RFU Championship Midweek News.
With the transfer deadline fast approaching there has been a flurry of signings this week.
Bedford have strengthened their squad ahead of the play-offs by signing Cambridge duo Darren Fox and Ben Cooper.
Following a serious injury to flanker Sacha Harding, former Northampton Saint Darren Fox has joined the club until the end of the season to provide some much needed cover in the back row.
Fox, 31, who stands six foot tall and weighs 100kg, joined the National One side in the summer of 2008 having been with Northampton for six years and an ever present in the Saints 2007/8 squad
22-year-old tight head prop Cooper has been a consistent force in the Cambridge pack for the past few seasons. Having been a latecomer to the sport, Cooper was spotted playing for West Suffolk College and offered the chance to turn out for the Grantchester Road club where he learnt his trade from another former Blue, Mike Guess, before making the number three shirt his own
Speaking about the new signings, Blues Director of Rugby Mike Rayer said: “I’m delighted to welcome Darren and Ben to the club and I’m sure that we are all really looking forward to seeing the impact that they can make.
“Having played a few pre-season friendlies against Cambridge, we are more than aware of what Darren can do and with Sacha out for another month at least, this has proven to be a great opportunity to bring Darren on board
“Ben has been impressive for Cambridge ever since he pulled on the shirt back in 2008 and I think that he has great potential. He comes with a great recommendation and I hope that he can go on even further under the tutaledge of Martin Hynes and Matt Volland who will enjoy moulding him even further
“We’ve been a bit unfortunate losing Sacha and Ricky Reeves to injury while Dan Seal will also be missing for a number of weeks following the decision of the RFU disciplinary board, but it’s all part and parcel of the game. The chairman knows that we have been left a little short and I’m delighted that he has allowed us to make these two signings.
“I also want to thank Cambridge for allowing us to approach and sign their players at this very difficult time for the club. Everyone at Goldington Road wishes them well and hope that they can once again bounce back from the adversity that they face.”
Fox and Cooper, who joined up with their new team mates earlier this week, could both feature in the 22 man squad which heads up to Headingley on Sunday afternoon to face Leeds in a tricky Championship encounter. The Blues lost to the former Premiership club at Goldington Road earlier in the season and will be hoping for a reversal this time around.
Luke Eves will return home to the West Country after rejoining Bristol Rugby following a two-year spell away from the Club.
The Academy product, who joins from Newcastle Falcons, made his debut for Bristol at the tender age of 18 against London Irish in the Aviva Premiership.
A powerful ball carrier, Eves played an instrumental role in the 2009/10 RFU Championship season as Bristol reached the play-off final.
The 22 year-old made a total of 59 appearances for the Club, scoring ten tries.
Eves went on to cement his place as a first-team regular in the Newcastle midfield, helping the Falcons stave off the threat of top-flight relegation last season.
The former England U20s captain’s decision to return to the RFU Championship is an indication of the growing positivity surrounding the Club as well as Bristol Rugby’s huge ambitions, on and off the field.
Head Coach Liam Middleton believes the centre will make a big impact as Bristol set their sights the upcoming promotion play-offs.
“I’m delighted to welcome Luke back to Bristol Rugby,” he said. “He’s Bristol born and bred and an Academy product – Luke really fits our vision for the Club.
“He has significant Championship and Aviva Premiership experience, but most importantly, the way he plays fits in with the fashion that Bristol play.”
Luke Eves added: “I’m delighted to be back at the Club where I grew up. It’s a great opportunity for me and I feel this is the right place to continue my development.
“There is a superb set-up and a very competitive squad. Something really special is happening at Bristol Rugby, as their position in the league shows. I can’t wait to help the team push on in the play-offs."
Bristol have also bolstered their backline options with the addition of experienced fly-half Matthew Jones from Newport Gwent Dragons.
The former Wales international, who has Heineken Cup and Aviva Premiership experience, has signed a contract with Bristol for the remainder of the season.
Jones made his professional debut for the Ospreys in January 2004, making 47 appearances for the Welsh region.
The 27 year-old featured in the Wales U21 Grand-Slam winning side and earned a senior international cap in the 60-3 win over Canada in the summer of 2005, before moving to Worcester Warriors in 2008.
He went on to break the 100-point barrier in his first season at the Club, before returning to Wales to join the Dragons in 2010.
“I’m pleased to be joining Bristol Rugby,” said Jones. “The Club are enjoying a strong season and there seems to be a fantastic team spirit.
“I’m looking forward to competing in the RFU Championship and challenging for a spot in the first-team.”
Head Coach Liam Middleton added: “I’m pleased to have signed Matthew, he has top level experience and the way he plays the game will add value to the type of rugby that Bristol will become known for.
“His personality and playing ability are suited for our environment and he will provide further options for us at fly-half.”
Doncaster Knights have re-signed former player Dan Smith from Barking after the second-row’s remarkable recovery from a career-threatening injury.
Smith last played for the Knights in the 2009/10 season, yet was plagued throughout the campaign by problems stemming from a herniated disc in his back. After relying on painkilling injections for the entire season, he was told by a specialist that he might never play again and took the decision to undergo a serious spinal operation which kept him out of action for the following year.
“My body was a mess – there were no guarantees I’d ever return to action and I had a lot of rehab. I was relying on a team of experts to fix me, and I owe a lot to Ian Horsley and Greg Weller for helping me with the strength and conditioning elements as well as physiotherapy.”
Smith remained friends with several Knights players, including Steve Boden and Stuart Corsar, and stayed in contact with DOR Brett Davey, who he describes as ‘extremely supportive and a mate as well as a coach.’
The 27-year-old, who stands at 6’5 and weighs 112kg, brings rugby pedigree to the squad, having come through the Bath Academy, plus a stop via Rotherham Titans before his two-year spell at Castle Park.
He has been playing in National League One with southern side Barking since the start of the current season while finding his form again.
On his return to the Knights, Smith believes his new side have the quality needed to claim the Championship title along with his winning mentality.
“I’m really excited for the first game, I need to get my head down and work hard to win selection. It’ll be a special moment when I first pull the shirt on again, the last year was the toughest of my life and it taught me a lot.
“As a team we are targeting the next four games and the talent is there. The new players I’ve met have been really impressive, there seems like a lot is going on with the rugby and behind the scenes – it’s great to see a buzz at Castle Park again.
“For me I’m ecstatic to be back fully fit and with Doncaster Knights, but I wouldn’t be here without my family and friends who have held me together through the toughest process I have faced.”
Esher are a massive 18 points adrift at the foot of the Championship with just one solitary win in 18 matches and doomed to the play-offs.
But Mackenzie insists confidence is still high at Molesey Road after taking eight points from their last four games against four of the top five teams in the division.
They drew against London Welsh, beat Rotherham and were impressive in defeats against league leaders Bristol and at home to Cornish Pirates.
Now Mackenzie wants Esher to turn up the heat in Saturday’s trip to Doncaster after a week off with each league win worth a point towards the play-offs.
And with London Scottish and Moseley on five wins and Plymouth on six, Esher are hunting at least two more wins to take into the play-offs in March.
Esher also face clashes with likely play-offs rivals London Scottish and Plymouth at home plus a trip to Leeds but Mackenzie said: “We need to target every game. Of course the games against Plymouth and London Scottish are effectively worth double points but we know we can be competitive against any side.
“Doncaster are a very physical team and we must make sure we front up, especially in the forwards
“But we must also make sure we keep to our defensive systems for the whole game and also that our kicking game is spot-on.
“We could have won against Cornish Pirates but a couple of mistakes proved very costly and we must make sure we are switched on for the full 80 minutes.”
Esher stormed into a 17-0 lead against Pirates but eventually lost 36-30 despite scoring four tries through Charlie Walker, Matt Symons, Ross Chisholm and Jamie Mackenzie to gain their second four-try bonus point of the campaign.
But Mackenzie, who missed the first two months of the season on World Cup duty, believes Esher can go into the play-offs with confidence high despite a miserable campaign blighted by injuries to key players.
The centre, who was switched to the wing against Pirates, added: “The mood is still good and everybody’s pretty happy with the way we have been playing recently.
“There’s no need to panic. I think we have to be confident we can get out of this. As a group of players, if we all pull together we will be all right.”
Leeds Carnegie have signed 27-year-old former Newcastle Falcons back rower Ed Williamson for the remainder of the Championship season.
Williamson, who can play at number eight or blindside flanker, left Kingston Park at the end of last season following a run of freak injuries that limited his game time and brought to an end an 11 season spell at the club.
Initially it appeared that a hand injury would force him out of the game but after discussions with a number of specialists he had corrective surgery and has now been cleared to return.
He commented, “I was going through the process of retiring through the hand injury and securing compensation when I was recommended to see a specialist, Mr Mike Hayton, in Manchester. He was confident that the damage could be repaired and that was the best news I could have received.
I didn’t want to retire and missed rugby so much. I kept myself involved in the game coaching Westoe in the lower leagues as well as England Students and Newcastle University however not having the day to day buzz of training and being part of a team left a big gap in my life.
“I was delighted when Leeds Carnegie offered me the chance to play for them this season and it is now up to me to earn a new deal for next season through my performances.
The frustrating thing about how my time ended at the Falcons was that I felt I was coming to the peak of my career. I knew what was required of me on the field and physically I could handle what was being asked of me. I am confident I can pick up where I left off last season and be better than I was before,” added Williamson.
The back rower, who made 32 Premiership appearances for Newcastle, has been keeping himself in shape whilst out of the game as a physical trainer as well as trying out Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in his spare time.
He explained, “I have been doing a lot of work in the gym but there are only so many weights you can lift before that becomes boring. I missed the competitive nature of rugby training and a mate suggested we went up to a gym run by former UFC fighter Ian ‘The Machine’ Freeman. I really enjoyed it, I wasn’t using techniques that involved my hand too much, it is more using the forearm, but it was a great experience.
There are no rest periods like in rugby, you have to be on your game all the time or else someone is going to tag you and that hurts!
Commenting on the signing Leeds Carnegie Head Coach Diccon Edwards said, “We are pleased to have recruited a player of Ed’s experience.
He is very hungry to prove he can play at the highest level again and his enthusiasm has been evident from the moment we spoke to him.
He has trained with the squad this week and fitted in immediately with the guys. He will not be involved this Sunday against Bedford but should be available for selection next week for the game at Nottingham.”
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Pirates supporters will remember Williamson from a loan period at the club during the 2007/08 season
London Scottish have announced a trio of new signings in the run up to the end of season play-offs.
Winger Gerard Mullen makes the move from London Welsh, formerly of Esher, Mullen is the grandson of the late Irish and Lions legend Karl Mullen, who captained Ireland to their first-ever Grand Slam in 1948, Gerard developed a reputation at Esher as something of a flyer.
The 20-year-old full back/wing from Dublin made 13 appearances for Esher in his debut Championship season, scoring six tries, including a 50-metre effort to stun the Cornish Pirates. Last season he also represented Harlequins in the A League.
Gerard came through the Leinster Academy, playing U19s for the Province, before coming to the attention of Leicester Tigers and figuring in their Development Squad for 2009/10. He was also named in the Tigers' squad for the Premiership Sevens Series in July 2010.
Joining Mullen at 1st XV training this week is hooker Ollie Hayes. Hayes was the stand-out hooker for Bristol last season, and joined Worcester Warriors over the summer. However, injury dealt a blow his Warriors starting spot, so by signing for Scottish on duel-registration terms he will be keen to recover his Championship form.
Also signing for Scottish is back row forward Zane Winslade. Winslade played for Tasman Makos in New Zealand and has been signed to give cover to the scrum. It is unlikely that Winslade will make his debut immediately, but as he gains fitness his experience will be invaluable during the play-offs.
Head Coach Simon Amor was pleased with the additions to his squad: "It is critical to have strength in depth, especially as we have been hit by our fair share of injuries like most squads in this league.
We've been looking at the right sort of people first and foremost- people that have the right attitude and who will fit in well with our current group of players at London Scottish. These additions will provide extra quality to help us with the remainder of the campaign."
London Welsh Welsh warmed up for Sunday’s crucial Championship clash at the Cornish Pirates with a spot of modelling.
The photo shoot was in support of local club sponsor Carolyn de la Drapière – a boutique ladies fashion shop in Barnes - and gave players Martin Purdy, Gordon Ross, Seb Jewell, Alex Davies, Greg Bateman and Shawn Pittman the chance to show off some of their best ‘blue steel’ looks.
“It’s not something you do every day and it was good fun to be involved in, especially with a good looking girl,” said Jewell.
Carolyn de la Drapière said: “It was absolutely fantastic; the guys were really relaxed, went with the flow and came up with some good ideas.
“Being a Kiwi I’m really into rugby and I thought why not combine the guys with the girls so that my clothes would inter-relate with the rugby players, and just have some fun.”
As for Sunday and the rugby, London Welsh and the Cornish Pirates could not be closer in the Championship table. The sides are locked together on 57 points with the Exiles’ superior win tally all that separates Welsh in third from the Pirates one place below them.
And there’s sure to be added spice to the game with the Exiles returning to Mennaye Field for the first time since last season’s Championship semi-final defeat.
Earlier this season the two sides played out a 17-17 draw at Old Deer Park, with Welsh full back Davies kicking three late penalties to give the Exiles a share of the spoils.
“The boys have trained hard this week, with lots of fitness work in the build up to the Pirates. We’re coming off a good couple of victories and the boys are looking hungry again,” added Jewell.
Moseley have announced the contract extension of Head Coach Kevin Maggs through the 2012-13 season.
A spokesman for Moseley said: “The Moseley Board has always made clear that this vital position is not a ‘short term fix’ and that Kevin’s first season has been the start of process to mould a new team and performance to an agreed plan.
Moseley has always taken the view that the role of 1st XV Head Coach is important right across the club and that continuity is an asset in developing not only Kevin’s main focus (the 1st XV) but also spreading a playing philosophy across the seventeen other teams in the Moseley family which in their turn will become vital feeders to the 1st XV.”
Moseley is particularly proud of the progress which its youth teams contribute to the 1st team squad which this season features more than six players who have come through ‘the ranks’ of either the Colts or our sister club Moseley Oak.
Kevin’s active interest in all these teams, along with progress in accordance with the plan he submitted when appointed, has meant that the club had no hesitation in offering him a contract extension.
The timing is designed to give Kevin time to ensure that next season’s squad takes shape well before the end of the current season.
Kevin Maggs said: “I am thoroughly enjoying my time at Moseley and am delighted to be given this vote of confidence by the management and Directors of the club with whom I have enjoyed an excellent relationship over the last two seasons. While we have a major challenge over the next three months - where the focus rightly is at present - there is a distinct advantage in making an early decision which allows for the development of the squad for next season.
I firmly believe that we are heading in the right direction and have a squad not only capable of being competitive with any side in the Championship, but one which also has the ability to become more consistent in performance and thereby improve our league position. Our current squad will be the nucleus for next season’s campaign”
The 70 capped former Irish International joined Moseley as backs coach for the 2010-11 RFU Championship season assisting former Head Coach Ian Smith.
After a highly competitive selection process that attracted serious interest from over fifty suitably qualified candidates, he was appointed Head Coach at Moseley in May 2011 and subsequently appointed Craig West as his forwards coach.
Prior to joining Moseley and after his impressive International career, the 70 cap international Kevin started his coaching while a player/coach at Rotherham in the 2009/10 season.
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Nottingham Rugby , without a win since December 17, received another setback to their Premiership ambitions with the news that Rhys Crane has needed another operation.
The 26-year-old winger had his jaw broken when he made his debut for the Green and Whites against Esher on December 2.
He had only been on the pitch a minute when he had to be helped off in the 34-22 win at Molesey Road.
Crane had surgery then but he was back in the operating theatre again on Tuesday.
Club medical specialists were disappointed in how his jaw had healed and booked him in for his second surgery.
It will be enough to keep Crane out for at least another four weeks.
Full Story www.thisisnottingham.co.uk
Albion's Dale Farnham has joineds Rotherham from Plymouth Albion this week.
The South African scrum-half was released by crisis club Albion after falling down the pecking order at Brickfields.
The 25-year-old is set to be thrown straight into the deep end by Titans' boss Andre Bester, who is likely to hand him his debut at leaders Bristol on Sunday.
Full Story www.thisisplymouth.co.uk
Rotherham have recruited two scrum halfs on a one month trial as they prepare for the upcoming promotion play-offs.
Dale Farnham joins from Plymouth Albion; 25 years old Farnham is South African and previously played for Sharks U19, Sharks U21, Essex County and Border Bulldogs. Danny Matthews also joins having previously played at Leeds Met alongside current Titans Barney Maddison and Ben Hooper.
Titans head coach Andre Bester, who’s working tirelessly to try and add to his squad before this Friday’s cut-off, said of the new recruits, “We’ve brought two scrum half’s in on a one month’s trial. Dale Farnham has joined us from Plymouth, where he hasn’t played that much of late, but that doesn’t concern me whatsoever as a lot of the boys who joined us in the summer hadn’t played that much either and we’ve all seen what they have done.
“Both the new guys will have the opportunity over the next month to show us what they’ve got. Danny will possibly be over the longer term and he is from Yorkshire; Dale will have to show us in the next month what his worth is. Our main focus is we are not only looking at now, but we are planning ahead for the future with younger players.
Rotherham have also added Leicester Tigers' Tom Armes to their ranks.
Tom Armes has agreed a dual registration deal between his current club Leicester Tigers and Rotherham Titans. When not required by Leicester, Tom will be available to turn out for the Titans.
The 21 years old back-rower is English qualified and has developed his game through the Tigers Academy system. Tom is no stranger to the RFU Championship, having appeared 16 times for Nottingham during the 2010-11 season.
Tom has experience of playing ‘A’ league rugby with Tigers and the Norfolk-born flanker made his first team debut as a replacement in the Premiership win over Northampton in October 2009.