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‘Battle of the Hemispheres’ back on agenda

BRAGGING RIGHTS: An annual fixture between the Super 14 and Heineken Cup winners is back on the agenda.

WHO IS the best club team in the world?

That question could soon be answered, with an annual match between the winners of the Super 14 and Heineken Cup back on the agenda.

According to website RugbyHeaven, England’s premier clubs are backing the concept of a  “battle of the hemispheres”, meaning the long-mooted game looks set to become a reality.

CLICK HERE to read more.

Bowe to stick with Ospreys

IRELAND and British Lions wing Tommy Bowe has re-signed with Welsh club Ospreys for a further three seasons.

Bowe – who has been in scintillating form, scoring 18 tries in 34 appearances for the region – inked deal reportedly worth £500,000 that will keep him at the Swansea-based club until 2012-13 season.

“I just feel all the ingredients are here for long-term success and I’m very excited about what we can achieve,” Bowe told the Daily Mail.

The 25-year-old knocked back generous offers from several European clubs, including Irish heavyweight Munster, Leinster and Ulster. CLICK HERE to read more.

Leinster name Schmidt as new coach

FORMER Auckland Blues assistant Joe Schmidt has been named as coach of  Leinster, according to the Irish Times.

Schmidt (right) has been working as a backs coach for the past three years at Clermont Auvergne where, alongside fellow Kiwi Vern Cotter, he has guided the French Club to three consecutive Top 14 finals.

The 44-year-old signed a three-year deal with the defending Heineken Cup champions and will replace Australian Michael Cheika at the start of the 2010-11 season.

He is likely to be assisted at the Dublin-based club by compatriot and former All Black, Chiefs and Waikato loose forward Jonno Gibbes.

Schmit comes with a good track record, also helping the Blues win the Super 12 in 2003 and Bay of Plenty lift the Ranfurly Shield for the first time a year later. CLICK HERE to read more.

OPINION: Thomas should be praised and applauded

KIA KAHA, Gareth Thomas. It takes a player with great courage and big stones to come out of the closet.

In an interview with British newspaper the Daily Mail, the former Wales and British Lions captain (left)  put it all on the line when he broke a long-standing taboo in male sport by speaking openly about being a gay for the first time.

It was a tough decision for Thomas – who endured the break up of his marriage and even contemplated suicide at one point – one that weighed heavily on his conscience since his teenage years given the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds homosexuality in some circles.

By becoming rugby’s first openly gay player, however, Thomas joins the likes of Welsh whistleblower Nigel Owens, retired NBA star John Amaechi and former rugby league player Ian Roberts as those sports personalities who are out and proud.

So far reaction to the news has been positive, with many of the outside back’s colleagues hardly batting an eyelid.

And that’s how it should be, as far as this humble scribe is concerned.

The fact Thomas fancies blokes instead of sheilas shouldn’t matter or tarnish everything he has achieved during an impressive career which saw him lift the Heineken Cup with Toulouse and play 100 tests for Wales, scoring 40 tries and captaining the Bhoys to their first Six Nations grand slam in 27 years in 2005, and three internationals (two as skipper) for the Lions.

After all, the world has changed. It is no longer the anti-queer and homophobic place it once was, with the majority of people (though sadly not all) nowadays far more accepting and tolerant of homosexuality and same sex relationships.

Even rugby is slowly veering away from the tough, macho, manly image it established after a certain William Webb Ellis choose to pick up that soccer ball and run with it many moons ago.

Rugby’s new face: Dan Carter

While players are still physically strong, one only has to look at players like Daniel Carter to see how much the game is changing.

The All Black kingpin is a far cry from the red-blooded, square-jawed, hetrosexual gib players were cut from during the era of ‘Pinetree’ Meads and Brian Lochore, a time where men were men and nothing more.

Instead Carter is a ‘renaissance man’, a well-groomed fashionesta who sports the latest styles and designer labels, owns his own chain of clothing stores and is just as comfortable modelling Jockey underwear on the catwalk, attending events like Fashion Week and fraternising at the trendiest bar and cafes as he kicking goals and making the big hits on the footy paddock.

The same  can also be said of his fellow All Black teammates Richie McCaw and Ali Williams who feature just as much on the social pages as they do the sports section of New Zealand newspapers these days.

So if society can accept that some modern day players are metrosexual males who enjoy drinking soy lattes, wearing the latest threads and being snapped with the in crowd at high profile nightclubs and bars – things which heroes of yesteryear would have been ridiculed for – then surely they should have no issues with an openly gay player.

After all, people are people at the end of the day. You get good and bad people from all walks of life. They should not be judged on gender, race, religion or sexuality, but rather who they are as a person.

The same applies to Thomas. The Welsh legend should be judged by his exploits on the pitch and his individual qualities like his exceptional leadership and sense of humour. What he does behind closed doors is up to him and should not be used a fodder to undermine him or his achievements in any way.

Neanderthals with ingrained prehistoric views will label the 35-year-old as a sissy, a wet blouse, a Nancy boy. They’re entitled to their opinions, no matter how derogatory or narrow-minded they might be.

But as far as Yours Truly is concerned, being gay doesn’t – and shouldn’t – make Thomas any less of a man.

If anything,  he’s probably more of man for being honest and should be applauded for the way he’s spoken about a difficult subject, especially given the smell of testosterone and all things bloke still lingers strongly in the rugby fraternity.

It would have been a tough decision – the hardest the man nicknamed ‘Alfie’ had to make in life, no doubt – but by coming out and saying “I’m gay, big deal, get over it”, he has made strong stand and hopefully set a precedent to encourage other gay male athletes to do same.

He has become a trailblazer by speaking openly about a subject that many have steered away from or denied exists and for that, his mana levels are through the roof.

Leamy to miss Six Nations

IRELAND have been dealt a massive blow ahead of their Six Nations title defence, with flanker Denis Leamy set to miss the tournament through injury.

The SkySport website reported the 41-test veteran (right) limped off the paddock after sustaining a serious knee injury during the final minutes of Munster’s 37-14 Heineken Cup victory over Perpangain on Sunday.

He underwent surgery on Tuesday and is expected to be sidelined for between four to six months.

Ireland – which won its first Grand Slam in 61 years last season – open their campaign against Italy at Croke Park in February. CLICK HERE to read more.

Blast from the past as Meyer rejoins Bulls

FORMER Bulls mentor Heyneke Meyer has rejoined his old team as a coaching executive as they prepare to defend their Super 14 trophy.

According to website RugbyHeaven, Meyer, who guided the Pretoria-based franchise to Super rugby success in 2007, has been helping with the side’s preseason training at the coastal base of George.

“For me it is a privilege to be allowed back and to work with these guys,”  says Meyer (left).

“Still, I believe my best role at this camp is to stand back a bit and to observe. What I’ve seen so far I’ve been impressed with.”

Meyer, who missed out on the Springboks’ top job to Peter De Villiers, returned to the Republic for family reasons after coaching Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership and Heineken Cup. CLICK HERE to read more.