Michael Johnson on racism, Usain Bolt and Jesse Owens

History-making sprinter Michael Johnson discusses racism in the USA, the current tensions, his athletics and Olympic career, Usain Bolt, Jesse Owens and far more in a wide-ranging interview.

Speaking as a guest on the latest Will Greenwood Podcast episode, Johnson spoke to Rupert Cox and Will Greenwood about some of the forefront topics of today, both in society and sport, as well as looking back in time.

It would be remiss of us not to ask about the situation in the US at the moment. There is widespread unrest after the death of George Floyd. How are you feeling about everything that’s going on in the USA right now?

“It’s really important to understand the context, and to try to understand what’s going on, it’s very complex. It’s not one of those simple narratives,” Johnson says.

“We’ve had institutionalised racism in this county for many, many years. It finds its way into black people’s lives on a daily basis. What we’ve seen over the last several weeks is three separate situations where black people have been murdered, two by police in two separate instances and then one by an ex-police officer and his son – the case of Ahmaud Arbery, who was out running and some citizens of that neighbourhood thought he may be a burglar, chased him down and murdered him.

“Then we had a situation which is more representative of what we see every day in America with what black people experience. A black man was in central park in New York, an avid bird watcher, in an area that is protected for birds. He was there birdwatching, a white woman had her dog off the leash, which is against the rules. He asked her to leash her dog. She decided she would call the police on him and attempt to convince the police that a black man was attacking her, and she told him she was going to do this.

“Fortunately he caught it all on video, and it just showed the privilege of white people in our society, and how that is used against black people and all of this has conspired to create a great deal of anger in America. Not just with black people but with white people as well, who see that this isn’t just and hasn’t been dealt with over decades, for a century and a half and it’s all playing out in cities across the country.

“It’s hard for people to understand, I get that, if it’s not obvious to you that’s understandable, but I think that one of the best messages I’ve heard is that if it’s not obvious to you what’s going on and it’s difficult for you to understand, sit this one out. Don’t try to judge it, don’t try to impart your opinion on it. Some things are just difficult to understand, just accept that one and sit this one out if it’s not obvious to you and you are struggling to understand it.”

Is it important for high-profile sporting personalities such as yourself to take a stand?

“I’ve been asked that question over years about whether athletes have a responsibility, or celebrities or prominent people should speak out on these issues. My position has always been if you feel you can help, and you are compelled to do so, then do so but no one should pressure other people into something they are not comfortable with.

“Today my position is completely different. If you are silent you are complicit. We are at that point. You have people out there, young people, old people, black people, white people, Asian, Hispanic, all different cultures and backgrounds, out there fighting, out there making sure this issue is being brought to prominence where everyone is paying attention to what is really happening in this country and how people are suffering.

“If you have a platform you owe it to those people, you owe it to those people whose lives have been lost. You owe it to our ancestors who fought during the civil rights movement back in the 1960s, you owe it to all of them.

“If you have this position like I do, if you have a prominent position, benefiting from the hard work of all those people to have what you have like I do and to have the platform that you have, you owe it to all of them to not be silent.”

What is the role sport can play in helping this situation?

“Sport has always been such an incredible and powerful tool for change and bringing people together, we know that.

“What a lot of prominent athletes are doing now is, we have leagues. We have Nike putting out a very powerful ad over the weekend that was then retweeted by Adidas, which is amazing to see that unity around an issue that highlights it’s bigger than anything else. This is bigger than sport, but sport has that power. I think what we are seeing now is the appropriate move.

“Obviously, sport is in a little bit of a hiatus right now, and starting to come back, and when it does one of the most powerful things we could see is a reversal of what we saw a few years ago when Colin Kaepernick highlighted this very issue by kneeling, other NFL players joined him and the NFL basically silenced that out of fear that it might alienate some of the other viewers and supporters of the NFL.

“I think if we see a reversal of that and see the NFL lean into that protest and being a catalyst for – one of the biggest issues that we are talking about today – the relationship between the black community and the police. Being a catalyst that can bring the police and black community together, athletes can bring that together.

“I’ve seen on many occasions situations where you have police who are fans of sport, fans of football, community members, gang members who might be fans of football, being brought together through that sport.

“That can be one of the things that can happen with this. Within all of the violence and protests and looting and riots, we are seeing Sheriffs departments and police taking a knee with protesters and marching with protesters.

“There was a situation just the other day where one Sheriff asked: ‘What can I do?’, and they said: ‘March with us’. And he marched with them. We are seeing some progress but this is only the beginning.”

Does this feel like a watershed moment? Does it feel like we have been in this position before but this is different? Could there be lasting change?

“This is the most widespread attention given to this issue in my adult life. Back in 1993 there was the Rodney King Los Angeles riots. That was when police beat Rodney King and it was all caught on video. LA erupted in riots and fires in a similar situation to this, but by and large it was unique to Los Angeles.

“But I have not seen this in my lifetime, these countrywide protests and attention to this issue. It could be a prominent moment where we can bring about change that so many people in this county want. It is a moment where we have a President who has sought to divide this country and has been quite successful in bringing about a great deal of division in a country.

“We have a very unique situation in this country about how we elect a president. The majority of the people, in terms of volume, in terms of the sheer numbers of people, did not vote for this President – but we have a system here with the electoral college that allows him to become President, even though most people in this country did not want him to.

“I say that because most people in this country, despite the fact he is our President and he is dividing us and supporting a lot of that element, want to see equality. They want to see people who are poor and disadvantaged and who this coronavirus is affecting disproportionately, taken care of. Most people want to see that.

“But unfortunately we have this situation which people are sick and tired of, this is a moment that could very well serve to reverse a lot of that. But people see that, in this country, we are very much on a track that they don’t agree with, not just black people, black, white and many other people from different backgrounds see we are on a track that we are not happy with.”

In your own sporting career, you became a world and Olympic champion at the 200m and 400m. Did you ever compete or think about competing in the 100m?

“In track and field, the sprint events are so specific and the talent lies so specifically in those different areas, that you will find where your talent lies and which one of those events works for you.

“Typically, It’s the 100m and maybe the 200m a little bit, or you’re a 200m runner who can a little bit of the 100m, but before I started my career, there were very few people who could run the 200m and the 400m and bring those together, and that’s what made me so unique.

“Because it had rarely been done before and certainly hadn’t been done at the level of Olympic and World Championship medals, that’s what intrigued me so much about it.

“I had a unique ability to run them both. I went through my career at the start thinking I want to be a world champion at 200m, but there’s always a world champion at 200m, nobody’s ever been the world champion at 200m and 400m.

“So after I won my first 200m World Championship, I set my sights on becoming a 400m world champion and made history by becoming the first person to do that.

“Then I thought, I wonder if I can do it both in the same championship together, and in 1995 I was able to do that. Then of course the next natural thing was to do it at the Olympics, and then break the world record in both.

“And all of those things were firsts, they had never been done. That’s what was driving me, motivating me.

“I never had motivation to try and be a 100m runner, or to add the 100m to that, that would have been incredible, to be a world champion at the 100m, 200m and 400m. But I didn’t have that talent.

“I think Usain Bolt could have done that and I tried to convince him to do it but he didn’t want to. The 400m is tough and he knew how that training was going to go and he didn’t want to do it, but I think he could have been a world champion or maybe even an Olympic champion at all three events.

“Which would have been incredible.”

Who inspired you in your career?

“As I got into my career and started to spend a lot of time really studying the sprinters that had come before me, Jesse Owens became a real inspiration for me.

“Before there was a Carl Lewis in the 100m, 200m and long jump, there was a Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin winning all three of those gold medals.

“He was the first person to do that but also we just literally two weeks ago had the anniversary of when he broke four world records in the span of 45 minutes, in the 100m, 200m, long jump and the 200m hurdles they had back then. It was just amazing.

“An incredible athlete, but also what he represented. We started the conversation talking about race relationships and regulations here in America, and he went to the 1936 Olympics and proved that black people can go and be amazing athletes and proved Adolf Hitler wrong at his own Olympics.

“He came back to the USA and didn’t get quite the reception that he deserved initially because of his skin colour, but ultimately became a real hero here in America, and always handled it with dignity and grace.

“I was very fortunate to get to meet his widow and get to know her well and one of the best compliments I ever got was she came to the 1996 Olympic trials in Atalanta, saw me run and said to me that watching me run reminded her of Jesse, and for me that was amazing.

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Premiership Rugby restart plans given new life after furlough boost

Premiership Rugby restart plans given new life as Government gives green light for training to resume without players being taken off furlough

  • Premiership Rugby has been given a huge boost ahead of a return to training 
  • Clubs can resume training without taking players off the furlough scheme 
  • The Government has given the green light, saving financially-hit clubs 
  • Cost of taking players and staff off furlough said to be up to £200,000 a month

Premiership Rugby’s restart plan was given new life after clubs were advised by the Government they could initially return to training without taking their players off furlough.

The news comes as a ray of sunshine to the financially troubled top-flight clubs who could now be back in socially-distanced training as early as this time next week.

This clarification, which Sportsmail can exclusively reveal, came from HMRC and was shared with the clubs at a key Professional Game Board (PGB) meeting on Thursday.

Premiership Rugby clubs received a huge boost ahead of a proposed return to training

It is understood HMRC advised they would not view a return to initial training as invalidating the conditions of the furlough scheme, as players would not be earning income or be providing a service to their employers.

By the time they were playing matches, the players would have to be off furlough though.

The update hugely eases the concerns of clubs who were worried that kick-starting the league again would cripple their finances.

It is believed the cost of bringing players and staff off furlough was up to £200,000-a-month per club, which was previously seen as prohibitive having had no income whatsoever for three months.

‘This has been a significant development, and clubs are now itching to get back,’ said a source involved in the virtual PGB meeting.

‘We are now inching much closer. There is a growing sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel.’ Another club source noted: ‘the furlough scheme has saved us.’ Added to the fact that BT Sport brought forward the final payment of its £33million-a-year contract as a goodwill gesture, which is now being held by PRL in a central pot, the clubs have more confidence they can afford to return.

The Government has allowed for training to resume without players being taken off furlough

Premiership clubs lose £50m combined which will be exacerbated by the pandemic.

Indeed Exeter Chiefs admitted on Thursday this would be the first year in 22 that they would not post a profit. Before this year they were only club in the black.

With financial worries easing slightly, clubs can now concentrate on implementing health protocols.

After a resumption of training was pushed back last week, June 8 was pencilled in for a soft return date, but on Thursday night at an investors meeting clubs were considering coming back sooner.

The latest news comes as a huge boost, with a number of clubs struggling financially

When clubs do return ‘stage one’ – as advised by DCMS – has to be completed and signed off first, before they can move to ‘stage two’ which allows a level of contact including tackling.

At ‘stage one’ players will screened to check their health on arrival at training grounds, will not eat or shower on site, will train outside in small clusters and will be required to leave the premises immediately after.

Any positive Covid-19 tests will set plans back, but if this slow return works, matches could be played by the end of July.

Meanwhile the concept of an ‘orange card’ for high tackles has been floated by World Rugby for the first time. A player shown an orange card would be sin-binned for 15 minutes, and the tackle would be reviewed where it could be upgraded to a red.

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Eddie Jones and Conor O’Shea discuss ‘ruckgate’ from 2017 Six Nations

England head coach Eddie Jones and former Italy head coach Conor O’Shea discuss the controversial ‘ruckgate’ incident which brought rugby to a standstill in 2017.

Speaking on The Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast, the pair recount an unforgettable match at Twickenham between England and Italy during the Six Nations.

Listen to The Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast here

The controversy came as Italy’s tactics exposed a loophole in the law. The tactic involved, what was at the time, a perfectly legal interpretation of the rucking laws, where the visitors did not commit players to the ruck after making a tackle, eliminating the offside line.

World Rugby reacted quickly to the loophole and changed the law but, at the time, Jones said the match “wasn’t rugby” and described it as “a joke”.

But, speaking on The Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast, Jones said: “Firstly, it took a lot of courage for you guys to do it and anytime when you’re the underdog, as you were, and you try and do something at the start of the game which tactically and psychologically surprises the opposition, it’s great coaching.

“It also exposed a flaw in the law so it’s good that’s cleared up now and helped the game go forward.

“It was a great exercise for us, when you’re favourites to win the game, you’re always thinking about what the opposition are going to do to try and upset you.

“I was very happy with the way the players went about it because it’s not easy to play against, everyone says ‘pick and go’ but that doesn’t get you anywhere off a slow ball – it really added to the Six Nations.

“And if it doesn’t go right you get more criticised than normal, so it takes a lot of courage to do it and I thought it was good mate.”

O’Shea, now RFU director of performance, reminisced on their “lovely match” and said he had to change things up to give his side “something to cling on to” after coming off a big loss to Ireland, without breaking the rules.

He revealed he swore Ugo Monye, who was working as a TV co-commentator for the match, to secrecy after disclosing the team’s tactics to him before the game, so that the former British and Irish Lions winger could accurately explain it to people watching at home.

England were rattled by the tactics and it took them a while to adapt and respond. Captain Dylan Hartley and James Haskell had long conversations with referee Romain Poite with Haskell asking Poite what he wanted to see at the ruck.

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Luther Burrell on working with England coaches Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones

Throughout his journey from raw teenage talent to a full England international, Luther Burrell seemed inextricably linked with Stuart Lancaster.

The Cumbrian was head of Leeds’ youth set-up when Burrell joined the academy from Huddersfield, later handing the centre his first professional contract as well.

Although they would both go their separate ways – Lancaster moving to RFU as head of elite player development in 2008 – they were reunited again in 2013 when Burrell, by then starring for Northampton Saints, was called up to the England squad.

Going on tour to Argentina in 2013, playing in a non-cap international against a South American XV, he won his first cap under Lancaster in the following year’s Six Nations and the 31-year-old remains thankful for his association with the now-Leinster coach.

“He is a very special man in my heart and mind,” Burrell told Sky Sports. “He played a huge role throughout my career, bringing me in from a teenage lad at Leeds, bringing my mum and dad in and explaining what he is willing to do and the time he’s going to put into me.

“I remember he got the full England job and I was absolutely made up for him. He was giving certain players caps who I’d played against under Stuart Lancaster and I text him say ‘If this guy can get caps, there’s hope I can make it’.

“He said, ‘it’s not about hope, mate, it’s about your work ethic and mindset. You’re a good enough player, how are you going to do it?’, basically. It gave you enough fuel and ammunition to keep working hard.”

He is a very special man in my heart and mind. He played a huge role throughout my career.

Luther Burrell on Stuart Lancaster

Burrell and Lancaster remain close, with the former having messaged his old coach to catch up when Northampton and Leinster met in last season’s Champions Cup.

However, their relationship became strained when Burrell was left out of the England squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in favour of then-recent rugby league convert Sam Burgess, despite having been a regular in that year’s Six Nations.

“For some reason, it all came down to me and Sam,” Burrell said. “It was just a really funny situation I found myself in.

“Ultimately, I think Stuart Lancaster will have suggested to tell me himself because he felt it was the right thing for him to do. I walked into the office and I could tell straight away.

“He got emotional about it, I just got up and walked out, which was probably not the right thing to do, but my emotions were sky high and I’d just had a home World Cup taken away from me.

“Then all of a sudden, I’ve got the media following me, I can’t go to my house and I can’t walk the street, so it was a really difficult period at that point.”

Keeping up with Jones

England’s dismal showing at their home World Cup, which culminated in a pool-stage exit, led to Lancaster departing his role as England head coach.

In came Eddie Jones, with the Australian employing his markedly different approach to his predecessor when it came to overseeing the national team.

Jones’ arrival led to a brief recall to the England set-up for Burrell, who won his 15th and final cap in the 39-28 win over Australia in Brisbane on the 2016 tour, and he found out plenty about the new coach’s unique approach.

“Eddie is different,” Burrell said. “A really great guy off the training park and everything else, but he is the hardest man to read.

“He’s very honest with his approach when it comes to rugby, but one minute he’ll be next to you at the counter getting some food, watching what you’re eating and giving you a bit of gip if you’ve got too many chips on your plate and the next minute he’s on the training field calling you out in front of the whole team.

“He keeps everybody on edge and that’s why I think the England squad rotated a little bit. He rotated it several times throughout my involvement and I missed out on Eddie’s team because another rugby league lad had come over and taken my spot in Ben Te’o.”

Eddie is different. A really great guy off the training park and everything else, but he is the hardest man to read.

Luther Burrell on Eddie Jones

Burrell moved the other way across rugby’s divide when his contract with Northampton finished last year, joining Super League outfit Warrington Wolves.

But not long after making the switch, he crossed paths with Jones once more.

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Kevin Sinfield revisits Leeds Rhinos’ controversial Magic Weekend win over Bradford Bulls in 2007

“It makes me smile every time somebody mentions this to me because I know one thing – I was onside!” says Kevin Sinfield, recalling arguably the most controversial moment in Magic Weekend history.

Even now, 13 years on, the clash between Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls which brought the inaugural edition of what was then known as Millennium Magic to a close remains a contentious talking point.

It revolves around the frantic final play of the game which began when the Rhinos were awarded a controversial offside penalty with their bitter rivals leading 38-36.

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“We were awful that day and Bradford were great,” Sinfield, now Leeds’ director of rugby, told Sky Sports’ Golden Point Daily vodcast.

“Coming into those last couple of minutes it was very close, but I think Bradford could sense we were on our way back.”

The Bulls had already been incensed by some of the decisions from referee Steve Ganson in the match at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium – along with having two possible second-half tries chalked off by video official Ashley Klein – prior to the incident in the dying seconds.

Fuel was added to the fire when the St Helens-based official pinged Bradford for offside when they recovered a loose ball, despite it appearing to be touched by a Rhinos player.

Sinfield, who was Leeds captain at the time, opted to kick at goal from close to 40 metres out yet his effort would end up rebounding off the crossbar. However, the bounce fell into the hands of Rhinos forward Jordan Tansey, who duly applied the finish under the posts.

This was not the end of the controversy though because replays immediately showed Tansey – along with several of his team-mates – to have been in front of Sinfield before the ball was kicked. Rather than going to the video referee though, Ganson awarded the try without hesitation.

“I’m lining the kick up and there are some Bradford players hurling abuse – which is normally coming at me as I’m kicking at goal, but it’s going at Steve because he’s awarded this penalty and if we kick it, it’s a draw,” Sinfield said.

“I could see Steve getting pretty frustrated with it. I’d gone to kick the ball and unbeknown to me, Jordan Tansey was 20 metres in front of me, but as I’d gone to kick it my planted foot slipped a bit but just enough that I knew ‘this isn’t going to go over’.

I’d gone from realising that I’d just missed a kick and we’d lost the game to suddenly looking up, see the ball hit the crossbar and us score.

Kevin Sinfield

“I’d gone from realising that I’d just missed a kick and we’d lost the game to suddenly looking up, see the ball hit the crossbar and us score. Steve – yes, he is human – just gave the try straight away and I couldn’t believe it.”

By now, the hooter had sounded and Sinfield was trying to compose himself to kick the conversion to end the game while aggrieved Bradford players protested to Ganson and pointed at replays on the big screen showing the incident.

“Steve was an old-school ref who you could have the banter and the craic with,” Sinfield said.

“The funny thing I remember is it was all going on underneath the posts, Steve had awarded the try and he had to keep walking back to the posts to calm the Bradford lads down because time was up but we’d still got the kick at the posts and I couldn’t believe what was going on.

“I’d put the ball on the tee and I’m waiting for Steve to walk back from the posts to stand near me like a ref does, and as Steve was walking back he gave me the biggest wink and the smile you’ve ever seen – and it was brilliant and I thought ‘You’ll do for me’.

“That was the banter. Steve didn’t do it on purpose, he wouldn’t have known Jordan Tansey was in front, but they were good times.”

Even now, the game is a sore point for those involved on the Bulls side that day, including head coach at the time Steve McNamara.

Indeed, Sinfield recalled how McNamara was less than amused when it came up again at a training session during his spell as England boss.

“Steve McNamara was their coach at the time and I ended up working with him at England, and we re-enacted it once in an England session and he didn’t see the funny side of it – he wasn’t happy at all,” Sinfield said.

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NRL talking points: Strike threats, Cody Walker blackmail and farewell to Arthur Summons

Jenna Brooks looks at the latest news from the NRL including referees accused of sabotaging the game and attempts to blackmail Cody Walker.

Strike threat

The NRL’s decision to revert back to one on-field referee has generated plenty of negative discussions, however the biggest threat to the May 28 restart is an ongoing dispute with the referees’ union, with suggestions they could strike in response.

The Professional Rugby League Match Officials (PRLMO) has taken the NRL to the Fair Work Commission over the decision to go back to one referee for the rest of the season, claiming they were not consulted before the change was implemented.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys insisted the resumption of the season won’t be affected by this dispute and the NRL has guaranteed that all 22 full-time referees will be retained beyond the 2020 season.

“All the full-time refs, none of them have lost their jobs, so what are they going on strike for?” V’landys told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“But we’re prepared for all contingencies …. always have been. I don’t want to telecast what we’d do but we’ve got plans in place.

“I don’t think they’d get any sympathy whatsoever if they were to sabotage the game with such an action. It would be risking the game’s future if they were to do something like that.”

The NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler has labelled the PRLMO’s move ‘ridiculous’ and has questioned the amount of power the officials seem to have.

“It is ridiculous what the referees are trying to pull,” Fittler told Nine’s Sunday Footy Show.

“What’s happened over the last ten years, the refs have been put on this level of power. I could never understand why.

“The referees love the game, they get in there and do a great job but outside that, that’s where it had to stop.

“For them to be protesting and going to hold the game up …. well get a whole heap of other referees.”

The controversial decision is expected to save the sport approximately $2.5m (£1.33m).

Walker investigation

Cody Walker said he will accept whatever decision the NRL and his club, the South Sydney Rabbitohs decide, after the NRL star claims he was being blackmailed over footage of a wild brawl.

The NRL star instigated a police investigation after he was asked to pay $20,000 (£10,630) in order to stop a video of him kicking a man in the chest from being leaked to the media.

Walker, who has been cleared to train with the Rabbitohs, said the incident, which took place in northern NSW late last year, started because he was defending a family member.

“I was trying to protect a family member after the loss of one of my first cousins who we lost through suicide,” Walker said on Channel Nine News.

“She was 24 years of age and we were grieving her. Seeing her brother, who is my first cousin, seeing him fight, the first thing that popped into my head was I just need to stop it.

“It was not a true reflection of my character and who I am as a person. I let the club know straight away after the incident.”

“I had no recollection that there was a video. The video came out and I let Souths know.

“My manager got a phone call and they basically said they want $20,000 for the vision or else they would pass it on to media outlets.”

NSW Police are calling for anyone involved to call Crime Stoppers.

Goodbye Summons

The game has said goodbye to one of the greatest to have played, Arthur Summons.

In 2018 the former Australia captain, who underwent major surgery to remove cancer from his mouth, has died, aged 84.

Summons, whose image, alongside Dragons Immortal Norm Provan, makes up the NRL Premiership trophy, which is named in their honour – ‘The Provan-Summons Trophy.’

The trophy is a three-dimensional cast of an iconic photo taken of the duo after the 1963 NSWRFL Grand Final, called ‘The Gladiators’.

“You look at that trophy and it shows you why rugby league is so great. When you saw Arthur, especially because he was always with Norm …. Norm is tall, and Arthur was tiny,” Brad Fittler said.

“He wasn’t a man of tall stature …. but what he lacked in size he had in heart, brilliance, and fierce determination,” ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys.

The five-eighth and half-back, was a dual code international, who played 10 Tests for the Wallabies, before switching codes, to represent the Kangaroos in nine Tests, including the first team to tour Great Britain.

He later become a member of the NRL Hall of Fame.

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New Zealand's Super Rugby stars to undergo a 'second pre-season'

New Zealand’s Super Rugby stars to undergo a ‘second pre-season’ as players return to training ahead of restart of southern hemisphere league

  • New Zealand rugby stars will undergo a ‘second pre-season’ this week 
  • The government’s relaxation of lockdown measures means sport can resume 
  • Super Rugby was postponed in March after just seven weeks of competition
  • Players are to return to training on Monday ahead of the restart 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

New Zealand’s Super Rugby players will begin what coaches have deemed to be a ‘second pre-season’ on Monday as they return to training following a relaxation of health and travel restrictions imposed after the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Southern hemisphere rugby’s governing body SANZAAR postponed the Super Rugby season in March after just seven weeks of the competition as governments responded to the spreading pandemic with border closures and travel shutdowns.

New Zealand’s government also introduced a nationwide lockdown before it loosened restrictions in late April and then further eased them on Thursday, allowing for the resumption of professional sport.

New Zealand’s Super Rugby players will undergo a ‘second pre-season’ when training returns

New Zealand Rugby, facing a multi-million dollar loss this year due to the pandemic, announced earlier this week a new domestic competition involving its five Super Rugby teams would start on June 13.

Players are expected to turn up for their first meetings on Monday and then ease into training to allow their bodies to get used to the high-impact collisions they can expect to face again next month.

‘Along with everyone else, this period of time (away) makes a rugby player’s body feel pretty good,’ Canterbury Crusaders coach Scott Robertson told Stuff Media on Sunday.

‘It is going to be a second pre-season for us in many ways.’

All clubs will return to training on Monday as lockdown measures are eased in New Zealand

Auckland Blues coach Leon MacDonald says the players will face tough conditions

New Zealand Rugby has implemented stringent health protocols for each team, restricting their ‘bubbles’ and scheduling games in the 10-week competition for afternoons or early evening so teams can fly in and out on the same day.

Matches will also be played in empty venues until the government and health officials determine it is safe to lift social distancing rules and crowd size restrictions.

Auckland Blues coach Leon MacDonald said the players would face completely different environments to the ones they left nine weeks ago.

Players would have their health monitored and temperature taken daily and have access to medical personnel around the clock.

There would also be no chance for the players to socialise or congregate after training, medical treatment would be strictly timetabled and training and meeting areas would be thoroughly cleaned after use.

‘We’re just trying to limit as much risk as we can,’ MacDonald told Stuff Media earlier this week.

‘If we can protect ourselves, make sure we don’t get any cases of Covid, then we’re more likely to get through the season, and that’s the ultimate goal.

‘It wouldn’t take much for us to get derailed and for things to get shut down.’ 

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Prem Rugby could impose life bans and stripping of titles in future

Premiership Rugby could impose life bans and stripping of titles if salary cap is breached again with league, RFU and players set to vote on tougher sanctions after Saracens scandal

  • Saracens will be relegated at the end of the season for breaching salary caps
  • Their scandal led to Premiership Rugby holding an independent review
  • The clubs, along with the RFU, the RPA – the players’ union and others will now consider the proposals and decide whether they should be implemented

Premiership clubs, players and officials face the threat of heavier sanctions for future salary cap breaches, including the stripping of titles and life bans from the league, following an in-depth review of the regulations.

Saracens will be relegated at the end of this disrupted season after being docked a total of 105 points for past cap breaches which were exposed last year by Sportsmail.

The controversy prompted Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs to order an independent review of the system, by former Government Minister Lord Myners CBE, which has been published on Thursday.

Premiership Rugby could impose tougher sanctions in light of the shocking Saracens scandal

Following Sportsmail’s investigation, Saracens will be relegated at the end of this disrupted season after being docked a total of 105 points for past salary cap breaches

The review makes a series of recommendations designed to tighten the regulations and increase scrutiny, accountability and transparency, as well as strengthen the range of available punishments. The clubs, along with the RFU, the RPA – the players’ union and other stakeholders will now consider the proposals and decide whether they should be implemented.

In the section of the review covering club accountability, Lord Myners recommends higher ‘entry level’ points sanctions, harsher penalties for failure to co-operate with salary cap officials and additional ‘sporting sanctions’.

These are outlined as relegation, suspension, stripping of titles – which could not be applied to the Saracens cases – and return of prize money, which has also not been an option before.

Former Government Minister Lord Myners CBE published his findings on Thursday after conducting an independent review

The reviews suggests a greater onus on players and their agents to accept accountability for their salary and related benefits, within the cap framework. Failure to co-operate could lead to fines or ‘sporting sanctions’, which are not specified. 

However, club officials would face the threat of a two-year ban for a first offence -false declarations or a failure to co-operate – and the doomsday prospect of a lifetime Premiership ban for any subsequent offence.

Among a host of other recommendations, there are calls for all future cap breaches, disciplinary decisions and sanctions to be made public, along with guidelines relating to the regulations. There are also proposals for far greater access to club accounts and the option for PRL salary cap officials to conduct regular and detailed audits.

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Ospreys announce ‘multi-million pound’ takeover deal by Asian-based group

Ospreys are “thrilled by the opportunities ahead” after Asian-based sports marketing group Y11 Sports & Media bought a 75.1 per cent stake in the Welsh rugby union side.

Ospreys chairman Rob Davies will remain in his role as he and pre-existing shareholders collectively retain a 24.9 per cent stake, with chief executive James Davies-Yandle and financier Donald Tang added as directors on the club’s board.

A new holding company – Ospreys International Group – has been established after the “multi-million-pound” deal, with all the financial benefits made to be put back into the club.

Ospreys Rugby have completed a deal with Asian based sports marketing group ‘Y11 Sports & Media’ to acquire a majority shareholding in the region, heralding what the new shareholders say is the ‘long-term transformation’ of the Ospreys

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Davies said: “Since the advent of regional rugby, the Ospreys have always aimed to be its pioneers.

“We haven’t been afraid to do things differently and to push the envelope. Today’s announcement is us doing the same again.

“It was essential we found a partner who shared our ambition and vision, but with the cultural understanding, expertise and resources to propel the region and community all into a new era.

“We needed to secure the success of the past, whilst embracing fully the future and that is what we are now doing together. We’re thrilled by the opportunities ahead.”

Ospreys have won only two of their 12 Pro14 games this season and currently sit bottom of Conference A, but in February they named former London Irish director of rugby Toby Booth as the new head coach from this summer.

Davies-Yandle, who founded and runs Y11 Sports & Media, said: “Rugby’s potential has been overlooked for too long as other sports have been nimbler at seizing commercial opportunities to power success on the pitch with revenues off it.

“But the environment is changing quickly and rugby is on the verge of going through the same type of evolution as other sports before it.

“The Ospreys, from a standing start, have gone on to be one of the most exciting brands and teams in rugby. Of all the clubs we’ve seen, its potential to fully emerge and take the next step is far beyond that of its peers.

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VOTE: Best second rows of the Super League era

With Super League celebrating its 25th season in 2020, Sky Sports is running a public vote to discover the best XIII to have played in the competition since it was launched in 1996.

The summer era of rugby league has seen some greats of the sport emerge and we will be running one poll a week for each position until our team has been filled.

Last week saw our front row line-up completed with Keiron Cunningham voted the best hooker with 37 per cent of the votes and now we move on to filling the two second-row spots.

As usual, we have five nominees to choose from. Make your choice with our vote below, and if you are still unsure about who to pick then we have brief profiles of all our nominees.

Paul Sculthorpe

Sculthorpe began his career with Warrington Wolves, but it was St Helens he became most associated with after joining them in 1997 for a world-record transfer fee for a forward of £375,000.

During 11 years at Saints, the goal-kicking second row helped them to four Super League Grand Final triumphs, four Challenge Cup successes and two World Club Challenge victories.

His efforts saw him become the first – and, so far, only – player to win Man of Steel back-to-back in 2001 and 2002, along with being nominated for the Dream Team four times.

Ben Westwood

Westwood started his career as a centre with Wakefield Trinity, but switching to the second row during his time with Warrington saw him earn England honours and become a mainstay of the Wolves side from 2002 to 2019.

The Yorkshireman, who retired at the end of last season, helped Warrington lift the Challenge Cup on three occasions during his time there.

He was nominated for the Dream Team four times and developed into a useful goal-kicker as well.

Chris Joynt

Joynt’s career spanned the winter and summer eras, starting out with Oldham, and he was one of the key men in St Helens’ early Super League triumphs.

He helped Saints secure the first-ever Super League title in 1996 and back-to-back Grand Final triumphs in 1999 and 2000, winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy in the latter.

Another Grand Final success followed in 2002, while Joynt was named in the Dream Team once as well before retiring at the end of the 2004 season.

Lee Gilmour

Unlike many of our nominees during this vote, Gilmour was never named in the Dream Team or handed any of the individual awards.

However, he was a key component of successful Wigan, Bradford Bulls and St Helens sides during an 18-season career which included spells with Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants and Wakefield.

Gilmour helped both Wigan and Saints to Grand Final triumphs, plus was part of Bulls and St Helens sides which won the World Club Challenge and earned international recognition with Great Britain and Scotland.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan

A 20-year career for and over 400 appearances for hometown club Leeds Rhinos is just a small part of what Jones-Buchanan achieved during his career.

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