x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Brian O'Driscoll turns down UK Royal wedding invite

The captain of Ireland's rugby union team has turned down an invitation to the UK's royal wedding in order to prepare for Leinster's European Cup clash with Toulouse.

Brian O'Driscoll, left, is focused on Leinster's European Cup semi-final against Toulouse.
Brian O'Driscoll, left, is focused on Leinster's European Cup semi-final against Toulouse.

Brian O'Driscoll, the captain of Ireland's rugby union team, has turned down an invitation to the UK's royal wedding in order to prepare for Leinster's European Cup clash with Toulouse.

O'Driscoll told The Guardian that he had said no to an invite to Friday's wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey because of pre-match commitments in Dublin.

Leinster face Toulouse in the European Cup semi-finals at Lansdowne Road on Saturday aiming to avenge their defeat to the French giants at the same stage of the competition last season.

O'Driscoll said turning down his royal invite had been a straightforward decision.

"I have a captain's run on Friday and as big an honour as it was to be invited, I can't ask for team runs to be at half-six in the evening so I can go to the wedding," O'Driscoll said.

"The team ethos comes first, even after 12 years. I know [Prince] William and he's a nice, chatty, normal guy. On a conversational level with him and [Prince] Harry, it's extremely normal.

O'Driscoll said his wife, the actress Amy Huberman, would attend the royal nuptials. " ... Amy's going as we felt there was an element of our representing Ireland as well," O'Driscoll said. "It's going to be an incredible thing, with two billion watching, but I'll be at home, preparing for Toulouse."

O'Driscoll believes home advantage this weekend could tip the balance in Leinster's favour.

"We lost to them in the semi in Toulouse last year. But being at home is a big advantage. We'll have over 40,000 supporting us and they'll only have 4,000."

Elsewhere, Japan has been ordered to move five Pacific Nations Cup matches to Fiji following last month's deadly earthquake and tsunami and fears over a nuclear crisis.

The Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) said yesterday that only the July 2 curtain-raiser against Samoa had survived after the International Rugby Board (IRB) decided on the switch.

"It was an extremely difficult decision to take but it is one we must accept," Tatsuzo Yabe, the JRFU general secretary, told reporters. "We had put in so much work to organise a wonderful tournament. It's a great pity."

Apart from Japan's opener against Samoa in Tokyo, the remainder of the competition from July 9 to 13 will be held in Fiji, which hosted the 2009 Pacific Nations Cup.

Japan are also competing in the Asian Five Nations, in which the UAE are playing for the first time as a single nation, having previously taken part as the Arabian Gulf.

However, Japan will be playing all their games in the tournament away from home, including a match against the UAE at the Sevens in Dubai on May 13.

Sporting events have been thrown into chaos following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami on March 11.

The huge tsunami wave triggered by the quake severely damaged a nuclear plant in Fukushima some 240km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, forcing the abandonment of major sports events across Japan.

Professional baseball and football, Japan's two biggest spectator sports, were forced to postpone the start of their seasons.

In Italy, Jacques Brunel will be named new national coach "in the coming days", according to the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR). Giancarlo Dondi, the FIR president, told AFP: "Jacques Brunel has not yet signed his contract but will be named as coach in the coming days."

Brunel, currently the coach of French Top 14 team Perpignan, will take up his duties after this year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, when the Italian side will be coached by incumbent Nick Mallett.

Mallett took over the role from Frenchman Pierre Berbizier following the last World Cup in France in 2007, being handed a four-year deal.

Italy won just three out of 20 Six Nations matches under Mallett including the historic 22-21 victory at home to France this season.

His record was marginally better than Italy's Six Nations record before he arrived - five wins and one draw in 40 matches - but that has not proved enough for the federation.

Mallett also oversaw November Test victories against Fiji and Samoa in the last two years while his tourists beat Argentina in Cordoba in June 2008.