie Jones was linked with the Cronulla Sharks job.

Sharks coach Morris was stunned to hear that his position could be under threat following an NRL victory over North Queensland Cowboys last week.

It was then reported that England head coach Eddie Jones was being lined up for a sensational code switch to replace the 39-year-old Morris.

A 30-16 defeat to St George Illawarra Dragons on Sunday led to Morris being probed about talk of Jones taking his job, but he was defiant after the Sharks dropped to 14th in the ladder.

"I'm a young coach, that's for sure, but I think everyone across the game can appreciate the challenges I've had in the first 12 months," Morris said.

"We've had massive challenges around the club with the salary cap fine. We've had to let players go as a result of that.

"We played finals football last year in my first year as a rookie coach, so I don't want to sit here and feel sorry for myself or anything like that, but I think I've done a really good job so far and I've had a lot of injuries as well. 

"We still can't put our main side on the park at the moment. The Eddie Jones stuff obviously caught me by surprise and did a lot of people. I'm contracted until the end of 2021, so I can't read too much into that read.

"Speculation and rumour, I can't let that distract on me, I'm focused on this playing group and getting them going, we had a really good win up in North Queensland last week and we wanted to get better this week, but we obviously slipped up today."

Morris called for the club to back him after he was pressed further on his future in the post-match news conference.

He added: "You'd have to speak to the club, there has been no mention at all to me about my position, it came from left field after our win last week against the Cowboys.

"We were singing the team song in the sheds and it's reported that my job was under pressure, so that's totally blind-sided me. 

"But one thing is I've got a really good bond with the playing group and all of our staff and we're working real hard. We've got some unprecedented challenges around our club at the moment and we are all working as hard as we can to get through that.

"We had to release Matt Prior before the season even started due to the salary cap, we let Josh Morris go. We've had some challenges there and I think the more the club can support me in these challenging times, the better we'll be in the long run."

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