Tonight's rugby news as Wales 'close to tipping point' and huge Ireland star to make shock announcement

Tshiunza, Jenkins, Llewellyn and Rowlands all play for clubs outside of Wales
Tshiunza, Jenkins, Llewellyn and Rowlands all play for clubs outside of Wales -Credit:Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agency

These are your evening rugby evening headlines on Wednesday, May 22.

Wales 'close to tipping point'

Warren Gatland says his squad is "reasonably close to the tipping point" when it comes to players playing their club rugby outside of Wales.

The coach's recent Six Nations squad featured five players who represent English clubs, including captain Dafydd Jenkins and key men Tommy Reffell and Nick Tompkins, while Will Rowlands currently plies his trade in France with Racing 92. Other Welsh internationals, including Exeter's Christ Tshiunza, Provence's Tomas Francis and the experienced Liam Williams, now in Japan with Kubota Spears, also play outside of Wales.

They will soon be joined by Gloucester-bound Tomos Williams and new Leicester Tigers signing Nicky Smith, while Gareth Anscombe has also signed a one-year deal with the Cherry & Whites. Rumours have also surrounded the futures of the likes of Mason Grady, Leon Brown and Johnny Williams amid interest from across the Severn Bridge.

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READ MORE: Warren Gatland reveals talks with George North to 'keep door open' for Wales return

While Gatland says that the number of stars playing outside of Wales has not had a huge impact on his job yet, he has warned that he doesn't "want to lose too many more" amid fears it will impact preparations ahead of Test windows.

"I don't think we've been affected too much by that," he told the Rugby Pod. "In terms of players leaving, there's obviously financial pressures, but that’s everywhere in the game. I was looking at the last couple of weeks and you just see how many players have been released from clubs and think where they are going to go and where are the opportunities for players.

"I have no problem with an older experienced player like someone as old as Dan [Biggar] going somewhere else to have a different life experience, whether that’s in England or Japan or France or wherever, towards the end of their career. But I think some of the younger players appreciate that we have our own agreement with regions in Wales where we have that two weeks preparation.

"We have the players available in the Six Nations and in those down weeks and those players going back to the clubs, it does have an impact in terms of the preparations. It does have an impact sometimes on selection if they haven't been there, but we haven't been too badly affected."

Gatland added: "I think that there is a tipping point. We're probably reasonably close to that in terms of the numbers. If you look at Scotland I think they are past the tipping point, they’ve got something like 11 players that play outside of Scotland.

"That does compromise their preparation leading into tournaments and that does compromise your down weeks when you don't have those players available. At the moment we're still able to operate without those players being available to us, but you wouldn't want to lose too many more."

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Keenan to pursue Olympic dream

Ireland star Hugo Keenan is set to miss his side's Test series in South Africa this summer to rejoin the nation's Sevens side ahead of the Olympic Games, according to reports.

The Leinster full-back previously represented Ireland's Sevens team before switching to 15-a-side at Test level in 2020. However, The42 reports that Keenan is expected to reverse that move and join up with his former side as early as next week for the World SVNS Series final in Madrid.

He is, however, expected to line up for Leinster in this weekend's Champions Cup final against Toulouse, although there is a possibility it could be his last game in 15s for some time.

If his reported move comes to fruition, Keenan would follow French superstar Antoine Dupont in joining up with his nation's sevens side and will have the chance to battle for Olympic gold in Paris. The Irish men's team secured qualification for the Games last summer by beating Great Britain in the final of the European Games.

The reports come after IRFU performance director David Nucifora announced in December that an agreement had been reached to allow one men's player from each of the four provinces to join the Olympics sevens squad. Following that announcement, Keenan's Irish team-mate Mack Hansen said he would consider a switch to sevens, despite never having played the game.

"I'd give it a go, so I can get the [Olympic] rings tattooed on the body somewhere," said Hansen. "It's a good conversation starter having the rings on you."

Springboks suffer double blow

South Africa have suffered a double injury blow ahead of their clash with Wales next month.

The Springboks are set to be without versatile back Damian Willemse this summer after it was widely reported he suffered ligament damage in his finger while playing for the Stormers against Connacht last weekend.

The injury will require surgery and is set to rule him out for four months, meaning he will miss the match against Wales at Twickenham on June 22 as well as his side's two-Test series against Ireland the following month.

The blow comes after centre Lukhanyo Am was ruled out of Friday's Challenge Cup final between the Sharks and Gloucester after suffering a suspected shoulder and rib injury. His club coach Neil Powell told reporters on Tuesday that the 30-year-old "will be out for a while" following the double injury.

Meanwhile, loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff has also undergone surgery on a knee injury, while Rassie Erasmus is set to be without several other key players due to the game falling outside of the Test window.

Bath duo to retire

Bath's South African forwards GJ van Velze and Chris Cloete have announced they will retire from rugby at the end of the season.

Van Velze had called time on a career that has seen him make more than 150 Premiership appearances for Bath, Northampton Saints and Worcester Warriors over the course of the last decade. The 36-year-old also captained the Blue Bulls in his homeland before moving to England, while he represented South Africa at age-grade.

Cloete, meanwhile, moved to Bath in 2022 and made 26 appearances for the club. The 33-year-old also spent time at Munster, Southern Kings, Western Province, and Pumas earlier in his career and was capped by the Springboks' 'A' side.

Head of Rugby Johann van Graan said: “I am very proud to have been part of Chris and Gerrit-Jan’s rugby journeys across the rugby world, a massive congratulations to both players for the careers that they have had, the memories we have shared, the influence they had on others, and most importantly for the great men that they are."