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Sunday rugby headlines as England based Wales star linked with move to Welsh region and Francis targets World Cup dream

These are the rugby headlines for Sunday September 19

Young linked with Cardiff return

Wasps flanker Thomas Young is being linked with a move back to the Arms Park, which would put him in the reckoning for Wayne Pivac’s Wales World Cup plans.

The 29-year-old flanker could team up again with Young senior David, following his own move back to Cardiff, with Wasps “bracing themselves for a raid”, according to the The Rugby Paper.

Young’s Wasps contract runs out next summer and a move to Wales would make him instantly eligible for Pivac.

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As things stand, Wales’ 60-cap rule for players plying their trade in England means Young is barred from Wales matches after he penned a new Wasps deal in May last year.

He has won three Test caps, the last coming in the win over Italy during the triumphant Six Nations campaign under Warren Gatland in 2019.

Young junior started with Cardiff Blues, and joined Wasps in May 2014 after a spell with Gloucester.

Wales are not short of options at openside flanker, with Justin Tipuric first choice when fit, Ellis Jenkins returning and Jac Morgan heading up a clutch of talented youngsters in the position.

But Tipuric has just turned 32 and Young could offer another alternative to Pivac for the World Cup in 2023 should he return, after years at the sharp end of the English Premiership.

Francis targets World Cup dream

Wales prop Tomas Francis is planning on Wayne Pivac’s team going one better at the next World Cup.

Warren Gatland’s side agonisingly lost in the semi-finals in Japan two years ago, but Francis feels the players can reach the final next time around in France as they set their sights on winning the tournament.

Francis is hoping to make a personal mark at the world showpiece, after moving from Exeter to the Ospreys.

“I will be 31 at the next World Cup which is a good age for a prop. I thought 2019 could have been our time, but South Africa have shown what a good team they are,” he told the Sunday Times.

“It has been a dream career so far for me with Wales. We’ve achieved a lot, but this group still has a fair way to go.

“I’m hoping I can bring new strings to my bow with my move to the Ospreys.”

Welsh coach off to an English flier

Former Wales star Jonathan Thomas saw his Worcester team get off to a flier as they eased past Gallagher Premiership opponents London Irish on the opening day of the season.

Worcester won 36-24 and head coach Thomas saluted an “exceptional” performance by scrum-half recruit Willi Heinz.

England international Heinz scored a try on his league debut for Worcester, having arrived alongside more than a dozen newcomers at Sixways this summer.

And the 34-year-old wasted little time making an impact, claiming Worcester’s second touchdown and then creating Worcester’s bonus-point try for number eight Matt Kvesic.

“I thought Willi was exceptional,” ex-Wales back-rower Thomas said.

“He is a really experienced player, with his Crusaders background in New Zealand and international rugby. His personality is one that he wants to help people grow.

“He is invaluable to us as a player and as a person.”

Worcester’s 36-24 victory was their first on-pitch Premiership win since beating Irish in November last year, with their other league victories last season being coronavirus-related forfeits.

Thomas said: “First and foremost, at the start of a season, a win is very important, and a bonus point is the cherry on the cake.

“It was a start. We are not getting carried away with that at all. There is a huge amount of growth and much more to come as a team.

“Winning is a habit, but losing is a habit, and to break that habit is tougher than you think.

“There is a lot of feelgood factor around the club, but you have still got to win rugby matches, and that is easier said than done.”

Worcester head to the home of Premiership champions Harlequins next weekend and Thomas said: “There is nothing to lose.
“They are champions, no-one is going to expect us to win at The Stoop, but let’s just focus on ourselves. Potentially, we have got an exciting team that is going to grow over time.”

Pick your greatest Wales XV now

Ford puts down early England marker

Leicester boss Steve Borthwick acclaimed George Ford after watching the England fly-half steer the Tigers to their first Gallagher Premiership victory over Exeter for four years.

George Martin was named man of the match for meeting the Chiefs head on in the forward battle but Ford was the most influential player on the pitch as he pulled the strings superbly in a 34-19 win at Welford Road.

Ford was given the summer off by Eddie Jones, missing victories over the USA and Canada to recover from a niggling calf injury, but on the opening day of the new season he was outstanding.

The 28-year-old faces a fight to start England’s autumn campaign with Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith contenders at fly-half, but Borthwick insisted he is already in his stride.

“George Ford for me controlled that game for large parts of it. It was great to see him back fit and performing as well as that,” Borthwick said.

“You can see by the way he played the sharpness he had in his game. He’s only going to get better and better. I watch him on the training field and he’s sharp. He controlled that game brilliantly.”

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