News in Brief
Sarries chief answers Wembley criticism
Brendan Venter rates man of the match Schalk Brits as among the world's top three hookers
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- Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths has defended the playing of rugby at Wembley after the pitch's surface came in for heavy criticism after the FA Cup semi-finals.
"There are some issues with the Wembley pitch and football but those issues pre-dated rugby coming here," he said. Does anyone at Wembley hold rugby responsible for the state of the pitch in any way? No they don't. I'm very confident that Wembley can stage more than just a few football matches every year. It would be totally ridiculous if Wembley could stage only 10 football matches in a year. It clearly can do more than that and we look forward to coming back next season.
"Blaming rugby for the state of the pitch is a complete red herring. We're thrilled with Wembley, the playing surface has been perfect, though I know that's not a fashionable thing to say. The pitch situation has become a witch-hunt against the stadium but we feel the pitch is fantastic."
Saracens' coach Brendan Venter paid tribute to man of the match Schalk Brits, saying, "Schalk is a special player and must be one of the three best hookers in the world. Without a doubt he's the most talented hooker with the ball in hand and defensively. If I was South Africa coach, there wouldn't be an issue. He's got something you can't coach. It's special. Hats off to an incredible performance by a hooker today."
- Northampton coach Jim Mallinder has hailed hat-trick hero Chris Ashton as "remarkable" after his side's win over Gloucester. The Guinness Premiership's top try scorer crossed for three tries and made another for Dylan Hartley at Franklin's Gardens, leaving Mallinder searching for superlatives. "Chris knows when and where to turn up and he also makes the breaks," he said.
"His first try was unbelievable. That is his second try hat-trick in the league this season. Chris knows where to find the weak points in defences. He is strong, fast, and getting better all the time. His try-scoring record of 22 in 29 games is remarkable."
The Saints recovered from their Heineken Cup exit to Munster last weekend and Mallinder was delighted with how his team reacted to the Thomond Park humbling. "We bounced back from a disappointing defeat in Munster," he said.
"After one day off the boys got down to business and now we can focus all our attentions on one competition. Our target is to earn a home semi-final in the play-offs, and then perhaps a place in the play-off final at Twickenham. We have a tricky week ahead. We go to Bath on Tuesday night, then face Saracens at home next Saturday, and we have to be smart in terms of selection because of the Elite Player Squad regulations that allow you to play a guy for no more than 160 minutes over three games."
- The disciplinary hearing on the Ospreys inability to field a team for their Magners League game against Ulster has been adjourned due to the impact of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland on air travel.
The committee were due to meet on Monday, April 19 to discuss the cancellation of the fixture, a decision on reconvening will be made later in the week. The Welsh region were unable to field a front row when the match was originally re-fixed for March 19, a date the Ospreys claim they never agreed to. They face possible points deduction or a fine if found guilty. The Neath-Swansea club claim they never agreed to the March 19 date.
The original statement from Celtic rugby stated, "This rule was introduced for health and safety reasons and Celtic Rugby could not sanction a match in these circumstances. The reason for the postponement is that Ospreys are unable to supply suitably experienced front-row players in their match squad as is required under the Magners League rules and International Rugby Board rules."
The re-fixed game went ahead earlier this week, with the Ospreys winning 38-27.
- Edinburgh have added Scotland Sevens international Lee Jones to their squad ahead of next season. The 21-year-old winger who can also cover scrum-half joins the Magners League side from Selkirk where he has impressed during the Scottish Hydro Premier One League. Coach Rob Moffat said the youngster deserves his opportunity.
"I regularly watch club games and I keep my ear to the ground about promising players by listening to the opinions of people in the game that I trust," he told The Scotsman. "I spoke to Lee about the possibility of signing him as early as pre-season, but the timing needed to be right. Since then he has worked tremendously hard to get himself in the right condition and played consistently well. We have signed Lee to play on the wing, but there is a strong possibility that he will play some rugby at scrum-half and that ultimately may be his position. We felt the time was right for him to come into this environment and I believe he will do well."