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Rugby headlines as Gavin Williamson makes statement after Maro Itoje’s brilliant response to gaffe that sparked outrage

Here are today’s rugby morning headlines on Thursday, September 8.

Education chief makes statement on Itoje gaffe

UK Education minister Gavin Williamson has issued a statement after confusing Maro Itoje with England footballer Marcus Rashford.

Mr Williamson attended a meeting with Itoje, who has been campaigning for increased access to laptops for all schoolchildren throughout the pandemic.

But afterwards, in an interview with the Evening Standard, he appeared to think he had been speaking to Rashford, who he described as “charming”.

The minister said on Wednesday night: “Towards the end of a wide-ranging interview in which I talked about both the laptops and school meals campaigns, I conflated the issues and made a genuine mistake.

“We corrected this with the journalist before publication of the story.

“I have huge respect for both Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje who run effective and inspiring campaigns.”

He had faced huge criticism from fellow MPs and members of the public for the mistake.

Itoje had earlier tweeted: “Due to recent speculation I thought it was necessary to confirm that I am not Marcus Rashford… And whilst we are here my name is not Mario either!! Just a simple Maro Itoje will do…

“Much love,

“Marcu… I mean Maro Itoje.”

URC side threatened with axe

South African side Stormers have been threatened with the axe from the forthcoming United Rugby Championship, according reports.

Rugby 365 report South African Rugby Union president Mark Alexander made a direct call to Western Province Rugby Football Union boss Zelt Marais over ongoing financial disputes within his organisation.

He is reported as warning Marais his franchise will be replaced by the Cheetahs in the URC unless the internal wrangling is ended.

The Cheetahs were one of two teams, along with Southern Kings, who played in the PRO14 previously but were replaced by the Stormers, Sharks, Bulls and Lions for the inaugural URC.

The URC gets under way in a fortnight.

Wales forwards chief to coach Barbarians

Wales forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys will be part of the Barbarians coaching team this November.

He will join up with head coach Davie Rennie, who he previously worked with at Glasgow Warriors, for the match against Samoa on November 27.

Wales take on the All Blacks, South Africa, Fiji and Australia on the four previous weekends.

Humphreys said: “The Barbarians is steeped with so much history, especially in Wales with the 1973 game and the Easter tours.

“It is special to represent the club as a player, but to now coach them is an even greater responsibility.

“I look forward to joining up with Dave and hopefully get the team to put in a special performance on the day and finish off the autumn internationals in style.”

The Barbarians men’s side face Samoa at 2.30pm on November 27 as part of a double header of fixtures.

The Barbarian Women will take on a Springboks Women’s XV following the men’s match at 5.15pm.

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Top English boss concerned by World 12s idea

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has voiced his concerns after plans were announced for a new World 12s competition.

World Rugby and the Gallagher Premiership have issued lukewarm responses to a tournament that is being positioned as rugby’s equivalent to cricket’s Indian Premier League and The Hundred.

Organisers intend for 192 men’s players from tier-one and tier-two nations to be picked via auction to represent eight franchises consisting of squads of 24 who will be overseen by established coaches.

The format will consist of round-robin games before a knockout phase determines the winners.

The inaugural men’s tournament will be staged in England next August and September, with a women’s event launching a year later.

But the biggest problem it faces is player release. Clubs and provinces in European leagues are unlikely to allow their stars to take part during a time of year when they are either on holiday or in pre-season.

And the chances of New Zealand, Australia or South Africa international players being involved are minimal because of the Rugby Championship being held at the same time.

“I had a bit of a wry smile to myself, shook my head and went ‘here we go again’ kind of thing,” Baxter said.

“The biggest thing that bothers me when these proposals are thrown around, and I don’t mind saying it, is player discontent.

“Straight away, from a managerial point of view, if this goes ahead what’s the outcome going to be?

“It’s basically going to be players put in the middle – they are going to be the jam in the sandwich again between clubs and unions.

“These people (tournament organisers) are going to offer, I am assuming, quite a lot of money to try and attract them to play, and the player is going to turn around and he is going to have to ask to be released from contractual obligations. That was the first thing I thought.

“How does it fit into any player’s contract, because most of them will be under contract for 12 months of the year, and it doesn’t fit into that without player release.

“I think there are going to be a lot of confrontational meetings and problems before I can see it even getting off the ground.”

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