Worcester Warriors lock Michael Fatialofa has been moved out of intensive care and is making "good progress" after suffering a spinal contusion.

The 27-year-old New Zealander sustained a serious neck injury in the Premiership defeat to Saracens at Allianz Park on January 4.

Fatialofa underwent surgery to relieve the pressure on his spinal cord caused by bruising and swelling.

Worcester revealed on Thursday that the former Hurricanes forward has been moved from intensive care to the Major Trauma Unit at St Mary's Hospital in London.

A club statement said: "Michael's condition remains serious but he is making good progress and he is showing encouraging signs of improvement.

"The hope is that he will soon be transferred to the internationally acclaimed spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire to continue his rehabilitation."

The Warriors have set up a special email account – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – so that Michael and his wife, Tatiana, can receive messages of support.

Nigel Wray has taken full responsibility for the "heartache" he has caused after Premiership Rugby published a full report of Saracens' "egregious" and "reckless" breaches of salary-cap regulations.

The European and English champions were docked 35 Premiership points and fined £5.36million in November for exceeding the ceiling for payments to players in each of the last three seasons to the tune of around £2.1m over that period.

There was worse to come for the London club when it was announced last weekend they would be relegated from the top flight at the end of the season after being unable to prove they have complied with salary-cap regulations for the current campaign.

Premiership Rugby on Thursday made public how an independent disciplinary panel came to a decision to punish Saracens for the breaches in the last three seasons in a report that does not include the current campaign.

A summary of the panel's verdict stated that Sarries had "continuously and recklessly failed to comply with its obligations to cooperate with the SCM (salary cap manager)."

Sarries argued co-investments club owner Wray, who quit at the start of this month, entered into with players should not be count towards salaries but he has now accepted taking an "ill-considered approach." 

Wray said in a statement: "I am really sorry for the heartache that I have caused you [supporters] due to my ill-considered approach to matters relating to salary cap compliance. My intention with co-investments was always to support players beyond their playing careers.

"I recognise that the actions of the club were described by the panel as 'reckless' primarily due to my failure to consult with PRL's salary cap manager prior to entering into any agreements and then disclosing the transactions to him. I take full responsibility for this. We should have been far better. 

"Equally important is the panel's determination that neither the club nor myself deliberately attempted to breach the cap."

Wray revealed that property co-investments with players, a payment by a former player to himself and a club director, and the purchase of 30 per cent of a player's image rights by himself and two other directors were among the "one-off transactions" the panel considered to be undeclared salary.

Agent fees and appearances at MBN Events, owned by Wray's daughter Lucy, were also classed as undeclared salary.

Darren Childs, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said upon the release of the report: "We are pleased to be able to finally publish the full judgment on Saracens' breaches of the salary cap in the last three seasons.

"Now that everyone can see the details, the decision will show that Premiership Rugby has taken firm action to enforce the regulations and our management of the salary cap has been endorsed by the panel."

Finn Russell will not feature in Scotland's Six Nations opener against Ireland after being sent home for disciplinary reasons.

Scottish Rugby announced on Thursday that Racing 92 fly-half Russell has been released from Gregor Townsend's squad for a breach of team protocol.

Scotland will have to do without Russell at the Aviva Stadium a week on Saturday and it remains to be seen if he will play any part in the tournament.

A Scotland team spokesperson said: “Stand-off Finn Russell will play no further part in preparations for Scotland's Six Nations opener against Ireland, having been disciplined for a breach of team protocol during the week's camp in Edinburgh.

"He has returned to his club."

Russell last year revealed he had a disagreement with head coach Townsend after a dramatic 38-38 draw with England at Twickenham.

"I actually had an argument with Gregor [at half-time]," Russell told ITV after the game.

"I said to him, 'You're telling us to kick and when we kick, they just run it back and cut us open, and when we run it, they're just hitting us behind the gain line and winning the ball back'.

"Second half, we just came out with nothing to lose, played our rugby, kicked out of our half and scored some great tries. We played good Scottish rugby."

The 27-year-old played at Glasgow Warriors from 2012 to 2018 before landing his move to France.

Stuart Hogg has revealed he approached Gregor Townsend to ask if he could take over as Scotland captain after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Hogg was named as skipper last week when Scotland head coach Townsend announced his Six Nations squad.

The Exeter Chiefs full-back takes over from Stuart McInally for the tournament, which starts on February 1.

Hogg took it upon himself to put his hand up for the captaincy following the disappointment of Scotland's failure to reach the quarter-finals on the biggest stage of all in Japan.

"I came back after the World Cup and had a conversation with Gregor," the British and Irish Lion told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I asked about his thoughts on leadership going forward and said I'd like to be captain; I'd like to have the opportunity to lead this team and take us forward.

"I want to make a difference. The captains that have been before me have done terrific jobs, but I want to put my mark on it."

Scotland won only once in the Six Nations last year and Hogg knows that is unacceptable as they prepare to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on the opening weekend.

Hogg added at the launch of the tournament on Wednesday: "Ireland have lost one home game in the championship in the last five years so that just shows you how difficult it is to win away from home – Dublin, Twickenham, Cardiff, Paris, Rome.

"Even our record at Murrayfield over the last few years, you have to be at your very best to win away, you have to stay in the fight, you can't give the opposition easy points.

"You can't let the crowd get more energised, the home crowd will bring more noise, more energy and the home team feeds off that – and we need to be better, we know that.

"We start with an away game this year and even though it's a tough challenge, it's the best preparation for us to see where we are, see if we have learned over the last few years."

Saracens have given Premiership Rugby the go-ahead to publish the full report into how the champions of England and Europe committed repeated breaches of league salary cap rules.

The London club's new chairman, Neil Golding, said on Wednesday that Saracens are "keen" for the details to be made public, in order to bring "context and clarity" to the situation.

Premiership Rugby welcomed what it said was an about-turn from Sarries and confirmed publication will go ahead, saying it will "begin preparations" for Lord Dyson's report to see the light of day.

Golding was adamant Saracens had no objection to the report's release, but Premiership Rugby insisted the club's lawyers had previously expressed resistance "in the strongest terms".

Demotion to the Championship at the end of the current season is the grim fate that awaits Saracens, who were first hit by a 35-point deduction and £5.36million fine, later compounded by last week's swingeing second punishment.

Golding's assertion conflicted with comments from Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs, who on Tuesday said Saracens' lawyers wanted the judgement to remain confidential.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Saracens chairman Golding said: "With regards to the publication of the disciplinary panel’s full report, I am surprised by the suggestion that Saracens are objecting to the publication of the report.

"Since my appointment on 9 January, I have spent considerable time in discussions with PRL and nobody has asked me what my position is on the matter.

"To confirm, we are keen for the report to be published in full and I made PRL aware of this earlier today. It will provide much needed context and clarity."

Golding's remarks led to a swift response from Premiership Rugby, which said in its own statement: "Premiership Rugby welcomes Saracens' decision to withdraw its previous objection to publication of Lord Dyson's decision.

"These objections were stated in the strongest terms and in writing on behalf of the club by its lawyers.

"We believe that publication of the decision in respect of Saracens' past breaches of the salary cap is an important step towards upholding trust in our enforcement of the regulations and the disciplinary process.

"We will now begin preparations for release of the decision. Further details will be provided in the coming days."

Golding's latest comments included the confirmation that Saracens swallowed the bitter pill of relegation rather than allow their books to be raked over in a "full investigatory audit".

"It would be fair to say that other PRL stakeholders were sceptical about our compliance with such an audit," Golding said.

"We carefully considered the option of a full investigatory audit. However, that inevitably would have involved a long period of more financial and emotional strain and this in turn meant this was not a viable option for us.

"We therefore agreed with PRL on relegation in the hope that we could draw a line under the mistakes made by Saracens with respect to compliance with the regulations and concentrate on putting our new robust procedures in place."

England captain Owen Farrell has declared "nothing is set in stone" when it comes to his Saracens future.

After last week's dramatic announcement from Premiership Rugby that Saracens will be demoted to the Championship next season, the focus has switched to what that will mean for the club's elite players.

Years of breaching the Premiership salary cap has come back to bite Saracens, the current champions of England and Europe.

Farrell was one of seven Saracens players named in a 34-man England squad on Monday and there will be clear-the-air discussions during the team's training camp.

Rival clubs have been angered by Saracens' over-spending and England will move quickly to defuse any tensions that may exist within coach Eddie Jones' group.

Asked whether he would stay with Saracens beyond this season, Farrell said: "There's obviously ongoing chats. We have an idea of what our plan would be for the lads that are coming into camp.

"We've had a sit-down, but obviously nothing is set in stone so [I am] not in a position to talk about it, but we feel clear enough at this moment in time to get on with what's in front of us and get excited about getting to England."

Farrell was asked for his view on the punishment meted out to his club side, and told ITV Sport: "It's disappointing obviously, but as a club we've accepted the punishment and I back the club to come back from this."

England's squad were set to gather on Wednesday and Farrell, as the team's leader, will likely have a key role in making sure there are no disruptive divisions between the players given the need for unity.

Asked whether there might be issues between the Saracens contingent and players from other clubs, Farrell said: "I don't know. The best thing about this squad over the past year or so [is] we've got better at being up-front with each other.

"We've got better at being open and better at being honest, and if that's the case we'll get it out there and we'll sort it out and be able to move on.

"It'd be wrong of us not to say anything so we'll see what comes of it when we do mention it."

Farrell left no doubt he is relishing the chance to focus on England matters over the coming weeks.

After the run to the Rugby World Cup final, England will bid to dethrone Wales as Six Nations champions.

"It's massively exciting," Farrell said.

"The group that we've got is obviously a lot of people that've been together for a while now, but with some people that are hopefully going to add a lot to it.

"We want to push, we want to get better, we want to improve, and we want to see where we can take it.

"We've got to work hard and that'll be what we do now when we meet up."

Saracens' troubles will not make facing England in the Six Nations any easier, according to France captain Charles Ollivon.

France kick-start their Six Nations campaign against the Rugby World Cup finalists on February 2 at the Stade de France.

Six players who appeared in England's defeat to South Africa in Japan play for Premiership champions Saracens, who will be relegated at the end of the season due to a breach of salary cap rules.

Elliot Daly, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola – who will miss the Six Nations due to a broken arm – and captain Owen Farrell are all regulars under Eddie Jones, yet Ollivon is not expecting any uncertainty over their club futures to impact their performances for England.

"You have to remember that England is the second-best team in the world, so I'm not sure whether it is the best time to play against them or not," Ollivon, who has been appointed as France captain for the tournament, told reporters.

"In any case, for us it will be our first game and we want to be able to perform. We want to be there and meet the expectations and get started with the championship.

"We have been preparing for it since the end of the World Cup so we're eager to get on with it."

France's initial 42-man squad includes 19 uncapped players, with coach Fabien Galthie already casting an eye to the 2023 World Cup, which will take place on home soil.

"It's a young team both in terms of age and caps," Galthie said.

"We have a two-fold vision, we have a four-year vision and then we have a shorter-term vision with the England squad for February 2.

"It's a squad that we'll have to quickly gear up to be able to perform and also to be able to raise the bar and the standards."

Captain Johnny Sexton and wing Jordan Larmour are expected to be fit for Ireland's opening game of the Six Nations against Scotland.

Sexton has not featured since early last month due to a knee injury but hopes to play a full part in training on Thursday.

The fly-half is optimistic he will be ready to lead his country when they take on Scotland at the Aviva Stadium a week on Saturday, having been named as skipper for the tournament by new head coach Andy Farrell.

"Everything's been going to plan, so hopefully I'll take a full part in training tomorrow," said Sexton. 

"I've had no setbacks, once everything goes smoothly in training I'll be available for selection. I think everyone wants to be captain, it's an honour that I was asked to do it. 

"Obviously it's a campaign by campaign thing at the moment [being skipper], so we'll see how it goes over the next eight weeks."

Larmour damaged his foot in Leinster's European Champions Cup victory over Benetton last weekend, but Farrell is hopeful the flyer will be available for the opening weekend of the Six Nations.

Farrell said: "We met up yesterday and had a bit of a walk-through so he was able to partake in that. We'll take it day by day, it's not serious but we'll see how it goes.

"Obviously there're some new guys who are going to freshen things up, but it's not just about that, it's a matter of picking people in form."

Wales full-back Liam Williams will miss the first game of the Six Nations against Italy but uncapped teenager Louis Rees-Zammit is expected to be fit.

Williams has not played since sustaining an ankle injury during the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall expected the Scarlets-bound British and Irish Lion to return against the Azzurri on February 1.

New Wales head coach Wayne Pivac says Williams will not feature at the Principality Stadium, but hopes he will make his comeback in a blockbuster clash against Ireland in Dublin a week later. 

"Liam is on for round two of the competition, he won't make the first game." said Pivac.

Pivac had more positive news of 18-year-old wing Rees-Zammit, who limped out of Gloucester's European Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse last Sunday with an ankle knock but could make his debut when Wales start the defence of their title.

"Louis picked up a bit of a bump last week, he's worked well with the medical team and he'll hopefully be training this morning, doing some running with the boys," Pivac said at the Six Nations launch on Wednesday.

"He'll go back to his club this weekend and then we'll get him back next week."

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones says the 2019 Grand Slam winners will need time to adjust in a new era under Pivac, who replaced the long-serving Warren Gatland after the World Cup.

The lock said: "It is going to be a bumpy road and we cannot shy away from that. There has been a lot of change and, to a point, we have to cut ties with that.

"But if you continue to look over your shoulder, you will slow yourself down. If we are going to evolve, there are a few more things to adapt to, and that is what you want to do.

"I was asked earlier about desire, and why you keep going, and I just remember why I started. I want to play rugby and I want to be involved with Wales.

"It is Wayne's world now and I am looking forward to what is to come."

Michael Hooper has relinquished the Waratahs captaincy to experienced lock Rob Simmons for the 2020 Super Rugby season.

Simmons, 30, will lead the team into next weekend's clash with the Crusaders after Hooper gave up the role he took on a full-time basis in 2016.

The Wallabies skipper said the "taxing" nature of his dual leadership positions contributed to the decision.

Kurtley Beale will serve as Simmons' deputy.

"This is something that has been on my mind, in this environment, for a good 18 months," Hooper told reporters. "It hasn't been something that's been on a whim or anything like that.

"There's much more than just leading the team out on the park.

"I went into last season fully committed to the role but also before that having question marks over my position as captain."

However, star flanker Hooper indicated he wanted to continue captaining his country under new Australia head coach Dave Rennie.

"That's a fair way away, but my thoughts and ideas around that have not changed," the 28-year-old said.

"I still do think I have a lot of growing in myself, in my gameplay and my captaincy.

"There are conversations Dave and myself will be having, I'm sure, in the future. But it's also a bit of time off, so I'm dealing with the here and now and what that will look like."

Meanwhile, New Zealand international Patrick Tuipulotu has taken over as sole captain of the Blues after sharing the job with Blake Gibson last season.

Will Skelton has been banned for four weeks for a dangerous late tackle on Brice Dulin in beleaguered Saracens' crucial European Champions Cup win over Racing 92 on Sunday.

Skelton was shown a red card just before half-time at Allianz Park after his shoulder struck full-back Dulin's head.

Sarries went on to win 27-24, setting up a quarter-final at Leinster, a day after their relegation to the Championship at the end of the season was confirmed due to salary-cap breaches.

Skelton attended an independent disciplinary hearing in London on Tuesday and the Australian is set to miss the European champions' Premiership clash with Harlequins, two encounters with Sale Sharks – in the league and Premiership Rugby Cup – and a top-flight game at Wasps.

The towering 27-year-old's guilty plea, good disciplinary record and expression of remorse were taken into account when his sanction was handed out.

Skelton will be available to return against Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens on February 29.

Sarries travel to Dublin to face Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in a repeat of last year's final in the first week of April.

 

 

In-demand Wales wing Steff Evans has ended speculation over his future by signing a new deal with the Scarlets.

The 25-year-old flyer attracted interest from France as he neared the end of his contract.

Evans has decided to remain with his home region ahead of the Six Nations, with no mention from the Scarlets of the length of his new deal.

Capped 13 times by the Six Nations champions, Evans said: "I am loving my rugby here at the moment so it was an easy decision to stay with the Scarlets.

"The coaches have built a great environment that all the players are buying into and there's a real buzz about the place at the moment.

"This is my home region, I grew up watching the Scarlets and to have made more than 100 appearances is an achievement I am hugely proud of.

"The squad here is as strong as it has been since I have been here and I really feel there are exciting times ahead.

"The boys have been playing some great rugby this season, we are still alive in two competitions and I am looking forward to playing my part in what should be an exciting few months to come."

Steve Borthwick is to take over as head coach of Leicester Tigers with Geordan Murphy appointed as director of rugby.

Murphy was appointed as full-time coach in December 2018 after an interim stint but the Tigers have struggled badly this season and are second bottom of the Premiership table with just two wins from 11 matches.

The Tigers have consequently opted for a reshuffle which will see Borthwick move to Welford Road at the end of his commitment to England.

Borthwick was forwards coach for an England side who reached the Rugby World Cup final and is working as skills coach under Eddie Jones for the upcoming Six Nations.

"The last four-and-a-half years working with the England team has been an incredible journey. I have worked with some brilliant players and staff," Borthwick told Leicester's official website. 

"In particular I would like thank Eddie Jones. To have worked with one of the greatest head coaches in the world for so long has been an unbelievable experience.

"I am delighted to be joining Leicester Tigers as head coach. The Tigers have such a long and successful history and are one of the greatest rugby clubs in the game. 

"Welford Road, with the special atmosphere created by the club's incredible supporters roaring their team forward, is a very special place to be.

"We must now work to build upon that great history and create our future to get this club to the top of European rugby. It is a brilliant challenge and I am excited to start working with the players and everybody associated with the team.

"Geordan provides a link with the club's greatest teams and we will be working together to ensure that there are many successful days ahead for this club, and for our supporters to enjoy."

Murphy enjoyed a legendary playing with the Tigers, winning eight Premiership titles and back-to-back Heineken Cups and the Irishman welcomed the addition of Borthwick.

"The players and staff have all been working incredibly hard to get the club back on a pathway to where we all want to be, at the top of the professional game," Murphy said.

"We have been building a lot of the foundations around recruitment and retention of the playing squad and the success of our academy structure, and we look forward to Steve's arrival to drive the playing squad onwards.

"Steve is a world-class coach with the skills and determination to get the best out of everyone around him."

Eddie Jones will encourage his players to voice their grievances over the Saracens salary-cap scandal when the England squad assembles before the Six Nations.

Rugby World Cup finalists England are due to begin a seven-day training camp in Portugal on Thursday ahead of their clash with France on February 2.

Jones confirmed he would hold clear-the-air talks in a bid to root out any tension stemming from the Sarries' salary-cap breaches, which resulted in a £5.36million fine and relegation from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje were among seven Sarries stars named in a 34-man England squad on Monday.

"We have got to get everything out on the table," Jones told reporters. "It's common sense. Say what you feel.

"If players are angry about it then say it. At the end of the day, there are 34 players that all want to play for England. Their job is to get ready to play for England.

"We will help them sort it out. I don't envisage any problems at all, in fact I think it is an opportunity for the team to get tighter. They wouldn't be in the squad if they weren't in the right mindset."

Jones admitted the meeting might not reach an easy resolution as England seek to move forward in the aftermath of their World Cup heartbreak against South Africa.

"We are not robots," he said. "You don't know how long it is going to take. It could take longer, but we will sort it out.

"We have got players from potentially 12 different clubs - 12 different ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

"We are like a family around the dinner table, someone wants to have pasta for dinner and the other one wants to have rice. They have a debate and that is ongoing in the national team."

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey has been called up to Ireland's squad for the Six Nations.

Initially omitted from Andy Farrell's 35-man panel, McCloskey was added to the group ahead of a training camp in Portugal.

His inclusion comes after Chris Farrell missed Munster's Champions Cup win over Ospreys, the centre ruled out because of a knee injury.

"Stu has been playing well over the past few weeks," Andy Farrell said.

"Centre is a very competitive area in the squad and with a few backs picking up small niggles at the weekend, Stu is the form back who will now be added to the group to give us some extra options."

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