England head coach John Mitchell believes smaller balls could be an important development tool for the women’s game.

World Rugby is to analyse data collected from a trial in the recent Women’s Under-18 Six Nations festival, as well as from the training sessions of three Celtic Challenge teams.

The current size 5 ball is the same as that used in the men’s game, while the trial tested the size 4.5 ball which is around three per cent smaller and up to four per cent lighter.

“We use the big ball and we’re quite happy with that. When the smaller ball arrives, we’ll deal with that,” Mitchell said.

“But if I put my development hat on, these young girls have been exposed to a big ball their whole life.

“If you’ve got younger girls wanting to come into the game and you have smaller communities that don’t have the ability to play 15s but could do a lot more in school yards with smaller balls, if that gives them confidence to play the game then I’m all for it.”

Zoe Aldcroft, who has replaced Marlie Packer as captain for Saturday’s Guinness Women’s Six Nations clash with Scotland, has an open mind to the possible benefits of the smaller ball.

“We haven’t had many issues so far with a size 5, but we’ll go ahead and see what the 4.5 ball will do,” Aldcroft said.

Packer was dropped for the first time since taking over the England captaincy a year ago and must settle for a place on the bench for the trip to Edinburgh, while veteran centre Emily Scarratt was overlooked altogether for a second-successive match.

The omission of two big name Red Roses and Test centurions from the starting XV comes amid a warning from Mitchell that no player is safe from the axe.

“There’s no such thing as rotation. This squad is selected for Scotland. Anyone is capable of replacing anyone, as far as I see it,” Mitchell said.

Scarratt started the Six Nations opener at inside centre in her first outing since being converted from the number 13 jersey by Mitchell, but has not been picked since.

A calf and Achilles injury has been troublesome, but Mitchell insisted that ultimately, the 34-year-old was “not selected”.

“Emily is progressing nicely. She still hasn’t been able to do a full week. She’s come out of yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) session well so that’s a really good sign,” the Kiwi said.

“Tomorrow’s session will be a lot faster and if she gets through that, then it presents a good case for her in the next two weeks.

“The most important message you need to hear is that Emily needs to be 100 per cent fit because we have got girls who are 100 per cent fit and that’s what we go for basically.

“The girls understand that they have to be 100 per cent because there’s so much competition within the group.”

Hooker Amy Cokayne makes her first appearance for 12 months after recovering from a calf injury, having made a successful comeback for Leicester in recent weeks.

Joy Neville believes it is “inevitable” that the historic feat of a woman refereeing men’s Six Nations and World Cup Test matches will be accomplished.

Neville, a trailblazer for aspiring female officials during her ground-breaking career as a referee, will exit the international stage after taking charge of Sunday’s Women’s Six Nations game between France and Italy in Paris, when the crowd will include her wife Simona and young son Alfie.

But while refereeing retirement beckons for the 40-year-old, she will continue to play a key role as World Rugby’s head coach for elite women officials in the 15s game.

Scotland’s Hollie Davidson this season became the first female assistant referee in a men’s Six Nations Test, while England’s Sara Cox has refereed in the Gallagher Premiership and South African Aimee Barrett-Theron is a regular on the United Rugby Championship circuit.

“It is going to happen and it will be a completely-deserved appointment,” Neville told the PA news agency.

“It is inevitable. The calibre of female referees that we have in place now is significant.

“I know a lot of the girls so well, how they work and I am just excited about supporting them further in ensuring they have the support to progress and help them achieve whatever goals they have in mind.”

Neville’s 11-year refereeing career began in a Limerick schools match at under-15 level and she can end it by looking back on numerous achievements.

She controlled the 2017 women’s World Cup final between England and New Zealand and was the first woman to referee men’s matches in European and URC competitions.

Neville also took charge of a men’s Rugby Europe Conference match between Norway an Denmark, while in 2017 she was named World Rugby referee of the year and last autumn became the first female to be part of a men’s World Cup officiating panel, working as a television match official.

And all that after an outstanding playing career that saw her win 70 Ireland caps, captain her country, play in two World Cups and win a Six Nations Grand Slam.

“I felt it was time to take a step away for family reasons,” Neville added. “Refereeing demands an awful lot of commitment and time away from home.

“And while I have enjoyed every single experience and I have learnt so much from the difficult moments and enjoyed the great moments, there comes a point that you realise it is time to enjoy a more normal lifestyle!”

Recalling how she became involved in refereeing, Neville said: “It was one or two days after I announced my retirement as a player.

“David McHugh (former international referee who worked for the Irish Rugby Football Union) called me and was coming to me with something that would demand even more time away and commitment.

“I had never for one second contemplated becoming a referee. When people retire from the game, they automatically think about giving back by volunteering, coaching and so on, but no one really properly considers refereeing.

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t find it difficult at the start, going into a new environment, learning a new skill, learning from my mistakes, understanding different people-management. To be honest, refereeing can teach you so much.

“Yes, I have had difficult moments, but I have learnt from them and learnt how to cope and deal with those situations.

“I remember I refereed my first professional game – Southern Kings versus Ulster in Belfast – and all the media attention was about the first female to referee a professional game and all I have ever tried to achieve was drop ‘the first female’. It is just a referee.

“Just make it the norm and thankfully I think we have broken down that door.”

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont paid tribute to Neville ahead of her final game.

He told the World Rugby website: “As someone who continues to blaze a trail for aspiring female and male referees, we are delighted that Joy will be continuing to channel her experience, passion and expertise into helping our international match officials be the best they can be as World Rugby’s elite women’s 15s match officials head coach.”

Sir Bill Beaumont admitted he “did not give it a second thought” when he was approached to fill the latest role in his long and illustrious rugby union career.

Beaumont has achieved much in the game as a Grand Slam-winning England skipper and British and Irish Lions captain, who went on to serve as chair of the Rugby Football Union and World Rugby.

His second term at the helm of World Rugby ends in November, but the 72-year-old has no intention of winding down.

Beaumont was recently installed as new patron of the Rugby Football Union Injured Players Foundation (IPF), an organisation that supports players in England who have suffered a catastrophic spinal cord or traumatic brain injury on the field of play.

There are 150 lifelong beneficiaries of the IPF, with some of those players having sustained their injuries dating back to the 1960s.

More than 30 years after SPIRE – the English game’s first charity for injured rugby players – was established, the IPF’s formation in 2008 has expanded an enviable network of support for players and their families.

“My old headmaster Ian Beer actually set this up in 1993, so I am delighted to be following in his footsteps,” Beaumont told the PA news agency.

“Rugby has been such a part of my life. My father played rugby, my grandfather coached rugby, I have three sons who played rugby – one still playing professionally – and two grandchildren playing mini rugby at the Fylde club, where I played all my rugby.

“I was flattered to be approached about it. I didn’t give it a second thought. It is something I want to do.

“A big focus for me as patron will be advancing the great work achieved to date in bringing together foundations, governing bodies and medical experts from different countries to share knowledge and research findings, as well as developing successful models of support for catastrophic injury and reduction of its causes.”

The IPF supports players back into work or education and funds training programmes or required adaptations to offices and homes as part of its support packages.

Some 76 per cent of IPF clients are either employed or in voluntary roles, compared to a national average of less than half that figure for people with spinal cord injuries.

Jack Fishwick sustained a catastrophic injury playing rugby at the age of 26, being hospitalised for eight months, and he said: “In that situation, everyone is in meltdown and they (IPF) were our go-to people for everything we needed.

“The most important thing has been the personal approach. The IPF became our extended family.

“I had no idea how much the charity did for someone seriously injured playing rugby and the help I have been given is substantial and far outweighs what I might have anticipated.”

Beaumont added: “Normally, the support is inside 24 hours of an accident being reported. There will be somebody there from the IPF, not only for the patient but for the family as well.

“It is trying to give that reassurance that there are people who care and people who understand where they are and what help the IPF can give them immediately, not from a medical point of view but just a practical support, that is vital.

“Thankfully, these types of life-changing injury remain extremely rare in rugby union. Unfortunately, however, accidents happen on the rugby field.

“What I want to do (helped by an impressive support squad that includes Jonny Wilkinson, Sarah Hunter, Jason Robinson and Emily Scarratt) is help them raise the profile and help fund-raising.

“So if there are accidents, then the funding is available that will hopefully enhance lives going forward for the injured person and their families.”

Edinburgh have moved their European Challenge Cup tie against Bayonne on Saturday evening to Murrayfield due to Storm Kathleen.

The round-of-16 tie was to be played at the Hive Stadium next door to Murrayfield, but the venue has been switched because of the strong winds which are set to hit Edinburgh on Saturday.

Edinburgh said their operations team and Scottish Rugby health and safety officials had been in contact with the Met Office to discuss the impact of the yellow warning for the wind. The game’s 8pm kick-off time remains unchanged.

“The safety of our fans, players, and people is paramount,” Edinburgh Rugby managing director Douglas Struth said.

“Unfortunately, Storm Kathleen and the worsening weather forecast has meant that the only way to now play this match safely and securely is in the bigger main bowl at Scottish Gas Murrayfield.

“We’re obviously very disappointed not to be playing in our home, Hive Stadium, but I hope that people will understand.

“We know our fans love Hive Stadium, and the atmosphere we’ve built there over the past two seasons is second to none, but I’d encourage all our supporters to bring that same passion and energy to the main bowl this evening.

“There is still a lot of work to be done today to make this move happen, and there will inevitably be some compromises from our normal matchday experience.

“I’d like to thank our fans and our visitors from Bayonne in advance for their patience and understanding in that regard, as we try to make this switch as seamless as possible.

“Finally, to those fans coming this evening, please plan well ahead, take care, and travel safely.”

Worsening weather in Scotland saw several Highland League games postponed.

The cinch Premiership match between Dundee and Motherwell was also set to undergo a second pitch inspection at 1pm after an 11am check proved inconclusive.

“Following this morning’s scheduled pitch inspection the referee has deemed there will be a further inspection at 1pm this afternoon,” Dundee posted on their X account.

Saturday afternoon’s National Hunt meeting at Uttoxeter will go ahead as scheduled after the track passed a morning inspection, but racing at the Curragh has been abandoned.

England’s Vickii Cornborough has announced her retirement from international rugby, saying she does not feel mentally ready to return after giving birth to twins last summer.

The 34-year-old Harlequins prop made her England debut in 2015 and went on to win 75 caps, six Six nations titles and reached two World Cup finals.

In her role as vice-chair of the Rugby Players’ Association she was instrumental in the creation of the Rugby Football Union’s updated maternity policy, which was introduced last year.


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Cornborough told BBC Sport: “I’m probably the strongest I’ve ever been but I’m just not there yet mentally because having twins is really hard.

“Living off a couple of hours of sleep a night is not conducive to a high-performance pressure environment.

“Stepping away from the Red Roses and announcing my retirement is the right thing for me to do.”

She added: “It’s a big weight off my shoulders to finally admit it to myself and say I’m ready (to retire).

“It’s a life-changing decision. It’s something I’m excited but nervous about because England has been my life for the last 10 years.”

England head coach John Mitchell believes there is “massive growth” left in the Red Roses after they completed a second successive Guinness Six Nations bonus-point victory.

A 46-10 triumph over Wales at Ashton Gate means England top the table with maximum points ahead of their clash against Scotland next month.

As in a runaway win against opening Six Nations opponents Italy, England scored eight tries. And they did it in front of a 19,700 crowd, which was the biggest home attendance for a Red Roses game away from Twickenham.

Full-back Ellie Kildunne led the way with two tries, while there were also touchdowns for Hannah Botterman, Maud Muir, Abby Dow, Lark Atkin-Davies, Zoe Aldcroft and Rosie Galligan.

Fly-half Holly Aitchison kicked three conversions, while Wales posted a consolation try from replacement Keira Bevan and Lleucu George landed a conversion and penalty.

“The game doesn’t always go for you in attack, so you have got to be good on the other side of the ball,” Mitchell said. “The start is the maul defence and we are making good strides.

“To be a really good team and for this team to grow we need to find different ways to score and make sure we can play the game in different ways.

“We are trying to be very clear on our strategy. They built pressure in both halves and I think we left a couple (of tries) out there as well. I still think there is massive growth left in us.”

England captain Marlie Packer added: “We put a spotlight on ourselves. We want to play with tempo and put an exciting brand of rugby out on the pitch.

“Our set-piece was phenomenal, which gave us really good front-foot ball to play.

“We want to let the handbrake off and play. The ball will go down at some points in the game because of how we are trying to play, but hopefully it is exciting rugby.

“We had 19,000 fans here today and we want them to keep coming back.”

For Wales, it was a second successive Six Nations defeat after losing 20-18 to Scotland, but head coach Ioan Cunningham was in upbeat mood.

“I am very encouraged. If I am honest, I thought we left four or five tries out on the field today,” he said.

“It is showing what we can do. It is just about being a bit more clinical.

“I am so proud of the effort. We have just got to balance that up with having that composure at the right time and once that clicks we will be a tough team to stop.”

England recorded a second successive bonus-point victory in this season’s Guinness Six Nations as they brushed aside Wales 46-10 at Ashton Gate.

The Red Roses’ pursuit of a sixth title on the bounce continued as they backed up a 48-0 victory over Italy with another try spree.

Watched by a crowd of 19,700 – England’s biggest attendance for a home game outside of Twickenham – Marlie Packer’s team claimed first-half touchdowns from props Maud Muir and Hannah Botterman, hooker Lark Atkin-Davies and lock Zoe Aldcroft.

Holly Aitchison kicked two conversions and, while Wales briefly held the advantage through a Lleucu George penalty, they had a mountain to climb in the second period.

That challenge soon became way too much as quickfire tries from full-back Ellie Kildunne and wing Abby Dow took England past 30 points and confirmed a 39th victory in 41 Tests against Wales since fixtures began between the two sides.

Replacement Keira Bevan touched down for Wales, with George converting, but further England tries followed through lock Rosie Galligan and Kildunne, whose second score matched her double against Italy last weekend, while Aitchison landed one further conversion.

England head coach John Mitchell handed first starts of the Six Nations campaign to Tatyana Heard and Natasha Hunt, but back-row forward Sarah Beckett began a three-match ban after being sent off against Italy.

Mitchell’s opposite number Ioan Cunningham also rang the changes, yet Wales’ preparations were dealt a blow when prolific try-scoring wing Jasmine Joyce withdrew due to a hamstring strain. Lisa Neumann replaced her in the starting line-up.

George kicked Wales into a sixth-minute lead, but England’s response proved swift and decisive as Muir touched down following a thrilling break by Dow.

England were quickly on the front foot again following a bright start by Wales and quality lineout possession underpinned a try for Aldcroft, meaning that she marked her 50th cap in style.

Aitchison’s conversion made it 12-3 and, although Wales battled hard up front, they were undone by a length-of-the-field attack that led to England’s third try.

Centre Megan Jones was the catalyst, showing great pace as she surged deep inside Wales’ half before quickly-recycled ball saw Botterman charge over. Aitchison’s conversion opened up a 16-point advantage after 24 minutes.

England were on the hunt for a bonus point as the interval approached and it almost arrived when Aitchison kicked to the corner, but Dow narrowly failed to touch down.

Wales then saw their scrum obliterated, allowing England an attacking lineout from the resulting penalty, and pressure inevitably told with a try for hooker Atkin-Davies as the Red Roses took a 24-3 lead into the break.

Kildunne and Dow then put England out of sight and, although Bevan claimed a deserved consolation score for Wales, normal service was resumed through England touchdowns from Galligan and Kildunne.

Wales rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit has taken a step closer to realising his long-standing ambition of competing in the NFL by signing a three-year deal with Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here the PA news agency examines the key questions around his move.

So Rees-Zammit is now an NFL player?

Not yet – and this is where the hard work really begins. Having impressed on the NFL’s international player pathway (IPP) program, the 23-year-old former Wales wing has secured a place on the Chiefs’ practise squad and must now prove he is worthy of selection for their active 53-man roster ahead of the new season, which begins on September 5. Even if he fails to make the initial cut, rules allow for an international player to be elevated to the active roster three times in a season.

What will be his position?

It is still early days but there are a number of options – running back, wide receiver, a hybrid of the two and kick returner. The last of these offers his best route into the NFL, at least in the early stages. Rule changes for the upcoming season have been designed to increase the number of kick returns and it is here that Rees-Zammit’s instinctive running skills, identification of gaps in the defence and athleticism will find their natural home. Apart from the presence of blockers and having to wear extensive padding, it would be the closest he comes to playing rugby on a gridiron field.

What are the odds of making it?

Even for a player with the physical attributes of Rees-Zammit, it will be incredibly hard to actually break through into the NFL. His speed over 40 yards, footwork and hands are valuable assets, but he is competing against rivals who have grown up playing a sport which is new to him. The instincts honed from gridiron exposure at an early age will be missing, while other aspects such as running routes, learning the playbook, experience of a different size ball and adapting to a whole new sporting culture are also obstacles to be navigated. Successfully swapping codes between rugby league and union is a challenge, never mind adapting to a new game altogether.

Which other rugby union players have made it?


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From these shores, none. Christian Wade is the highest-profile example after he was recruited for the Buffalo Bills in 2019, also via the IPP. The electric former Wasps wing made an impressive start by scoring a stunning 70-yard touchdown in a pre-season game but he never made the active roster and returned to rugby union in 2022 by signing for Racing 92. Australian-born Hayden Smith and well-travelled Kenyan Daniel Adongo actually made appearances in the NFL, but only a handful between them. If Rees-Zammit is a success, he will be the first.

What happens if the move does not work out?

Moving to the NFL is a win-win scenario for the former Lions and Gloucester sensation. If he makes an impact for the Chiefs, he will become a superstar in British sport. Should it prove too hard a conversion even for an athlete of his quality, he can return to rugby knowing clubs will be queuing up to sign a finisher who has plundered 14 tries in 32 caps for Wales. And if he sees out his Chiefs contract, he will still only be 26-years-old.

Stuart Lancaster was appointed head coach of England’s men’s rugby union team on this day in 2012.

The then 42-year-old was permanently appointed following a spell in interim charge during which England finished second in the Six Nations.

Lancaster replaced Martin Johnson in the role after the former England captain resigned in the wake of a disappointing World Cup campaign in 2011.

He was appointed on a four-year contract and would lead England into their home Rugby World Cup in 2015.

“Being head coach of your national team in any sport (is an honour), but to do it at a time when we’ve got a World Cup in our own country is a huge, huge honour,” Lancaster said following his appointment.

“It’s a very proud day for myself and my family, but it’s not about me, it’s about the team and the connection between the team and the English public.”

Lancaster resigned from his role in November 2015 following a dismal World Cup campaign.

His side became the first host nation to fail to get out of the pool stages following defeats to Wales and Australia.

He now coaches French Top 14 side Racing 92.

Jamie George has been enlisted to help preparations for England’s Guinness Women’s Six Nations clash with Wales after volunteering his services to head coach John Mitchell.

Fresh from leading the England men’s team in an encouraging Championship, George worked with Red Roses hookers Lark Atkin-Davies, Connie Powell, Amy Cokayne and May Campbell at their Surrey training base on Wednesday.

Mitchell struck up a close relationship with the 90-cap Saracens star during his time as Eddie Jones’ assistant and the Kiwi hopes it will be the start of greater knowledge sharing between the senior teams.

“I worked with Jamie before and this wasn’t forced or coerced by me. I’ve kept in touch since my departure as a coach and wished him well for the Six Nations,” Mitchell said.

“When I got this role he said if you ever any help just sing out. He was the one who actually encouraged it for this situation. We’ve made it work and I think the girls have enjoyed it.”

England captain Marlie Packer knows George from Saracens, who she has represented since 2017, and sees the benefit of skills swapping with members of Steve Borthwick’s squad.

“The girls really enjoyed it. We don’t want to force it because the men have their own programmes, the same as us, so the timing needs to be right for both,” Packer said.

“We also have that club connection as well, Jamie has been doing some work with me at Saracens. It’s not just about the red roses, I know Bristol Bears do a lot with their men.”

Mitchell has rotated his squad for Saturday’s clash with Wales at Ashton Gate by making seven changes following the 48-0 thumping of Italy in round one.

Centres Tatyana Heard and Megan Jones, half-backs Natasha Hunt and Holly Aitchison, prop Maud Muir, lock Rosie Galligan and number eight Alex Matthews are the new faces.

Back row Sarah Beckett is unavailable until the final match of the tournament against France after receiving a three-match ban for a dangerous clear out against Italy, but Mitchell confirmed she will come into consideration for that game.

Second row Zoe Aldcroft will win her 50th cap after being one of the eight players retained in the starting XV.

“Zoe is a massive competitor. She’s like a little springer spaniel in training! When she speaks, the girls listen,” Packer said.

“Everyone knows she’s world class in everything she does and how she goes about her business.”

Scotland and Edinburgh prop WP Nel is set to retire at the end of the season.

Nel, 37, has racked up 61 international caps and 200 appearances for the capital club since arriving from South Africa in 2012.

The experienced tighthead, who qualified for Scotland after three years of residency, was a front-row fixture at three World Cups – 2015, 2019 and 2023.

“To have the opportunity to play for Scotland is something I’m incredibly proud of. The memories in the jersey are unbelievable,” he said.

“When you stand there, singing the anthem, it’s a moment to be proud of, to be part of a team that will represent Scotland.”

Gregor Townsend, the Scotland head coach, hailed the veteran’s contribution to his adopted country.

“WP will rank amongst the best props to play for Scotland, highly respected from coaches and players alike – and he also had a brilliant sense of humour,” he said.

“WP has given a huge amount to Scottish rugby over a number of years.

“He was a joy to coach as every time he took to the training pitch he gave it his all, no matter how much his body was giving him issues.

“We’ll miss his smile, his love of the scrum and some very skilful moments that often lit up our training sessions. We wish him all the best for the rest of the season and in his retirement.”

Edinburgh head coach Sean Everitt joined the chorus of appreciation, adding: “WP has been a tremendous servant to Edinburgh Rugby over more than a decade.

“He’s one of only three double centurions in the club’s 150-year history and has made 61 appearances for the Scotland national team in an incredibly-tough position.

“I know he’ll continue to give everything to the jersey – as he always does – for the remainder of the season.”

Refereeing chiefs have apologised for an “unfortunate occurrence” where the television match official dismissed an incident of foul play during Saracens’ victory over Harlequins.

Former England international Austin Healey, who was working as part of TNT Sports’ team at the match, spotted a clear-out by Harlequins captain Stephan Lewies, when he appeared to slide on his knees into Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell.

TMO Stuart Terheege was overheard telling referee Christophe Ridley on a microphone during the live broadcast: “The problem I have got now is that it looks like Austin has instigated it, because we’re late, so I don’t want to talk about it, OK?”

Lewies had received a yellow card during the first half of a game that Saracens won 52-7 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The Professional Game Match Officials Team said in a statement: “The Professional Game Match Officials Team regret that questions have been raised about player safety and decision-making. Match officials take player welfare incredibly seriously and it is their overriding priority.

“At the time of the Farrell try, the Television Match Official (TMO), Stuart Terheege asked the TNT Sports Director for clips around the incident to review in the background before deciding whether to call an official review into the foul play incident, or not.

“This is a common request from TMO to Director, that occurs in rugby broadcasting to enable the TMO to decide whether an official review is required. Simultaneously, the TMO also checked the grounding on the Saracens try.

“In relation to the act of foul play committed by Stephen (sic) Lewies against Owen Farrell, the TMO saw the initial contact off the ball. He decided on the evidence that it was no more than a penalty advantage. As Saracens went onto score, that advantage was deemed to have been taken, so no further action was required.

“In response to Stuart’s initial request for images the Director asked the TMO if he wanted to look again at the incident. The TMO declined, as he was confident in his original decision. At the same time, the TNT Sports commentary team also saw the replays and posed the question whether Lewies’ actions warranted a review.

“TNT Sports’ audio directors can cut to the TMO if there is a moment when viewers would benefit from their insight in their decision-making. At this juncture, some of the conversation between the TMO and Match Director with regards to the replays requested and whether an official review was needed were broadcast ‘live’.

“The conversation between TMO and Director that was broadcast ‘live’ was regrettable, they were not intended to be heard outside of the broadcast truck nor were they the reason for the foul play incident not being formally reviewed.

“Terheege is disappointed that he allowed himself to be distracted with interactions with the broadcast team and did not communicate his decision to the on-field match officials.

“TMOs do not actively listen or react to the broadcast commentary team. TMOs make their decisions independently, based on their own judgement, experience, and in line with agreed World Rugby protocols. However, due to their location at the matches, they sometimes overhear commentary. The nature of the audio configuration in some broadcast trucks and in some stadiums means the working environment varies from match to match.

“The incident was an unusual and unfortunate occurrence. The PGMOT, Premiership Rugby and TNT Sports are working closely together to make sure this does not happen again. The three organisations enjoy a close and positive working relationship based on a mutually beneficial system that has worked for many years.

“All parties will continue to work hard to further refine and perfect systems to ensure player safety and high-quality rugby.”

Owen Farrell’s perfect balance of keeping a cool head alongside an intense physical performance can help drive Saracens on through the business end of the season, according to director of rugby Mark McCall.

Farrell – who sat out the Guinness Six Nations to prioritise his mental health – made an impressive return to competitive action in the crushing 52-7 Gallagher Premiership win over Harlequins on Saturday.

The 32-year-old fly-half is set to joins French club Racing 92 in the summer, a move which will make the long-serving England captain ineligible for international selection.

Despite the additional scrutiny, Farrell produced an impressive all-round individual display as Quins were swept aside at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in what was his 250th club appearance.

Saracens sit third in the table and now just three points behind leaders Northampton ahead of their meeting at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

With a Champions Cup last-16 fixture away at Bordeaux also on the horizon, McCall knows he will need Farrell and all of his key men fully focused to tackle the challenges ahead.

“His performance on Saturday was high level,” McCall said.

“He passed the ball beautifully during the game and managed the game well, but just looked in control of everything.

“He looked like he had time in everything that was doing, so he had that lovely mix, which is the sweet spot for a player where you can be calm and cool, but very physical when you need to be and very intense when you need to be.

“He was able to be intense, to be physical and then come out of that and see when he needed to see and that’s always a sign of a very good player.”

McCall knows Saracens will need a high collective effort when they face Saints and is not reading too much into last week’s 52-21 at Bristol.

“I don’t think anyone should be fooled by what happened on Friday night,” McCall said. “Those kind of things can happen – it has happened to us a couple of times this year.

“They are good all-round and have taken their defence to a whole new level this year.

“They have been building for a long time and have a pile of cohesion in their team and we all know they are one of the best attacking teams in the country.”

Saracens looks set to again be without winger Rotimi Segun, who was a late withdrawal from the side to face Quins because of an Achilles problem.

Maro Itoje continues to be assessed on a knee issue sustained while on England duty, so may be rested.

McCall, meanwhile, confirmed the club had reviewed an incident during the Quins game when the television match official appeared to ignore possible foul play because it was highlighted by a pundit.

Former England international Austin Healey – who was working as part of TNT Sports’ team at the match – spotted a clear-out by Harlequins captain Stephan Lewies, when he appeared to slide on his knees into Farrell.

Player welfare group Progressive Rugby described the decision to ignore possible foul play by TMO Stuart Terheege in his discussions with referee Christophe Ridley as “hugely concerning”.

McCall, though, looked to draw a line under the matter, saying: “We did obviously (review the incident).

“But I haven’t got too much to say about it – other than in an ideal world, I suppose, if there is something that needs to be looked at by the officials, it gets looked at.”

Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care has retired from international rugby after winning 101 caps in a 15-year England career.

The Leeds-born 37-year-old, who has a record 369 Quins appearances, played in all five of England’s matches during this year’s Guinness Six Nations, including his 100th cap in the 23-22 win over Ireland.

He posted on Instagram: “To play for England once was a dream come true. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d get the opportunity to do it over 100 times.


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“After a lot of reflection the past few months, the time feels right for myself and the team, to retire from international rugby.

“The past 12 months in this England team have been arguably my favourite, making memories that my family and I will cherish and remember forever.”

Care, whose final international appearance came on March 16 in the thrilling narrow defeat to France in Lyon, is just the sixth player to win 100 caps for the England men’s team.

England kicked off their Women’s Six Nations title defence with an eight-try 48-0 trouncing of Italy in Parma despite having Sarah Beckett sent off after just 11 minutes.

The hosts, who have finished fifth the last two years, were no match for the 2023 Grand Slam winners who picked up a bonus point as they began their quest for a sixth successive championship in style.

Beckett was dismissed early on for a dangerous ruck clear-out but only after becoming the first woman to have her yellow card upgraded to a red by the TMO ‘bunker’ system.

But it did little to harm England’s chances as they eased into a 10-point lead at half-time courtesy of tries from Hannah Botterman and Abbie Ward.

England, for whom captain Marlie Packer won her 100th cap, picked up their performance after the break and added a further six tries to seal a comprehensive win.

Ellie Kildunne (two), Lark Atkin-Davies, Helena Rowland, Mackenzie Carson and Connie Powell all touched down despite the visitors being reduced to 13 players in the 69th minute when Rowland was yellow-carded for head contact at a ruck.

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