Brodie Retallick has been banned for New Zealand's upcoming Tests against Wales and Scotland, but he is in contention to return against England.

The lock was dismissed for a dangerous clean-out on Kazuki Himeno in the second half of Saturday's 38-31 victory over Japan in Tokyo.

Speaking after that match, New Zealand head coach Ian Foster confirmed his side would look at contesting the red card.

An independent judicial committee handed Retallick a three-game ban on Tuesday, though that will be reduced by one game if he completes a coaching intervention programme.

The 31-year-old will therefore play no part against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday or Scotland in Edinburgh the following week, but he will be eligible to face England on November 19.

New Zealand, who retained their Rugby Championship title in September, have already lost hooker Dane Coles and skipper Sam Cane through injury against Japan.

Sam Whitelock will take over as captain after recovering from an inner ear problem.

Justin Tipuric has been named as Wales captain for the Autumn Nations Series next month.

The flanker takes over as skipper in the absence of Dan Biggar, who misses the Tests against New Zealand, Argentina, Georgia and Australia due to a knee injury.

Tipuric is relishing the opportunity to lead the side at Principality Stadium, where New Zealand will be their first opponents on November 5.

"I am honoured and didn't quite expect it, to be honest," said Tipuric.

The 33-year-old missed last season due to a shoulder injury but has returned to full fitness.

He added: "I am just happy to get back in the squad, and to have the responsibility of leading such a great bunch of boys on to the field is one of those definite highlights of your career.

"It's very exciting to be back at the stadium. You take it for granted not playing there for a while, and I guess when you're out of the game for a while, you look back on it and shows how much you do miss it.

"It's one of the big things that you miss in rugby, and it's something you want to make the most of, whether it's one more game or 10 more minutes left to play there."

Alun Wyn Jones was included in Wayne Pivac's squad but was not selected as captain due to not being a guaranteed starter.

Pivac on Tuesday called up hooker Bradley Roberts after Dewi Lake was ruled out with a shoulder injury.

Five years on from its last iteration - and a year after it was originally set to take place - the 2021 Rugby League World Cup kicks off this weekend when England face Samoa at St James' Park in Newcastle.

Shaun Wane's hosts will be one of 16 sides jockeying to be crowned the best national team on the planet, alongside holders Australia, world number one New Zealand and a host of other countries.

Set to run for just over a month, through to the final at Old Trafford on November 19, there are already plenty of narratives for what is shaping up to be one of the most enthralling tournaments the sport has ever seen.

With that in mind, Stats Perform is here to run down who will be gunning for the prize, who is likely to fall by the wayside - and who just might capture hearts and minds along the way.
 

The usual suspects

There have only been three nations who have ever laid their hands on the Paul Barriere Trophy - and you can expect the two of them in the competition this year to be in the mix once again.

Australia have won this tournament a record 11 times, and despite a dearth of international rugby for Mal Meninga's side since they last hoisted it aloft, the Kangaroos firmly remain the side to beat.

In Michael Maguire's New Zealand, they will likely face a familiar foe before the final.

Australia and New Zealand have been drawn in Group B and C respectively, meaning there is no path for them to meet in the showpiece game, despite being the two most highly fancied teams with the bookmakers coming into the tournament.

The Kiwis soundly underperformed in 2017, knocked out in the quarter-finals; here, they'll be desperate to make amends.

Fifty years of hurt

England have never won the Rugby League World Cup - or rather, as a solo nation, having been part of the Great Britain side that last won the Paul Barriere Trophy in 1972.

Preparations have been less than ideal for the hosts too, with a host of key faces - including Super League Grand Final-winning St Helens trio Jonny Lomax, Mark Percival and Alex Walmsley, plus Wigan Warriors back-rower Liam Farrell - all struck off from consideration through injury.

But that has opened the door for a slew of surprises, with Salford duo Marc Sneyd and Andy Ackers handed maiden call-ups alongside Australian-born loose-forward Victor Radley.

Throw in NRL young guns Dom Young and Herbie Farnworth, and there's plenty to be excited for. Could they upset the odds and end a half-century wait for glory on home turf?

The upstart crowd

Last time a World Cup took place, Samoa endured a dismal tournament, with a draw against a gutsy Scotland side their only positive mark of the competition.

Now, it is a different story - Matt Parish's side are stuffed to the gills with NRL superstars, including six of Penrith Panthers' Grand Final-winning squad.

They'll hope to follow in the footsteps of Tonga, who caused a shock five years ago with a remarkable run to the final four, where they then ran England close.

Both teams have taken maximum advantage of rugby league's chop-and-change eligibility rules, and are now credible dark horse contenders.

Perennial semi-finalists, Fiji - who knocked out New Zealand last time around - look as if they will be considerably off the pace of their Pacific rivals, but the Bati's roaring spirit means they are unlikely to go down without a fight.

Throw in Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands, and the Southern Hemisphere will have plenty to boast about.
 

The rest of the pack

It won't be a lock-out from below the equator if England and the other nations in the tournament have their say.

Wales - coached by the eternal John Kear - Scotland and Ireland ensure a Home Nations lockout for the United Kingdom, while France and Italy bring continental flavour from Europe.

Lebanon, meanwhile, are led by a familiar face from across the rugby code divide - ex-Wallabies supremo Michael Cheika, who will juggle this tournament with his role in charge of the Argentina union national team.

Then there is the two teams making their World Cup debut - Greece and Jamaica.

The former hail from a nation where rugby league has fought to even be recognised as a sport, while the latter stunned the USA to achieve a tournament bow.

While neither team is expected to make a long run, they are sure to earn their fans over the coming weeks.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been urged to expel Iran from the World Cup because of the country's treatment of female football supporters.

The Open Stadiums campaign group claimed previous commitments by FIFA to encourage Iran to change its ways amounted to "empty words and promises".

The group said Iran has systemically kept women away from football stadiums "for over four decades", calling it a "gross human rights violation".

Pointing to "shameful scenes" of women being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed when attempting to attend a World Cup qualifier against Lebanon in March, Open Stadiums said: "All this was happening, Mr Infantino, under your watch and, seemingly, with FIFA's protection and approval, judging by your organisation's inaction."

It labelled a commitment to allow women into the Azadi Stadium as "a short-term PR stunt" to boost the Iranian Football Association's image before the World Cup begins in November.

Iran are due to play England, Wales and the United States in the group stage, facing England in their opening Group B game on November 21.

The death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in custody in September after she allegedly refused to comply with hijab rules sparked outrage among Iranian women, followed by what Open Stadiums describes as a "brutal clampdown by the regime".

In its open letter to FIFA, the group also pointed to Sahar Khodayari, the woman known as 'Blue Girl', who attempted to attend a football game dressed as a man in 2019 but was spotted and arrested for flouting hijab rules. She died by suicide, reportedly because she expected to be sent to prison.

Open Stadiums said there was a clear ongoing case of "government interference", with a number of sports journalists and photographers "arrested and left in solitary confinement with no charges brought against them", and a footballer and fan group leader killed by Iranian authorities.

FIFA rules do not allow governments to wade into sporting matters. Open Stadiums claims the Iranian FA "remains untouched and seemingly beyond reproach by FIFA", and described the country's football authority as both "an accomplice of the crimes of the regime" and "a direct threat to the security of female fans in Iran and wherever our national team plays in the world".

The group fears Iranian women who travel to the Qatar 2022 finals will be kept "in check" by travelling undercover state agents, warning of possible revenge on women's rights activists and female football fans following the tournament.

"That is why, as Iranian football fans, it is with an extremely heavy heart that we have to raise our deepest concern about Iran's participation in the upcoming FIFA World Cup," the group said in its letter to Infantino.

"Why would FIFA give the Iranian state and its representatives a global stage, while it not only refuses to respect basic human rights and dignities, but is currently torturing and killing its own people? Where are the principles of FIFA's statutes in this regard?

"Therefore, we ask FIFA ... to immediately expel Iran from the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

"The Islamic Republic's authorities and its football federation must not be given the honour of participating in football's finest tournament while it is killing its citizens on our streets.

"Mr Infantino, FIFA needs to act now to protect Iran's dedicated and passionate female football fans."

Kevin De Bruyne is the "most incredible playmaker in world football" according to Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez.

The Manchester City midfielder dazzled with a goal and an assist in Belgium's 2-1 win over Wales in the Nations League on Thursday.

De Bruyne, who is the reigning Premier League Player of the Season, also had a first-half shot hit the post.

"It's a message for all our fans, don't take for granted watching Kevin De Bruyne play," Martinez told reporters. "For me he's the most incredible playmaker in world football at this present time.

"His way of seeing the game, his way of seeing the time and space and then the execution in front of goal.

"I thought his performance was magical today. But he's been doing that consistently... I look back at Poland [1-0 win in June]. Sometimes I look at him, we're so lucky to have a player like Kevin."

The 31-year-old's 2021-22 Premier League Player of the Season gong was the second of his career, also earning the honour in 2019-20.

The former Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Genk midfielder has had a decorated career, starting with winning the Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2014-15.

More recently, De Bruyne is a four-time PFA Premier League Team of the Year member and has helped City to four Premier League titles. He also won the 2019-20 Champions League Midfielder of the Season.

The Belgian was named as one of the nominees last month for this year's Ballon d'Or with the winner to be announced in October, having finished eighth in 2021.

Roberto Martinez revealed Eden Hazard informed him he must "pay for a dinner party" following his red card in Belgium's Nations League win over Wales.

The Red Devils kept their hopes of reaching the Nations League Finals alive with a 2-1 victory in Brussels; Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi on target at King Baudouin Stadium.

Martinez was given his marching orders by referee Ali Palabiyik after preventing Wales from taking a quick throw-in deep into stoppage time as his side remained three points behind Group A4 leaders Netherlands, with Kieffer Moore's goal proving to be in vain.

The Spaniard did not feel he should have been ordered from the touchline and says his dismissal will be costly.

"It may have been yellow, but never red," he told VTM. "I was just trying to slow down the game a bit. The captain told me that in Belgium, you have to pay for a dinner party with a red card. I will do that.

"You did see different halves. Before half-time, we found the spaces well, with many chances and two goals. After that, we tried to look for the one-on-one less, and we let the ball move less quickly.

"I'm glad we played it so well after the [Wales] goal. We can learn a lot from this for the next games."

Meanwhile, De Bruyne also took a swipe at officials following a penalty incident late on. Belgium were initially awarded a spot-kick after the Manchester City maestro was challenged by Rhys Norrington-Davies.

The decision was rightly overturned following consultation with the VAR, as the Wales defender clearly played the ball, but the referee subsequently pointed for a goal-kick rather than a corner.

Asked about Belgium's penalty shout, De Bruyne told S4C: "I was already running to the corner. The rules are so stupid though; it should then be a corner.

"I think we fully deserved to win, we dominated the first half and created a lot of chances. Wales were playing man to man, so there were more options in the first half.

"Then we started the second half poorly. We have to keep the ball - as Wales were playing so deep - and wait for the right moments."

Kevin De Bruyne was on target as Belgium kept their faint hopes of progressing to the Nations League Finals alive with a 2-1 victory over Wales.

De Bruyne opened the scoring and set up the second goal for Michy Batshuayi at the King Baudouin Stadium, as the Red Devils remained three points behind leaders Netherlands in Group A4.

Kieffer Moore pulled one back for Wales, but the Dragons must now beat Poland on Sunday to have any chance of avoiding relegation from League A.

The Red Devils, whose head coach Roberto Martinez was sent from the touchline for time-wasting, need an emphatic win over the Dutch when they meet on Sunday to reach the Finals.

Belgium took just 10 minutes to break through as De Bruyne applied a wonderful first-time finish to Batshuayi's lay-off to the edge of the penalty area.

Youri Tielemans steered Yannick Carrasco's cross off target and Batshuayi fired over from a tight angle as the Red Devils continued to dominate, while the woodwork denied De Bruyne a second goal as he rattled the post from 20 yards out.

Eden Hazard then curled narrowly wide before the hosts doubled their lead in the 37th minute. This time, De Bruyne was the provider; sweeping in a pinpoint cross for Batshuayi to touch home.

Ethan Ampadu called Thibaut Courtois into action with Wales' first attempt on goal, while Wayne Hennessey denied De Bruyne at the other end.

The visitors halved the deficit within five minutes of the restart as Moore rose to head home Brennan Johnson's inviting cross.

Rob Page introduced Gareth Bale in the 64th minute and the Los Angeles FC forward went close soon after; Toby Alderweireld deflecting his header over from Dan James' centre.

VAR overturned a Belgian penalty later on, but the hosts held on for maximum points after Martinez was ordered from the touchline in stoppage time.

Wales captain Gareth Bale is confident he will be fully fit for the start of the World Cup despite concerns over his lack of game time for Los Angeles FC.

Bale has only started two matches since making the move to MLS at the end of his time with Real Madrid. 

But the forward allayed worries over his fitness with the World Cup in Qatar on the horizon.

"We have a plan in LA with what we're doing," said Bale, who has reported for international duty for Nations League encounters with Belgium and Poland.

"We're not doing too much straight away.  But we're being clever and building myself up for the last important part of the season. Hopefully, that should put me in great shape for the World Cup."

Bale was hampered by injury problems during his time with Madrid and says it is important to manage his workload.

He added: “The most important thing is to take each week as it comes.

“It's taken a little while to get everything sorted, but I am playing games and have been training for the last 10 weeks and getting stronger.

"Hopefully that will be good enough for me to help LAFC and, ultimately, be ready for the World Cup."

Wales boss Rob Page echoed Bale’s sentiments, saying it would be foolish to take any chances.

He said: "We've always had a common-sense approach with Gareth with regards to his planning and training. It'll be no different on this camp. I'm not going to jeopardise it and run the risk of him getting injured. 

"I want him to go back to his club fully fit, and continuing to get fitter ahead of the World Cup."

Roberto Martinez expects Romelu Lukaku to return to Inter training in the next week, but has left him out of Belgium's squad for their upcoming Nations League games as a precaution. 

Lukaku sustained a thigh injury in training at the end of last month, causing him to miss a derby defeat to Milan and Champions League fixtures against Bayern Munich and Viktoria Plzen.

The striker, who is Belgium's record goalscorer with 68 goals in 102 senior caps, also appears doubtful for the Nerazzurri's Serie A tussle with Udinese on Sunday, prompting Martinez to act with caution when selecting his squad for games against Wales and the Netherlands.

"Romelu is making good progress, his recovery is going in the right direction," Martinez said.

"He will probably return to Inter within a week, not calling him was a prudent choice. 

"With Romelu it was important not to risk, because a relapse with an injury of this type would be very risky in view of the World Cup."

Milan's Divock Origi is also absent from Belgium's latest squad after failing to make a Serie A start since completing his move from Liverpool, though fellow Rossoneri newcomer Charles De Ketelaere is in.

Anderlecht defender Zeno Debast is the only uncapped player selected by Martinez, who has picked an experienced 30-man party in a bid to make up a three-point gap to the Netherlands at the top of Group A4.

Belgium squad: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Matz Sels (Strasbourg); Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht), Toby Alderweireld (Antwerp), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Jason Denayer (free agent), Dedryck Boyata (Club Brugge), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Brandon Mechele (Club Brugge), Wout Faes (Leicester City), Zeno Debast (Anderlect); Axel Witsel (Atletico Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion), Amadou Onana (Everton), Leander Dendoncker (Aston Villa), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Alexis Saelemaekeers (Milan); Dries Mertens (Galatasaray), Michy Batshuayi (Fenerbahce), Charles De Ketelaere (Milan), Dodi Lukebakio (Hertha Berlin), Lois Openda (Lens).

Former Wales captain and broadcaster Eddie Butler has died at the age of 65.

Butler played 16 times for Wales between 1980 and 1984 and skippered the side multiple times.

The number eight was also part of the British and Irish Lions squad that toured New Zealand in 1983, before later making a successful move into broadcasting.

Butler had been taking part in a fundraising hike for Prostate Cymru in Peru alongside his daughter Nell when he passed away in his sleep on Thursday.

Confirming the news in a statement on social media, the charity said: "The Prostate Cymru charity is devastated by the passing of its much-loved ambassador Eddie Butler.

"Ed was the voice of Wales and we were honoured to have him as part of our charity. We will cherish the many memories we have of him.

"Over the last week, Ed once again showed his generosity and steadfast commitment to good causes by joining 25 Prostate Cymru fundraisers, including his daughter Nell, on the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu.

"In the early hours of Thursday 15 September, Ed passed away peacefully in his sleep at Ecoinka base camp in the Peruvian Andes."

Butler leaves behind his wife Susan and six children.

Bournemouth midfielder David Brooks hopes to make his comeback in the near future after signing a long-term contract extension with the Premier League club.

The 25-year-old missed the majority of last season after he was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma in October.

But the Wales international, a member of Rob Page's squad at Euro 2020 last year, was given the all-clear in May and returned to a modified training programme.

Brooks is eager to resume his career soon after putting pen to paper on a deal until at least June 2026.

"I am so pleased to have signed this deal and am looking forward to the next few years with this great club," he told the club's website.

"Of course, the last year has been extremely difficult for myself, my family and friends but I'm now in a position to resume my career, and getting this deal over the line is the icing on the cake.

"I am working hard alongside the excellent coaching team at Bournemouth and am hoping to be back on the pitch soon.

"In the meantime, I'll be supporting the lads every step of the way."

Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey has signed for Ligue 1 side Nice after being released by Juventus.

The 31-year-old joins as a free agent less than a week after agreeing to terminate his contract with the Bianconeri, with Nice yet to disclose the length of his deal.

Ramsey spent three years with Juventus, joining in 2019 after his contract at Arsenal expired, but he struggled to establish himself in Italy and made just three Serie A appearances last season before joining Rangers on loan.

He featured seven times for Rangers in the Scottish Premiership, but his time in Glasgow will mostly be remembered for his crucial penalty shoot-out miss in the Europa League final against Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville, which Rangers went on to lose.

Ramsey will be keen to get some minutes under his belt to prepare for the World Cup in Qatar in November.

He becomes the second Wales international in quick succession to move to France's top tier, with centre-back Joe Rodon joining Rennes on loan from Tottenham on Monday.

Nice finished fifth in Ligue 1 last season and have already added Alexis Beka Beka, Rares Ilie and Badredine Bouanani in recent weeks.

The club have also been linked with moves for Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and Empoli centre-back Mattia Viti.

Wales defender Joe Rodon has secured a season-long loan move from Tottenham to Rennes, with a permanent option included.

The 24-year-old leaves Antonio Conte's side in search of more regular opportunities ahead of Wales' World Cup campaign, which will be the nation's first since 1958.

Rodon made just 10 appearances for Spurs last season, including in the Conference League against Rennes, amid fierce competition for first-team football – and the signing of Clement Lenglet from Barcelona pushed him further down the pecking order.

Opportunities should be more forthcoming with the Ligue 1 side, who hold a clause to make the deal permanent next year for a reported fee of £17million.

The former Swansea City defender is a key part of Rob Page's international set-up, forging a partnership with Spurs' Ben Davies at the heart of Wales' backline and earning 28 caps to date.

Wales sealed their spot in Qatar with a play-off victory against Ukraine and will be in Group B alongside England, Iran and the United States.

A transfer to Rennes will also offer the opportunity of European football, with a fourth-placed finish in Ligue 1 last season securing a spot in the Europa League.

Rennes technical director Florian Maurice said Rodon had "no hesitation" about joining.

"He's a real central defender who likes to defend, he has that aggressive side that we need to allow us to be even more effective defensively," Maurice said.

"He is an international, a starter with Wales and will certainly be called up to play in the World Cup in November."

Ben Davies has signed a new contract with Tottenham, keeping him at the club until 2025.

The 29-year-old was one of seven signings upon Mauricio Pochettino's hire as Spurs manager in 2014, and has gone on to make 271 appearances for the club in all competitions.

With Davies coming into his ninth season with Spurs, it has been another busy transfer window for the North London club, who can count Richarlison, Yves Bissouma and Ivan Perisic among their six signings ahead of the new campaign.

The Wales international revealed Tottenham's upward trajectory and ambition under Antonio Conte made the decision to extend an even easier one, especially in a World Cup year.

"I'm delighted to sign my new contract," he told the club's website. "After last season and the summer this club has had, there's no more exciting time than right now to be at this club.

"I was enjoying my football and when the opportunity came from the club to extend my contract, I was more than happy to do so. I've had some really enjoyable times here, it really feels like home now.

"It's an exciting season for both club and country. It'll be a bit strange, stopping mid-season for that tournament, but I can't wait. It's been a long time since Wales have been there and we've given everything to get there, so you just have to enjoy it."

 

Chelsea and Wales defender Ethan Ampadu is desperate to break into the Blues' first team this season, but admits he needs regular playing time ahead of a likely World Cup appearance in Qatar.

Ampadu spent last season on loan at Venezia, making 29 Serie A appearances but failing to prevent them from finishing bottom of the Italian top flight. 

Having also spent time at RB Leipzig and Sheffield United since joining Chelsea from Exeter at the age of 16, Ampadu – already a Wales regular with 36 senior caps – is eyeing a breakthrough campaign at Stamford Bridge.

Asked whether he hoped for a long-term future with Chelsea by The Athletic, Ampadu, who is part of Thomas Tuchel's squad for a pre-season tour of the United States, replied: "Of course – I'm here, aren't I?

"This club fights for everything, Champions League, Premier League. It's all about fighting here and trying to get to the top.

"There are a few of us with that same mindset that want to break through. We're out here now and it's our chance to show it.

"Like every footballer out there, my dream is to be at the top. I don't think that's a bad thing to say and dream, everyone wants to be at the top. It's about fighting and getting towards that."

Ampadu appeared from the bench in Chelsea's 2-1 friendly win over Mexican giants Club America on Sunday.

But the 21-year-old will face fierce competition in his bid to force his way into a defence which conceded just 33 Premier League goals last season (only Liverpool and Manchester City conceded fewer).

Chelsea have already signed Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and are being linked with Paris Saint-Germain's Presnel Kimpembe.

With Ampadu likely to feature when Wales begin their first World Cup campaign since 1958 against the United States on November 21, he recognises the importance of playing regularly.

"The World Cup adds something else, but even if there wasn't the World Cup, as a professional footballer you want to play," Ampadu added.

"I enjoy playing and I want to be playing week in, week out. But the World Cup is definitely something you want to be going to feeling fit and fresh."

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