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Dylan Hartley to miss Lions tour

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PHUKET: We now know the final composition of the Lion’s squad, the English Premiership winners, the Pro Twelve Irish champions, and the finalists in the French domestic competition.

Jonny Wilkinson, not selected for the Lions tour of Australia, but available in the case of injury, gave another vintage performance in steering European Cup winners Toulon to the French championship final with victory over Toulouse 26-9. Delon Armitage, booed whenever he touched the ball, got his own back by scoring a scintillating late try. Toulouse, three times Heineken Cup winners and packed with aging stars, are no longer the irresistible force they once were.

Leicester, another team with an impressive European Cup record, contested the English domestic final against old Midland rivals Northampton. 81,703 spectators turned up at Twickenham, an indication of the ever-burgeoning popularity of rugby in the British Isles. The Tigers, boasting nine successive appearances in the final and six Lions in their starting line-up, were clear favorites. They did not disappoint their supporters, wearing down a lively Northampton side, thanks to their superiority at scrum, line-out and ruck. Apart from Ben Foden, back to England form with several jinking runs and a try, the Saints’ backs lacked real penetration.

But the defining moment of the game came when Dylan Hartley, the Northampton captain, was red-carded on the stroke of half-time, after accusing the referee of “cheating”. Brian Moore, himself a former England hooker, called it “utter stupidity”, adding it would have been “a very different story had Northampton scored the two tries they should have in the first half.” Hartley, banned on three previous occasions, and now for eleven weeks, misses the Lions tour.

The rugby Pro Twelve Final was contested by two inter-provincial Irish teams, Ulster and Leinster. Already winners of the Amlin Cup against Stade Francais, the experienced Leinster team, marshaled by evergreen Brian O’Driscoll, survived a late onslaught to record a narrow 24- 18 victory. Lion in waiting Jamie Heaslip scored a decisive late try, and Jonny Sexton, favorite for the tourist’s ten shirt, kicked four penalties and a conversion. A winning send-off for New Zealand coach, Joe Schmidt.

In other weekend games, Castres defeated Clermont Auvergne to earn an unlikely confrontation with Toulon in the French domestic final, and at Twickenham, hosting its second big game in two days, a youthful England side, with nine players under 25, ran riot against the Barbarians to the tune of 40 points to 12. The imaginative selections gave run-outs to newly recovered prop Alex Corbisiero and back-rower Ben Morgan. But it was the new boys who shone. Freddie Burns, possibly Englands’ next fly half, amassed 20 points. And there were debut tries from wingers Marlon Yarde and the electrifying Christian Wade, already named Player of the Year by his peers. On this evidence, England have greater strength in depth than the other home countries – including Wales.

The bulk of this team now embarks on a summer tour of Uruguay and Argentina. Like the Lions, also off to the Southern Hemisphere, they certainly won’t have things all their own way. But the signs are propitious.

Keep checking our online Phuket Sports pages, join our Facebook fan page or follow us on Twitter for the latest local, national and international sporting news.

— Patrick Campbell

 

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