George Ford believes his playmaking axis with Owen Farrell is ready to stand the test of time after England reunited their creative brains trust for Saturday’s World Cup clash with Samoa.

Ford and Farrell will start together for the first time since March 2021 having won 31 of the 40 Tests in which they have been paired together – a success ratio of 77.5 per cent – and head coach Steve Borthwick is hoping that magic still lingers.

Having compiled man of the match displays against Argentina and Japan and then stepping off the bench for the rout of Chile, Ford has been restored at fly-half while Farrell moves to inside centre.

The first time the two operated together in tandem was also against Samoa in 2014 and Ford believes an attacking fulcrum that was particularly successful at the last World Cup can shine again.

“We’ve done it a lot of times and even though not as much in recent times, you can just feel it,” the Sale fly-half said.

“Even though there’s a bit of time where we haven’t actually played together the understanding and the connection would be as strong as its ever been.

“Not having done it for a period of time maybe could benefit us because it probably sharpens you up a bit.

“We’ve been having discussions all week about that partnership and combination – what do we need from each other?

“When you’ve been doing it for a period of time you probably take that for granted a little bit. It’s exciting because we’ve had some real success with it in the past.”

The last World Cup to be held in France took place in 2007 when Ford and Farrell practised with England as teenagers due to their family links with Brian Ashton’s squad.

George’s father Mike was an assistant coach while Farrell’s father Andy was a member of the playing squad.

“We spent time with the backs and the kickers. The lasting memories I have are kicking balls back for the kickers,” Ford said.

“That’s what made it so good, coming to France, in and out at the weekend like our families do now and then back to school on the Monday.

“It made it all a little bit more surreal, doing that at the weekend and going back to school on the Monday.”

Farrell, who leads the team and has been assigned goalkicking duties, believes the best might yet be to come from being asked to pull the strings in sync with his long-standing friend.

“I’m pretty close to George so we speak about everything rugby-wise, regardless of what the team is anyway. We’re on the same page. I’m looking forward to it,” Farrell said.

“People have talked about the amount of times we’ve played together before, but it’s not been for a while.

“We both hope we’ve kicked on since we’ve last played together. Hopefully we show that on the weekend.”

Farrell needs two more points to become England’s highest scorer of all time, eclipsing the mark of 1,179 set by Jonny Wilkinson.

Gregor Townsend said Scotland are “ready to play their best rugby” as he backed his team to rise to the challenge of having to beat Ireland for the first time in more than six years and prolong their World Cup campaign.

The Scots must either secure a bonus-point victory or deny the world’s top-ranked side a losing bonus point in the Stade de France on Saturday night if they are to get out of formidable Pool B and reach the quarter-finals.

Townsend billed it as one of the biggest matches his team have ever been involved in but feels they are equipped to deliver when it matters most and knock the rampant Irish – who have won 16 consecutive games – out of the tournament.

“We have got to deliver what we feel we are capable of which is their best performance as a team when it counts,” he said.

“They are in great physical shape, they have been training really hard for weeks and months and I believe we have had enough experiences now – both good and bad – to handle this occasion. We are really behind this team.”

Asked what makes him believe that Scotland can defeat a team who have beaten them in their last eight meetings, a run stretching back to 2017, Townsend said: “Well, why not? The players have performed in massive games before.

“We were underdogs but we have broken records before, whether it was not winning in Paris (for 22 years, before doing it in 2021), not winning at Twickenham (for 38 years, before doing it in 2021), we hadn’t beaten England for 10 years (before doing it in 2018).

“This is another opportunity to break another record. We believe in them, we believe in where they are mentally as a group and where they are physically. They are ready to play their best rugby.”

Scotland will either have to win by at least an eight-point margin or by scoring at least four tries. Townsend insisted that his team will not alter their game-plan significantly because of that situation.

“Our approach would be similar if we were just looking to win the game,” he said.

“There are two scenarios for us to get through, one is eight points and one is to score more tries so it suits how we would approach normal games, which would be to aim to score tries when we are in the opposition 22.

“It’s important that we get those opportunities, Ireland have been very good at not giving up too many opportunities inside their 22 over the last two to three years and that’s a goal for us, to make sure we are in there a few times this weekend.

“We definitely want to be the team that goes out there fearless with nothing to lose. That’s the way we’ve been thinking and planning this week.”

Several permutations could come into play as the match evolves, but Townsend has trust in his players to be able to make the right decisions about how to negotiate the business end of proceedings if the qualification situation remains in the balance.

“If it’s a tight game and defences are on top it’s likely to be the eight points gives us the best opportunity,” he said.

“The most important element is scoring points. If things change and go in our favour we have plenty of time to talk about that at half-time or in a huddle during the second half.

“We’re able to communicate with people on the sideline, whether they’re medics or water-carriers, but you want to create an environment where the players are making the decisions.

“We’ve got some very intelligent rugby players and very intelligent people in our team so they won’t need instruction from us. They’ll be coming together and nailing what needs to be done in that next action.”

Townsend expects a box-office occasion to illuminate the World Cup in Paris.

“There have been so many Scots at our last few games and there were a lot of Irish in Paris for their game against South Africa so it will be a cracking atmosphere,” he said. “And there’s jeopardy, there’s something at stake, so it will be one of the best games of the World Cup, I’m sure.”     

England have encountered their first injury setback since arriving in France for the World Cup after Jack Willis was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.

Willis suffered a neck problem in the 71-0 victory over Chile on September 23 – his only appearance of the group phase – and on Wednesday night England learned he would be ruled out for several more weeks.

Head coach Steve Borthwick will call up a replacement for the Toulouse back row, to be named in due course, who is likely to join up with the squad in Marseille for quarter-final week.

“We’re really disappointed for Jack because he’s been an important member of this team,” Borthwick said.

“He’s done really well, played an important role in the Chile game and is an important member of this squad over the last period of time.

“We anticipate the injury will be just a few weeks but given the timescales we’re operating to it means he will be replaced in the 33.”

Iain Henderson revealed Test centurion Peter O’Mahony has been dubbed the “Haggard Badger” by his Ireland team-mates.

O’Mahony will become only the 10th Irishman to earn 100 caps after being selected to start Saturday’s crucial Rugby World Cup clash with Scotland in Paris.

Head coach Andy Farrell and captain Johnny Sexton were among those to pay tribute to the Munster skipper ahead of his landmark outing.

Lock Henderson also offered a glowing testimony but could not resist divulging an unflattering nickname based on O’Mahony’s well-worn features and greying hair, which was reportedly invented by prop Dave Kilcoyne.

Asked about the 34-year-old, Henderson replied: “The Haggard Badger?

“The Haggard Badger, I think he’s been coined. I’m not 100 per cent sure where that came from.”

Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, who was sitting next to Henderson, confirmed Kilcoyne was responsible, before the Ulster skipper continued: “Pete’s a massive leader for our group.

“Not only in terms of rugby but in terms of what we stand for as players, the social side of things, how well knitted together we are, he’s a massive part of that.

“Obviously I’m sure a lot of the cliches will come out now, but Peter rings true to most of them. He’s deserving of every minute of the jerseys he’s played in and, to this day, still nailing that down.

“You can see in Faz’s (Farrell’s) selections and how highly Faz speaks of him, I think that all rings true to the type of person he is. And long may that continue.”

O’Mahony is poised to join Ireland greats Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell and John Hayes on the select list of centurions, plus current team-mates Cian Healy, Sexton, Conor Murray and Keith Earls.

The flanker, who made his international debut against Italy in 2012, will seek to mark the milestone appearance by helping his country avoid an upset against the Scots to reach the knockout stages in France.

“We can sit here all day the two of us and talk about what he brings, what he means to us all, what type of bloke he is, what type of family man he is,” Farrell, sitting alongside Sexton, said of O’Mahony.

“But we’d be here the whole press conference. To sum him up, he’s selfless.

“You guys would see the performance on the pitch and it’s heroic from Pete. You can see what it means for him to play for Ireland.

“But we obviously see behind the scenes and he’s definitely, 100 per cent, one of the best I’ve ever seen at making the dressing room feel right.

“And it’s not just a skill. It’s him being himself because it’s genuine and I’m sure Johnny would echo this that there’s no better man that you would want sat at the side of you in the dressing room at the weekend than Peter O’Mahony.”

Sexton added: “I don’t think you guys get to see the real Peter O’Mahony.

“He gives very little away when he sits up here, one word answers, but he’s the life and soul of the dressing room behind closed doors and it’s a privilege to play with him all the time.

“We’ll be playing for him as much as we are for ourselves on Saturday.”

England have reunited playmakers George Ford and Owen Farrell in their backline for Saturday’s final World Cup group match against Samoa in Lille.

They start together for the first time since the 2021 Six Nations as Steve Borthwick revives the creative axis that has excelled for England in the past as he assesses his options for the quarter-final.

Ford starts at fly-half having produced man-of-the-match displays against Argentina and Japan while Farrell shifts to inside centre to accommodate his rival for the 10 jersey.

Farrell needs two more points to become England’s highest scorer of all time, eclipsing the mark of 1,179 set by Jonny Wilkinson.

Manu Tuilagi is picked at 13 to provide a ball-carrying threat in what will be a special occasion for the Sale powerhouse, who faces the nation of his birth for the first time.

Joe Marchant is squeezed out of the midfield but finds a home on to the right wing, meaning there is no place for Henry Arundell despite his five-try haul against Chile.

Arundell drops out of the 23 altogether, as does Elliot Daly with Jonny May winning the race to start on the other wing as part of a back three that sees Freddie Steward replace Marcus Smith.

The urge to give Smith another run at full-back has been resisted but the rapid Harlequins ringmaster is poised to complete another cameo off the bench at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

England are at full strength against Samoa and evidence of Ben Earl’s rise as a force on the Test stage is seen in his selection at number eight ahead of Billy Vunipola, who features on the bench.

Tom Curry is restored at openside after playing just 179 seconds against Argentina, at which point he was sent off for a dangerous tackle that resulted in a two-match ban which he completed against Chile.

A surprise pick in the front row sees Dan Cole preferred ahead of Kyle Sinckler at tighthead prop.

England qualified for the quarter-finals as Pool D winners on September 28 when Japan beat Samoa, allowing them to advance to a knockout appointment with likely opponents Fiji despite having a match to spare.

Borthwick said: “Whilst we are of course pleased with our results and qualification into the pool stages, we want to continue our improvement with a positive performance against a difficult and in-form Samoa team.

“Samoa are renowned for their physicality and this last game in the pool stages will be an excellent test for us as we continue in our World Cup journey.”

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw is expected to be unavailable until at least the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup due to a hamstring injury.

The Leinster centre sustained the issue in training this week, ruling him out of Saturday evening’s pivotal Pool B clash with Scotland in Paris.

Ireland will monitor Henshaw’s fitness for the time being but head coach Andy Farrell is weighing up his options and could eventually make a change to his 33-man squad.

“He pulled up with a hamstring unfortunately at the end of the session on Tuesday and the diagnosis with hamstrings, they want to see how things settle down,” said Farrell.

“It probably takes about five days for that type of thing to happen but it looks like it could be a minimum of a couple of weeks at this stage.”

Asked if Henshaw will remain in France, Farrell replied: “Obviously, we’ll assess that as we go.

“Certainly he’ll be around rehabbing and we’ll see how the weekend goes with other injuries, etc, and assess how Robbie’s going along the way also.”

Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey has taken Henshaw’s place among the replacements for this weekend’s Stade de France showdown, while hooker Dan Sheehan and lock Iain Henderson have been selected ahead of benched pair Ronan Kelleher and James Ryan.

Vice-captain Ryan suffered a wrist injury in Ireland’s 13-8 success over South Africa a fortnight ago.

Farrell insists the Leinster second row is fully fit and has trained well, including coming close to flattening captain Johnny Sexton on more than one occasion.

“He’s fit,” Farrell said of Ryan.

“He had a bit of a niggle on a wrist but that’s fine and he trained the house down, actually trained the best I’ve seen him train in a good amount of years yesterday.

“He actually nearly took Johnny’s head off three or four times so he’s fit and raring to go, there’s no doubt.”

Ireland will progress to the knockout stages with a win or draw, while a defeat will leave them reliant on Scotland’s margin of victory and bonus points gained.

Farrell suggested the recalled Henderson, who came off the bench in the victories over Romania, Tonga and the Springboks, could be handy in calculating the permutations.

“We want to win,” said Farrell. “It’s a massive game. It’s so important to us and certainly obviously to them.

“But to the travelling fans and the people back home it’s a huge game.

“We have Iain Henderson in our group who is good at maths, so we’re across everything as far as that’s concerned.

“But the easiest way is to make sure that we perform well and deserve to win the game outright.”

Skipper Sexton will start for the fourth successive match following his return from injury and suspension at the beginning of the tournament, while flanker Peter O’Mahony will win his 100th Ireland cap.

“It is a knockout game,” said 38-year-old fly-half Sexton.

“We’ve viewed it as a last 16, we’ve spoken about it and that’s why it’s important we got our preparation right.

“We need to go out and get our performance right now.”

Scrum-half Ali Price has been handed a surprise start for Scotland’s World Cup Pool B qualification shootout with Ireland on Saturday, as regular number nine Ben White misses out on a place in the 23 altogether.

The 30-year-old Glasgow back made the number nine jersey his own for three years until losing his spot to the burgeoning White at the start of this year’s Six Nations.

But after scoring a try when a much-changed XV defeated Romania in Lille last Saturday, Price has remained in the team for this weekend’s Paris showdown.

White is not even listed among the substitutes, with c the replacement scrum-half.

Captain Jamie Ritchie returns to lead the team after going off with concussion in the first half of the Tonga match a fortnight ago.

Price in place of White is the only change to the team that started the match against South Africa on the opening weekend of the tournament.

The scrum-half had spoken in Nice earlier this week about how his improved maturity had helped him deal with losing his place just two years after being selected for British and Irish Lions duty.

But he now appears to have convinced Gregor Townsend that he is worthy of being pitched back into the thick of it for one of Scotland’s biggest games in years as they bid to get a bonus-point win over the Irish or deny their opponents a losing bonus in order to reach the quarter-finals.

Hamish Watson, another 2021 Lion who has fallen from prominence this year, has not made the 23 despite impressing against Romania last weekend.

Iain Henderson will start in place of vice-captain James Ryan in Ireland’s second row for Saturday’s pivotal Rugby World Cup clash with Scotland in Paris.

Leinster lock Ryan sustained a hand injury in his country’s 13-8 win over South Africa on September 23 and has been named on the bench, handing a first start of the tournament to Ulster skipper Henderson.

Hooker Dan Sheehan has been preferred to Leinster team-mate Ronan Kelleher and will make his full World Cup debut in the other change to Andy Farrell’s starting XV, while back-rower Jack Conan is back on the bench following injury.

Sheehan came on against the Springboks a fortnight ago for his first appearance since suffering a foot injury in the warm-up win over England on August 19.

Number eight Conan is in line for his first outing since damaging foot ligaments two months ago.

Centre Robbie Henshaw, who has been struggling with a niggle, has been replaced on the bench by Stuart McCloskey, while flanker Peter O’Mahony will win his 100th Ireland cap.

Ireland will secure a place in the quarter-finals with a win or a draw, while defeat will leave them reliant on the scoreline and bonus points gained.

Veteran fly-half Johnny Sexton will captain his side for the fourth successive Pool B fixture following his return from an absence of almost six months due to injury and suspension.

The 38-year-old will be partnered by Jamison Gibson-Park, with the in-form Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose in midfield and wings James Lowe and Mack Hansen joining full-back Hugo Keenan in the backline.

Sheehan will be sandwiched between provincial team-mates Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong, with Henderson packing down alongside Tadhg Beirne.

Centurion O’Mahony, who made his Test debut against Italy in 2012, will continue in the back row with world player of the year Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris.

The Munster captain is set to become the 10th Irishman to reach the milestone, following Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell and John Hayes and current team-mates Cian Healy, Sexton, Conor Murray and Keith Earls.

Conan, Ryan and McCloskey are joined in reserve by hooker Kelleher, props Dave Kilcoyne and Finlay Bealham, scrum-half Murray and fly-half Jack Crowley.

Ireland team: H Keenan (Leinster); M Hansen (Connacht), G Ringrose (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Lowe (Leinster); J Sexton (Leinster, capt), J Gibson-Park (Leinster); A Porter (Leinster), D Sheehan (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), I Henderson (Ulster), P O’Mahony (Munster), J van der Flier (Leinster), C Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: R Kelleher (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), F Bealham (Connacht), J Ryan (Leinster), J Conan (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), J Crowley (Munster), S McCloskey (Ulster).

Nick Tompkins says his first Rugby World Cup experience has been “everything and more” as he builds towards the tournament’s business end.

The Wales centre has proved a stand-out performer, excelling during Pool C victories over Fiji and Australia.

Tompkins’ second-half try during Wales’ record 40-6 victory over the Wallabies highlighted his impact as part of an impressive midfield combination alongside George North.

The pair will team up again on Saturday when Wales require only a point against Georgia at Stade de la Beaujoire to win their group.

With a quarter-final place already secured, attention will then turn to a likely last-eight appointment with Argentina or Japan in Marseille next week.

Wales have reached the World Cup knockout phase for a fourth successive time under head coach Warren Gatland, and Tompkins is relishing a first taste of rugby union’s global spectacular.

“I have never experienced anything like this,” Saracens star Tompkins said.

“The build-up, the hype, seeing how proud and pleased the families are. It has been everything and more.

“I want to just keep getting better and keep pushing myself. There are a lot of things I need to improve on.

“I am happy with some areas, but there are some things I really need to push myself on. I hope there is more to come – I don’t know where the limit is.

“If I want to be the best I can be, you look at some of the other centres out there in the tournament and how well they are doing, and you want to emulate that.”

Wales have risen from the low points of a home loss to Georgia under Gatland’s predecessor Wayne Pivac 11 months ago and a Six Nations campaign dominated by off-field issues to deliver an impressive World Cup showing.

And Tompkins has underlined squad dynamics on and off the pitch as a key factor behind Wales’ success since World Cup preparations began in late May.

“Being together (for five months) means you can have those little conversations and make little tweaks,” he added.

“It has been really healthy, and it has been all of us pushing each other. We all like each other, and the atmosphere is fun as well.”

Even during some inevitably feisty moments on the training pitch, Tompkins says that humour is never far away.

“You have a laugh about it afterwards,” he said. “Whatever happens, you get laughed at afterwards, especially with this group.

“You can get torn to pieces at times, but that kind of thing is healthy for a group. You need it.”

That also extends to the squad’s fines committee, with Tompkins regularly on the receiving end for all kinds of misdemeanours.

“I’ve worn wrong shirts, I think I have forgotten suit shoes before,” he added.

“I was also late to one meeting and forgot my passport. I think it is because I am too laid-back.”

Prop Tadhg Furlong believes Ireland have proven they can thrive under big-game pressure as they seek to avoid a shock Rugby World Cup exit.

Andy Farrell’s men have topped the world rankings for well over a year and won a national-record 16 Test matches in a row.

Yet the Six Nations champions are still in danger of flying home from France before the knockout stages heading in to Saturday evening’s decisive Pool B clash with Scotland in Paris.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Irish Rugby (@irishrugby)


Leinster tighthead Furlong has helped his country beat each of their major rivals during the Farrell era and expects the team to once again deliver under the weight of expectation.

“I think it brings the best out of rugby players,” he said. “It shows your mentality, it shows what you are about, it shows what the group is about. It shows a lot.

“The proof is always in the pudding in terms of how the match goes, and how you deal with the pressure. It’s just about trying to get on.

“I think as a group, we are relatively experienced and we have a good understanding of how we work and how the team works and how to get the most out of the team in these big games.

“We have played in big games before. Now it’s just about trying to get your prep right and try to get your best performance out there.

“It’s (about) not being afraid of it, it’s about embracing it and getting on with it.”

Head coach Farrell will name his team for the Stade de France showdown on Thursday afternoon and is likely to make few, if any, changes following a 13-8 victory over South Africa on September 23.

A win or draw will send Ireland through as group winners ahead of the Springboks.

But success for Gregor Townsend’s side could see them snatch progression at the expense of their rivals, depending on the margin of victory and bonus points obtained.

Ireland have dominated recent meetings between the two nations, winning eight in a row and 12 of the last 13 across the last decade, including March’s 22-7 Six Nations triumph at Murrayfield.

Furlong feels Scotland represent a “ huge challenge” and a far tougher proposition than that match just under seven months ago when the Irish overcame a host of injury setbacks to keep themselves on course for the Grand Slam.

“Of course you look at the last game, you probably don’t look at the seven before that,” said the 30-year-old.

“Rugby is ever changing and evolving. They’re flying at the minute. I was really impressed with their warm-up games against France and have been really impressed with how they’ve performed in the tournament so far.

“I would imagine they’re disappointed with their South Africa performance (an 18-3 loss).

“They’ve come on a lot since the Six Nations, and they had a really good Six Nations.

“They were flying then as well. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us this weekend.”

Bill Sweeney is confident he remains the right man to lead the Rugby Football Union despite the English game being mired in crisis and claims that “we are on the cusp of something quite spectacular”.

Four professional clubs have collapsed in just over a year – Wasps, Worcester, London Irish and Jersey Reds – while in January the Rugby Football Union triggered a grassroots revolt through its handling of the tackle height being lowered at community level.

On the eve of England’s victory over Argentina that opened the World Cup last month, RFU council members sent a letter to the board raising concerns over the leadership of chief executive Sweeney and chair Tom Ilube.

Sweeney stated that the “cynical” rebellion had been faced down at Friday’s council meeting, adding that it was staged by a “small group of people who are no longer in the game or have agendas that are not necessarily in the best interests of the game”.

At the elite level England have not finished above third place in the the Six Nations since 2020 and sacked Eddie Jones in December, giving his replacement Steve Borthwick just eight months to prepare for the World Cup.

“It’s probably for others to say if they don’t feel I am the right person to do it,” Sweeney said.

“I personally feel I am given my experience, given my background and my balance of business and sport. I feel I am the right person to do that.

“I came into this role for one simple reason and it’s because I’m very passionate about this game.

“There’s probably a large number of my friends and family who would be quite happy if I didn’t do it any longer. But I do believe that we are on the cusp of something quite spectacular here.

“This has been a unique moment in time because of the financial challenges, because of the working relationship with Premiership Rugby, our ability to change that relationship around the partnership, to fix the things that have stopped us winning Six Nations on a regular basis.

“The work that we’re doing in World Rugby around Nations Cup, the global calendar – that all plays into this as well.

“I feel that I have the energy, I’ve got the passion and I’ve got the desire to see this through. Now if somebody else thinks differently about that, that’s also equally fine.

“You don’t wake up every morning enjoying it, but that’s the reason why I would like to carry on.”

Sweeney was accused by a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing last November of being “completely asleep on the job” and told that he should consider resigning in response to the financial crisis that led to Wasps and Worcester entering administration.

The Twickenham chief has promised structural reform “to fix a number of issues that have been broken for some time”, thereby ending the “boom and bust periods when it is more based on hope”.

Sweeney confirmed that negotiations are proceeding for 25 England players to be placed on ‘hybrid contracts’ that would give Borthwick more control of his most important internationals.

Ben Earl admitted it was his England career igniting that convinced him to re-sign with Saracens and play his part in lifting the domestic club out of the doldrums.

Earlier this week Earl signed a long-term contract with the Gallagher Premiership champions to continue his upward trajectory in a 2023 that has produced his first Test start and selection in Steve Borthwick’s World Cup squad.

Now that rampaging displays against Argentina, Japan and Chile have impressed audiences in France, he has become one of Borthwick’s star performers, who is set to be restored to the back row against Samoa on Saturday.

Having struggled to convince Eddie Jones and then being discarded by Borthwick in the Six Nations earlier this year in order to work on his conditioning, the 25-year-old admits he was considering his options overseas until his England outlook changed.

“You never shut that door. I guess it is a lot easier to move abroad if you are not playing for England,” Earl said.

“If you are not in the picture, it can be nice sometimes to have a change of scene, but thankfully at the moment I’m playing for England and that made my decision for me.

“Steve has always been very honest with me about what it would take for me to play for England and hopefully I’m starting to make some steps in those directions.

“Now it is just a no-brainer, I’m fully focussed on playing for Saracens and hopefully for England for a long time.”

Earl has chosen to stay in the Gallagher Premiership during a period of upheaval.

Jersey Reds’ announcement last week that they had entered administration lifts the total of professional clubs to have gone out of business in the past year to four, painting a grim picture of the finances of the English game.

A closer relationship between the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby is set to produce a series of ‘hybrid contracts’ that will give Borthwick greater control over around 20 of his Tests stars.

Earl would be a prime candidate for one of the contracts that would see a player’s club receive greater compensation and he believes his generation has a role to play in restoring the sport to health.

“We are hearing good things about the plans for the league over the next couple of years – salary cap stuff and commercial stuff. We are already seeing some small changes and that can only be a good thing,” he said.

“There have been times when players have shut themselves off from the commercial side of the game.

“And we as a younger generation in terms of coming through and taking on the mantle of the league, we need to be a bit more open by putting ourselves out there.

“We’ve had some talks with the league. We’re asking for a bit more, they’re asking for a bit more. Everyone is willing and saying the right things, so hopefully that’s a step in the right direction.”

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw has emerged as an injury doubt for Saturday’s crucial Rugby World Cup showdown with Scotland in Paris.

The 30-year-old is struggling with a “niggle” and will be assessed ahead of head coach Andy Farrell naming his matchday 23 on Thursday afternoon.

Henshaw suffered a fitness setback at the start of the tournament when he was a late withdrawal from Ireland’s bench for the 82-8 win over Romania.

He subsequently came on as a replacement in the 59-16 success over Tonga and the 13-8 victory against reigning champions South Africa.

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said: “Everyone came through training, but Robbie has a bit of a niggle and we’re finding out about that today.

“I’m sure there will be some information on that tomorrow.”

Henshaw has been providing back-up for in-form midfield duo Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose.

Leinster team-mate Jimmy O’Brien, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey and Munster veteran Keith Earls are among the options to take his place in Farrell’s squad to face the Scots, if he is ruled out.

Ireland will secure a quarter-final spot as Pool B winners with a victory or a draw at Stade de France, while a loss may also be sufficient for progression, depending on the scoreline and bonus points gained.

Farrell’s men are seeking a 17th consecutive success to set up a likely last-eight appointment with either hosts France or three-time champions New Zealand.

Former Ireland captain O’Connell, who represented his country at four World Cups, believes the current crop of players know how to remain in the moment and avoid being inhibited by passion or pressure.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Irish Rugby (@irishrugby)


“Being able to not rely massively on emotions is a big part of it,” he replied when asked about the key to consistently backing up wins.

“It’s always a big strength of ours how much the lads love playing for Ireland, how important the history of the team is.

“But that’s kind of the icing on the cake now rather than the whole cake.

“I think probably in fairness it would have come in under Joe (Schmidt, former head coach) and that ability to focus just on what’s right in front of you and not what’s too far ahead of you.

“They’ve a big appetite around just getting better and improving, both individually and as a group.

“When the focus is all about getting better, you acknowledge the significance of what might happen if you win a game at the weekend for sure, but you’re kind of able to ignore it a little bit then as well.

“The more you understand who you are and what you stand for the easier it is to perform.

“They don’t have to build up how important the game is. We all know it and they all know it.

“They focus on getting better, they focus on the next moment, and that sometimes helps them block out some of the noise around the game.”

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw has emerged as an injury doubt ahead of Saturday’s crucial Rugby World Cup showdown with Scotland in Paris.

The 30-year-old is struggling with a “niggle” and will be assessed ahead of head coach Andy Farrell naming his matchday 23 on Thursday afternoon.

Henshaw suffered a fitness setback at the start of the tournament when he was a late withdrawal from Ireland’s bench for the 82-8 win over Romania.

He subsequently came on as a replacement in the 59-16 success over Tonga and the 13-8 victory against reigning champions South Africa.

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said: “Everyone came through training, but Robbie has a bit of a niggle and we’re finding out about that today.

“I’m sure there will be some information on that tomorrow.”

Henshaw has been providing back-up for in-form midfield duo Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose.

Leinster team-mate Jimmy O’Brien, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey and Munster veteran Keith Earls are among the options to take his place in Farrell’s squad to face the Scots, if he is ruled out.

George Turner admitted Scotland must produce a much better performance against Ireland on Saturday than they managed in their opening World Cup game against South Africa.

The Scots lost 18-3 against the Boks – ranked second in the world at the time – in Marseille last month.

That defeat played a big part in Gregor Townsend’s side finding themselves in a position whereby they must defeat the Irish with a bonus point in Paris this weekend or by denying the world’s top-ranked team a losing bonus point if they are to progress to the quarter-finals.

Hooker Turner knows Scotland must prove this Saturday that they have learned lessons from their last meeting with one of the tournament’s elite teams as they bid to produce what he feels will have to be one of their best-ever displays.

“We talk about performances and we gave ourselves maybe a six (out of 10) against South Africa,” said Turner. “We really want to push our performance.

“We had opportunities against South Africa, we changed a few things up and it didn’t quite click. The intensity, will and want was there and we’ve been practising since then to make the performance better.

“We obviously need our best performance. We need to be nine or 10 out of 10 to beat the best teams in the world, especially Ireland in a World Cup where it’s a must-win game for them as well.”

Turner admitted there is an extra buzz about the Scotland squad this week as the definitive game of their World Cup draws closer.

“Obviously it’s a final for us, it’s knock-out rugby against the best team in the world,” he said.

“We know them well. It’s just a massive challenge that we are all heavily focused on.

“Excitement is building. We are getting the learning done, getting the game plan sorted and looking forward to it.

“There’s more energy, more on the line. Boys will feel it a bit more. It’s good for everyone – the guys who are playing, the guys who are not playing. Everyone in training is trying to give their best to support the team.”

Turner also reported that he had to overcome a nasty cut to his hand on the eve of the South Africa game while cutting bread with a knife.

“I cut my hand open and got four or five stitches,” said the Glasgow hooker. “It just tugged a bit and I was like, ‘that bread is a bit tough’. It was my hand.

“The doctor said I had to go to hospital, which was a bit of panic stations, but it was fine. He sewed me up straight away.

“I had to bandage it during the game and it kept coming off which was a bit annoying, but it’s fine now.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.