Owen Farrell has received the full backing of England head coach Steve Borthwick after deciding to take a break from international rugby to prioritise his and his family’s mental health.

It means that England captain Farrell, who has led England at the last two World Cups and won 112 caps, will not be available for this season’s Six Nations Championship.

In his absence – no date has been announced for a Test return – and following the international retirement of Courtney Lawes, Bristol prop Ellis Genge is a probable successor as skipper.

George Ford would be favourite to take Farrell’s fly-half role for the Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on February 3, with Marcus Smith also a contender.

Borthwick said: “Everyone at England Rugby is fully behind Owen’s decision.

“Since making his debut, he has been an integral part of the England set-up for over a decade, and the demands on elite athletes are extremely challenging.

“He is an exemplary player, captain and leader and always gives his all for his country.

“It is with typical courage that Owen has made this decision to open up in this manner.

“Together with all of us at England Rugby, I will do everything I can to ensure that he has the support he requires going forward.”

In a statement announcing the surprise – and sobering – development, Farrell’s club Saracens said: “Owen Farrell has decided to take a break from international rugby in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being.

“This means he will not be available for selection for the 2024 Six Nations.

“He will continue to play for Saracens and captain the club.

“As always, Owen will have the full support of everyone at the club.”

The Rugby Players’ Association, meanwhile, added: “Owen Farrell has the unconditional support of everyone at the RPA.

“He is a leader and figurehead in the English game, but is also an individual, husband and father. His well-being comes first, and we will support him in every way we can, going forward.”

Farrell led England to a third-place World Cup finish in France last month, but the tournament build-up proved far from plain-sailing for him.

He was sent off in a World Cup warm-up game against Wales, only for an independent disciplinary panel to cause an outcry when it cleared him following a shoulder-led tackle to the head of Wales forward Taine Basham, which was expected to result in a significant ban.

World Rugby then appealed that decision, and he received a four-match ban that included England’s opening two World Cup fixtures against Argentina and Japan.

Farrell’s father – Ireland head coach Andy Farrell – labelled media coverage of the episode “a circus”, while Borthwick said in August: “The commentary around it seems to move from an issue around the tackle to personal attacks on the character of the man, which I think is just wrong.”

Farrell, 32, was subjected to considerable attacks on social media, and at times during the World Cup he was booed by sections of the crowd during England games.

Having made his England debut in 2012, Farrell has amassed an England record 1,237 points, recently overtaking Jonny Wilkinson.

He captained England at the World Cup in the 2019 and 2023 tournaments and has also featured on three British and Irish Lions tours.

England captain Owen Farrell will not be available for this season’s Six Nations Championship after deciding to take a break from international rugby.

In a statement, Farrell’s club Saracens said his decision had been made “in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being”.

Saracens added that 32-year-old Farrell would continue to play for them and captain the Gallagher Premiership club.

Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter has urged football’s law-makers to be careful after they agreed that sin-bins should be trialled at higher levels of the sport.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has supported the move following a successful implementation in the grassroots game.

Temporary dismissals of players for offences such as dissent and specific tactical fouls were backed by IFAB at its annual business meeting.

Sin-bins have been used in rugby for more than 20 years, and they were introduced across all levels of grassroots football from the 2019-20 season in an attempt to improve levels of respect and fair play in the game.

“I will be honest with you, I am very surprised football are doing it,” said Baxter, who is one of the English game’s most respected voices.

“I was a bit surprised when football went to VAR, and I am not sure how much they realised they were letting the genie out of the bottle.

“We are meddlers in sport, and rugby is the worst of the lot. We have actually realised we want less TMO (television match official) intervention, the international game is saying we need less TMO intervention.

“All the commentators and ex-professional footballers are saying we need way less VAR interference, and if it does happen it has to happen quickly and the crowd need to know what it is about because it is just causing mayhem in big games.

“Once you start the process it is very hard to stop tinkering with it. They are tinkering with it all the time.

“One of the things that football has always had as its strength is that everyone can explain the rules within five minutes to your average new supporter and they will get it.

“My advice to football would be just be careful. Do you think you genuinely need it to improve player behaviour?

“Or do penalties, free-kicks and yellow cards as they stand, which can escalate to reds for a double yellow, have they got the sanctions already within their game to control player behaviour and they just haven’t been using them?

“That is what I see in football. They have got the sanctions available in their game, so use them. For player abuse you only need to do it in one or two games and things change very quickly.

“Introducing yellow cards and removing players from the pitch is something I would be very careful of.”

Baxter warned against the danger of quick fixes, and believes rugby has had its share of problems in this area.

“We have been guilty of starting processes without thinking about the repercussions,” he added. “We think they are quick-fixed, and actually are they?

“The big debate on the football radio this morning was to get rid of VAR completely because they don’t want two-minute stoppages while someone decides if it was a handball or not.

“We brought that into rugby and realise we’ve pushed it to the Nth degree. You have got to be careful with the card thing.

“When you start to say that taking players off the pitch is your way of controlling player behaviour, you’ve got to be careful about when you want to limit it.

“We brought it in the right way because it was for repeat infringements on the whole. It was something that was required in rugby to stop repeat, repeat, repeats in a cynical way.

“We’ve gone through the period of realising that taking players off the pitch at every available opportunity is not necessarily the way to create a good game.”

England international Zach Mercer has bought an oxygen chamber for his home as part of the recovery process from an ankle injury.

Mercer, who joined Gloucester from Montpellier earlier this year, has not played since late October, missing the Gallagher Premiership club’s last four games.

But the 26-year-old number eight is leaving no stone unturned, and he could be back in action sooner rather than later.

Oxygen chamber use can assist in helping damaged tissue heal, and Gloucester head coach George Skivington said: “Zach is doing everything he can. He has bought an oxygen chamber for his house.

“It is out of Zach’s own pocket and his own commitment to getting fit.

“He has definitely shown his level of commitment and professionalism over the last five weeks in how he is approaching his rehab.

“He is really motivated, he is a very smart rugby guy and he wants to be the best.

“It has not surprised me, but it is still nice to see when someone you have invested in has that level of commitment and is that hungry to get back.”

Mercer, flanker Ruan Ackermann and fly-half Adam Hastings are among the Gloucester players currently sidelined.

But Skivington says there are “positive shoots” in terms of them returning to action as Gloucester target overturning poor Premiership results.

They have lost their last five league games, dropping to ninth in the Premiership after an encouraging start produced victories over Harlequins and Newcastle.

They face west country rivals Bristol at Ashton Gate on Saturday, and Skivington added: “I would take a win however it came. It is not the start we wanted to the season.

“I think the frustration for us as a group is that every game we have done some things really well and we have just dropped off in other areas. At the back end of games we have had some poor moments.

“We are not making any excuses, we don’t come in and try to dance around it. We are very honest as a group.

“I understand my job is to take the brunt of it, and I always will. I would never hide away from anything.

“I just stay focused, keep motivating the boys, keep trying to push the team on and I am confident it will come together.

“We’ve had lots of bumps and good times as a group over the last couple of years, so we are a pretty tight unit, and in these hard times that really shines through.

“No-one puts more pressure on me than me. You live and breathe the job. The pressure doesn’t really change because it is always there, and if you don’t want that on you then don’t be a director of rugby.”

Former England Women’s rugby union captain Sarah Hunter has said she is enjoying no longer “feeling beaten up and battered” in her retirement, as she was made a CBE for services to the sport.

The 38-year-old – England’s most capped player – said it is an “uncomfortable” feeling to be singled out for praise because rugby is the “ultimate team sport”.

Hunter, who won 138 caps and captained her side at the 2021 Rugby World Cup, was handed her CBE medal by the Prince of Wales at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Monday.

Hunter – who made her England debut in 2007 and was named World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year in 2016 – announced her retirement from international rugby earlier this year.

She has started a new chapter of her career as a coach with the England team, something she discussed with William.

She told the PA news agency: “He asked me what I’m doing now since I stopped playing.

“England Rugby have got me back in coaching to try and help the next generation of players come through.”

Hunter and William also discussed the Princess of Wales’s role as a patron of England Rugby, and the time two England players “threw her up in the line-out” during a visit, she said.

Asked about the secret to her long career, she said: “It’s probably just hanging on in there.

“As you get older it’s definitely around looking after your body. I was just driven to always be better every time I came off the field.

“I’ve been part of so many wonderful teams, it’s pretty hard to leave and say goodbye, but I guess everything has to end at some point.”

She continued: “It’s such an honour. I started playing rugby for the love of it and never did I ever imagine that I’d be honoured in this way.

“It’s kind of strange for me because rugby is the ultimate team sport, so being recognised for an individual award is fairly uncomfortable.

“But it certainly ranks right up there in my achievements, I’m immensely proud.”

Asked if she was going to miss playing rugby, Hunter said: “Do you know what, I’m not. I actually enjoy not feeling beaten up and battered.

“I think that’s a really good sign that it was time to leave. I miss the camaraderie but I don’t miss being out there on the pitch.

“England Rugby have got me back in coaching to try and help the next generation of players come through.

“I’m starting on a new journey.”

Ben Curry’s greatest ambition in rugby is to play alongside twin brother Tom in England’s back row.

Ben, Sale’s captain for their home Gallagher Premiership clash with Bath on Friday night, has won five caps but each of them have come when Tom has been on British and Irish Lions duty or injured.

The World Cup and its programme of warm-up fixtures could have seen his dream realised only for hamstring surgery to rule him out of the tournament in France.

“The day I can’t play for England with Tom I would seriously consider my options because that’s one of the biggest things that motivates me,” Ben said.
“I’ve done it myself, by myself, but I want to do it with Tom. You talk about what are your goals for your career and that’s something that’s a goal of mine.”

The likelihood of Ben adding to his five caps in the Six Nations has increased after Tom was earlier this week ruled out for the rest of the season by hip surgery.

The identical twins live together near the AJ Bell Stadium and Tom’s setback will result in changes at home – once help has been sought from Sale fly-half George Ford.

“When I had my injury, Fordy knew someone who put me up in a hotel for two nights. I was in the night before and then the night after (the operation),” Ben said.

“So the first thing I told Tom was to text Fordy and get a hotel for two nights! You’ve just had surgery and you are lying in a hotel room with everyone doing stuff for you.

“On the back of that we are going to have to change rooms. We still live together, and he’s on the top floor and I’m on the second floor, so we might have to change rooms.

“I’m probably going to have to do a bit of stuff to help out, unfortunately!

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ben Curry (@bencurry98)

“The only bit of advice I’d give to him is to take the first few weeks to recover, not just physically but mentally.

 

“Take it for what it is, take your time away from the game so that when you come back, you properly go after it.

“It’s a good opportunity to get better, bigger, stronger, faster – all of those cliches.

“You’ve got five months at it, so it can make a difference to how he plays and also his longevity as well if he gets it right.”

Owen Farrell has returned from the World Cup with the hunger to prolong his career for as long as possible.

Farrell led England to a third-place finish in France following an agonising semi-final defeat by South Africa but, unlike a number of his international peer group, the 32-year-old has no intention of looking towards the finishing line.

Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes and Jonny May played their final Tests at the World Cup, while Dan Cole, Joe Marler, Danny Care and Manu Tuilagi are also close to signing off at the highest level.

But Farrell has raised the possibility that he could still be present for Australia 2027 as England enter a period of rebuilding.

“I love what I do, I’m passionate about it and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon,” the Saracens captain said at the season launch of the Investec Champions Cup at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“I’m unbelievably lucky to do something that I’m really passionate about and I want to play as long as it can if I’m still excited about what I am doing.

“The two go hand in hand because if you’re not excited then you won’t do what you want to do anyway, you won’t play for the teams that you want to play for and you won’t play to the standard that you want to.

“I wouldn’t sit down and set targets. But I also wouldn’t say they are not in the back of my head, quietly.

“I wouldn’t be one to say ‘I have written this down, this down and this down, this is what I want to achieve and this is what I am working for every day’. But they are there in the background.

“The exciting bit is what’s in front of us. Where you can take what you’ve been doing and how to get the best out of yourself. Hopefully there’s loads more of that.”

Farrell’s immediate aim is to help Saracens challenge for silverware on two fronts with the Gallagher Premiership already under way and their Champions Cup opening against the Bulls on December 9.

Saracens have won three European titles, their most recent coming in 2019, and the competition retains a special place in Farrell’s heart.

“When I was still at school and watching the rugby I couldn’t wait for the then Heineken Cup, now the Champions Cup,” the fly-half said.

“You’d sit there on a Friday night, then all day Saturday, all day Sunday, sometimes you didn’t move because there was just big game after big game.

“There is something about European games that make them bigger. These are games that teams look forward to and therefore end up putting their best out there on the field.

“There are a lot more big games, they sell out and the atmosphere changes a bit. I can’t quite put my finger on why but there are some European nights you’ve played in that are memorable.”

England’s dramatic final push for Rugby World Cup glory in Sydney 20 years ago had one of Clive Woodward’s favourite acronyms laced all the way through it.

Woodward loved his buzz words and phrases – “doing 100 things one per cent better than the opposition” was one particular stand-out – but nothing came close to ‘T-CUP’.

Thinking Correctly Under Pressure was at the very heart of England head coach Woodward’s all-conquering team, and they delivered a masterclass during a nerve-shredding climax that culminated in Jonny Wilkinson’s drop-goal for the ages.

Locked 17-17 with host nation Australia as the extra-time clock ticked down, England triumphed with what they knew would be their final scoring chance.

Lewis Moody received the ball at the back of a lineout, then Mike Catt ran at Australia’s defence and scrum-half Matt Dawson gained further vital ground by slicing through a gap before he was halted and became trapped at the bottom of a ruck.

Amid no sense of panic, though, England captain Martin Johnson carried possession on into a wall of gold Australian shirts, giving Dawson time to regain his position before his pass found Wilkinson, whose winning strike – from the fly-half’s weaker right foot – sailed between the posts.

“I’d had a couple of goes before which were very much pot-shots, having a dig almost,” Wilkinson told the PA news agency on the 10th anniversary of England’s World Cup triumph in 2013.

“But for this one I was thinking that because of where the guys had put me, I can’t miss. This must go over.

“I knew I had hit it in such a way that it wasn’t going to be the most powerful kick, but it was going to be accurate. I knew from fairly early on it was going over.

“It felt like a surreal, dream-like situation. I had to ask ‘is this really happening?'”

Mission accomplished meant that England became the first northern hemisphere nation to be crowned rugby union world champions, but measuring their success accurately requires a rewind to events before Woodward’s heroes even set foot in Australia.

During the four-year World Cup cycle between South African Jannie de Beer drop-kicking England out of the 1999 tournament and Wilkinson’s clincher, England played 40 Test matches – and lost only five.

New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and France were beaten away from home, England won all 20 games they played at Twickenham during that time and landed three out of four Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam just over six months before an opening World Cup appointment with Georgia in Perth.

If anyone still questioned England’s pedigree, they then removed all doubt about world title potential with victories over New Zealand in Wellington and Australia in Melbourne as the World Cup loomed.

For those of us there to witness every twist and turn, England’s World Cup campaign undoubtedly had its speed-bump moments – notably a major quarter-final scare provided by Wales in Brisbane before England prevailed 28-17 – but ultimately, defending world champions Australia, coached by Eddie Jones, stood between them and sporting immortality.

While the final might not have been a classic in pure rugby terms, its see-saw nature gripped an 82,957 audience inside Stadium Australia and millions watching on television worldwide, with home fans inspired by the Wallabies’ stonewall refusal to buckle.

They trailed 14-5 at half-time as Jason Robinson’s try highlighted English dominance, but Elton Flatley’s nerveless goalkicking kept Australia in contention and ensured extra time would be required.

Wilkinson’s fourth successful penalty put England back in front, only for Flatley to come up trumps once more, but even he ran out of time following a final English flourish with less than 30 seconds left.

At last, England could celebrate, not only on the night, but until Sunday sunrise and beyond as the full magnitude of their achievement dawned. The best team on the planet had won the World Cup.

More spectacular scenes awaited them at Heathrow and on a victory parade through central London as British sport basked in the glow generated by Woodward’s golden generation.

“We all said to ourselves before the game that we had to enjoy it, take it all in and remember it – because you probably won’t be back,” Leicester star Johnson recalled, as around 500 England supporters thronged the promenade outside England’s Manly beach-front hotel the day after the final.

“We were on the bus on the way back from the game last night. It was about 1.30-1.45 in the morning, the rain was coming down, it was pretty black and quiet, and we had no idea what was going on back home. I am sure we will find out when we get back.

“One similarity between Leicester and Sydney is that at five o’clock in the morning you couldn’t get a cab, and it was pouring with rain! So I had to walk home from where we were to my wife’s hotel. It took me about an hour.”

And with that, it was off to the World Rugby awards in downtown Sydney as the party continued – this time without a tea-cup in sight.

Winning the World Cup may be the highlight of Jason Robinson’s career but even two decades later the cross code star has yet to watch a rerun of England’s historic victory over Australia.

Robinson was a central figure in the 20-17 victory, showing his acceleration to outpace Wallabies Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor and touch down in the left corner shortly before half-time.

It was to be England’s only try on a gripping Sydney evening that was ultimately decided by Jonny Wilkinson’s drop-goal with 28 seconds of extra-time remaining.

Yet beyond snatched highlights showing the most compelling moments, Robinson relies on memory alone to shape his recollection of the pinnacle of English rugby history.

“I go to events and forever see the clips with me sliding in, Jonny’s kick and Johnno (Martin Johnson) lifting the trophy etc, but I’ve not watched the game,” Robinson told the PA news agency.

“All I’ve ever done is play a game and then it’s on to the next game, the next game, the next game. That’s how life has been. I’ve probably been conditioned not to get attached to any one game.

“Funnily enough my eight-year-old wants to watch the final so at some point I’m sure we’ll stick it on and watch it in full.

“Some games, you think they’re better than they are. And then you watch them and see that you weren’t that great! I might be seeing that in the 2003 game.”

It was far from the end of Robinson’s career and only a year later he became the first black man to captain England, with the last of his 51 caps won in the 2007 World Cup final defeat by South Africa.

The boots were eventually hung up in 2011 having paused retirement in order to play for lower league Fylde and while a spell in coaching was quickly aborted, he has continued to find work as a motivational speaker and brand ambassador.

For all that has happened since, however, it was that momentous night in 2003 that had the biggest impact on his own life while also touching a multitude of others.

“It was hard for your life not to change. You come back and see the impact that it’s made on grassroots sport and the impact it had on fans,” he said.

“You’re going to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace and getting honours. You go somewhere and can’t buy a pint – everyone wants to buy you a drink – and you’re not paying for restaurant bills.

“We had an exposure that we’d never had before and we were being recognised far more than ever before.

“That was good because it gave rugby a massive boost because it was the first time we’d won anything since 1966. It was fantastic for us as players and we got lots of opportunities off the back of it.

“There are very few days when someone doesn’t come to me and say ‘I remember where I was when…’

“And they start to tell the stories of what it meant to them and what they did as a result of it. That just shows that even 20 years on it’s still had such an impact, it’s been huge.

“Because it’s the 20th anniversary, I’m seeing a lot more of the boys. We’re doing a lot of stuff together and that’s been brilliant.

“When you get back together and start to reminisce, you learn stuff from each other even after 20 years – things like how you felt. It was a special time. The comeraderie is still strong.

“We are that special group to have won the World Cup and we’ll always be the first ones to have done it from the northern hemisphere. Winning it is the ultimate.”

Tom Curry will miss the entire Six Nations and most likely the rest of the season after Sale revealed he must undergo surgery to repair a hip injury.

Curry has been troubled by the issue since playing a full part in helping England finish third in the recent World Cup and a visit to a specialist confirmed that a clear out of the joint is the only option.

The 25-year-old flanker, an automatic pick for England when fit, will undergo the operation the week after next.

Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson said: “Tom has been back down to London to have further extensive x-rays under movement with a different consultant and this is the best thing for him in the short term.”

Ben Earl will be available for the start of England’s Six Nations campaign after Saracens received a positive update on his knee problem.

Earl sustained the injury to his right leg during the warm-up for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership victory over Harlequins and left The Stoop on crutches, raising concerns that he might be facing a lengthy spell out.

But a scan has revealed medial meniscus damage which has now been repaired and England’s star of the recent World Cup should be back in action for Saracens in January.

“Ben had a minor knee procedure this morning. We anticipate he’ll be out for between four to six weeks. Overall I think that would be a good result,” director of rugby Mark McCall said.

Eddie Jones was announced as England’s first ever overseas rugby union head coach on this day eight years ago.

The Australian took the role on a four-year deal starting in December 2015.

Jones, a former Australia and Japan coach, replaced Stuart Lancaster, who paid the price when England became the first host nation to be eliminated from the group stage in a dismal Rugby World Cup campaign.

As part of Jones’ negotiations with the Rugby Football Union, compensation had to be paid to the Stormers for the early release from his long-term contract with the Cape Town-based Super Rugby franchise.

“The opportunity to take the reins in possibly the world’s most high-profile international rugby job doesn’t come along every day,” said Jones, who had guided Japan to a remarkable victory over South Africa in their opening World Cup Pool B fixture.

“I’m now looking forward to working with the RFU and the players to move beyond the disappointment England suffered at the World Cup and hope to build a new team that will reflect the level of talent that exists within the English game.

“I believe the future is bright for England.”

Under Jones’ leadership, England went on to complete a first Grand Slam in 13 years as they claimed the 2016 Six Nations title and then secured a 3-0 Test series victory in Australia.

England beat New Zealand to reach the 2019 World Cup final in Japan, where they were defeated by South Africa, while they were also Six Nations champions in 2017 and 2020.

Jones was sacked in December 2022 after a poor run of results.

Former England international Ugo Monye was left “so fed up” after being subjected to the “most blatant racism” he has heard from a supporter as he left Sunday’s match between Exeter and Gloucester.

The 40-year-old ex-Harlequins player, now a pundit, said the incident occurred as he was leaving Sandy Park on Sunday afternoon following the Chiefs’ 25-24 Gallagher Premiership victory.

Monye wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that as he was leaving the stadium, one supporter running through crowd repeatedly shouted a racist insult. He added: “Disgraceful. Not a single person said a word, challenged or even reported it.

“He walks off after a mild scuffle and fans are now telling me ‘We’re with you’ B******S you’re with me. You weren’t with me when you saw and heard the most blatant racism I’ve seen from a supporter at a live game. So fed up.”

Exeter swiftly issued a statement vowing to investigate the matter and apologising to Monye.

It read: “In light of recent accusations regarding an incident of racist abuse at Sandy Park following the conclusion of our victory over Gloucester in the Gallagher Premiership, Exeter will be launching a full investigation.

“This behaviour will not be tolerated at our rugby club, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

“Our team will begin to review CCTV footage from the stadium immediately in an attempt to identify the individual in question and we would like to extend our sincerest apologies to Ugo Monye, a member of the rugby community that is highly respected by everyone at our club.

“If anyone has any information regarding this incident we would ask you to get in touch with the Chiefs as soon as you can.”

Premiership Rugby also offered support to Monye and urged anyone with information to come forward.

Its statement read: “Premiership Rugby is aware of the accusations of racist abuse suffered by Ugo Monye at Sandy Park following the Exeter match against Gloucester.

“Premiership Rugby offers our full support to Ugo Monye and we stand united with our clubs and players in the fight against racism. Racism has absolutely no place in our game or society.

“Exeter have launched a full investigation and we urge anyone with any information to come forward.”

Saracens absorbed the loss of three England stars to put Harlequins to the sword in a 38-10 Gallagher Premiership victory at The Stoop.

Ben Earl and Elliot Daly were lost to respective knee and hamstring injuries during the warm-up and just seconds into the game Alex Lozowski was forced off after twisting awkwardly when chasing down Marcus Smith.

The champions took the disruption in their stride, however, as they amassed six tries in a London derby that lacked the spite seen in recent years, with Harlequins far too submissive against the league’s best side.

Both teams’ World Cup players were on parade and it was Maro Itoje who stood out among them, the lock catching the eye with a couple of big runs but also proving a handful at close quarters.

Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt did little to impress England head coach Steve Borthwick, who was watching from the stands, but the fault for a meek Harlequins performance was hardly theirs alone.

Saracens’ pack was typically menacing from start to finish and they supplied the opening try as part of a frantic opening with the excellent Juan Martin Gonzalez driving over from short range.

The champions frequently shuttled the ball across the field and with some success, forcing Quins to scramble out wide.

When the home ruck defence had gone missing near the centre of the pitch, Saracens reacted in a flash with Andy Christie stampeding into space only for the supporting Ivan van Zyl to cut an awkward supporting line.

Quins were breached too easily again on the half-hour mark when a counter attack launched by Alex Goode was given legs by Itoje and a phase later Olly Hartley had barged over.

A line-out drive finished by Jamie George provided Saracens’ next try as the hosts continued to be overpowered up front and as they trudged off for half-time 19-3 behind, there was no obvious way back.

Their outlook continued to deteriorate as Christie added a maul try soon after the interval, registering the bonus point, but only once Itoje had staged a marauding run.

Smith was trying his best to inspire a revival, on one occasion using his footwork to weave into space, and it took a try-saving tackle from Alex Lewington to stop Quins from scoring.

Pressure was building on the Saracens line but they weathered the storm, advanced downfield and used a mixture of forward power and polished back play to cross through Tom Parton.

Lewington and Andre Esterhuizen exchanged tries and Saracens could have plundered one more late on but Tom Willis spilt the ball forward over the line following fine approach work by Gonzalez.

Exeter Chiefs captain Poppy Leitch wants her side to continue “moving in the right direction” as they prepare to compete in the inaugural Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby season.

PWR replaces the Premier 15s competition and starts on Saturday when Bristol Bears host Sale Sharks, while the Chiefs are in action against newcomers Leicester Tigers on Sunday.

The Chiefs will be aiming to bounce back from their Premiership final disappointment last season, where they lost 34-19 to Gloucester-Hartpury in June.

However, there is plenty still to cheer about for Exeter who have won two Allianz Cups and reached two consecutive league finals since their inception into the Premiership in 2020 – something Leitch admits is a “pinch yourself moment”.

“There are moments you have to pinch yourself to remind yourself about how far we’ve come in such a short period of time,” she told the PA news agency.

“But the exciting thing is, although we’ve had an exciting last three years, hopefully the next three years we have great player retention, people will still be playing at Sandy Park and these young faces playing in the cup and getting their Premiership debuts over the last couple of weeks are still very much part of Chiefs and we get that longevity of people’s careers while they represent what is such an amazing club.

“It’s a pinch yourself moment about how far we’ve come in a short period of time, but hopefully we continue to move in the right direction.”

Alongside playing for Chiefs, Leitch works as head coach of Exeter University Women’s Rugby Club and hopes that as the standard of Premiership rugby continues to improve players can eventually experience careers as professional athletes.

She said: “I think the next big thing is trying to get a large majority of players that are at Premiership clubs not on dual careers and being able to actually experience life as a proper female rugby professional athlete, which at the moment isn’t really the case across many of the squads.

“I suppose what drives me is probably how could you not try and get yourself into a Premiership environment that is the most up and coming, exciting women’s sport on the planet at the moment.

“I feel very fortunate to play in my hometown, I feel very fortunate to run out at Sandy Park, but I think the thing that kind of keeps you going when you work long hours then go to training and play high quality games at the weekend, is that everybody around you is challenging you to do better.

“I think that’s a really enticing part of the Premiership is each year the level of play increases massively, the standard increases massively and that in itself is usually motivating and engaging.”

Following their successful application to join PWR, Ealing Trailfinders are newcomers for this season and have made a number of top signings including England winger Abby Dow.

Canada’s Tyson Beukeboom is another of the new arrivals in west London and says the team are aiming to make their “own name”, kicking off with a home tie against Harlequins on Saturday.

“Being the underdog, which as a new team we’re going to be, kind of takes the pressure off,” Beukeboom told PA.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Trailfinders Women (@trailfinderswomen)

 

“There isn’t a ton of expectation for us so we’re out to make our own name and see what we can do, which I think maybe can create some pressure within ourselves but from the outside there isn’t a ton of that expectation. We’re just excited to see what we can do.

“(Joining Ealing has) been amazing so far, it’s really fun coming into a new team and seeing what our team culture turns out to be. Meeting a whole bunch of new players and creating that family environment within a team.

“I think everyone’s really bought in and (Director of Women’s Rugby) Giselle (Mather) has done a really good job of creating that environment to have a successful team culture.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.