Dylan Hartley has been left out of England's Rugby World Cup training squad as the hooker continues to struggle with a knee problem.

England co-captain Hartley has not played since December and the Northampton Saints man's prolonged period of inactivity appears to have scuppered his hopes of featuring in Japan later this year.

Flanker and former England skipper Chris Robshaw and scrum-half Danny Care are other high-profile omissions.

Alex Dombrandt, Lewis Ludlam, Ruaridh McConnochie and Val Rapava Ruskin have been called up to the senior squad for the first time.

The 29-man party does not include any players involved in the Premiership semi-finals, with those from Gloucester and Northampton to join the camp next week.

Players from champions Saracens and runners-up Exeter Chiefs will then come into the reckoning when Eddie Jones names his final training party on July 4.

On Wednesday, Exeter's Jack Nowell was backed to recover from ankle surgery in time to feature at the World Cup by Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter.

George Kruis and Mako Vunipola will report for medical treatment when the squad gather for a week at Pennyhill Park and the Lensbury on June 30.


England training squad:


Dan Cole, Tom Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Tom Dunn, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge, Joe Launchbury, Lewis Ludlam, Val Rapava Ruskin, Nick Schonert, Brad Shields, Kyle Sinckler, Jack Singleton, Sam Underhill, Mark Wilson.


Chris Ashton, Mike Brown, Joe Cokanasiga, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May, Ruaridh McConnochie, Dan Robson, Marcus Smith, Ben Te'o, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Watson, Ben Youngs.

In for medical treatment

George Kruis and Mako Vunipola.

World Rugby announced it had made the "reluctant decision" to scrap plans for a Nations Championship.

The governing body announced the 10 unions – from the Rugby Championship and Six Nations – failed to unanimously agree to enter into exclusive negotiations before Wednesday's deadline.

The Nations Championship was set to start in 2022 with a two-division format, with the Six Nations and Rugby Championship – with two added teams – making up conferences before semi-finals and a final.

However, there was a "lack of consensus on key issues, particularly the timing and format of promotion and relegation".

"World Rugby undertook this important project with the best interests of the global game at heart in line with our vision to grow the sport as a game for all," World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement.

"While we are naturally disappointed that a unanimous position on the Nations Championship could not be achieved among our unions, we remain fully committed to exploring alternative ways to enhance the meaning, value and opportunity of international rugby for the betterment of all unions.

"This includes our continued commitment to competition and investment opportunities for emerging nations to increase the competitiveness of the international game with a view to possible Rugby World Cup expansion in 2027.

"I would like to thank all stakeholders for their detailed consideration and engagement, World Rugby’s executive team for their hard work and Infront Sports and Media for their full and ongoing support of our vision to grow rugby's global footprint."

The Nations Championship had been underpinned by a 12-year, £6.1billion guarantee from Infront Sports and Media.

Exeter Chiefs and England back Jack Nowell is expected to be fit for the Rugby World Cup after undergoing successful ankle surgery.

The British and Irish Lion limped out of the Premiership final defeat to Saracens at the start of this month after injuring himself attempting to tackle Sean Maitland.

Nowell underwent scans and the Chiefs revealed the versatile 26-year-old had an operation on his left ankle on Tuesday.

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter says Nowell should have recovered by the time the World Cup gets under way in Japan in September.

"Jack's had an operation on his ankle and at this stage we see no reason why it should jeopardise him being involved with England at the Rugby World Cup, nor with us heading into the new season," said Baxter.

Baxter did not specify how long Nowell may be out of action.

Holders Saracens have been drawn to face Munster, Racing 92 and the Ospreys in a tough European Champions Cup group.

The European and Premiership champions beat Munster at the semi-final stage in April before going on to defeat Leinster at St James' Park.

Saracens will take on Munster again next season and also do battle with Racing - quarter-finalists in the 2018-19 competition.

Ospreys, the only Welsh side in the Champions Cup, are the other team in a Pool 4 which stands out as the toughest of the five.

Leinster are in Pool 1, just as they were last year, along with Lyon, Northampton Saints and Benetton Treviso as they attempt to get their hands on a trophy they won in 2018.

Premiership rivals Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks were drawn with Glasgow Warriors and La Rochelle in Pool 2.

Top 14 heavyweights Toulouse and Montpellier will lock horns with Gloucester and Connacht in Pool 5, while Clermont Auvergne, Ulster, Harlequins and Bath are in Pool 3.


European Champions Cup draw:

Pool 1: Leinster, Lyon, Northampton Saints, Benetton Treviso

Pool 2: Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors, La Rochelle, Sale Sharks

Pool 3: Clermont Auvergne, Ulster, Harlequins, Bath

Pool 4: Saracens, Munster Rugby, Racing 92, Ospreys

Pool 5: Toulouse, Gloucester, Connacht, Montpellier

Ben Smith will return from almost seven weeks out when the Highlanders meet the Crusaders in the Super Rugby quarter-finals on Friday.

The New Zealand star suffered a hamstring injury in the 31-31 draw with the Chiefs on May 4 and was initially ruled out for six to eight weeks.

And although the Highlanders have taken no risks with Smith, who will depart for Pau later this year, he is fit to play against the defending Super Rugby champions in Christchurch.

Smith's inclusion will come as a boost to the All Blacks, with the 33-year-old to see some club action ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan in September.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger told reporters: "He's trained really well in the first couple of days this week.

"He was touch and go last week, so we thought he would be a good chance for this week.

"He's done everything required and ran around at full pace yesterday, getting off the ground and getting in the air. He's 100 per cent confident that he's good to go."

Mathieu Bastareaud has been left out of France's squad for the Rugby World Cup, while there is also no place for Morgan Parra.

Bastareaud served as vice-captain during the Six Nations this year but the imposing centre has paid the price for a disappointing campaign, where France finished a distant fourth after losing three of their five matches

Sofiane Guitoune of Toulouse features among the backs in Bastareaud's absence, while explosive Fiji-born wing Alivereti Raka is one of three uncapped players included by Jacques Brunel alongside Peato Mauvaka and Emerick Setiano – a factor in Teddy Thomas missing the cut.

In April, Bastareaud announced he would leave Toulon on a season-long loan after the World Cup to represent the fledgling Rugby United New York franchise in Major League Rugby.

Speaking at a news conference to announce his squad, Brunel was reluctant to be drawn on whether fitness had been a factor in the experienced 30-year-old being left out and also denied incoming coach Fabien Galthie – who will replace him after the tournament in Japan – had a say on selection following discussions between the pair.

"It is in relation to the criteria that we took into consideration, with the characteristics that we identified," he said.

"It is a position where there is a lot of competition and performers all year round, especially Sofiane Guitoune who is in this group.

"Fabien Galthie did not wish to influence the decision because Fabien himself told me he did not know the players and the group enough."

Brunel dropped half-backs Parra and Camille Lopez after France's 44-8 hammering by England at Twickenham.

Youngsters Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack started in place of the Clermont Auvergne pair for the remainder of the Six Nations.

Fly-half Lopez has made the cut but, like Bastareaud, scrum-half Parra – capped 71 times by his country – does not even feature among the six players on standby.

"The group is rejuvenated with many players who are 25 years and under," Brunel added. "But there is still experience with Yoann Huget, Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard."

France have been drawn in Pool C alongside England, Argentina, United States and Tonga, opening their campaign against the Pumas in Tokyo on September 21.

France squad in full:

Forwards: Gregory Alldritt, Demba Bamba, Yacouba Camara, Camille Chat, Paul Gabrillagues, Guilhem Guirado, Arthur Iturria, Felix Lambey, Wenceslas Lauret, Bernard Le Roux, Peato Mauvaka, Louis Picamoles, Jefferson Poirot, Dany Priso, Emerick Setiano, Rabah Slimani, Sebastien Vahaamahina. 

Backs: Geoffrey Doumayrou, Antoine Dupont, Gael Fickou, Wesley Fofana, Sofiane Guitoune, Yoann Huget, Camile Lopez, Maxime Machenaud, Maxime Medard, Romain Ntamack, Damian Penaud, Alivereti Raka, Thomas Ramos, Baptiste Serin.

Reserves: Anthony Belleau, Francois Cros, Etienne Falgoux, Charles Ollivon, Vincent Rattez, Paul Willemse.

Toulouse coach Ugo Mola lauded the club's "incredible generation" after they sealed Top 14 glory for the 20th time in the club's history on Saturday.

Yoann Huget scored a pair of tries in a 24-18 victory over Clermont Auvergne at the Stade de France, earning Toulouse their first title since 2012 and the glory days under Guy Noves.

The club set a record points total of 98 during the regular season and established a new benchmark for tries scored by running in 102.

"A 20th title in Toulouse, it's huge for the club," said Mola in a post-match interview.

"When I arrived four years ago, we rebuilt and rebuilt. We have an incredible generation.

"Clermont and Toulouse will often meet in this kind of match for the years to come."

France winger Huget said: "Before the match, we were told to imagine all possible scenarios.

"I could not imagine another way of ending this beautiful season. The group was stronger than anything.

"Everything aligned for us this season."

The result meant Clermont hooker Benjamin Kayser brought the curtain down on his career on the back of a disappointing defeat.

While the former France international was frustrated with Clermont's attack, he was proud of a season that included European Challenge Cup glory and anticipates the club will continue to compete for major honours.

"There are many regrets. We did not have enough ambition and there was indiscipline at stupid moments, which made the difference," said Kayser.

"But I'm proud of what he did this year. The group did not give up and I am proud to have been able to transmit that to this young group, which will take the club far."

Yoann Huget scored a double as Toulouse overcame Clermont Auvergne 24-18 in the Top 14 final at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Toulouse posted a record 98 points and scored an unprecedented 102 tries to top the table in the regular season and Huget's brace ensured they did not end the campaign empty handed.

European Challenge Cup winners Clermont were denied a double in a repeat of the 2017 Top 14 final, with Toulouse avenging their defeat in that match to claim the trophy for the first time in seven years.

Thomas Ramos cancelled out a pair of Greig Laidlaw penalties before France wing Huget dived over in the right corner for the first try of the match.

Clermont lost Alexandre Lapandry due to a head injury and another three-pointer from Laidlaw was all they could manage after Toulouse full-back Cheslin Kolbe was sent to the sin bin for an off-the-ball tackle.

Toulouse worked the ball impressively from left to right to get Huget in for his second and Ramos converted for a nine-point lead.

Clermont were unable to find a way through Toulouse's defence, with Ugo Mola's team deservedly lifting the trophy.

The Sharks secured their place in the Super Rugby play-offs with a last-gasp turnaround in Saturday's 12-9 win away to the Stormers, who missed out on a top-eight finish in heartbreaking fashion.

Rhyno Smith's 28th-minute try ensured the Sharks went into the break 5-3 up, as he pounced on a loose ball in the defensive half and darted clear of the entire Stormers team in an otherwise cagey opening period.

For the most part, the second half was even tighter, as penalties from Josh Stander and Jean-Luc du Plessis looked set to take the hosts through.

But incredible drama followed in the dying seconds, as Lukhanyo Am broke the line when cutting in from the left in the 82nd minute, leaving two in his tracks before crossing when the Sharks' season was hanging by a thread.

Robert du Preez rounded things off with the conversion, as the Sharks head into the play-offs at the expense of their hosts.

The Sharks will be joined in the play-offs by the Bulls, who ran out 48-27 winners over the Lions, who needed to win to get themselves into the qualification spots.

A thrilling first half saw the two sides trade numerous blows, as the Lions started on top with a try inside the opening minute, but the Bulls were ultimately stronger, going into the break 31-19 up.

The hosts ran in three more tries in the second half, one of which was claimed by Handre Pollard, who finished with 18 points as the Lions missed out on a spot in the play-offs for the first time since 2015.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald has hinted that Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu will not return to the team next season.

The Auckland franchise surrendered a 19-point half-time advantage to lose 29-24 to the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium in their final Super Rugby match of the year on Saturday, which could prove to be the last outing for Williams and Nonu.

MacDonald's team were already out of play-off contention but capitulated against a team without key players including Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape.

Former New Zealand centres Williams and Nonu will be out of contract after the Rugby World Cup in Japan and MacDonald is preparing for a significant loss of experience in the midfield.

"There are going to be some personnel changes, that's just natural, every year there are going to be some," he said after the loss to the Hurricanes.

"We've got our six or so [leaving], but now we've got a good understanding of where we feel we need to bolster, we can go and attack that area.

"We could be losing a lot of experience in the midfield, we're not certain of that yet, but we've got to get the right people in that midfield to help control the game with the 10s and have some good game understanding."

The Brumbies stretched their winning streak to six matches while the Hurricanes rallied to stun the Blues ahead of the Super Rugby play-offs.

Already certain of finishing third in the overall table, the in-form Brumbies were aided by the early sin-binning of Reds prop Taniela Tupou in a 40-27 win.

The yellow card wiped out a second Reds score that would have made it 12-0, with Andy Muirhead quickly crossing at the other end for the first of six tries from the home team.

Departing Reds back-rower Scott Higginbotham was also sent to the sin bin in the second half as they slipped to a 10th loss of the season, while their opponents appear in prime form ahead of a play-off tie at GIO Stadium next weekend.

Earlier on Saturday, Hurricanes appeared in danger of slipping to defeat when they trailed 24-5 against their New Zealand Conference rivals at the break, Tanielu Tele'a, Caleb Clarke and Melani Nanai all crossing for the visitors.

However, coach John Plumtree made use of a powerful bench to turn the game around in the second half, running in three tries without reply to steal the win in Wellington.

Jackson Garden-Bachop converted on each occasion and also slotted over a 76th-minute penalty for a Hurricanes side that will be back at home for a quarter-final tie.

The Jaguares thrashed the Sunwolves 52-10 in the final round of Super Rugby to secure second spot ahead of the quarter-finals.

Japanese visitors the Sunwolves were no match for the in-form Jaguares, who ran in eight tries to two in Buenos Aires on Friday.

Jaguares pair Sebastian Cancelliere and Julian Montoya scored two tries apiece as the Argentine hosts held a 21-10 half-time lead at Estadio Jose Amalfitani.

It was one-way traffic in the second half after the Sunwolves lost a second hooker to injury which forced scrums to go uncontested and they had to drop a player for the remaining 33 minutes.

The Jaguares – who have won five games in a row to top the South African Conference – took advantage with 31 unanswered points following the break.

Now, the Jaguares will host a quarter-final, while the Sunwolves – bottom of the Super Rugby table – will prepare for their final season in 2020.

Newcastle Knights chief executive Philip Gardner has hit out over an "inappropriate" approach for Kalyn Ponga after Michael Cheika reportedly contacted the full-back over a potential code switch.

Ponga has two and half years left on his contract with the Knights, but the Queensland Maroons star is in demand.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has made no secret of his admiration of the Australia-born 21-year-old, who made his New Zealand Maori debut this year.

Wallabies boss Cheika is said to have been in touch with Ponga in a bid to lure him to rugby union, leaving Gardner distinctly unimpressed.

"It's not surprising that rugby union have identified Kalyn as a talent they wish to get their hands on," Gardner said.

"What does come as a surprise is that an official from their code would personally phone our talent despite the fact he has several seasons left to run on his contract.

"It is inappropriate for any contact to be made from rugby union – or anyone else for that matter – and it is extremely disappointing.

"The reality is Kalyn is under contract for another two and a half years with the option for a third year.

"Kalyn is a superb talent and quality person. He is a player we see being part of the Knights fabric for years to come. I can assure not only Knights supporters, but fans of the game, we will be doing everything in our power to sign Kalyn long-term when the time is right."

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg also spoke out over the interest in Ponga.

"Kalyn is a wonderful talent and a fine ambassador for rugby league and the Knights, and it is not surprising that there would be interest in him at the appropriate time." Greenberg said.

"The nature of this interest is certainly unorthodox. Kalyn has a significant period remaining on his contract and it would be disappointing to see any contact made to any player under these circumstances."

Stephen Larkham has been appointed as senior coach of Pro14 side Munster on a three-year deal.

Larkham was axed as Australia attack coach in February due to a difference in attacking strategy between himself and Michael Cheika.

The World Cup-winning former Wallabies fly-half has agreed to a new challenge under Johann van Graan at Thomond Park - subject to a work permit 

Munster also pulled off a coup last week by luring Graham Rowntree to the Irish province ahead of the 2019-20 season.

Larkham said: "I am very excited and honoured to be joining Munster Rugby.

"A big part of my decision lies in the values of the club and the importance they place on community. I have come from a very similar environment and know how effective and enjoyable that can be.

"I have had a number of conversations with Johann and I'm very excited to be working with him, as our views on rugby are very similar.

"I'm also looking forward to meeting and working with not only the other coaches in Graham and JP [defence coach Ferreira] but also the very talented group of players that Munster have."

Munster's Pro14 title hopes were dashed when they were beaten by Leinster at the semi-final stage last month.

The Chiefs secured their place in the Super Rugby play-offs in style on Friday, while the Highlanders kept their hopes alive with a landslide win of their own.

Winger Shaun Stevenson scored a hat-trick of tries as the ruthless Chiefs tore apart the Rebels, running out emphatic 59-8 winners at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

Jack Debreczeni also touched down and kicked six conversions in the rout, meaning the Hamilton-based team heaped more misery on a Rebels side beaten 66-0 by the Crusaders in the previous round of fixtures.

Sam Cane crossed to open the scoring in the 13th minute while Sean Wainui, Anton Lienert-Brown, Lachlan Boshier and Marty McKenzie also went over, with the bonus-point triumph completing an impressive comeback after Chiefs had opened the campaign with four straight defeats.

Highlanders, meanwhile, remain in play-off contention after a 49-12 thrashing of the Waratahs, who are now out of the post-season picture.

Needing a bonus-point win to remain in contention, Highlanders charged out to a 42-12 half-time lead in Wellington against opponents minus several of their Australia internationals as part of the Wallabies' World Cup preparations.

Josh McKay, Tevita Li, Thomas Franklin, Waisake Naholo and Teihorangi Walden all crossed for the hosts, while their pack also forced a penalty try in the 35th minute.

Josh Ioane was succesful with five of his attempts at the posts but the high-scoring Highlanders eased off after the interval, Rob Thompson eventually adding to their points tally in the 80th minute with a try that Elliot Dixon converted.

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