Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Bill Sweeney revealed talks with Eddie Jones over a new deal are "ongoing" but says both parties must be fully committed

The England head coach is contracted until 2021 and the Australian has given little away over whether he is keen to stay on until the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Sweeney expects a decision to be made on Jones' future before too long after he guided England to the Rugby World Cup final in Japan, where they fell short against South Africa. 

"Those conversations are ongoing. Both sides need to want this," Sweeney told BBC Sport.

Jones is enjoying a break over the Christmas period after a busy 2019, with the RFU having held a "very positive" review into England's World Cup campaign.

"We said in Japan we would get back and do a full debrief. We have done that and it was all very positive," Sweeney said.

"We have had a number of conversations already. He is on a Christmas break now and will get back early in the new year.

"We will continue those conversations and make a decision on that fairly soon.

"Both sides need to want this. There is no point one side wanting this and the other not. So we will take it from there."

Former Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has apologised and opened up on his battle with "demons" after being banned for making 363 bets on rugby over a four-year spell.

On Monday he was handed an 18-month ban for breaching World Rugby's anti-corruption and betting regulations.

The sanction, nine months of which is suspended for two years, followed a three-month investigation by an independent disciplinary panel.

It was discovered that Howley's bets had spanned dates between November 2015 and September 2019, some of which were on Wales games during his time with the team.

Howley has issued a full apology, insisting his sister Karen's death in 2011 had left him in a difficult place.

"I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all those close to me and everyone this has affected, especially the rugby community, close colleagues and above all my family," Howley said in a widely reported statement on Tuesday.

"I am an extremely private man, and unfortunately it was this that kept me silent as I battled my demons following my sister's tragic death.

"The last few months have been immensely tough, and continued help will allow me to find the right path back to rugby which has always been my true passion. 

"I am immensely grateful for the faith and support I've received from everybody close to me."

Backs coach Howley was withdrawn from Wales duty when the WRU learned of a potential breach in the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The ban has consequently been backdated to September 16, meaning he will be eligible to return to the sport on June 16, 2020.

Howley wished to make it clear that his good character had been recognised during an investigation which he fully co-operated with.

The 49-year-old added: "I feel it is important for me to reiterate a number of the key facts that were highlighted and proven during the investigation:

"'Mr Howley acknowledged his breach of the regulation at the first available opportunity, that he has demonstrated deep felt and genuine remorse, that he has an exemplary character and an exemplary disciplinary record (both as a player and coach).

"'There was no suggestion of dishonesty or misuse of confidential information involved.

"'The fact that Mr Howley had sought help from a psychologist who had diagnosed that the trigger for Mr Howley's recreational betting had been a family tragedy and that Mr Howley had refrained from betting since his suspension'."

Andy Farrell has sprung a surprise by leaving full-back Rob Kearney out of his first Ireland training squad, a 45-man group which will get together in Dublin later this week.

Leinster star Kearney will not be present when new coach Farrell hosts a "24-hour mid-season stocktake" in Dublin on December 22 and 23.

The 33-year-old, who has 95 Ireland caps, played for his country during their recent Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan, including in the heavy quarter-final defeat to New Zealand.

But Kearney has missed out on Farrell's selection, which includes some top names along with a host of uncapped players.

Five of his uncapped Leinster team-mates are in the squad, Jamison Gibson-Park, Will Connors, Caelan Doris, Max Deegan and Ronan Kelleher.

Ulster duo Tom O'Toole and England-born Billy Burns also get the nod, along with Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade.

"The next six weeks is the window for players to put their hands up for selection for our first squad, which will be named in late January ahead of the Six Nations," Farrell said.

"We have limited opportunities across the busy provincial season to bring a broad group like this together, but this 24-hour window will allow us to plant a few seeds.

"It will also give the coaches a better insight into a few players who been performing consistently well for their provinces."    

Ulster prop Marty Moore returns to the fold having not played for Ireland in almost five years.

Leinster lock Devin Toner and Ulster number nine John Cooney are also back after former boss Joe Schmidt did not select them for the World Cup.

Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin, Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion join Kearney in missing out on a place in the group.

John Ryan and Tadhg Beirne are both injured and not listed, but Johnny Sexton is included despite currently being out with a knee problem.

Former Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has been handed an 18-month ban for breaching World Rugby's anti-corruption and betting regulations.

The sanction, nine months of which is suspended for two years, was announced by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) on Monday following a three-month investigation.

Howley was withdrawn from Wales duty when the WRU learned of a potential breach in the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The ban has consequently been backdated to September 16, meaning he will be eligible to return to the sport on June 16, 2020.

An independent disciplinary panel found that Howley placed 363 bets between November 2015 and September 2019, some of which were on Wales games during his time with the team.

Howley used a mobile phone and email address supplied by the WRU to place bets that resulted in losses of approximately £4,000.

During a hearing in Cardiff last week, Howley stated he had not gambled since being stood down and was seeing a psychologist to stop betting.

The 49-year-old can lodge an appeal but must notify the WRU within 14 days of his receipt of the decision.

Johnny Sexton faces a battle to be fit for Ireland's Six Nations opener against Scotland. 

The fly-half suffered a knee injury during Leinster's European Champions Cup victory over Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens last weekend.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is unsure how long his captain will be sidelined but is hopeful he will be ready to face Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in Andy Farrell's first game in charge on February 1.

"You would love if he was back [to play for Leinster before the Six Nations], but it's probably more realistic for Ireland," Cullen said.

"He's seeing somebody in the UK and he'll go back there just to get an update in a couple of weeks.

"He's working hard to try and get himself back as quickly as possible, but he won't be a million miles away [for the start of the Six Nations] hopefully."

Scott Fardy will skipper Leinster in the absence of Sexton in the return fixture against Northampton in Dublin on Saturday.

The Pro14 champions, runners-up in Europe's premier club competition last season, are top of Pool 1 with three wins out of three.

Ian Foster knows he will have to "reinvent" himself after stepping up to replace Steve Hansen as head coach of New Zealand.

Foster was on Wednesday appointed as All Blacks boss on a two-year deal.

The 54-year-old spent eight years as assistant to Hansen, who left his post following the Rugby World Cup.

Foster is aware he must stamp his own mark on the role in order to make New Zealand the best in the world once again after they were beaten by England at the semi-final stage in Japan.

"I guess I've got a job now to reinvent myself a bit with the public and with the media." said Foster.

"I've been eight years as an assistant coach and my job was to try to be the best assistant the All Blacks needed me to be.

"We've had a big fella [Hansen] there who I love greatly and he's got his own style and my style has been to complement that.

"Now it's time for you to see me in a new light and that's up to me to show you that I'm innovative, I've got a sense of direction of where I want this team to go, and I'm extremely passionate about adding a new touch to it and to really grow and get some mana back on the field, which we feel we might have lost."

Foster, whose contract starts at the beginning of 2020, got the nod over Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson, who was also interviewed for the job.

Incoming New Zealand Rugby chief Mark Robinson hinted Robertson's time may come to take charge of his country.

"As someone who knows Razor well as a former team-mate, he was a very impressive candidate and these decisions are never easy." said Robinson.

"We know Razor is an outstanding coach and I have no doubt he’ll have a big future in our game at international level."

The British and Irish Lions will play the first of a three-Test series against world champions South Africa in front of potentially a record crowd.

Warren Gatland will lead the Lions for a third time in 2021, with Johannesburg's FNB Stadium to host the first encounter on July 24.

The venue has a capacity of around 88,000 and a sell-out would surpass the highest attendance figures for a Lions fixture, which came when 84,188 watched the series decider against Australia in Sydney in 2001.

Cape Town Stadium is the venue for the second Test a week later before the third and final match takes place in Gauteng at Emirates Airline Park on August 7.

In total, the Lions will play eight matches, with Super Rugby sides the Bulls, the Sharks and the Stormers among the opponents, while Gatland's side are to face an invitational side in Port Elizabeth and South Africa 'A' in Nelspruit.

Gatland, who oversaw a series win over Australia in 2013 and a draw with New Zealand four years later, says the itinerary is perfect preparation for what promises to be a thrilling series with Rugby World Cup winners South Africa.

"I am absolutely thrilled with how this schedule looks," he said.

"Touring South Africa is always a huge challenge, not only from a rugby perspective, but also in terms of the venues and the conditions facing the players.

"We are very comfortable that three of the games, two of which are Test matches, will be played at altitude. Our schedule falls in a way to allow us to start at sea level before building up and acclimatising to the unique environment that playing at altitude presents.

"Ensuring the team are absolutely primed for the Test matches is a critical element of any Lions Tour, and I am confident the quality of opposition we will face in the opening weeks will get us ready to take on the Springboks. The Bulls, Sharks and Stormers are all tough sides and present different challenges, which is exactly what we want.

"Moreover, the venues we have agreed – some of which will be new to the Lions – open up the matches to a vast audience and will undoubtedly provide an unforgettable experience for the players and travelling supporters alike.

"We are very much looking forward to touring this wonderful country."

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus added: "There are players who have been to three Rugby World Cups an finished their careers with a winners' medal yet never got to play against the Lions.

"They only come around every 12 years for our players and only a few of them ever have the privilege of wearing the Springbok jersey in a Lions series.

"The Lions have not lost a series since they were last here a decade ago and they will present a next-level challenge in 18 months' time.

"Warren Gatland is a massively experienced and astute coach with a phenomenal record with the Lions and the rugby experience for our players and public will rival that of a Rugby World Cup."

 

Schedule in full:

Saturday July 3: Lions v Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Wednesday July 7: Lions v South Africa Invitational – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Saturday July 10: Lions v Sharks – Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
Wednesday July 14: Lions v South Africa 'A' – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Saturday July 17: Lions v Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Saturday July 24 (First Test): South Africa v Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
Saturday July 31 (Second Test):  South Africa v Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Saturday August 7 (Third Test): South Africa v Lions – Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

Wayne Pivac saw encouraging signs for the future as his Wales reign began with a 43-33 victory over Warren Gatland's Barbarians in Cardiff.

Former Scarlets coach Pivac was at the helm for the first time and he made a winning start against his predecessor Gatland's team, Wales running in six tries to the BaaBaas' five.

Josh Adams, the leading try-scorer at the Rugby World Cup, scored a brace, as did hooker Ken Owens, and Pivac was pleased with what he saw from his team in attack.

However, with Wales having led 33-7 early in the second half, Pivac admitted there is work to do defensively ahead of their Six Nations title defence.

"A lot of good work went in during the week," Pivac said at a news conference after the win.

"There's a lot of info to take on in a week, but scoring 43 points was a sign of what we want to do. We need to tighten up the defence but it's promising.

"The boys have been fantastic. We're pleased to get the win and focus on the Six Nations."

Wales' victory came without captain Alun Wyn Jones and star backs Liam Williams, George North and Jonathan Davies.

With wing Johnny McNicholl having scored a try on debut, too, Pivac is buoyant about the future.

"The first thing we'll do is review the game," he explained.

"It's been a valuable week. There were some well-known faces in the stand and they'll look forward to coming back into the fold."

Warren Gatland bade an emotional farewell to Wales on Saturday as his successor Wayne Pivac's reign started with a 43-33 win over Barbarians.

New Zealander Gatland spent 12 years in charge of the Wales team, guiding them to a pair of Rugby World Cup semi-finals and three Grand Slams, but he led their opponents in Cardiff, where Pivac was at the helm for the first time.

Josh Adams and Ken Owens both scored two tries apiece as Pivac began life as Wales coach with a victory.

Gatland, who was given a rousing ovation on the pitch after the game, thanked the crowd at the Principality Stadium for their support during the past dozen years.

"It's been brilliant for 12 years," Gatland told Channel 4.

"I love this place, you guys have given me so much.

"My time at Wales has been absolutely brilliant, there's a really special place in my heart for Wales and the people here.

"It's been incredibly special."

Gatland is returning to his homeland to take charge of the Chiefs and, though it came at his team's expense, he was pleased to see Wales get up and running under Pivac.

"I'll be back some day, maybe sitting in the stand," he added.

"It's been pretty cool and it's been brilliant for Wales to win today, and a new regime.

"It's been so brilliant to be able to put smiles on people's faces from time to time and [win] a few Grand Slams."

Barbarians coach Warren Gatland bade Wales farewell on Saturday as his successor Wayne Pivac claimed a 43-33 victory in his first match in charge.

Gatland's glorious 12-year stint as Wales coach came to an end after the Rugby World Cup, where he led the team to their second fourth-place finish of his tenure, but the New Zealander was back in Cardiff to lead his old team's opponents.

His successor Pivac made a winning start, though, as wing Josh Adams and hooker Ken Owens crossed for two tries apiece, though a late BaaBaas fightback meant the margin of victory was only 10 points.

Gatland was afforded a rousing reception when he was shown on the big screen at the Principality Stadium while BaaBaas captain Rory Best, Ireland's most-capped forward, was given a standing ovation when he was substituted in the second half of his final appearance.

Wales led 19-7 at the break as Adams, the World Cup's leading try-scorer, went over along with international debutant Johnny McNicholl and Owens.

Further tries from Owens and Adams after the break put Wales firmly in charge, while substitute Gareth Davies also got in on the act.

The Barbarians scored five tries in total - four of them coming after the break - as Josh Strauss, Curwin Bosch, Shaun Stevenson, Craig Millar and Peter Samu all crossed.

Former Italy head coach Conor O'Shea will join the Rugby Football Union (RFU) as director of performance in 2020.

O'Shea this month resigned as Italy boss, having failed to guide the Azzurri out of a difficult Rugby World Cup group that included New Zealand and eventual champions South Africa.

The Irishman's impeding arrival was confirmed after the RFU announced director of professional rugby Nigel Melville will leave the organisation in December.

O'Shea is to work closely with Eddie Jones and will be responsible for the leadership, management and strategic direction of the professional game in England.

"I am privileged and honoured and it is an incredible opportunity to join at a really exciting time for English rugby," said O'Shea.

"I've spent the last four years in Italy, six years at Harlequins and before that 10 years at London Irish, so I feel I know the system pretty well. The good times, the bad times, winning things and being competitive, so I can relate to the people and challenges that happen within our system. I have learned a huge amount internationally in the last few years as well.

"There is an exciting vision at the RFU. It is not just about winning tomorrow, but also about sustaining success and winning long into the future. We can really look forward to rejuvenating and re-energising the performance pathway to help, support and push England rugby on."

RFU CEO Bill Sweeney added: "Conor knows Eddie Jones very well and will be able to integrate with what is happening at the highest level on the elite side of our game and making sure we have a seamless approach to player and coach development will be key.

"He will also work closely with Premiership Rugby and the clubs to make sure we have the right relationships with them.

"There is a lot happening. We are just coming off a very successful Rugby World Cup, the youngest-ever team to compete in a World Cup final so it bodes really well for us going forward.

"We are looking forward to the Six Nations coming up now but that is part of a longer journey through to France in 2023. We look at that and the experience of Japan and that is something we can really build on."

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi says he was so stunned meeting Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after their Rugby World Cup triumph that he fell off his chair.

Klopp met up with Springboks stars including Kolisi as well as the country's cricket captain Faf du Plessis while visiting Cape Town during the most recent international break.

Kolisi recalled how Klopp spoke with each of the players in turn to congratulate them on their 32-12 defeat of England in the World Cup final in Yokohama on November 2.

The flanker admits meeting the "amazing" coach allowed him to understand why Liverpool players are thriving under his leadership.

Speaking to Sky Sports about South Africa's post-tournament celebrations, Kolisi said: "This was one of the highlights. He's such an amazing human being and I understand why the boys play so hard for him.

"He came and greeted every single person at the table; he came and spoke to me for 40 minutes.

"When I saw him, I fell off my chair! And everyone around me didn't understand. I've got huge respect for him."

The story of Kolisi's rise from an impoverished childhood in post-apartheid South Africa to winning the World Cup as captain of the national team captured huge interest before and during the tournament.

While he admits he never thought such an experience would be possible, the 28-year-old now wants to give back to his country to help those who continue to live in difficulty.

"I even said it to my team-mates: I never dreamed of this in a million years," he said. "But I'm glad that it happened. We all come from different backgrounds as team-mates and now kids can start dreaming about this moment, because we've done it.

"I'd love to hope [that we've changed perceptions] but there is a bit of work to do.

"I don't think I'll ever understand how big it is. It was really tough. Honestly, I wasn't in the worst of circumstances. People are in far worse circumstances. But I had love, support and time given to me by the people that raised me.

"I know we're all celebrating the story, and it's amazing, but kids shouldn't have to go through that. That's why I'm trying to work as hard as I can with some of my team-mates to give back to as many as we can.

"If I can make a difference in somebody else's life… that's the stuff that you want to be remembered for. I knew how much it could mean if we could win, for us as individuals, for the team and for the country."

Kolisi believes director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was a critical part of the Springboks' success, even down to his message before the final about the importance of doing their country proud.

"He's a special human being – I've learned so much from him," Kolisi added. "I've known him since I was a little kid. He's backed me from the beginning. He had a great plan and we all bought into it.

"That's what he told us [that rugby is a privilege] before we warmed up for the final. We know what pressure is: someone dying, something happened to one of your family members or friends, but we had the privilege of putting smiles on people's faces who are going through all that pressure.

"That's what he made us understand before we stepped on that field. We weren't playing for ourselves anymore; we were playing for a nation. Without even knowing it, we touched so many people. When we walked on that field, we knew what we had to do.

"I didn't have to speak – coach spoke, that was it. If that wasn't going to make you ready for the game, you were never going to be ready."

England full-back Anthony Watson will be sidelined for at least a month after suffering a knee injury in Bath's European Champions Cup defeat to Harlequins last weekend.

There were concerns that Watson could be facing another lengthy lay-off when he was injured in his first game since England's Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa.

Bath on Tuesday revealed that the British and Irish Lion will be out until Christmas at least after suffering a medial collateral ligament tear.

That diagnosis will be a relief to England head coach Eddie Jones, with the Six Nations getting under way at the start of February.

Watson returned to action in April after 13 months out with a ruptured Achilles.

Premiership side Bath are waiting to discover how long Charlie Ewels will be unavailable after the lock also injured his knee in Quins' 15-9 victory at The Stoop on Saturday.

Ewels, capped 12 times by England, sustained a slightly higher grade of ACL tear to Watson.

Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper said: "The collision-based demands of our game are tough and it is never easy to see a player leave the field with an injury.

"We are pleased however that in Anthony's case, his injury is not as serious as first thought. We are waiting for further detail on Charlie and will share an update as soon as we are able.

"Both Anthony and Charlie will now work with our Performance Department in order to come back stronger and perform at their very best when the time is right."

Bath will seek specialist help to aid Joe Cokanasiga's recovery after the England international returned from the Rugby World Cup with a knee injury.

The Premiership club released a statement on Friday that said Cokanasiga will be "unable to begin a competitive campaign for the club", with no scheduled time announced for the wing's return to action.

"In order to provide Joe the best possible management plan and rehabilitation process, Bath's medical department are enlisting the services of world-leading specialists to ensure expert opinion is considered to deliver an optimal pathway to recovery," the statement read.

"The club's priority is to maximise his chances to perform at the very highest level."

The 22-year-old has won nine caps for England and played once at the World Cup, scoring two tries in the 45-7 win over the United States.

As well as Cokanasiga, Bath will also send Zach Mercer to see a specialist to discover the extent of the knee issue he suffered during the European Champions Cup game against Ulster.

Henry Thomas, meanwhile, will miss the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

"Joe is a phenomenal talent and a powerful athlete, and we must manage him very carefully in the coming months to allow for the issues he has come back from Japan with to begin to be resolved," Stuart Hooper, the club's director of rugby, said.

"We have no doubt that Henry, Zach and Joe can come back stronger and our performance department will support them in every possible way to ensure they have the best rehabilitation and return to performance."

Rugby World Cup champions South Africa will face Scotland twice and play a one-off match with Georgia in July next year.

The Springboks secured a famous victory over England in a surprisingly one-sided final in Japan last month, Rassie Erasmus' side running out 32-12 winners. 

By contrast, Scotland failed to qualify from their pool after losing to Ireland and Japan.

The European nation will head to South Africa for a pair of fixtures on July 4 and 11, with the Springboks also scheduled to host Georgia the following week.

While South Africa and Scotland have met many times, the Boks have faced Georgia only once – in a pool match at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Georgia won one of their four games in Japan, beating Uruguay 33-7.

The venues and kick-off times for all three games will be confirmed at a later date. 

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