England and Wales will head for New Zealand in October as the world champions host the sport’s elite teams in the inaugural WXV tournament.

World Rugby has confirmed the venues and dates for the new three-tier competition, which seeks to increase “the competitiveness, reach and impact” of the 15-a-side women’s game across the globe.

Eighteen teams will take part in the event, with the top six battling it out in WXV 1 in New Zealand across three weekends on October 21 and 28 and November 4, the next six contesting WXV 2 in South Africa on October 14, 21 and 28, and WXV 3 using the same dates but with the venue dependent on the nations qualifying.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “We made a pledge at a spectacular Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand to accelerate the advancement of the women’s game.

“Much progress is being made at rapid pace and today we are marking another milestone with confirmation of the dates and venues for the inaugural WXV competition.

“With women and girls leading our strategy to grow the sport on a global basis, this competition will increase the reach and impact of the sport and drive the overall competitiveness of women’s international rugby as we look forward to an expanded 16-team Rugby World Cup 2025 in England and subsequent Rugby World Cups in Australia in 2029 and USA in 2033.”

Beaten World Cup finalists England, France and Wales have already booked their places in WXV 1, while Scotland and Ireland will participate in WXV 2 and WXV 3 respectively.

The World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023 will determine the remaining three teams in WXV 1 and one team in WXV 2, with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States contesting the competition featuring the top two teams in Oceania and North America.

WXV will comprise two sides from Europe and one each from Asia, Oceania, Africa and South America.

Each division in the annual tournament will be played out as a cross-pool format, with promotion and relegation – although not for the first two years leading up to the 2025 World Cup – adding spice.

Former England captain Sarah Hunter is confident the competition will help raise standards globally and hone teams for World Cup battle.

Hunter said: “To know that when you look at the calendar as England – and having recently played for England – that you’ll be playing some of the best teams in the world, it can only make you better, and to know that it’s not just every four years you get that opportunity to do so.

“I just think it’s a really exciting concept, that every year you’re going to be playing in one of the toughest competitions there is.”

Chris Gunter will join the Wales staff as a national team development coach after announcing his retirement from playing at the end of the season.

Gunter was part of Rob Page’s coaching team for European Championship qualifiers against Croatia and Latvia in March, and his new part-time role will provide support for young Wales players as they transition into senior football.

The 33-year-old will take up the role following AFC Wimbledon’s final game of the Sky Bet League Two season at Grimsby on Monday.

“After taking some time for consideration, I’m announcing my retirement from professional football at the end of the season,” Gunter wrote on social media.

“I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to have enjoyed the highs and lows of the past 17/18 years.

“Over 700 games have brought many challenges and opportunities which through all of it I’ve always given my absolute all.

“I feel ready and excited for the next chapter of my career. I’m hugely thankful to the FAW, and Rob Page especially.

“Having completed my coaching badges, I will begin my new role from the summer.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to work alongside Rob and the staff.”

Gunter won 109 caps for Wales, a figure surpassed only in the men’s game by Gareth Bale’s 111 appearances.

He became the first Wales men’s player to win a century of caps in March 2021.

Newport-born Gunter made over 600 appearances at club level for Cardiff, Tottenham, Nottingham Forest, Reading, Charlton and AFC Wimbledon.

New Zealander John Mitchell has been named as the new head coach of the England women’s team.

Mitchell, who has had two spells on the coaching team with England’s men’s side in a lengthy career, is currently defence coach for the Japan men’s side and will take up his new role after the Rugby World Cup later this year.

Mitchell succeeds Simon Middleton, whose trophy-laden eight-year spell ended with another Six Nations Grand Slam last weekend.

He said on englandrugby.com: “The Red Roses have set an incredible standard and foundation for women’s rugby, being the most successful team in the Six Nations, which is a tremendous achievement.

“We now have the opportunity to build on this, mature in key areas and become a truly champion side that can rightfully contest for the World Cup in 2025.

“I would like to honour the hugely supportive Red Roses fans with successful performances as we work towards winning and selling out Twickenham Stadium for the Rugby World Cup in 2025.”

The black mark on Middleton’s reign was two World Cup final defeats to New Zealand and Mitchell’s main target will be to claim the prize on home soil in two years’ time.

Louis Deacon will keep his role as forwards coach and will be acting head coach until Mitchell joins while England’s most capped player and former captain, Sarah Hunter, has been appointed to the role of transition coach, working with the senior team and upcoming players.

Lou Meadows has been promoted from her role as under-20s head coach to attack coach for the senior team, with Charlie Hayter becoming head of women’s performance.

Executive director of performance rugby, Conor O’Shea, said: “We are thrilled to be welcoming John back to England Rugby together with Louis, Charlie, Sarah and Lou.

“This will be a formidable coaching team to take the Red Roses to the next stage in their development.”

Exeter winger Jodie Ounsley will swap Premier 15s rugby for life as ‘Fury’ on the TV series Gladiators.

The Dewsbury-born 22-year-old, the first deaf player to represent England’s sevens side, has been cast on the BBC’s rebooted version of the show, which will be screened later this summer.

Former Loughborough University student Ounsley, who had a cochlear implant as a young child, is also a former British Brazilian jiu-jitsu title-holder and a five-time World Coal Carrying champion.

She told BBC Sport: “I’m buzzing. Watching Gladiators growing up, I was always in awe of their strength and power and now I am one.

“I hope contenders are ready to feel the ‘Fury’.”

Ounsley was unveiled as one of the first two Gladiators on the BBC’s The One Show on Wednesday night alongside ‘Steel’, CrossFit athlete Zack George, who won the title of the UK’s Fittest Man in 2020.

The series was first screened in Britain in 1992 on ITV, with contestants from the general public competing against Gladiators in a series of events that test speed, stamina and strength.

Gladiators ran on ITV until early 2000 and was revised by Sky for two series in 2008 and 2009.

The BBC’s revamped version will be hosted by Bradley and Barney Walsh and filming is scheduled to begin in Sheffield in June.

Ounsley was voted Deaf Sports Personality of the Year in 2018 and was included in the GB Women rugby sevens provisional squad for the 2020 Olympics.

She has scored two tries in six appearances for the Chiefs, who are top of the Premier 15s table, making her debut in November last year after joining from Sale the previous summer.

Her father Phil, a former professional mixed martial artist, appeared as a contestant on Gladiators in 2008.

Wales international Joe Hawkins is “gutted” to miss out on the World Cup after prioritising his “professional development, personal development and financial security” by agreeing to join Exeter.

The 20-year-old centre – who will join the Chiefs from Ospreys at the end of the season – said he has been deemed ineligible to play for his country, with his five caps falling short of the 25 required by the Welsh Rugby Union for players playing outside Wales.

However, Hawkins has insisted he had little choice with no contract on offer in his native country, and claimed he was previously being “underpaid”.

He said in a statement on his social media accounts: “Gaining my first cap for Wales in the Autumn Internationals was an incredibly proud day for my family and I, and continuing to wear the Welsh jersey in the Six Nations fulfilled a childhood dream of mine.

“Unfortunately, I have been deemed ineligible to play for Wales and the opportunity to play in the World Cup is no longer a possibility. I wish the boys and staff the best of luck and I am truly gutted I can’t share this journey with them.

“I want to acknowledge that by signing for the Exeter Chiefs, my first professional contract, I have fully prioritised my rugby career. I have done so with my professional development, personal development and financial security in mind.

“The turbulent period in Welsh rugby, where there were no contracts on offer in Wales, put all out-of-contract players under pressure. Witnessing the number of players currently out of a job in Wales has reinforced my decision.

“Further, while I have spent the last three years playing professional rugby, and later, international rugby, I have been held to an ‘academy contract’, being significantly underpaid.”

Hawkins was not included in Warren Gatland’s 54-man preliminary World Cup training squad when it was announced on Monday, but has vowed to use his time in England to fulfil his potential.

He said: “As a passionate rugby player, my ultimate goal is to fulfil my potential for both my club and country, despite this being put on hold for now.

“However, I am very grateful and excited to focus on next season with my new club. I am determined to work hard and achieve success with my new team-mates at Sandy Park over the coming years.”

Rugby chiefs have sealed a multi-million partnership deal which will help to bring more women into the game on and off the pitch as they attempt to seize a potentially pivotal moment.

World Rugby has announced a three-year arrangement with global insurance brokerage Gallagher, the official title partner of Premiership Rugby.

Under the deal, Gallagher becomes an official partner of women’s rugby and Rugby World Cup 2025, WXV – the new, three-tier annual global women’s competition featuring 18 teams – in 2023 and 2024, and a founding partner of a new High Performance Academy aimed at increasing the prominence of females in coaching and other roles within the game.


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The initiative comes days after a record crowd of 58,498 watched England beat France 38-33 to win a fifth consecutive Tik Tok Six Nations title, and six months after 42,579 spectators packed into Eden Park to see New Zealand defeat the Red Roses in the World Cup final.

Speaking from the company’s Chicago headquarters, where she was joined by former England captain Sarah Hunter and three-times World Cup winner Kendra Cocksedge, both brand ambassadors, World Rugby’s head of women’s rugby Sally Horrox said: “We should recognise that it’s a moment in time.

“It’s come six months on the back of a record-breaking World Cup, so for me it’s that momentum and people acknowledging and recognising the value and the potential of the game on more than just one occasion when a World Cup comes around.

“But I would hate people to think it just happened overnight. It’s been building for a while, but with that sort of visibility and fans buying tickets, then people start to recognise value; that unlocks fans and revenue which then unlocks investment which means it does kick us on to a new place.

“That’s what ground-breaking attendances like that more regularly can do for the game – as well as just allowing women like Sarah and Kendra and the people that are following them just to have the right level of attention and the showcase that they deserve as brilliant athletes, which shouldn’t ever forget that.”

World Rugby has set a target of having 25 per cent of all coaching and performance roles with the 16 teams at the 2025 World Cup filled by women, one which Horrox admits is “very, very ambitious”.

Hunter, who retired as a player in March having amassed a record 141 international caps, has seen huge change since her early days in the game, but knows that is only a start.

She said: “There are more females involved in domestic rugby across the world; our next step is to try to get more of those females into that international space.

“You look at Gaelle Mignot over in France, but she’s one of too few that we have, so we want to try to accelerate that and just create a really inclusive landscape for women to want to come and be involved in the game.

“That’s the big thing we need to do, we need to make it a place that women have the confidence to come. There are so many great female leaders out there and it’s just saying, ‘Actually, no you are good enough and actually, you do belong at that level in this game’.

“Hopefully this is what this programme will do.”

Scotland forward Jonny Gray is in serious danger of missing the Rugby World Cup after dislocating his kneecap.

Gray sustained the injury during Exeter’s 47-28 Heineken Champions Cup semi-final defeat by La Rochelle on Sunday.

“It’s relatively serious without being the worst it could be,” said Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter.

“From what I’ve been told unless the operation goes exceptionally well and his recovery is exceptionally quick, I would say he is very doubtful for the World Cup.

“It’s a patella tendon injury, he’s dislocated his kneecap.

“Fortunately the other major ligaments within the knee are all stable.

“It’s a relatively complex patella tendon injury, which is going to require surgery this week, and there’s a relatively long period of rehab

“We are hopeful to have him back fairly early next season, especially with the Premiership starting late next year with the World Cup first.”

Second-row Gray, 29, has won 77 caps for Scotland and his absence from the World Cup in France would be a huge blow for Gregor Townsend’s side.

Scotland start their World Cup campaign against defending champions South Africa in Marseille on September 10.

Pool B also includes Six Nations Grand Slam champions Ireland, Romania and Tonga.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has promised seven-times capped England prop Henry Thomas will “bring something different” to their preliminary World Cup training squad.

Montpellier tighthead Thomas, who has played for Sale and Bath in the Gallagher Premiership, was capped by England between 2013 and 2014 and has served World Rugby’s stand down period of three years to represent another country.

Thomas, 31, was the major selection surprise in Gatland’s 54-man training squad, which will be cut to 33 for the World Cup in France this September.

Scarlets loose head prop Wyn Jones – a British and Irish Lion in 2021 – and Exeter-bound Ospreys centre Joe Hawkins were notable absentees.

“He was involved last year with Montpellier winning the league and we think his experience will bring something different,” Gatland said of the Kingston upon Thames-born Thomas, who qualifies through his Welsh father.

“Jonathan Humphries (forwards coach) reached out and had a conversation with him about being potentially available.

“He was at Sale a number of years ago, they saw him as the big thing and had a lot of time at Bath before moving onto Montpellier.

“You’ve got to be pretty tough to play up front in France given how big some of the forwards are there.

“You’ve got to bring a physical element and be strong at the set-piece. He has also got some good ball-carrying ability and is pretty mobile getting around the park.

“We think he will give us some competition in the front row. He’s been around, so he will hopefully come in and make an impression.”

Jones was omitted from the World Cup less than two years after playing for the Lions in South Africa, while the five-times capped Hawkins has fallen foul of the Welsh Rugby Union’s 25-cap policy following his move to Devon.

Players who play outside Wales must have 25 caps to represent their country, the number having been reduced from 60 in February.

Thomas is not caught under the rule as he has yet to play for Wales, but he would have to return to play in the country after his current Montpellier deal expires should he be capped in the meantime.

On Hawkins’ exclusion, Gatland said: “He’s made his decision to go to Exeter and I’ve spoken to him two or three times.

“We told him he was a big part of our future and definitely in the 23, either in the midfield or at 10.

“We are disappointed that he’s made that decision. He feels at the moment that going to play club rugby in England will be good for his development.

“He felt that he was potentially undervalued a little bit. He’s been offered a pretty significant deal and he’s made that decision to move on.

“I’ve got to respect that decision but, from a coaching perspective, we’re disappointed to lose someone of his potential and his talent at least for the next few years.”

Dragons forward Will Rowlands, who has agreed to join French club Racing 92 next season, has been included despite having only 23 caps to his name.

Rowlands’ registration will remain in Wales during the summer and Gatland’s side have three World Cup warm-up games in August that could take him to the threshold required.

“The PRB (Professional Rugby Board) have said that Will Rowlands is eligible,” Gatland said.

“He’s still with the Dragons until the end of the year. He might get a couple more games which would make him eligible from the point of the 25-cap rule.”

Ten uncapped players have been named in the squad, among them Cardiff prop Corey Domachowski, who is preferred to Jones.

Veterans include Alun Wyn Jones – who is set to play at his fifth World Cup – Taulupe Faletau, George North and Leigh Halfpenny, who has 99 caps and was released by the Scarlets at the end of the season.

Hooker Ken Owens led Wales in this season’s Guinness Six Nations Championship, but Gatland has not named a World Cup captain at this stage.

Wales have omitted Joe Hawkins from their preliminary World Cup training squad.

Ospreys centre Hawkins has been capped five times since making his international debut last November, but doubts were cast over the 20-year-old’s eligibility following his decision to join Exeter next season.

Hawkins falls short of the 25-cap clause for players plying their trade outside Wales, and the Welsh Rugby Union had to decide whether he signed a contract with Exeter prior to making his debut.

If he had done, Hawkins would still be eligible for international rugby because he was an uncapped player.

Forward Will Rowlands has been named in a 54-player strong training squad for this autumn’s event in France.

Rowlands, who will leave the Dragons for Paris-based Racing 92 in December, has won 23 caps and could reach the qualifying mark in pre-World Cup friendlies against England and South Africa.

There was no room for Scarlets prop Wyn Jones, who was part of the British and Irish Lions squad in 2021, while Ospreys centre Owen Watkin also misses out.

Ten uncapped players have been named in the squad, including Montpellier prop Henry Thomas who won seven caps for England, with his last appearance coming in 2014.

Cory Hill has also been called up following the recent change in the selection criteria on exiled players.

The 31-year-old – who can play at lock or blindside – earned his last Wales cap in 2021 and currently plies his trade for the Yokohama Canon Eagles in Japan.

Leigh Halfpenny, who is due to leave Scarlets at the end of the season, is named in the squad alongside Gareth Anscombe, who missed the Six Nations through injury.

Anscombe faces competition at outside-half from Dan Biggar and Owen Williams, while Sam Costelow has also been named.

Wales will start their World Cup campaign against Fiji in Bordeaux on September 10, with their pool also consisting of Australia, Georgia and Portugal.

Wales’ preliminary training squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup

Forwards: Rhys Carre, Corey Domachowski, Kemsley Mathias, Nicky Smith, Gareth Thomas, Eliott Dee, Ryan Elias, Dewi Lake, Ken Owens, Keiron Assiratti, Tomas Francis, Will Davies-King, Dillon Lewis, Henry Thomas, Adam Beard, Ben Carter, Rhys Davies, Cory Hill, Dafydd Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Will Rowlands, Christ Tshiunza, Teddy Williams, Taine Basham, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Josh Macleod, Jac Morgan, Tommy Reffell, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright.

Backs: Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Rhys Webb, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Dan Biggar, Sam Costelow, Owen Williams, Mason Grady, Max Llewellyn, George North, Joe Roberts, Nick Tompkins, Johnny Williams, Keiran Williams, Josh Adams, Alex Cuthbert, Rio Dyer, Cai Evans, Leigh Halfpenny, Louis Rees-Zammit, Tom Rogers, Liam Williams.

Jack Dempsey has hailed head coach Franco Smith’s impact on Glasgow after the Warriors reached their first European final.

With the season well and truly at its business-end, Glasgow are also chasing United Rugby Championship honours and face a play-off clash against Munster at Scotstoun next Saturday.

And their trophy double bid underlines the effect South African Smith has had during his first season in charge.

“Since day one when Franco came in, there has been something kind of growing,” Glasgow and Scotland back-row forward Dempsey said.

“And whether you are an amateur player or a professional player or whatever it is, that is something which hits you.

“Franco has got plaudits for various things, but the biggest thing was building that depth so that there were opportunities for guys like Matt Fagerson and myself to be managed correctly.

“There are no real excuses. We are just rolling now and picking ourselves up week to week.

“Franco is smart around the training loads as well, and he knows that going into these big games that we are not going to get heaps fitter at this stage of the season by working really hard.

“It is too late for that. At the end of the season, you are either fit or you’re not, so he is managing us well.”

Glasgow have emulated Edinburgh eight years ago in booking a Challenge Cup final place – the Warriors will head to Dublin on May 19 – but they were pushed all the way by the Scarlets in Llanelli.

The home side, roared on by a 13,000 crowd – their biggest home attendance since they knocked La Rochelle out of the Champions Cup in 2018 – led 14-7 at half-time.

Bur Glasgow dug deep, scoring 28 points after the break and claiming a 35-17 victory as centre Stafford McDowall scored two tries, while scrum-half George Horne, flanker Rory Darge and replacement hooker Johnny Matthews also touched down.

Dempsey added: “There have been ups and downs, but this is something I think we deserve because of the way everyone has worked for each other.

“To get that result, in a pretty hostile environment, it just adds another layer to the story.

“That’s what the whole point is of getting experience on big stages – you never know what is going to be thrown at you – and I think the second half showed what we are made of.

“We could easily have folded, gone into our shell and blamed it on a learning experience and had a look to next year, but we dug deep and went back to what makes us a great team, and we pulled it out in the end.

“We have been comfortable the last three or four weeks when we’ve had all home games, so the curve ball this week was the hostile environment when you can’t hear your own lineout calls, for example, and it makes it challenging in other ways.

“You take confidence in the fact that you haven’t lost in a while, but I think the game was a bit of a shock to the system and a wake-up call for the boys to see that in big moments this is what it takes.

“We saw that it can slip through your fingers when we went 14-7 down, and there is a price to pay if you are not switched on.”

Abby Dow insists England are happy to continue building support on the road despite drawing a record crowd to Twickenham for Saturday’s Grand Slam triumph over France.

The Red Roses clinched a fifth consecutive Tik Tok Six Nations title after toppling their biggest rivals in the Championship 38-33 with 58,498 watching from the stands – the highest total recorded for a woman’s game.

It has raised the possibility of selling out the ground before the Rugby Football Union’s target of attracting a full house for the 2025 World Cup final.

But Dow, who scored the opening try against France, believes there is still great value in playing at club venues such as Kingston Park and Franklin’s Gardens, which were used earlier in the tournament.

“One thing we are really trying to work on as a team is making our own brand and making something that is actually viable,” the 25-year-old Harlequins wing said.

“At the end of the day, professional rugby is about the financial situation as well. Yes we can get 58,000 people coming down to Twickenham, but that’s for Le Crunch.

“We need to get that consistently for every single Six Nations game. When we get that, that’s when we can actually bring it to Twickenham.

“But what we are doing now by going across the country is inspiring people throughout the country, which is something we don’t quite get to see as much with the men’s team. We are more than happy to continue doing that as well.

“Women’s rugby – you’ve heard it for the last five years that we are on the up and no-one ever quite believed it, but now people are really starting to believe.

“Now we are breaking those targets and if we can do it (sell out Twickenham) before the World Cup then that would be incredible.”

Simon Middleton celebrated a triumphant finale in his final match as head coach – a role he has held since 2015.

“We’ve had some great successes and we’ve had some failures and that’s sport. This game typified everything,” Middleton said.

“When you looked around the stadium and saw 58,498 people, the energy in he ground, I couldn’t have been prouder. This is a good place to step out.”

Rob Baxter accepts that Exeter will need to get “an awful lot right” when they tackle Heineken Champions Cup holders La Rochelle in this season’s semi-finals.

But Exeter will arrive at the 42,000-capacity Mahmut Atlantique stadium in Bordeaux on Sunday determined to underline their own rich European pedigree.

The 2020 champions are England’s sole survivors, having won five out of six games in Europe this season, including a gripping last-16 success against French champions Montpellier.

And they have got there despite patchy domestic form that undermined their Gallagher Premiership play-off bid as Chiefs missed out behind confirmed semi-finalists Saracens, Sale, Leicester and Northampton.

Exeter beat La Rochelle home and away during their 2019-20 Champions Cup-winning campaign, but the last-four represents Chiefs’ best European run since then.

La Rochelle, in contrast, lifted the trophy last term and were runners-up 12 months before that, confirming their status as strong favourites this weekend.

“They are a good team, and we are going to have to get an awful lot right and be massively resilient,” Exeter rugby director Baxter said.

“They are going to land shots, and we just have to get up and get on with stuff and not get hurt by any one thing that happens. That consistent level of intensity across 80 minutes is always the key in big games.

“We are going very much to overturn the tables, which is a nice challenge for us and one we should be relishing and looking to enjoy.

“We’ve got a pretty good record against French teams, and we’ve got to back ourselves with that a little bit and get on with stuff. We’ve got some good firepower in the team.

“We went to La Rochelle and won in our cup-winning year and we won in Castres this season. Occasions in France are brilliant – players love them, they are incredible experiences.

“I think you either thrive on the atmosphere, or you don’t. Every game has an ebb and flow around it, and you have got to stick in there sometimes for a long time before you get the benefits of scores.”

Sunday’s clash could be the final European game in Exeter colours for players like brothers Joe and Sam Simmonds, who are moving to France next term, England wing Jack Nowell – a major target for La Rochelle – and retiring Scotland star Stuart Hogg.

So the lure of a possible Champions Cup final appointment with Leinster or Toulouse in Dublin on May 20 cannot be underestimated for numerous reasons.

Baxter added: “We’ve got a collection of very good players. There is a lot of international quality in our team.

“The team we take over has got plenty of caps in it, plenty of players who have won important games.

“It is a big game for the club. It feels like a very tight group that is working very hard to make this game successful.

“That is the key, that is how you look after each other, whether you are staying or going, and it feels like we have got that kind of vibe around the place at the moment.

“They are going to come at us, and there are going to be times when we are going to have to weather it, stick together and hold our discipline, hold our work-rate and not take a breath.

“You stay in the fight when it is their moments, and then you take yours when it is your time. There is no way of dressing it up.”

England will welcome Tonga for a historic three-match Test series in October and November.

The contests, which will be played at St Helens on October 22, Huddersfield six days later and Headingley the following week, will mark a maiden international series between the two countries.

It is understood the initial plan was to invite New Zealand over and while that fell through, England head coach Shaun Wane, leading the side on Saturday for the first time since last November’s World Cup semi-final loss to Samoa when they take on France, insisted Tonga will pose a formidable challenge.

“Throughout my time as England head coach I have said we need to challenge ourselves against the best sides the international game has to offer – and Tonga are certainly one of those,” Wane said.

“They’ve been a real success story on the international stage in recent years, building on their exploits at the 2017 World Cup, and they will offer a real test.

“It’s also a great opportunity for us to get three high-quality Test matches under our belt as we continue to push towards the next World Cup in 2025.”

England were given a stiff test when they last played Tonga, who with seven minutes remaining in their 2017 World Cup semi-final trailed 20-0 before running in 18 points to set up a grandstand finish.

England held on to secure a 20-18 victory at Auckland while Tonga pushed eventual runners-up Samoa all the way in last year’s World Cup before going down by an identical scoreline in their quarter-final at Warrington.

Head coach Kristian Woolf is not underestimating how significant the series against England is for Tonga, who have recorded wins over Australia and Great Britain in recent years.

“There is no doubt that this is another historic moment for Tongan Rugby League,” Woolf said.

“This will be the first time one of the Pacific Nations has been invited to play in a full three-Test series against England, in the place where our great game began.

“It is easy to forget that this is an honour usually only reserved for countries like Australia and New Zealand.

“I know our players are excited by this challenge, and are also keen to go back to England to try and prove what we can do in the northern hemisphere. We feel we did not showcase our best at last year’s World Cup, and this will be an opportunity for Tonga to correct that.”

Wales appointed Gareth Jenkins as their new head coach, replacing Mike Ruddock who resigned from the post earlier in the year, on this day in 2006.

Ruddock had won the Grand Slam with Wales a year earlier, but was succeeded by Jenkins, who signed a two-year contract to incorporate the 2007 World Cup.

Wales Rugby Union chairman David Pickering was part of a five-man panel that recommended Jenkins for the position.

Pickering said: “What shone through for us was Gareth’s fantastic passion and vision for the game. He is a coach of the highest calibre and he has had success over many years with Llanelli.

“We, as a board, are absolutely delighted. He is the right man at the right time to take Wales forward. We went out to seek the best man for the job – it is what we said from day one – and we know we have got the best person for the job.”

A firm favourite of the Welsh supporters, Jenkins enjoyed success with Llanelli and was assistant Wales coach when they were crowned 1994 Five Nations champions.

Additionally, he helped Ian McGeechan mould an unbeaten midweek team during the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

However, Jenkins’ reign in charge lasted just 20 Tests, winning only six games before his dismissal in September 2007 following a disappointing World Cup campaign.

Wales had beaten Canada and Japan in their group, but lost their decisive match against Fiji, meaning they did not reach the quarter-finals of the competition.

Following Jenkins’ departure, Warren Gatland was then appointed as Wales boss and immediately led the side to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2008.

England wing Jack Nowell has been fined £10,000 for criticising referee Karl Dickson in a tweet during Exeter Chiefs' hammering at Leicester Tigers last Sunday.

Dickson sent Olly Woodburn off and awarded a penalty try for his tackle on Chris Ashton as the flyer attempted to finish in the corner.

Nowell made his feelings about that decision crystal clear as he was forced to watch on as a spectator rather than play at Welford Road.

He posted on social media: "I'm actually in shock, like shock shocked. What the hell is happening? That's one of the worst decisions I've ever seen. EVER."

Nowell later deleted his post, but found himself in front of an independent disciplinary panel on Wednesday, charged with committing conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game.

He accepted his conduct was prejudicial and was fined £10,000, while he was also directed to undertake a referees' course. 

World Rugby confirmed that Dickson had correctly applied the law.


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