Rugby News: Vunipola available for Six Nations despite ban, Dupont preps for Paris 2024, Force sign Black Ferns duo


Mako Vunipola is set to be available for England’s opening clash of the Six Nations against Italy, despite being handed a four match ban in the English Premiership.

The prop was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Newcastle Falcons hooker Bryan Byrne, in his side Saracens’ 37-19 win. 

“The player admitted that foul play took place, but not that it met the red card threshold,” England’s governing Rugby Football Union revealed, following a reviewal by the independent disciplinary panel.

“The panel upheld the charge and Vunipola received a four-match ban.”

Mako Vunipola. (Photo by Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Fortunately for Vunipola, suspensions will take place across both the Premiership and Champions Cup, meaning he will Saracens’ Premiership matches against Leicester and Exeter as well as their Champions Cup fixtures with French teams Bordeaux-Begles and Lyon.

This will mean he will be available to play the week of England’s first match against the Azzurri, which will be a huge relief for England coach Steve Borthwick, as several of his other options at loosehead – Ellis Genge, Joe Marler and Bevan Rodd – are all injured. 

It is far from a best case scenario for the England coach however, with Vunipola likely not to have played any games before the February 3 fixture at Stadio Olimpico. 

Antoine Dupont commences training with France Sevens program

Antoine Dupont has joined 16 other seven-a-side players at the national Marcoussis centre ahead of two world circuit sevens events in Vancouver in February and Los Angeles in March.

His much publicised move to the sevens format will see him miss out on the 2023 Six Nations, as he looks to chase Olympic glory in Paris in July this year.

Antoine Dupont of France during the 2022 Autumn International test match between France and Australia at Stade de France on November 5, 2022 in Saint-Denis near Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Fiji currently have a stranglehold on the Olympic format of the sevens, having won both gold medals in the mens since it was introduced into the Olympics.

However, Dupont is hoping to reverse that trend and achieve France’s biggest sevens result since winning the France Sevens in 2005. 

“For all sports fans, the Olympic Games are mythical,” Dupont said in November.

“Being able to host such a sporting event in France, it is going to be an incredible party.”

The Paris Olympics are set to begin on July 26th.

England men end partnership with player association

England men’s rugby union team have decided to end their twenty year relationship with their union, the Rugby Players Association.

Having previously served as player representatives in negotiations over fees and commercial deals with the Rugby Football Union, the RPA represents over 800 active male and female players, along with more than 400 former players.

However, in 2020 England prop Kyle Sinckler announced plans to start a new union to gain better “support and legal advice” for elite players, and while such a union is still to materialise it suggested that current and former players were not happy with their representation by the RPA. 

The RPA will continue to represent the England men until the end of this current season, and has confirmed it will continue to support players away from the England men’s side. 

The Red Roses will be included in this, although some players are also represented by Women’s Rugby Association (WRA).

There will likely be plans implemented for a new agency to represent the England men, as the RFU is set to introduce 25 hybrid or “enhanced “contracts, which aims to give the RFU closer control over player workload.

No information on such an agency has been revealed. 

Western Force Women continue to bolster stocks, sign Black Ferns duo 

The Western Force Super W are putting together an imposing squad as they look to chase a maiden Super W title, signing Black Ferns loose forward Pia Tapsell and fullback Sheree Hume for their upcoming campaign.

Despite missing out on finals, the Force showed significant growth in the 2023 Super W season, and already looked to have the makings of an imposing side following the re-signings of Wallaroos pair Michaela Leonard and Trilleen Pomare late last year. 

The acquisition of two experienced Black Ferns is a huge pick up for head coach Dylan Parsons, as he looks to earn a maiden finals berth for the women in the west, and become the first side outside of the NSW Waratahs and the Fijiana Drua to win a title. 

“Pia is a statement piece for this program. She comes out of the Black Ferns program where she was close to their 2019 Rookie of the Year.

Trilleen Pomare of the Force passes the ball during the Super W match between Western Force and ACT Brumbies Women at HBF Park, on April 22, 2023, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

“Her progress was slowed due to the COVID-19 years and then an ACL injury from March 2023, so she’s coming back now. She needed a change and saw our program in WA as the perfect place to restart her career again.

“We’re really excited about Sheree with the experience she is going to bring. She’s got over 70 games of experience in the FPC for Otago.

“For our young backs to have someone like that who’s played at that level for so many games, her experience is going to be invaluable.”

“I am really excited to be part of a club that is actively fostering the growth of women’s rugby,” Tapsell added.

“I knew it was an environment I wanted to be involved in after chatting with Dylan and (Female High Performance Manager) Claudia Bell, hearing about the ways the Force are implementing change and looking to future proof their squad and look after their players long term.

“Another thing that stood out to me was the Force’s partnerships with international clubs, which will provide invaluable opportunities for both players and coaches to play, train and learn in different high functioning rugby environments, further showing their commitment to the development of their union.

“Having played alongside some of the squad’s current players I know first hand some of the skill and talent within the team already and can’t wait to be involved. I look forward to contributing to the Force’s growing and continued success on and off the field and can’t wait for the season ahead.”

The Force will kick off their Super W campaign against the Melbourne Rebels in Perth on Friday 15 March, as part of a double header with the men’s side, who take on Moana Pasifika. 

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