The home nations are building up to September’s World Cup, which is now just five weeks away, and we are here to wrap up the week’s goings on with a particular focus on the British & Irish Lions involved.
The World Cup dream is all but over for a trio of British & Irish Lions after Mike Phillips, Richard Hibbard and James Hook were all dropped from the training squad by coach Warren Gatland.
Fly-half Hook and front-rower Hibbard went on the 2009 and 2013 Lions tours respectively while scrum-half Phillips was a member of both touring parties.
All three had a chance to impress when starting Wales’ first warm-up match against Ireland last weekend but struggled to make an impact as the men in green triumphed 35-21.
The trio have 215 Test caps between them but Gatland has opted to give younger players a chance to make the final squad.
There are now 38 men left to battle it out for a place in the 31-man World Cup squad and the New Zealander was keen to stress the difficulty of making the cuts.
“It's been a difficult task reducing the squad down and deciding who will meet up with us again,” explained Gatland.
“There will be disappointment from the players but it's important to stress that the door is not closed.
“We name our final rugby World Cup squad on August 31 and a lot can happen between now and then.”
England won a 90-point thriller against France earlier this year but Geoff Parling isn’t expecting such a high-scoring encounter when the two sides square off on Saturday evening.
The Red Rose triumphed 55-35 back in March and host Les Bleus at Twickenham once again in a World Cup warm-up match.
Parling, who toured Australia with the Lions in 2013, played in the first contest and will once again start at Rugby HQ.
And while fans may be hoping for a repeat scoreline, the lock is adamant that result was simply a one off.
“That game was an anomaly – it was played at an unbelievable pace,” explained Parling.
“We knew we had a target points-wise and the structure of the game was different to how it’s normally played.
“They took a lot of quick line-outs – I think in the first 60 minutes they had something like two line-outs that weren’t quick.
“Normally when you play against France the ball’s off the pitch a little bit longer than other teams. I don’t think it’ll be like that.
“With this being the first warm-up game, it’s different in terms of our normal prep because you normally have a lot more to work with. This is different because it’s more of the unknown I guess.”
Ireland’s World Cup build-up continues apace with a game against Scotland this weekend and British & Irish Lion Sean O’Brien admits he is honoured to be leading his country out.
O’Brien will make his 35th Ireland appearance on Saturday and will wear the captain’s armband for the very first time.
The flanker, who made two Test appearances on the 2013 Lions tour of Australia, didn’t appear in last weekend’s 35-21 win over Wales but claims he will tick another item off his rugby bucket list in Dublin.
“I was absolutely delighted to be asked,” said O'Brien. “It's a great honour and something I've probably always wanted to do at some point. I'm very happy.
“It's the same role as always for me: I'll go out and do what I can for the team, being captain is just an added little thing to it.
“It doesn't change anything from my mindset coming into the game.”
One 2013 Lion who won’t be playing against Scotland is Cian Healy as he continues his recovery from a neck injury.
The prop faces a race against time to be fit for the World Cup and O’Brien acknowledges it would be a real boon if his teammate were able to recuperate in time.
“He's a quality player and someone with huge power and strength and he'd be a massive addition to the group obviously,” added O'Brien, no stranger to injuries himself after successive shoulder surgeries in the past.
“So if he does get back he'd be welcomed with open arms.”
Injuries hampered Ryan Grant towards the end of the domestic season but now fully fit once again, the Lions prop insists he has a point to prove against Ireland.
The Dublin clash is the first World Cup warm-up game for the Scots, who are currently on a five-match losing streak.
Having recovered from a sternum injury that was troubling him for the past few months, 2013 Lion Grant will start the contest at the Aviva Stadium.
And in a week that Scotland coach Vern Cotter signed a one-year extension to his contract, the prop admits the time is right for the team to start picking up victories.
“We need a result and no-one’s more aware of it than us,” he said.
“The Six Nations didn't go well for us a squad, but I didn't get the opportunity to showcase myself and I've picked up a few injuries since then for Glasgow.
“This will be first time I'm going into a game fully fit and I've definitely got a point to prove.
“I think we've been guilty in the past of getting frantic after a couple of mistakes and things capitulating a bit, but that's almost from boys trying too hard to rescue the situation.
“We're a bit more relaxed this time around and we know making a mistake isn't the end of the world and we can flush it and move on. I definitely think we're a better rugby team.”
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