'I met every player last week one-to-one and, as there were 35 of them, it was a long day'
Ahead of England’s crucial first game against France, their feisty hooker admits that front-row tactics have had to change
Saracens knocked Ulster out of last year's tournament at the same stage but top seeds have looked in imperious form this campaign
Thomas is expected to join Bath at the end of the season while Gaskell has been linked with a move to London Wasps
Toby Flood has denied reports that he has signed for Toulouse and will definitely be leaving Leicester. The England fly-half had already been heavily linked with a move across the Channel to join Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon.
Cipriani finds himself on the cusp of an unlikely England return due to a flood of injuries in the Premiership but Smith feels he has more than enough players capable of giving Sale their own problems
Warren Gatland will be free to lead the 2017 Lions if asked
This is getting silly. England's chances of piecing together something resembling a first-choice back division for the Six Nations opener against France in Paris at the beginning of February took another heavy blow when the Wasps wing Christian Wade was ruled off-limits for six months. The most elusive attacking runner in the country will miss the forthcoming tournament in its entirety and must be rated extremely doubtful for the three-Test tour of New Zealand in June.
By going back to the future in the scrum – the set-piece has reverted to a proper examination of strength and technique this season, thank the lord – rugby’s legislators have given Bath the clearest possible view of the road ahead.
Enjoyable as it has been to wallow in Jonny Wilkinson’s World Cup-winning dropped goal from 10 years ago, the seminal moment on the minds of current players and coaches in recent days was an offload by an All Black last weekend.
Knee trouble sees loose-head prop join fellow front-rowers Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler on the casualty list
Forget the scrummaging machine and the midfield playbook; make way for the stethoscope, the thermometer and the neurocognitive assessment kit. This weekend’s “vengeance match” between England and New Zealand already has the makings of a medical drama as well as a sporting one, with the home camp expressing concern over the concussion suffered by the loose-head prop Joe Marler during the victory over Argentina three days ago and the tourists taking every anti-virus precaution under the sun.
A Will Fraser try and points from England duo Alex Goode and Will Fraser sees off valiant Wasps with captain Chris Bell going over twice
Leicester v Northampton
Leicester, the reigning English champions, have some serious rugby ahead of them over the next month: a humdinger derby with high-performing Northampton this weekend, quickly followed by a horribly difficult Heineken Cup trip to Belfast, a must-win home match with Treviso in the same competition and an awkward Premiership contest at Wasps – a game they will have to play without their England personnel, who will be in red-rose camp by then.
Hosts record their first Aviva Premiership victory after 10 consecutive defeats to life spirits