Ulster have issued a lifetime ban to a spectator who was found to have abused Racing 92's Simon Zebo during a European Champions Cup clash earlier this month.

After the fixture at Kingspan Stadium, in which Zebo scored a try in a 26-22 defeat, the winger posted on Twitter and made reference to the abuse received.

"A tough place to play but great effort from the boys, 2 important points on the road," he wrote.

"Also I hope my ears deceived me with some comments directed my way from the crowd #NotOn Django wins in the end."

On Tuesday, Ulster released a statement confirming that, with the help of other members of the crowd, an individual had been identified and banned for life.

"Following a robust investigation into allegations of abuse directed at Simon Zebo during the fixture versus Racing 92 on Saturday 12th January, Ulster Rugby has sanctioned a lifetime ban on a spectator, for breaching our stadium regulations," the statement read.

"We would like to thank the many supporters who provided information to assist our investigation.

"We are all very proud of our reputation as an inclusive club and the unacceptable behaviour of this one individual is not reflective of our supporters, or the values of our club. We have issued a written apology to Simon Zebo and Racing 92."

Zebo subsequently posted on Twitter to say: "Thank you @UlsterRugby".

Jonathan Joseph has been added to England's squad for the opening round of the Six Nations against Ireland.

The centre has not featured for his country since last year's tournament and missed nine months of action due to an ankle injury.

However, Joseph returned for club side Bath this weekend and the 27-year-old – who has scored more tries in Eddie Jones' tenure than any other England player – will travel to Portugal on Wednesday with the rest of the squad.

Joseph has 17 tries in 40 matches for England, who begin their Six Nations in Dublin on February 2.

Warren Gatland is waiting for a "concrete" offer before deciding on his next coaching venture after Wales.

The New Zealander will oversee his final Six Nations campaign before leaving his post after 12 years following the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Gatland this week revealed he has held informal talks about the possibility of leading the British and Irish Lions for a third consecutive tour when they visit South Africa in 2021.

In terms of a permanent position, Gatland is hoping to take a short break after the World Cup before aiming to take a post in New Zealand, while also refusing to rule out another stint in the Premiership or venture to France or Japan.

"I have had a couple of discussions but there is definitely nothing concrete. Maybe at the end of the World Cup I will be unemployed," he said.

"I was looking to take a few months off and then start looking in the middle of 2020, potentially do some Super Rugby in New Zealand if there was an opportunity.

"But I am also aware that there are not a lot of jobs in New Zealand. That might not be an option.

"So [it could be] back in club rugby in the Premiership, or France or Japan, or something like that."

Under Gatland, Wales are two-time Six Nations Grand Slam winners and have another title to their name, while they reached the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup.

"I take a lot of pride in the fact we go out there and it doesn't matter who we play, they know they are in for one hell of a tough game," Gatland added.

"I've watched and been to a number of games at the old Millennium Stadium and seen the All Blacks put out a second-string team against Wales. There is no way they would do that now.

"We've put ourselves in positions where we should have beaten Australia on more occasions, but we've been pretty good against South Africa in winning five of our last six games.

"Success for me is not always about winning, it's about over-achieving.

"If you look at [Premier League] football and a team like Bournemouth, they've been successful because they are over-achieving in terms of what people expect.

"If Cardiff City stay up this season they will have been successful and over-achieved because everyone expects them to get relegated. That's the way I look at things.

"For me it's not always about winning, it's about becoming hard to beat, and if you do that you get a sense of pride in how you do things. Then it's about winning more often and developing your game."

Ireland appear set to be without Iain Henderson for the start of their Six Nations title defence after Ulster confirmed the lock will be out for "several weeks" with a finger injury.

Ireland will be without Tadhg Beirne for their Six Nations clashes with England and Scotland due to a knee injury.

Injuries have prompted Scotland to add four players to their Six Nations squad, with flanker Hamish Watson dropping out of Gregor Townsend's group.

Karmichael Hunt says he is feeling "better than ever" as he looks to put his off-field problems behind him having swapped the Reds for the Waratahs.

Exeter Chiefs have announced that England internationals Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie have all signed new two-year deals at Sandy Park.

The trio graduated through the club's academy and have each gone on to make more than 100 first-team appearances.

All were part of the Chiefs' Premiership title success in 2016-17 and it was confirmed on Sunday that they had committed their futures to Exeter until the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

Versatile back Nowell, centre Slade and front-row forward Cowan-Dickie have all been named in Eddie Jones' England squad for next month's Six Nations opener against defending champions Ireland, and Exeter's director of rugby Rob Baxter revealed negotiations had proved to be straightforward.

"I know people have been waiting to hear the news on these three guys for quite a while," he told the club's official website. "However, the truth is the talk on their extensions started pretty early and that they have gone quite simply.

"I know sometimes it must seem a little difficult when there is a lot of paper talk about players leaving or interest being shown in them, but all three guys said right from the beginning that their intentions were to stay at Exeter and that they wanted to stay with us long term.

"All it really came down to is just finding that right balance in that they feel appreciated here, and we feel that they are right value for us.

"To be fair, that was relatively simple, so we are delighted to keep them and we are hoping they can be a core element of what the team can go on to achieve over the next five or six years."

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young does not expect injuries to Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes and Brad Shields to affect England's Six Nations campaign.

Sean Cronin scored a try in each half as Leinster secured top spot in Pool 1 and a home Champions Cup quarter-final tie with Ulster thanks to Sunday's 37-19 win at Wasps.

The holders knew defeat at the Ricoh Arena would open the door for Toulouse to snatch first place in the group and a more favourable last-eight meeting.

But those fears were essentially calmed by half-time as Leinster took a 20-0 lead into the interval thanks to tries from Garry Ringrose, who powered across the line underneath the posts, and hooker Cronin, who benefitted from his pack's stellar work at a rolling maul.

Nathan Hughes, whom it was announced earlier this week would leave Wasps for Bristol Bears at the end of the season, got the hosts on the board in the second period but another driving maul saw Cronin double his tally.

Dan Robson pulled Wasps back to within two scores shortly after the hour but Leinster showed their class and a fine move through the hands released Noel Reid to secure the bonus point - Marcus Watson's late score for the home side proving immaterial.

Victory sees Leinster qualify as the third seed while Toulouse, who won 20-17 at home to Bath, advance as the seventh-ranked side and face a trip to Top 14 rivals Racing 92.

Toulouse were in command at the break, leading 17-3 courtesy of scores from Joe Tekori and Antoine Dupont.

Although Bath hit back in the second period through Semesa Rokoduguni and Zach Mercer, Toulouse held on and can look forward to a last-eight trip to last year's losing finalists in late March.

 

Champions Cup quarter-finals:

Saracens v Glasgow Warriors
Edinburgh v Munster
Leinster v Ulster
Racing 92 v Toulouse

Eddie Jones has stoked the fires ahead of England's Six Nations opener against Ireland by claiming Jonny Sexton has "the bat phone to the referee".

Jones has never needed an invitation to start the mind games and it is not the first time the England head coach has had something to say about the World Rugby Player of the Year.

The Australian previously stated that Sexton's parents must be worried about his long-term health due to head injuries he had sustained back in 2016.

Jones has now suggested the playmaker has too much of an influence on officials as England prepare to start their campaign against defending champions Ireland in Dublin on February 2.

"Sexton is a reasonably big player who has the bat phone to the referee," said Jones.

"He is the only one allowed to pick up the red phone to talk to the referee.

"When he talks, the referee listens. That is because of his status in the game - you earn that, like Richie McCaw did."

Jones also revealed he used to deploy people to watch opponents train after Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa admitted he has sent staff members to look at all of their Championship rivals in a 'Spygate' saga.

"Fifteen years ago we used to send people out in costumes to watch training," Jones said.

"I can remember sending a coach, who is now in a very senior position, in a costume to go and watch one team play and he got chased out of there. He was dressed up like a swagman, wearing one of those hats with corks.

"Now you don't need to do that because you see everything in the game. I have been coaching for 20 years and it has always been going on. If you want to do that you can do it.

"I can say with a hand on my heart we don't do it any more. We just don't see the value of it because we can glean most of the stuff from the games."

England boss Eddie Jones is "cautiously optimistic" Owen Farrell will be fit for the Six Nations opener against Ireland, despite needing surgery to fix a thumb injury.

Farrell - who this week was named England's captain with Dylan Hartley ruled out for the start of the tournament with a knee issue - sat out Saracens' European Champions Cup fixture with Glasgow Warriors on Saturday.

Director of rugby Mark McCall confirmed to BT Sports that the fly-half required "a simple procedure" at the base of his thumb and his recovery could take up to 10 days.

While the timeframe is tight with the Ireland game on February 2, Jones is upbeat over the influential 27-year-old's chances of featuring at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

"I came from Saracens, they had a good win. We're cautiously optimistic, he should be alright," he told Sky Sports News.

Jones and his players head for Portugal on Wednesday for a training camp before the Australian names his 25-man party to face Ireland on January 31.

Munster booked their place in the last eight of the European Champions Cup with a 9-7 victory over Exeter Chiefs, whose chances of joining their opponents are over.

Joey Carbery kicked all of the home side's points at Thomond Park, where Don Armand's first-half try looked to have kept the Chiefs in with a sniff of reaching the quarter-finals.

A win for Exeter, combined with Bath doing them a favour at Toulouse on Sunday, would have sealed a place in the knockout stages but Carbery's penalty nine minutes from time ultimately proved decisive as Munster reached a record 18th quarter-final.

Munster finish top of Pool 2 with 21 points, but must wait on the following day's Pool 1 results to find out whether they have earned a home tie.

Already assured of that fate are Saracens, who overcame Glasgow Warriors 38-19 in Pool 3 to finish with six wins out of six. England internationals Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje were among the try-scorers as the 2016 and 2017 champions secured their place as the top seed.

Glasgow are through as one of the best runners-up while the other match in that group, between Cardiff Blues and Lyon, ended 33-14 in favour of the Pro14 outfit.

Last year's losing finalists Racing 92 followed Saracens in earning themselves top spot and a home quarter-final, thanks to a thrilling 46-33 home win over the Scarlets.

Racing trailed by one at the break but Simon Zebo crossed twice in the second period to help secure victory in Pool 4. Ulster also advance from that group, having edged Leicester Tigers 14-13 at Welford Road.

Matt Toomua's try and the boot of George Ford had the Tigers 13-0 to the good, but Marty Moore and Robert Baloucoune crossed in the final 20 minutes to turn the game in Ulster's favour.

Saturday's other game saw Castres defeat Gloucester 24-22 in Pool 2.

Bristol Bears stormed into the last eight of the European Challenge Cup as Andy Uren's five-try display inspired a 107-19 demolition of Enisei on Saturday.

The Bears crossed the whitewash a remarkable 17 times, matching the tally of Northampton Saints, who had romped to a 111-3 success over Timisoara Saracens just a day previously.

Uren was responsible for five of those scores, while Ryan Edwards claimed a hat-trick as the home side ran riot at Ashton Gate to secure qualification to the quarter-finals as runners-up in Pool 4.

The Bears will have to go on the road in the knockout phase, having booked a date with familiar foes La Rochelle, who secured top spot in the group thanks to a 22-10 win at Zebre.

Joining La Rochelle and Clermont Auvergne in hosting quarter-finals will be Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors, who both celebrated victory on Saturday.

Worcester mounted a sensational late comeback at home to Stade Francais, recovering from 28-14 down at half-time to run out 36-31 victors and set up a home meeting with Harlequins in the last eight.

The Warriors were still trailing by nine points with seven minutes remaining when Ollie Lawrence got them back to within two, only for Nicolas Sanchez's penalty - Stade's sole points of the second period - to stretch the lead again.

With two minutes remaining Tom Howe crossed for the Warriors but Chris Pennell's missed conversion meant the scores stayed level until, with the clock having ticked beyond the 80, Dean Hammond capped a memorable fightback with the decisive score.

Sale, meanwhile, were more comfortable in seeing off Perpignan 39-10 at AJ Bell Stadium, Chris Ashton scoring the first of their five tries after the away side had taken an early lead via Jean-Bernard Pujol.

The Sharks qualify as Pool 3 winners courtesy of their superior head-to-head record against Connacht, whose 33-27 victory at Bordeaux Begles was enough to see them advance as the sixth seed and set up a quarter-final reunion at Sale.

Saturday's other match saw Pau defeat Ospreys 26-21 in Pool 2.

 

Challenge Cup quarter-finals:

Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints
La Rochelle v Bristol Bears
Sale Sharks v Connacht
Worcester Warriors v Harlequins

Racing 92 have confirmed that Patrick Lambie has been forced to retire from rugby at the age of 28 due to a succession of head injuries.

The South Africa fly-half earned 56 caps for his country, the last of those coming in 2016, and featured in two World Cups.

Lambie suffered the first of his head injuries in June 2016 when he was knocked out by Ireland's CJ Stander, before sustaining a concussion while playing for the Sharks 11 months later.

In January last year Racing confirmed that Lambie's eye socket injury against Oyonnax was not another concussion but on Saturday the Top 14 side released a statement to announce the fly-half had taken the decision to hang up his boots.

"We understand his decision, made by mutual agreement, but we regret that such a genius of the game is forced to come to this end," said Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti.

"Patrick is a huge champion....as elegant on the field as outside. At the club, we all had a sincere and friendly relationship with him, astonished by his desire to integrate. His French teacher could testify, as well as his coaches, to his involvement and his seriousness on a daily basis.

"But the will is unfortunately not everything. Patrick suffered several injuries. Racing and in particular its medical service have done everything to ensure that he is welcomed in the best conditions and that he can express his immense versatile three-quarter qualities.

"He has repeatedly proved that he was one of those rare players who know how to spark. It's no coincidence that he led the Springbok attack 56 times.

"Today we are sad and disappointed but we know that with his human qualities and strong support around him, Patrick will bounce back to a new life. We wish him all the success he deserves for the future."

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