Weekend Rugby Preview: Charlie Hebdo, JJ Hanrahan, Ian Keatley, Salary Cap, Transfer rumors, Player Moves, USA Rugby and Pro 12

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JJ Hanrahan
JJ Hanrahan

NEW YORK, NY – Every now and then, the darkness of the outside world creeps into our lives and the beautiful game. That is the only way to describe our reaction as staff when we heard of the terrorist attacks in France at the Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters. With two of our staff members actually living in France and part of the journalist community there, it made for a very sad and uncomfortable day.

We do not purport to be anything more than rugby website written by a bunch of men and women who take their rugby seriously, even if not themselves. However, we too proudly say #JeSuisCharlie and plow ahead with the Weekend Rugby Preview:

As usual, the preview will discuss Transfer Rumors, Player Transactions, USA Rugby & World Rugby news and then take look at the weekend fixtures in Europe’s three top leagues.

Transactions: It was like freeway traffic this week in the player moves and transfer rumors department. With January 1st, the official date when players can be contacted by any club trying to persuade them to leave their current club, it is the start of silly season. This leads to loads of shocking rumors and even more shock when some of these rumors are confirmed.

We begin with the rumor mill of the Top 14… Former All Black tighthead and current Toulon captain Carl Hayman has confirmed he will retire at the end of the season… Stade Français fly-half Morné Steyn has been banned for two weeks following his red card against Lyon.

In the Aviva Premiership, confirming weeks-old rumors, Munster fly-half/center JJ Hanrahan will join Northampton Saints at the end of the season after agreeing to a deal with the side… Also confirming weeks-long speculation, Bath have confirmed the signing of Welsh international fly-half Rhys Priestland next season. In more Bath news, coach Toby Booth says former Welsh international Gavin Henson could still earn a contract extension with the club. The arrival of Priestland has only given credit to rumors that Henson is headed to either Bristol and Newport Gwent Dragons. Finally, after an unproductive spell at Bath, Argentina prop Juan Pablo Orlandi has signed for Newcastle Falcons. Cynics have already called it a salary cap dump move… The aforementioned Bristol RFC in the Greene King IPA Rugby Championship, the division immediately below the Premiership, have confirmed the signing of Tom Varndell from Wasps to a two-year deal with the side. In positive news for Wasps, they confirmed the signing of Jimmy Gopperth from Leinster for 2015/16 season. Wasps have also secured the signature England Saxons scrum-half Dan Robson from Gloucester at the end of the 2014/15 season…. Leicester Tigers announced the re-signing of three key members of the club’s first team this week. First, fly-half Owen Williams ended speculation on his future or a possible return to Wales by agreeing to a new contract. Second-row forward Graham Kitchener was the next to commit his future to the club and finally tighthead prop Fraser Balmain was the third and  player to agree a new contract. Leicester also announced that young front-rowers Harry Thacker, Riccardo Brugnara and Tiziano Pasquali have signed contracts to stay with the club… Scrum-half Dave Lewis has signed a two year extension with the Exeter ChiefsSale director of rugby Steve Diamond has admitted that speculation of a Top 14 move for the club’s star fly-half Danny Cipriani has some legitimacy. According to Diamond, Cipriani will decide in the next fortnight whether he will stay with the club, when the the training squad lists for England’s Six Nations campaign are released.

Ian Keatley
Ian Keatley

Munster and the IRFU have confirmed that fly-half Ian Keatley and young trio center Cian Bohane,  backrows Shane Buckley and Jack O’Donoghue have inked new contracts. Keatley’s rise to first choice 10 under head coach Axel Foley was a key part of the reason for JJ Hanrahan’s move to England. According to the Irish Independent Australia and Waratahs back Rob Horne has been linked with a move to Munster after the Rugby World Cup as a Hanrahan’s replacement… Ulster and Ireland second row Dan Tuohy has signed a new three-year deal keeping him with the province through to 2018… Connacht have confirmed that South African lock Quinn Roux will remain on loan with the province until at least the end of the season… Newport Gwent Dragons have confirmed that fly-half Steffan Jones has signed a permanent deal with Greene King IPA Rugby Championship side the Bedford Blues who he was playing with as part of a loan deal. According to reports, the Dragons also are in the process of signing versatile forward Nick Crosswell of the ITM Cup‘s Manawatu Turbos and Wasps number eight Ed Jackson in the next few weeks for next season… Cardiff Blues have announced the signing of Super Rugby Hurricanes back Rey Lee-Lo on a long-term deal... Glasgow Warriors have announced that Scotland internationals Tommy Seymour and Henry Pyrgos have signed new deals. 

In Super Rugby, Wallaby Scott Higginbotham will leave the Melbourne Rebels after the World Cup as he has signed a deal to move to Japan… Also heading to Japan will be Currie Cup Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse as he has resigned from his position to join Japanese club Toshiba Brave Lupus, the Mpumalanga Rugby Union confirmed… According to Wales Online, Cardiff Blues full-back Joaquin Tuculet has admitted that he has a “difficult decision” ahead as he has been offered a new deal by Cardiff along with one by the Union de Argentine Rugby for its Super Rugby outfit.

Al Caravelli
Al Caravelli

USA Rugby News and Updates: The USA Falcons, the emerging-elite side of the Men’s Eagles Sevens program, essentially the USA “A” side for sevens, will enter the 2015 CONSUR South American Sevens tour, with tournaments in Argentina and Chile, to build depth and experience for Mike Friday’s World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series squad. The team will be coached by the recently retired Nese Malifa and will see the return Al Caravelli in the role of technical manager. Click here for the squad and full coaching staff… Lindenwood University-Belleville in Illinois announced that it is starting a Varsity men’s rugby program, and that Pat Clifton of Rugby Today will the head coach of the program.

World Rugby News: Papua New Guinea have sent a 16-man training squad to Fiji to get ready for round four of the HSBC Sevens World Series in New Zealand, where they will compete as the only non core side.

Aviva Premiership Salary Cap Issues: According to the aforementioned Steve Diamond, Sale director of rugby, clubs are breaking their own £5million salary cap by approximately 50 percent.  Diamond was quoted as saying “one would suggest that some clubs are spending £2m to £2.5m more than the cap – they’d have to be” and when asked about Bath and Saracens, “I wouldn’t say they’re ignoring the salary cap – they’re using creative accountancy to get around it – but it looks like one or two of them have been caught with their hand in the till,” said Diamond. Click here for the full newspaper article.

Top 14: Our Ligue Nationale de Rugby expert (and freelance news journalist) James Harrington sends his apologies, but the tumultuous events in France have prevented him from writing his preview of the next round of Top 14 games. Rest assured, the weekend’s action will be reviewed as usual.

To tide you over, here is our usual brief rundown of the weekend’s fixtures. Second place Stade Francias will host (tied for) second from bottom Castres. Considering Castres were the 2013 Top14 champions and the 2014 Top14 runners-up. They are not your average relegation zone hovering side. Expect a tense affair as Castres look to put forward a big second half of the season run to try and avoid relegation and make the playoffs. Saturday will be the “Clash of Titans” when Toulon welcome Racing Metro. This match will also double as de facto boxing match between the two clubs big-spending megalomaniac owners Mourad Boudjellal of Toulon and Jacky Lorenzetti of Racing. Another match of interest will see a very hard to beat at home Oyonnax side welcome Jake White’s Montpellier. Montpellier will be looking for a second win under their 2007 RWC winning coach and new savior.

The remaining matches for the weekend don’t possess as much drama surrounding their match-ups. Bayonne, the other side tied for second from bottom will take on Lyon who are two points above them. A back in-form Toulouse will take on last place La Rochelle, Bordeaux-Begles will host Grenoble and Brive travel to the somewhat still a fortress Stade Michelin to face Clermont Auvergne.

Here is the weekend’s schedule:
Fri – 09th Jan 15
Stade Francais – Castres
Sat – 10th Jan 15
Toulon – Racing Metro
Bayonne – Lyon
Toulouse – La Rochelle
Oyonnax – Montpellier
Bordeaux Begles – Grenoble
Clermont Auvergne – Brive

Aviva Premiership: We are a week into the new calendar year and a week into the second half of the Aviva Premiership. Our East Midlands man, , has put together what should be the new year’s resolutions for each club, click here.  Not content with that work, he has also put together a preview of this weekend’s fixtures. Click here to read it.

Guinness Pro 12: It is a tight race for the top four playoff spots as first through sixth are only separated by eight points. like the Aviva Premiership, the Pro 12 is also in a week removed from the halfway point in the season. With winning each game becoming even more important, no match-up can be overlooked. Glasgow will kick off the weekend’s festivities against Scarlets, while Connacht welcome Edinburgh. Leinster will travel to Cardiff while Zebre make the journey north to Munster. Ulster will journey south to face Treviso and Ospreys get to stay in Wales and make a short cross-principality trip to face Newport-Gwent.

Here is the weekend’s schedule:
Fri – 09th Jan 15
Glasgow Warriors – Scarlets
Connacht – Edinburgh
Sat – 10th Jan 15
Cardiff Blues – Leinster
Zebre – Munster
Sun – 11th Jan 15
Benetton Treviso – Ulster
Ospreys – Newport Gwent Dragons

That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.
PS: This sign-off refers to the fundamentals of leverage in rugby and how staying low and driving your legs is important in making a tackle, powering through a tackle and rucking. We as community will continue pump our legs and power through this attempt tackle by terrorism and fear.

About Junoir Blaber 868 Articles
Born in Osu, Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Junoir Blaber is a rare commodity; while most Ghanians eat, sleep and dream Soccer (football), Junoir is all about Rugby. A self-proclaimed Rugbyologist, he has been involved in Rugby as a ref, coach, administrator and player since Columbus discovered Ohio. His useful/trivial rugby knowledge qualify Blaber as RWU's Senior Correspondent & known in rugby circles as The Rugby Rain Man. He can also be found moonlighting for our American partners at MeetTheMatts.com.