Sanzaar & Six Nations teams in talks to plan out global rugby union calendar

The 10 top international teams are working to align the world calendar following the coronavirus disruption.

The Sanzaar nations – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – are in talks with the Six Nations teams.

At present, the international rugby windows differ in the northern and southern hemispheres.

A joint statement read: “The nations have sought to eliminate self-interest and recognise the international and club game have shared mutual benefits.”

England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy are the Six Nations teams.

The statement added that a global calendar would “improve player welfare” and “improve narrative and competitiveness of international and domestic competitions around clear windows”.

A harmonised schedule of fixtures – that would avoid conflicts between club and country for players’ time and create more opportunities for lucrative matches between the biggest international teams – has been an ongoing issue in the sport.

A summit in San Francisco in 2017 failed to deliver large-scale change, however. Plans for a Nations Championship, to bring more fixtures and a structured format to the international game, failed to get off the ground in 2019.

Newly re-elected World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont told BBC Sport last month that he was hopeful that a revised Nations Championship could have enough support to become reality.

The outbreak has brought the game to a halt globally. While domestic rugby is set to restart in New Zealand on 13 June, the curtailed English Premiership and Pro14 are not likely to get back under way until at least August.

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Fighting poachers & escaping leopards, Gerbrandt Grobler's lockdown

Fighting off armed poachers, running from leopards and breakfast with his three meerkats: Gloucester player Gerbrandt Grobler’s amazing lockdown life on a farm in Africa… with just three pairs of pants!

  • Gerbrandt Grobler caught the second-last flight out of the UK amid coronavirus 
  • He left with just three pairs of underwear and two pairs of shorts in his suitcase
  • Grobler is living on 4,700 acres of land and has to travel 40 miles for a food shop 
  • The Gloucester star says his best friends in lockdown have been three meerkats 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Can you hear me now?’ asks Gerbrandt Grobler, stepping out into the moonlit bushveld of his farm, patrolled by lions and hyenas.

Against a backdrop of hundreds of chirping crickets, he is seeking the strongest phone signal so that he can share stories of his remote lockdown on the South Africa/Botswana border.

‘I’ve had about 1,900 hectares [4,700 acres] all to myself,’ he says. ‘Most of the time I’ve been on my own, living off the land. It has been pretty raw, pretty cool and, at times, pretty f*****g scary. It used to be a cattle ranch but there were too many leopards so they never made a success of it. It’s nature at its finest.’

Gerbrandt Grobler says his best friends during lockdown have been his three meerkats

Grobler is living on 4,700 acres of land and has to travel 40 miles for a food shop 

With only a small rucksack filled with clothes and a passport, the Gloucester lock arrived back in the Limpopo province two months ago. 

He has been cut off from humanity and his most loyal companions have been three wild meerkats. 

The harsh realities of Covid-19 have been a distant concern, however mother nature has posed altogether different challenges.

‘I’ve been cut off from it all,’ he explains. ‘I caught the second-last flight out of the UK in March with some hand luggage — three pairs of underwear, two pairs of shorts — and I haven’t left since.

‘The nearest place you can do proper food shopping is about 40 miles away but I’ve not been there for three weeks. You live off the land. I’ve shot a kudu and an impala for meat to make biltong, sausages and steaks. One or two neighbours grow vegetables so we help each other out and exchange.’

But how far away are they? ‘About 10 miles away… they won’t hear me if I scream!’ he says, laughing.

Grobler caught the second-last flight out of the UK in March and hasn’t returned since 

Due to his location, Grobler says he has been cut off from the harsh realities of Covid-19

‘My best friends at the moment are my three meerkats. They got lost from their family so I picked them up and I’ve been trying to reintroduce them to the wild. They follow me around wherever I go. As soon as the sun comes up, they’re waiting for me. They’re learning how to feed themselves. One ran into the house with a scorpion in his mouth, so they’re getting there.

‘I try to go for a long walk every morning to explore. You see the odd buffalo or hyena but nature is not the enemy. I enjoy it. I’ve seen one or two leopards, too, which can be kinda scary. I walked up to this little ridge, sat down and had this weird feeling that something was around. 

‘On the opposite rock, about 30 yards away, there’s this male leopard whipping its tail back and forth, staring at me. You can’t let it see that you’re scared so I casually stood up, walked around the corner and then ran like f***ing hell. I keep fit that way!’

His province is one of the poorest in South Africa. The economic downturn has exacerbated poverty levels. Local news headlines are dominated by lions on the loose, rising food parcel applications and unmonitored harvesting of a herb that locals believe will cure the coronavirus. It is hand-to-mouth desperation — and Grobler has witnessed the side-effects.

‘People here are having to defend their land,’ he says. ‘There are guys illegally poaching for bushmeat and selling it on for a lot of money. It normally happens once or twice a year but it’s becoming a regular thing. The other night, at around 12.30, I heard this commotion outside. Voices, dogs barking and a pig squealing. Sound travels clearly here so it was pretty scary.

‘I put my shoes on and went out with my pistol. There’s three guys with spears trying to slaughter this animal. I ran at them and fired a few warning shots into the air.

‘That was it. They dropped their s**t and ran. I went back in the morning and you could see their foot tracks in the dirt… one of them was wearing six-stud Kaiser football boots.’

While in South Africa, Grobler tries to be as active as he can be on the farm during the day

Grobler ran at poachers and fired warning shots into the air to stop them killing his animals 

As for Grobler lacing up his own boots, the immediate future is uncertain. He was due back in Gloucester on Monday but all flights have been cancelled.

A host of South African players are struggling to return for training, which is set to make a staggered return and a number of clubs could be left without significant firepower.

‘We started talking about it on Thursday but no one can leave the country,’ he says. ‘There are repatriation flights but they’re for UK citizens only. We’re trying to get letters from the club that would allow us to buy tickets. But tickets cost around £2,500 for a one-way flight and we’ve still got to get clearance. There are probably enough of us here to fill a whole plane but South Africa is so big that it’s difficult.

‘Akker van der Merwe is up in George, Franco Marais is in Durban, I’m in Limpopo. With the lockdown, you need a special letter to drive between provinces. It’s a bit of a s**t show. I’m about 200 miles from Johannesburg Airport but the roads are really s****y, so it takes about six hours.

‘When we do get back there’s a 14-day quarantine so no one really knows what’s going to happen.’

Nor does Grobler know what he will return to. His head coach at Gloucester, Johan Ackermann, announced on Friday that he has accepted a new job in Japan, meaning there will be a new management set-up.

And no date has been set for a return to full-contact or matches, with players left largely responsible for their own fitness. ‘We’ve essentially had an extended off-season,’ says Grobler. ‘There will be quite a broad spectrum of how fit guys have kept but nothing can prepare you for a rugby game like a rugby game.

‘I’m quite active on the farm. Making sure water is in all the lakes, checking fences, building roads, moving stuff. I don’t really have a gym here but I’ve been using a tractor tyre and one or two old gas bottles that double up as weights. It has been good to have a mental break.’

Grobler says the local news headlines are dominated by lions on the loose instead of Covid-19

Grobler was due back in Gloucester on Monday but all flights have been cancelled

Yet the thought of rugby returning is met with anxiety, as well as excitement.

With little access to news services, Grobler will not be privy to the thoughts of medical experts such as Barry O’Driscoll, who has questioned how the sport can return because of its physical nature. But that does not mean he is not armed with strong opinions.

‘One of my mates came to stay with me recently, a rugby player, and we were sat around the fire talking about how things will get going again,’ he says.

‘Don’t get me wrong, I miss playing rugby. It’s not a safe game, you can break bones, but you want to play it in a safe environment. I can’t wait for rugby to return but you don’t want to put yourself at unnecessary risk.

‘It’s a contact sport but we’ve all been told to stay away from human contact. So how does social distancing tie in with 16 guys in a scrum? It doesn’t get much more personal than that.

‘We might be doing things that the general public aren’t allowed to do, on a reduced salary, to entertain people on their couches. For what gain? If you say “no”, will they cancel your contract?

‘Players are just assets. Pieces of meat. There’s a lot of questions to be answered and there should be a good platform for players to raise them. Maybe they’re already being addressed and I just don’t know. I’ve been off grid a little.’

 The thought of rugby returning is met with anxiety, as well as excitement, says Grobler 

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Murray & Djokovic build their perfect player

With no tennis for the foreseeable future, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are at a bit of a loose end.

The two met on Instagram Live to discuss their careers, the mental and physical effects of tennis and the debate about the GOAT of tennis.

They also built their perfect tennis player from those playing now…

Serve – Nick Kyrgios & John Isner

Novak Djokovic: Nick, for his height, has the best serve I’ve seen.

Andy Murray: I’d say exactly the same. If you gave Kyrgios Isner’s height… I’ve seen Nick warming up…

ND: He warms up?!

AM: Yeah, he’s done absolutely nothing on his shoulder and yet he’s sending down ridiculous serves.

Return – Andy Murray & Novak Djokovic

ND: I’d go with you. Playing against you on any surface was always a challenge but out of the three biggest rivalries I had, I found it the hardest to serve against you because everything was coming back.

AM: And I’d say you. You rarely missed a return.

Forehand – Juan Martin del Potro & Rafael Nadal

ND: The Thor from Tandil – Del Potro. I love the forehand of Fernando Gonzales, but let’s go Delpo.

AM: I’m going Rafa. There may be a small period in his career where it let him down in a couple of matches, but very rarely would that have been the shot that contributed to him losing matches.

Backhand – Andy Murray & Novak Djokovic

AM: Backhand, I’m taking you…

ND: I would take you. Consistency, the fact that you don’t miss much, you make the life of your opponent very difficult. I just couldn’t penetrate through that side when I played against you…

AM: I think you penetrated me pretty well a few times.

Volley – Roger Federer

ND: Roger is one of the most complete players ever to play the game. We all know how great he is.

What I think is probably a bit underrated is his ability to come up with serve and volleys at the most challenging times in a match against us that are great returners. He takes away your time.

AM: I’d agree with that. There might be guys that hit certain volleys better but all-round, Federer. He has the touch and feel and he’s one of the few guys that has come up with that shot under pressure.

Strongest mentally – Rafael Nadal

ND: It’s obvious he has champions mentality, what he’s managed to produce over the years on all surfaces, the way he was bouncing back from numerous injuries.

I think he was the most injured out of us four. Every second season, he has got something for several months and he managed to come back and build his game.

The resilience, the intensity he brings – when you see him jumping around before you walk onto court, it already intimidates you. A mental giant and a physical giant.

AM: I would say that, consistently, Rafa has been mentally the strongest. There’s times where you would have been ahead of him but over an entire career, even from when he was very young, he’s always been unbelievably strong mentally.

Even when he was 18, 19 years old, which is so rare for the guys coming through. That’s normally the part that takes the longest.

Physical – David Ferrer & Novak Djokovic

ND: I love Ferrer’s fighting spirit. He has always been a warrior on the court.

I would say Ferrer or Dominic Thiem, but give Ferrer an edge because he’s been on the tour longer. Dominic is going to last for hopefully many more years.

AM: If it were physical potential, I’d say Gael Monfils. What he can do physically is a joke. It’s unreal, the stuff I’ve seen him doing.

But physically, I would take you. Although that’s not a big bicep that you’re showing off!

And finally, the two debated how you judge the tennis GOAT.

ND: It’s a good question. It’s a combination of Slams, the weeks at number one and the Masters events…

AM: What about head-to-head?

ND: Absolutely, yeah. I think Grand Slams would probably stand out but it’s really hard to say. I’ve had this opinion since forever – I don’t go into the conversation of comparing generations.

AM: I completely agree with that but, in reality, all three of the best players are playing in the same generation.

Nobody competes with Rafa on clay, Roger’s record at Wimbledon is the best, your record on hard court is the best.

When people ask me what my toughest match is, who are the hardest guys to play against, I feel like I’m competing against the best hard court player ever, the best clay court player and the best grass court player.

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Formula 1 & coronavirus: All races in Europe could be behind closed doors – Zak Brown

All Formula 1 races held in Europe this season could be closed to spectators, McLaren Racing boss Zak Brown says.

On Thursday, F1 bosses discussed a plan to start the season with the Austrian Grand Prix behind closed doors on 5 July, then two races at Silverstone.

“Everything is very tentative but [the British GP] would go on its scheduled date but closed to fans,” Brown said.

“In fact, it looks like possibly all the European rounds will most likely be in that scenario.”

  • ‘I miss driving’: kids and bikes are Vettel’s new normal
  • F1 discusses starting season in Austria and two races at Silverstone

The first nine races of the season have been called off – with eight postponed and the Monaco Grand Prix cancelled – and F1 is looking at all options as it seeks to start a season that has been turned upside down by the global coronavirus crisis.

F1 managing director Ross Brawn has said he believes a valid World Championship – which requires a minimum of eight grand s prix – could be held even if the season cannot start until October.

But the hope is to hold a season of as many as 18 or 19 races if the coronavirus situation is sufficiently under control by the summer to start racing in Europe.

Under the latest plan, F1 would want to hold the British Grand Prix on its existing 19 July date, followed by another race at Silverstone a week later.

Brown told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “With now our condensed schedule, what’s the best way to get as much racing done as possible? One of the ideas is potentially multiple events at the same location, Silverstone being one of those.”

The rest of calendar has effectively been torn up and many of the races that take place after that – assuming the plan can happen – could be on different dates than those originally listed.

Brown added that the talks exploring a reduction of the planned budget cap were vital as a result of the straitened circumstances in which F1 finds itself.

“It’s extremely tough,” he said. “There’s little to no revenue coming in. You know, we’re not racing. The contributions that the promoters make, sponsor partners, have been great, but they’re under an immense amount of pressure themselves.

“So we have kind of turned the faucets off on any money we’re spending to limp through to when we’re ready to start racing again.”

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WATCH & VOTE: Best defensive stop of NBA season

Pat Bev? AD? Gobert? Embiid? Who made the most memorable defensive stop of the 2019-20 season to date? Watch our 12 nominated plays then have your say by voting in our poll.

It’s not just clutch jumpers and long-range buzzer-beating bombs that decide NBA games! Outstanding defensive plays can also be game-defining or result-clinching.

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Arsenal & Chelsea 'will be offered Coutinho on loan or for £75m'

Arsenal and Chelsea ‘will be offered the chance to sign Barcelona flop Philippe Coutinho on loan or for £75m this summer’… but Manchester City could beat them to the Brazilian

  • Philippe Coutinho is out of favour at Barcelona after spending season on loan
  • Coutinho joined Bayern Munich on a season-long loan deal back in August
  • Bayern won’t sign him on a permanent deal, paving way for return to England 

Barcelona midfielder Philippe Coutinho will reportedly be offered to Arsenal and Chelsea either on loan or for a £75million permanent deal.

Coutinho is firmly out of favour at Barca after losing his place in the side after joining the club from Liverpool in a £142million deal in 2018.

The Brazil international joined Bayern Munich on a season long loan deal in August but despite scoring nine goals in 32 games the club aren’t interested in a permanent deal.

Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho will reportedly be offered to Arsenal and Chelsea this summer

Coutinho has spent this season on loan at Bayern Munich but failed to reproduce his best form

Coutinho joined Barca in a £142m move in 2018 after flourishing in his five years at Liverpool

According to The Sun, Barca will instead offer the 27-year-old to Premier League sides Arsenal and Chelsea on either a loan or permanent basis. 

The Catalans are struggling financially after being starved of income as a result of the coronavirus crisis with first team players taking a 70 per cent pay cut. 

Consequently, Barca are likely to prefer a permanent deal to bring in much needed funds and that could pave the way for a third English club to enter the race to sign Coutinho. 

Coutinho is likely to be made available on loan or for a permanent fee of £75 million 

Manchester City could also enter the race to sign Coutinho as a replacement for David Silva

Manchester City are in the market for an attacking midfielder with David Silva set to leave the club on a free transfer after spending the last 10 years at the club. 

Coutinho could provide the same creative spark and would fit Pep Guardiola’s possession-based style of football. 

A fee of £75m is also unlikely to dissuade City from making a move, with the club in a healthy financial position thanks to their wealthy owners. 

Coutinho will be desperate to get his career back on track and reestablish himself as one of the game’s finest creative talents after stalling in recent seasons.

The former Liverpool man rose to prominence during his five seasons at Anfield but has failed to reproduce those performances in Spain and Germany.  

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