Who’s hot and who’s not: Gavin Coombes puts himself in Ireland contention but Manu Tuilagi out of England equation

Colin Newboult

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.


Gavin Coombes’ stunning form: There is no chance that he gets in ahead of Caelan Doris for Ireland at the moment, considering the Leinsterman’s form, but Coombes is doing everything he can to put himself in the equation. After the 25-year-old’s three-try showing for Munster against the Ospreys, Andy Farrell must surely be considering him for the Italy contest. Whether it’s resting Doris or putting Coombes on the bench, the number eight deserves to be in that Irish 23 somewhere.

Golden oldies: Congratulations to Danny Care and Alex Goode, who reached significant milestones at the weekend. Care made his 352nd appearance for Harlequins, beating Mike Brown’s previous club record, while Goode played his 350th game for Saracens. Coincidently for both players, Goode’s record came against Brown’s Leicester, with the ex-Quins man making his Tigers debut. The full-back, 37, was part of a backline which included Jimmy Gopperth (39), Chris Ashton (35), Ben Youngs (33) and Matt Scott (32), showing that age really is just a number.

Hugo Keenan gets his reward: After impressing for Ireland since making his debut in 2020, the outstanding full-back has signed his first central contract, which will keep him in the country until at least 2026. It is thoroughly deserved for Keenan, who has cemented his place in the Irish XV, starting 27 of their past 29 Test matches. He will also remain at Leinster for the duration of his deal in what is a significant boost for both province and country.

Brilliant Bayonne: Promoted from the PROD2 at the start of the season, Bayonne are flying high on their return to the Top 14. The Southwestern French club are unbeaten in their nine home games this season in France’s top flight. It was nip and tuck for the side this weekend, however, as they needed a clutch penalty from Camille Lopez to seal a 29-26 victory over Stade Francais, which cements their sixth-place ranking on the league table for at least another week. The news keeps getting better for the club as their president announced that Wallabies utility back Reece Hodge will join the side in November this year after the World Cup, signing a three-year deal.

Wasps accepted into the Championship… One English side has thankfully been saved after the Midlands outfit were allowed into the second-tier by meeting the Rugby Football Union’s terms. After going into administration in October, which saw the players and staff being made redundant, a consortium led by Christopher Holland has taken over the club. They are still without a ground, but various avenues are being looked at, and hopefully, that will be sorted soon. At least the supporters have their club back and can look forward to watching their team play in the Championship next season, wherever it will be.


…But the Worcester situation is still dire: Unlike Wasps, the Warriors’ future is uncertain after the RFU and Atlas were unable to agree a deal which would allow them into the Championship. It was not exactly surprising news, given the consortium’s consistent refusal to accept the governing body’s demands (i.e. they don’t want to pay the creditors, who are owed £5.2m), but it was nonetheless disappointing. At the moment, they are at a bit of an impasse as Jim O’Toole and James Sandford, who head the Atlas bid, have yet to pass a ‘fit and proper persons test.’ Understandably, the RFU are not happy with their proposals, and quite frankly, most people involved in English rugby probably want O’Toole and Sandford gone.

Manu Tuilagi: After being dropped from England’s matchday squad for their opening Six Nations Tests against Scotland and Italy, it was understandable that Tuilagi would be fired up when he took to the field for his club, Sale Sharks, in their Premiership clash with Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday. However, what boggles the mind is why he had to lead with his forearm into Tommy Freeman’s throat while taking the ball into contact just 13 minutes into the game. After the TMO, Claire Hodnett, made referee Ian Tempest aware of the incident, the on-field official had no option but to give Tuilagi his marching orders. The 31-year-old centre is now set for a stint on the sidelines – due to suspension – which means he will miss at least England’s clash with Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

Welsh rugby continues to implode: Following the resignation of chief executive Steve Phillips following allegations of sexism within the Welsh Rugby Union, now another horrible situation has arisen publicly. This time, the players have threatened to go on strike after being left in limbo by the governing body, who have yet to agree a budget with the four regions for next season. It means that players are unable to sign a new contract, with even top Wales internationals not certain of having a job by July. The players are being put in an awful situation by the WRU, and quite rightly, they are taking action. Unfortunately, it just shows what a dreadful state Welsh rugby is in at the moment.

Edinburgh: Mike Blair’s men have impressed in the Champions Cup this season, but their form in the United Rugby Championship is a different story. Their latest loss, a poor 42-14 defeat to the Scarlets, was their sixth league defeat in the past seven games, leaving them down in 11th position in the table. The Scottish outfit are only four points away from the play-off places, but their declining form and results are a real concern.

Tadhg Beirne’s injury: In a blow to the player, Ireland and Munster, the second-row was ruled out for up to three months after suffering an ankle injury. Beirne has already undergone surgery to correct the issue, but he will now miss the rest of the Six Nations and a vital part of Munster’s season as they look to challenge for silverware in both the Champions Cup and United Rugby Championship. He has been in outstanding form over the past few seasons, and we wish him all the best in his recovery.

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