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Rugby News: Four English clubs in talks with Saudis, All Blacks to meet Fiji in San Diego as fixtures CONFIRMED

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1st February, 2024
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Months after Saudi investment was linked with the Springboks and Wallabies, private investment from the Middle East appears to be coming to the English Premiership.

Telegraph Sport revealed that associates of the Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF), which took an 80 per cent stake of Premier League outfit Newcastle United, have held discussions about investment with Gloucester, Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints and Newcastle Falcons.

The report adds that the group are seeking control of stadium naming rights and the establishment of a rugby academy in Saudi Arabia.

Under Rugby Football Union regulations, any private investment stake of less than 10 per cent does not require consent from the governing body.

It means the governing body would be powerless to stop the investment.

Leicester Tigers are one of four clubs that Saudi investment is looking at. (Photo by Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

Thus far rugby union hasn’t had any investment from the PIF, but the financial struggles of clubs across the United Kingdom and other regions, including Australia, could see that change.

Three Premiership clubs went out of business in the space of 10 months during the 2022-23 season, while Down Under the Melbourne Rebels fell into voluntary administration on Monday.

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The Daily Mail reported last year that the Springboks and Wallabies were approached about Saudi investment.

All Blacks to play Fiji in USA

The All Blacks are moving a home Test match overseas for the first time when they take on regional rivals Fiji at San Diego State’s Snapdragon Stadium.

The July 19 clash will be the first time New Zealand and the Flying Fijians have met at a neutral site, as well as Fiji’s inaugural visit to the United States.

The All Blacks have played several exhibition matches stateside down the years, including a 53-6 victory against the US at what was then known as San Diego Stadium on October 8, 1980.

That venue was replaced in 2022 by the 35,000-seat Snapdragon.

“It’s a massive step for New Zealand rugby, bringing a home Test over to the States,” said Ma’a Nonu, a former All Blacks star who recently re-signed with the San Diego Legion, a founding member of Major League Rugby.

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Fijian great Waisale Serevi, a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame, said the match will be huge for his country.

“Giving Fiji the opportunity to play (New Zealand) on neutral ground, for a small country, is a blessing,” Serevi said.

“It’s an honour and a privilege for Fiji to be invited to be a part of the big Test coming up.”

The match will help promote the sport in the United States, which will host the men’s Rugby World Cup in 2031 and the women’s two years later.

“It’s been a long-held ambition … and part of our wider strategy to increase the visibility and understanding of rugby in North America and to build our brand presence ahead of the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033,” New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson said in a statement.

“The All Blacks and Fiji share a deep connection to the game of rugby and to the Pacific region. … We want to deliver an event that will capture the imagination of sports fans across the United States and showcases the best qualities of our game.

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“It promises to be a unique and entertaining afternoon of rugby and Pacific culture, and a great advertisement for the game.”

Scott Robertson’s first Test in charge of the All Blacks will be in Dunedin, before the three-time World Cup winners take on Fiji in San Diego. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The San Diego match is one of 14 Tests the All Blacks will play in nine countries in their first season under new head coach Scott Robertson, whose first match in charge will be against England at Dunedin on July 6.

The two sides meet again at Auckland’s Eden Park on July 13 before New Zealand fly to San Diego to face Fiji.

“Playing England under the roof in Dunedin is a great start for us in a world-class stadium and then we go up to Auckland where we have a great record that we are really proud of,” Robertson said.

“We then fly off to San Diego, which is exciting in itself. The Fijians know their way around the world and they’ll come out from everywhere. I know a lot of Kiwis will make the trip as well.”

All Blacks’ 2024 test schedule:

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July 6: v England (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)

July 13: v England (Eden Park, Auckland)

July 20: v Fiji (SnapDragon Stadium, San Diego)

August 10: v Argentina (Sky Stadium, Wellington)

August 17: v Argentina (Eden Park, Auckland)

August 31: v South Africa (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
September 7: v South Africa (DHL Stadium, Cape Town)

September 21: v Australia (Stadium Australia, Sydney)

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September 28: v Australia (Sky Stadium, Wellington)

October 26: v Japan (Nissan Stadium, Yokohama)

November 2: v England (Twickenham, London)

November 9: v Ireland (venue TBC)

November 16: v France (venue TBC)

November 23: v Italy (venue TBC

England bad boy retires

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Well-travelled former England, Wasps, Sale and Melbourne Rebels player Danny Cipriani has retired from professional rugby, calling his decision a “sobering but also freeing moment”.

The mercurial 16-cap England back had not played since 2022. 

But the 36-year-old has now officially called time on a colourful career that included two spells at Wasps as well as stints at Melbourne Rebels, Sale, Gloucester and Bath.  

“I haven’t played for a while, but in my mind I left it open,” Cipriani wrote on social media. 

“Messaging my agent as I sit outside (coffee shop) Costa, I realised I don’t want to play again. Sobering but also freeing moment.” 

Danny Cipriani has retired from rugby. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Cipriani made his England debut in 2008 with his last appearance coming against South Africa in 2018. 

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He joined the Rebels for the 2011 season, and scored the crucial penalty that earned the club their first-ever Super Rugby win, a 25-24 triumph over the ACT Brumbies.   

There was no disputing Cipriani’s natural talent but off-pitch problems were a common theme of his career. 

“Thank you to all the coaches I’ve had, taken lots away from each one of you,” Cipriani wrote. 

“To the supporters who turned up and wore their heart on their sleeves, thank you for showing love throughout my career, special memories from all the fans of each team I played at. 

“To all my team mates I played with, man I loved it, I know sometimes I could be relentless, we did have some fun out there though. 

“Learnt so much throughout my career and when I reflect, I’m grateful for every moment.”

With AAP

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