Rugby News: The Kiwi ex-cage fighter in line for shock England 6N call, Rennie on the ropes, Skelton adds to Dan pain


A former New Zealand cage fighter and jiu-jitsuu champ who played six minutes for the Crusaders has been touted as a shock call up for England’s Six Nations squad.

Ethan Roots, 26, was born in New Zealand to an English father and Maori mum and plays as a backrower for the Exeter Chiefs, having left New Zealand to join Welsh club Ospreys in 2021.

He’s had an unconventional rise to the brink of Test calculations under Steve Borthwick, who will name his Six Nations squad this week working fulltime as an Auckland construction worker, having turned his sporting attentions away from rugby.

Early on he got involved in cage fighting – “I ripped the guy’s biceps tendon off” Roots told Stuff of an early bout – and then he progressed to winning eight national titles in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well as a gold and three silvers at the Pan-Pacific Championships.

Roots, who went to rugby school Rosmini College juggled his construction work with footy.

“I’d get up about 4.30am, go to the gym, have no idea what I was doing but jump on the bike, lift some weights and get out of there,” he told Stuff.

“I’d go to work for 10 or 11 hours and then head to rugby training. I did that about four days a week, break on Friday and have a game on Saturday.

“I might work Sunday for a little bit of extra cash, depending on how much money I’d spent that week. I’ve been there and done that so I understand what a privilege it is to play rugby every day for a living.”

Roots signed for the Crusasders from North Harbour but made just one pro appearance for Super Rugby’s dominant franchise before leaving for Wales.

He has already been tipped as a potential successor to retiring England great Courtney Lawes. “He’s been a natural leader for us,” said Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby. “His maturity in the group is beyond his age. He never felt like a gamble.”

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Rennie struggling make an impact

Former Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has suffered a third straight defeat in five games in his debut season in Japan Rugby League One as the Kobe Steelers fell 38-34 against Kubota Spears Tokyo Bay.

Under pressure after one win in four, and without injured Wallaby five-eighth Bernard Foley, the Spears had two tries from All Black hooker Dane Coles as well as 18-points off the boot of South African-born Japan representative Gerhard van den Heever as they grabbed a last-ditch win.

All Black flanker Ardie Savea scored the first of the home side’s five tries and they led 34-33 with just five minutes remaining before a late try by South African centre Rikus Pretorius settled the contest for the defending champions.

Wallabies Head Coach Dave Rennie looks on during the international Test match between the Australia Wallabies and France at Suncorp Stadium on July 07, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The anticipated match-up between Wallabies halves Quade Cooper and Will Genia and their All Black counterparts Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith didn’t come off.

Barrett pulled out before the game while Smith only lasted 15 minutes as Toyota Verblitz ran out easy 47-14 winners against Hanazono Kintetsu Liners.

New Zealand five-eighth Richie Mo’unga scored his first try in Japan amid a 15-point haul in a comfortable win for unbeaten Brave Lupus Tokyo against Mie Honda Heat.

Former Australian Test fullback Tom Banks scored his first try of the season for the Heat, but they remain winless after a 40-12 defeat.

All Black Rugby World Cup skipper Sam Cane was yellow carded for a dangerous cleanout during Tokyo Sungoliath’s thrilling 29-25 victory over Shizuoka Blue Revs.

Cane had earlier scored the opening try of a game that also saw his Springbok counterpart Kwagga Smith see yellow in the first half after an accidental head clash.

Defensive technique was also an issue for Matt Toomua’s Sagamihara Dynaboars, who conceded 13 tries in an embarrassing 81-21 defeat by Saitama Wild Knights.

As well as the win, Wild Knights coach Robbie Deans would have been happy to see Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete get through 20 minutes of play at the end after a disrupted start to the season with injury.

Yokohama Eagles beat Australian Peter Hewat’s Ricoh Black Rams 24-8 in Saturday’s other match.

Skelton adds to McKellar pain

Wallaby skipper Will Skelton was on the scoresheet as Dan McKellar’s Leicester suffered a a 45-12 hammering to La Rochelle in the Champions Cup.

The previously unbeaten Tigers were outscored seven tries to two by a La Rochelle side seeking their first win in Pool D, with George Martin and Dan Kelly crossing for the visitors and Jamie Shillcock adding a conversion.

For the two-time reigning champions, centre UJ Seuteni and wing Teddy Thomas each scored twice, with Pierre Bourgarit, Skelton and Joel Sclavi also touching down. Antoine Hastoy successfully slotted over the extras on five occasions.

La Rochelle were down to 13 men for a period, including a yellow to Skelton who caught the eye of European pundits.

Pity Will Skelton plays in an unglamorous position. Otherwise he’d be the biggest current superstar in rugby.

— Stephen Jones (@stephenjones9) January 14, 2024

A Will Skelton masterclass in La Rochelle. What a player

— Rúaidhrí O’Connor (@RuaidhriOC) January 14, 2024

“They’re an incredibly difficult team to beat if you let them get a roll and we just gave them too many opportunities to use their power around our goal-line,” McKellar said.

“They’re obviously an incredibly difficult challenge, particularly at home and we didn’t do enough to stop their game and equally, we left to many opportunities out there.

“I certainly can’t fault our commitment to the jersey or our fight in that game and we’ll take a lot of lessons from that game.”

Racing have eyes for Farrell

Stuart Lancaster has confirmed Racing 92 are interested in recruiting Owen Farrell from Saracens but insists a deal has yet to be agreed.

Lancaster watched his Top 14 leaders lose 29-25 to Bath in a pulsating Investec Champions Cup clash at the Recreation Ground that was billed as the west country club’s biggest game for nine years.

Farrell, the England captain who is to miss the Six Nations in order to prioritise his mental well-being, has been in talks with Racing over a possible move next season that would make him ineligible for international selection.

The 32-year-old was given his Test debut by Lancaster in 2012 when the Cumbrian was England coach and the new Racing director of rugby is keen on taking him to Paris.

“Racing are often linked with key players and I’m lucky my relationships with players from England and Ireland are all part of that, but we’ll see,” Lancaster said.

“He would be a great signing, who wouldn’t want a player like Owen Farrell? We’ll see how it plays out. No deal has been done, there is no confirmation of anything for next year.

“I have signed for four years and what I’m trying to do is build a team that can win this year and a team that’s going to be really competitive over the next couple of years as well.

“Obviously there have been conversations. It’ll be me (who has the final say on signings).”

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