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."

Wallabies centre Tevita Kuridrani re-signed with Rugby Australia (RA) and the Brumbies, extending his deal until the end of 2020.

Kuridrani, a veteran of 58 Tests, last featured for Australia in late 2017, having suffered a pectoral injury in 2018.

The 28-year-old signed a one-year extension with RA and the Brumbies, who are top of the Australian Conference in Super Rugby.

"I am very pleased to have signed this extension to my current contract. Canberra has been my home for a long time now and I love playing for the club in front of our fans who have always been very good to me," Kuridrani said.

"It's a good group of players and staff here and we are like one big family. Canberra is a beautiful place to live and I and am looking forward to making some more happy memories with both the Brumbies and the Wallabies."

The Fiji-born Kuridrani made his Super Rugby debut in 2012 and has gone on to feature 119 times for the Brumbies.

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika praised Kuridrani's form ahead of the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

"Tevita has been in strong form so far this season and I'm pleased he's staying in Canberra with the Brumbies after the World Cup," he said.

"He got the chance to get a full preparation this year and it's showing. I know he's very hungry to earn a Test jersey again this season so I am looking forward to him being at his best in 2019."

England defence coach John Mitchell has extended his contract until 2021 and Eddie Jones intends to stay on as head coach for another two years.

Mitchell was appointed by Jones last September after the Rugby Football Union (RFU) agreed a compensation package with Super Rugby franchise the Bulls.

The New Zealander is reportedly a contender to replace Jones, whose future has been the subject of speculation.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney on Thursday revealed that Australian Jones plans to see out his contract.

"We have extended John's contract consistent with Eddie's, so it goes through to June 2021," said Sweeney. "Eddie has reconfirmed his commitment to stay through to 2021.

"The focus is on the World Cup and then making sure we get our plans in place post-World Cup.

"We've already started conversations of what the coaching structure will look like coming back from Japan, and Eddie has a number of names in the frame.

"We haven't approached them yet, and we wouldn't contract anyone pre-World Cup, but he has in mind how he would like to structure that when back from Japan."

Warren Gatland said he could not turn down a third stint as British and Irish Lions head coach as he has "unfinished business" to settle in South Africa.

Gatland ruled out taking charge of the Lions again after the tour of New Zealand two years ago, which he said he "hated" in part due to the press and negativity in his homeland.

The New Zealander, who will end his tenure as Wales head coach after the Rugby World Cup, has had a change of heart and will lead the Lions in 2021.

Gatland was forwards coach when the Lions were beaten 2-1 by the Springboks a decade ago and the 55-year-old is determined to settle a score.

He said: "I love the Lions as a concept. There were parts of the New Zealand tour that were incredibly challenging.

"It's probably the hardest thing that you'll ever do as a coach in terms of planning and preparation and the scrutiny of the press is always something that's at the forefront of the Lions tour.

"But one of the things about when I reflect back on New Zealand is the hospitality that we had there, the atmosphere in the games that was there was incredible.

"And being part of the Lions and the opportunity to go to South Africa and potentially finish some unfinished business, I couldn't turn my back on the challenge."

Gatland masterminded a series win over Australia in 2013 prior to a 1-1 draw with the All Blacks and he does not expect to take charge of the Lions again after facing South Africa.

Asked if it will be his last Lions tour, Gatland replied: "I think so, yeah. The challenge for me as the head coach is to go undefeated in a Test series.

"I've been privileged to be involved in what will be four tours. I appreciate the support I've had from someone like [2009 head coach] Ian McGeechan. Being head coach is incredibly special and something I'm proud of."

Warren Gatland has been confirmed as head coach of the British and Irish Lions for the 2021 tour of South Africa.

The departing Wales boss had previously ruled out a third successive stint with the Lions, stating he "hated the press and negativity" he experienced on the tour of New Zealand two years ago.

Yet after masterminding a 1-1 draw with the All Blacks in his homeland, the 55-year-old will lead the Lions in a series against the Springboks - eight years after he was first in charge for a 2-1 triumph in Australia.

Gatland will end his long tenure with Six Nations champions Wales after the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year and starts his Lions role on August 1, 2020.

"I'm hugely honoured and delighted to lead the Lions again," said Gatland.

"It is exciting and a great challenge to coach the best players from the four home nations. The Lions rightly have a truly special place in the game and I jumped at the chance to be involved again when I was approached about the role.

"South Africa is a special place to play rugby. They have some of the most iconic stadiums in the world which will be packed full of passionate fans, and the Springboks have shown in recent times that they are back to being one of the dominant forces in the game.

"Having toured there in 2009 I know the scale of the task ahead of us – playing in South Africa presents a number of unique challenges such as playing at altitude, while the Boks will always be physical, aggressive and highly motivated.

"History tells you it's a tough place to tour, but I am 100 per cent confident that we can go there and win – I would not be here if I thought differently.

"I'm delighted to now have everything in place to begin full-time in August 2020 as that gives me the best possible chance to plan for South Africa, but for the time being my focus is entirely on the Rugby World Cup and delivering a successful campaign for Wales."

Gatland could make history by becoming the first Lions coach to lead tours of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa without suffering a series defeat.

Nehe Milner-Skudder's hopes of playing in the Rugby World Cup appear to be over after the New Zealand utility-back underwent another shoulder operation.

Hurricanes flyer Milner-Skudder had surgery on his shoulder in October 2017 and suffered a setback while representing the All Blacks against Japan last November.

The 28-year-old will join Toulon following the World Cup, so may have played his last game for his country having gone under the knife again.

Milner-Skudder posted on Instagram: "Halfway through what's been a challenging year.

"There was plenty to work towards and look forward to on the rugby to-do list but unfortunately due to ongoing issues with my shoulder from a prior surgery not going as well we'd hoped, it was the best decision to go under the knife again to get it sorted.

"I've been through 'a few' injuries but this has easily been the toughest one - both physically and mentally. However, I'm not ready to give up anytime soon, love a good challenge and have so much love and support around me.

"Obviously I'm guttered [sic] at how the start of the year has panned out but as the great MLK [Martin Luther King] once said, 'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.'"

Milner-Skudder scored six tries in New Zealand's World Cup triumph in England four years ago.

Rugby Australia (RA) insists it has acted with "complete professionalism and integrity" during the process that led to Israel Folau's sacking.

The former Wallabies full-back had his contract terminated following an investigation into an offensive social media post in April.

Folau, a devout Christian, uploaded an image to Instagram that said "hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators".

The 30-year-old had been warned for similar comments last year and was this time found guilty of a "high-level breach" of the governing body's code of conduct.

Folau opted not to appeal against RA's decision, but his legal team filed applications with the Fair Work Commission this week and he is reportedly seeking up to 10million Australian dollars in damages.

A letter reportedly sent by Folau to RA's board members in which he accused the governing body of leaking details of his Code of Conduct hearing to the media came to light on Saturday.

But RA hit back with a statement, which read: "While we accept that a PR firm has been engaged to coordinate a media campaign to promote the legal action taken against Rugby Australia, we are disappointed that this campaign is impacting on the work done by the thousands of volunteers who are delivering great experiences for the Rugby community and also that it has taken the focus away from a crucial Australian Super Rugby derby, being played by Israel's former team [the Waratahs].

"Rugby Australia has acted with complete professionalism and integrity at all times through the process in which Mr Folau was found by an independent three-member tribunal panel to have made multiple, serious breaches of the Professional Players Code of Conduct.

"While we will continue to respond to any legal action as required and will continue to defend the values that underpin our game and the work done by the hard working volunteers, we will not engage in a running media commentary."

Israel Folau has launched legal action against Rugby Australia (RA) and the Waratahs, claiming his contract was unlawfully terminated due to his religion.

The former Waratahs star was sacked by RA last month following an anti-homosexual social media post in April.

Folau, a devout Christian, uploaded an image on Instagram that said "hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators".

The 30-year-old had been warned for similar comments last year and was this time found guilty of a "high-level breach" of the governing body's code of conduct.

Folau did not appeal his dismissal but insisted he was not accepting the findings.

"I simply do not have confidence in Rugby Australia's ability to treat me fairly or lawfully throughout this process," he said.

And Folau's legal team have now filed applications with the Fair Work Commission, according to a statement released on Thursday.

The statement referred to section 772 of the Fair Work Act, which states that employment cannot be terminated due to an employee's religion.

Folau, who is reportedly seeking up to 10million Australian dollars in damages, said: "No Australian of any faith should be fired for practising their religion."

Earlier on Thursday, Folau's brother, John, who is yet to make his Super Rugby debut, was released from his Waratahs contract for "personal reasons".

Coach Daryl Gibson said John Folau had "divided loyalties" due to the dispute between his brother and the team.

Martin Johnson thinks there could still be a place in England's Rugby World Cup squad for Danny Cipriani and Alex Goode.

Cipriani was overlooked for the November internationals and the Six Nations despite an outstanding first season at Gloucester.

The mercurial fly-half was named Premiership Player of the Season last month, but could miss out on the World Cup.

Goode landed the European Player of the Year gong, yet the Saracens full-back has been in the international wilderness since 2016.

Former England captain and coach Johnson says he cannot second guess whether coach Eddie Jones will select either player, but both could do a job in Japan.

Johnson, a Land Rover ambassador, told Omnisport: "They have both been around a long time, both played when I was England manager. It's getting to the 11th hour in terms of getting into the squad.

"I'm not saying it's impossible. Eddie will be pretty confident he knows the bulk of the squad. Alex has been a heck of a good player, he just maybe falls in between your 10 and 15.

"He'd never let you down on the field and he's got better as he's got older.

"Danny's career is well-documented, he's player of the year this year but at 10 I think they are probably going to stick with Owen [Farrell] and then it's probably who is going to play alongside him. You always need a second and third plan, so you never know."

 

- Land Rover is the Official Vehicle of Rugby World Cup 2019 and has a heritage in supporting rugby at all levels from grassroots to elite. Follow @LandRoverRugby

David Pocock's career with the Brumbies is over after confirming his Super Rugby retirement, though the Wallabies flanker is not sure if he will continue to make himself available for Australia following the Rugby World Cup.

A "rare" calf strain has sidelined Pocock for most of the Super Rugby season and the 31-year-old star will not be available in the "immediate future" as he eyes September's World Cup in Japan.

Pocock – who has played just three games in 2019 – will not seek another Brumbies contract at the end of the campaign, with the former Australia captain setting his sights on being fit for the World Cup.

After 112 Super Rugby appearances and 19 tries, Pocock will link up with Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan following the World Cup.

"The Brumbies have given me a home for the last seven years. They've supported me through injury and given me the opportunity to work on my game and my leadership as part of an incredible group of men," said Pocock, who arrived from Western Force in 2013. "After 13 years of professional rugby, I'm looking forward to the challenges the rest of this year holds and also thinking about what comes next.

"The Brumbies and all supporters have been very good to me since my move to Canberra in 2013. I am grateful for their support. Over the last seven-years Canberra has well and truly become my home. Em and I love living here and being part of the community."

With just three matches remaining in the Super Rugby season, 77-time Australia international Pocock is doing all he can to be ready for the Wallabies' World Cup bid.

"You've got great support staff, medical staff, rehab staff and you're doing everything you can," Pocock told reporters on Tuesday. "You're obviously aiming for that and that's driving you and to pull on the Wallabies jersey again is obviously my goal.

"It's a huge honour and something that I love doing, so I'll be doing everything I can to get myself right and to get in the best shape I can.

"We'll certainly get it right. I'll be based here in Canberra for my rehab and working with doctor/physio Ben Serpell, who I've spent far too much time, than I'd like, with over the years. Rehab is usually busier than playing, it's a bit of a grind."

Despite his Super Rugby career coming to an end, Pocock will remain eligible for Wallabies selection via the 60-cap rule. However, he does not know what his international future holds post-World Cup.

"I'm not sure, I honestly haven't thought beyond there," Pocock said. "Playing for Australia is such an honour. It's something I'll look at down the track but at this stage, the goal is to get back in that jersey and contribute leading up to the World Cup."

Wallabies and Brumbies star Scott Sio has signed a new three-year deal with Rugby Australia (RA).

Sio, 27, has made 55 Test appearances for Australia since his debut in 2013, a year after he played his first game for the Brumbies.

He will remain in Australia and with the Brumbies until at least the end of 2022 after his new deal was announced on Wednesday.

"I'm super excited to re-sign. I've obviously been at the club for a long time and I've seen a lot of what we're trying to grow," Sio said in a statement.

"It's really cool to be part of the youth's next progression as well. I've seen that Noah Lolesio and Len Ikitau have re-signed too so it's great to be part of their journey as well.

"It's a special town. I've spent eight years of my life in Canberra and you get pretty close with the fans, and I really appreciate that so I'm looking forward to a couple more years.

"Winning the World Cup with the Wallabies is the goal this year so we need to recognise the steps to get there. We just had a camp in Brisbane and it was great to get the vibe and what we want to do moving forward."

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was thrilled with Sio's decision to re-sign.

"I'm really pleased for Scott and for Australian rugby that he's committed long term. He's already given so much to each of the teams he plays in but he's still got plenty left to give," he said.

"One thing that stands out with Scott is his commitment to the cause. He's always committed to being a better person, a better player and contributing to a better team."

George Smith said he "lived the dream" in 20 years as a professional after the Australia legend announced his retirement.

The 38-year-old, who won 111 caps for the Wallabies, called time on his career after a short spell with Premiership side Bristol Bears.

Smith also featured for the likes of Toulon, Lyon, Stade Francais and Wasps after beginning his career with Super Rugby club the Brumbies.

The flanker, fifth on the list of Australia's most-capped players, stressed he will end his playing days with no regrets.

"Finally the day has come where I officially announce my retirement from professional rugby," Smith said.

"It's been an absolute privilege to play professionally for the past 20 years. Rugby has provided and given me so much.

"The dreams that I had of playing rugby professionally as a young bloke, I'm fortunate to say that I've lived them and experienced so much more during my time."

Smith, the first John Eales Medallist in 2002, added: "The day my father registered me with the Warringah Roos at four years of age in Manly, I found myself returning to the game every year thereafter,

"I was extremely lucky in my career to have landed myself in Canberra as a young 19-year-old kid, having the luxury of being tutored by the finest peers and coaches in the game at the Brumbies."

Israel Folau has declined the option to appeal against his Rugby Australia (RA) ban, but is still considering his options after his contract was terminated last week.

The 30-year-old was sacked by RA on Friday following a hearing over his anti-homosexual social media post last month, in which Folau, a devout Christian, uploaded an image on Instagram that said "hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators".

Folau, who had been warned by RA for similar comments last year, was found guilty of a "high-level breach" of the governing body's code of conduct and RA confirmed on Monday that the former Wallabies and Waratahs star had not appealed.

"The 72-hour window for Israel Folau to appeal his high-level code of conduct breach and sanction has expired," RA said in a statement.

"As Folau has not notified the panel of his intention to appeal, the code of conduct process has now formally concluded.

"With the code of conduct matter complete, Folau's employment contract will be terminated."

However, Folau issued a statement of his own that was widely circulated in the Australian media on Monday in which it was noted that he was "considering all potential avenues" with regards to further action against RA's decision.

"The last few weeks and, in particular, the last 72 hours have given me considerable opportunity to reflect and think about my future," he said.

"I will not be exercising my right to appeal Rugby Australia's decision to terminate my employment contract."

He added: "My decision not to commence Rugby Australia's appeal process is in no way an acceptance of the judicial panel's findings.

"I simply do not have confidence in Rugby Australia's ability to treat me fairly or lawfully throughout this process."

Folau, who has made 73 appearances for Australia, had previously said he would be willing to walk away from the sport but added in his statement: "I believe I still have a lot of rugby left in me."

Wallabies and Waratahs star Israel Folau officially had his contracted terminated by Rugby Australia, it was confirmed on Friday.

Rugby Australia sacked Folau over anti-homosexual social media posts following a hearing, in which the Australia international was found guilty of a "high-level breach" of the RA's code of conduct.

A three-person panel considered a sanction after Folau contested the breach notice issued to him in the aftermath of a post in April that said "hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators", having been warned by RA for similar comments last year.

And the country's governing body decided to terminate Folau's four-year, multi-million-dollar contract, though the 30-year-old and devout Christian has 72 hours to appeal.

Folau – who made 62 appearances for Australia and won the 2014 Super Rugby title with the Waratahs – is reportedly set to launch legal action.

"While Rugby Australia accepts the panel's decision directing termination of Israel Folau's playing contract for his high-level breach of the Code of Conduct, we want to stress that this outcome is a painful situation for the game," RA chief executive Raelene Castle said.

"Rugby Australia did not choose to be in this situation, but Rugby Australia's position remains that Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue this course of action.  

"This has been an extremely challenging period for Rugby and this issue has created an unwanted distraction in an important year for the sport and for the Wallabies team.

"But our clear message to all Rugby fans today is that we need to stand by our values and the qualities of inclusion, passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork.

"I've communicated directly with the players to make it clear that Rugby Australia fully supports their right to their own beliefs and nothing that has happened changes that. But when we are talking about inclusiveness in our game, we're talking about respecting differences as well.

"When we say rugby is a game for all, we mean it. People need to feel safe and welcomed in our game regardless of their gender, race, background, religion, or sexuality. We thank the tribunal panel for their decision and we respect the time, consideration and expertise the panel members brought to this process.

"Representing Australia and all Australians on the rugby field is a privilege. Selection is dependent upon a player's ability to contribute to the Wallabies, and the game of rugby itself, in a positive and consistent manner both on and off the field. When players sign a contract with the Wallabies, they sign up to the values of the team and the sport.

"Israel is a great rugby player and we are disappointed and saddened by the fact that he will not see out his four-year commitment to the Wallabies and Waratahs."

Stuart Hogg believes Warren Gatland has earned a third stint as head coach of the British and Irish Lions.

Outgoing Wales head coach Gatland is reported to have agreed a deal to take charge of the Lions for the 2021 tour of South Africa.

Gatland masterminded a 2-1 victory in Australia in 2013 and a 1-1 draw with New Zealand two years ago.

Scotland full-back Hogg, who suffered a facial injury on the tour of New Zealand after also missing out on a first Lions Test in Australia, would welcome the reappointment of the wily 55-year-old.

"You only have to see the job that he and the rest of the coaching staff have done on the last two tours, he's been absolutely tremendous." Land Rover ambassador Hogg told Omnisport.

"The record he's got as a Lions head coach is superb. Not many teams have gone to New Zealand and done a job on them.

"He's been brilliant for the Lions, he knows what is right for everybody and I'm sure he'll get the lads going in the right direction."

Hogg will leave Glasgow Warriors to join Exeter Chiefs at the end of the Pro14 season and the 26-year-old is determined to feature in a first Lions Test in two years' time.

"From a personal point of view, obviously I was disappointed to miss out in the last tour with injury, but I'll certainly be trying to get on the next one," Hogg added.

"For me it will case of making sure I'm doing a job for Exeter first and foremost and then for Scotland if given the opportunities, but there is a hell of a lot of rugby to come before then."

 

- Stuart Hogg is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover understands and shares the values of rugby. Follow @LandRoverRugby

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