These are your rugby morning headlines on Wednesday, June 15
Moment of silence for Benny
The Wales Under-21s football team held a minute’s silence in honor of Phil Bennett on Tuesday evening.
Paul Bodin’s youngsters faced Gibraltar at Parc and Scarlets in their final match of their European qualifying campaign. And at the home of Bennett’s beloved Scarlets, players, officials and spectators fell silent to remember the 73-year-old.
READ MORE: The Phil Bennett Wales v England speech that became the stuff of legend
Wales senior manager Rob Page and captain Gareth Bale paid tribute to Bennett earlier this week. “I know he’s a massive Welsh icon,” said Bale. “I’ve played a bit before my time but I’ve seen videos of him scoring some amazing tries growing up. He’s a legend and the things he’s done in rugby are incredible. He will be truly missed.”
Page said: “He’s been an outstanding servant to Welsh rugby. We’re one nation and when we play sport we support each other. What he brought to Welsh rugby was unbelievable.”
Wales under-21s beat Gibraltar 2-0 to secure a fourth place finish in their group with a record of three wins, two draws and five defeats.
Roberts to join Sky team for Wales tour
Wales center Jamie Roberts will be heading to South Africa this summer – as part of Sky Sports’ commentary team.
Wayne Pivac’s squad will face the world champions in a three-Test series, with challenges not coming much harder than the Springboks on their own turf.
Roberts says he is expecting a reaction from the men in red after such a poor Six Nations campaign just gone and believes they could surprise one or two.
“I am looking forward to getting stuck into some broadcasting work out there and seeing how Wales can bounce back after the Six Nations,” Roberts told WalesOnline.” I think there is a lot of talent in that squad. The lads will be gutted with the Six Nations and how it is finished, but they are now at the start of a finish strait that culminates in the World Cup.
“When you are a summer out from the World Cup, something kicks in, in your mind and the fire in your belly, knowing full well that this is the lead in. There’s nothing that sharpens the mind like a Test series in South Africa. You are playing the world champions in their backyard.All the lads will have seen the squad pick the ‘Boks, it’s extremely strong.
“There will be a lot of people not expecting them to win out there, but I think they have got a great opportunity. The first Test is huge, it’s at altitude in Loftus so that’s going to bring a challenge in itself. They will have a decent time together to prepare and hopefully that will stand them in good stead.”
To read the full interview with Roberts, click here.
Farrell: It’s the ultimate test
Andy Farrell believes Ireland’s forthcoming tour of New Zealand will provide the “ultimate” test and serve as vital preparation for next year’s World Cup. Head coach Farrell is eager to take his in-form team out of their comfort zone and on Tuesday named a 40 -man selection for next month’s three-match series against the formidable All Blacks.
Ireland have impressed for much of the past 18 months, winning 12 of their last 13 fixtures, including a pulsating defeat of Ian Foster’s Kiwis in Dublin in the autumn. Yet many of Farrell’s squad, which includes five uncapped players, are yet to experience international rugby outside Europe after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of a 2020 trip to Australia and last year’s proposed visit to Fiji.
With the countdown to the 2023 World Cup in France well under way, the Englishman is keen to build experience and is braced for a major examination of recent progress.
“Any good performance that you’ve seen over the last two years, we need to be better than that,” Farrell said of the upcoming trip.
“It’s different over there and that’s why touring for these lads is some important. We’ve missed it. We’ve lads on 20-plus caps who’ve never toured. Walking around Auckland or Wellington or Dunedin, it’s not like walking down Ballsbridge (area of Dublin which is home to the Aviva Stadium) and people winding the window down and saying how good you are.
“This is completely different; this is proper international rugby that doesn’t get any better and it’s exactly what we want at this moment in time. We’re so excited about taking this squad to probably the hardest place in world rugby to go to and finding out about ourselves.
“This is the ultimate, isn’t it? We’re talking about building towards a World Cup and what you want to do in those type of circumstances is test yourself against the best.”
Ireland will play Test matches on July 2, 9 and 16 in Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington respectively, with midweek clashes against the Maori All Blacks scheduled for June 29 and July 12.
Itoje on fall and rise of Saracens
Maro Itoje never had any doubt Saracens would be back competing for the biggest prizes but has admitted it would be an “amazing achievement” to secure more Twickenham success on Saturday.
The StoneX Stadium club are back in the Gallagher Premiership play-off final, 12 months after a two-legged victory over Ealing earned promotion from the second tier.
Sarries’ relegation to the Championship in 2020 was expected to be the end of an era for the north London club, who had won five league titles and three European crowns during a glittering decade of success before being shamed by the salary cap scandal.
However, for England international Itoje it was a matter of when, not if they would return to the home of English rugby to battle for honors again.
“I felt Saracens was the best place for me to continue to grow as a rugby player and as a person and I still felt certain towards it being an environment where I could achieve my goals,” the lock said ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Leicester.
“It was a tumultuous period for everyone involved at Saracens but personally I had very little reservations in my mind about staying.”
It was the winter of 2019 when Saracens were initially punished for repeated breaches of the salary cap rule but only the following January when relegation was confirmed.. Saracens regrouped and kept the majority of their squad with a number of England stars signing new deals before promotion was secured at the first time of asking.
Of the weekend’s clash with Leicester, Itoje said: “I guess if you compare it to other major sporting events, the Champions League final or the Grand Prix, like in Monaco recently or Miami, that is an event people don’t want to miss I am sure Twickenham will be sold out and there will be loads of people there but it will predominantly be rugby fans.
“The difference between that and some of the other events I have spoken about is that it is an ordinary event people, ordinary sports fans or people in general, people don’t want to miss. They want to be there, feel the atmosphere and feel the experience so that is the challenge for these big events in rugby.
“Of course the rugby fans will always be there and always be important. We can’t do anything without the rugby fans so they need to be heard but we want to make it a spectacle so that the ordinary person doesn’t want to miss it because it’s the Premiership Final, it should be the biggest event in town.”