Ireland's Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin has been called off amid fears over the spread of the Coronavirus.

Andy Farrell's side had been due to host Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday March 7 in their penultimate game of the tournament.

However, the outbreak of the virus in northern Italy had led to calls for the game to be postponed.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) met with the country's minister for health, Simon Harris, on Tuesday and it was determined the game should not go ahead.

The matches in the Women's Six Nations and the Under-20 Six Nations have also been postponed.

An IRFU statement read: "The IRFU had a positive meeting with Minister Harris and his advisors today, where we requested a formal instruction as to the staging of the Ireland v Italy international matches over the weekend of 6/8 March.

"At the outset we made it clear that the IRFU was supportive of the Governments' need to protect public health in relation to the Coronavirus.

"We were then advised, formally, that The National Public Health Emergency team has determined that the series of matches should not proceed, in the interests of Public Health.

"The IRFU is happy to comply with this instruction.

"We will immediately begin to work with our Six Nations partners to look at the possibility of rescheduling the matches and would hope to have an update on this in the coming days."

Last weekend saw four football matches in Serie A postponed, including Inter's clash with Sampdoria as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus in Italy.

Inter's Europa League meeting with Ludogorets will be contested behind closed doors on Thursday.

Additionally, this weekend's scheduled Pro14 rugby games between Parma-based club Zebre and Ospreys and Benetton Treviso and Ulster will not go ahead.

Ireland suffered their first defeat of the tournament as they were beaten 24-12 by England at Twickenham last Sunday. 

They are four points behind leaders France in the table. Italy have lost each of their three games and appear destined for another wooden spoon.

Anthony Watson could feature for England for the first time in the 2020 Six Nations after he was named in Eddie Jones' squad for their training camp ahead of next week's clash with Wales.

Watson is yet to appear in this year's championship due to a calf injury, but head coach Jones suggested after the victory over Ireland that the wing could soon return.

"Anthony's got to do a running session and if he gets through that we'll get him into camp," Jones said.

And Watson was subsequently included in a 25-man selection on Wednesday as England reconvene for three days of training in Oxford.

Mark Wilson has likewise been recalled, while George Furbank is involved for rehabilitation purposes after missing the Ireland game, as apprentice Alex Mitchell also links up.

However, both Mako Vunipola and Luke Cowan-Dickie were not selected due to family reasons.

Vunipola had travelled to Tonga ahead of Sunday's clash with Ireland and was not expected back in time to face Wales.

Cowan-Dickie, who scored England's third try in the 24-12 Twickenham success, had been absent previously in the campaign as his girlfriend gave birth to their son seven weeks early.

England are still in the mix for the Six Nations title, although they trail Grand Slam-chasing France by four points after three games.

Ireland prop Cian Healy will play no further part in the Six Nations due to a hip injury.

The Leinster stalwart was withdrawn after suffering the blow during a 24-12 defeat to England at Twickenham on Sunday

Healy has been ruled out of the clash with Italy at the Aviva Stadium on March 7 and will not face leaders France in Paris on the final day of the tournament.

Pro14 champions Leinster will be hoping the 32-year-old is available for a European Champions Cup quarter-final against holders Saracens in Dublin on April 4.

Healy will have to wait to bring up a century of caps, with his appearance against England taking him to 98.

Will Connors, Max Deegan, Chris Farrell, David Kearney, Luke McGrath and Jack O'Donoghue were on Tuesday released from international duty to play for their provinces this weekend.

Defeat to the Rugby World Cup runners-up last weekend ended Ireland's hopes of winning a Grand Slam and leaves them level with England, four points adrift of leaders France.

 

Liam Williams has left Saracens to join the Scarlets with immediate effect and his Wales team-mate Rhys Webb has signed for Bath for the rest of the season.

It was announced in December that British and Irish Lions full-back Williams will return to his homeland for a second spell with the Scarlets at the end of the current campaign.

Williams, who has not played since the Rugby World Cup due to an ankle injury, has been cleared to leave the European and Premiership champions earlier than initially planned, bringing to an end a hugely successful spell in London.

The 28-year-old won two Premiership titles and the European Champions Cup during his two-and-a-half year stay with Sarries, who will play in the Championship next year due to salary-cap breaches.

Scarlets head coach Brad Mooar said: "Liam is a world-class player and man, a huge favourite at Parc y Scarlets and we are thrilled to welcome Liam and Sophie back to the Scarlets.

"To have Liam joining our exciting group of outside backs this season is superb. I’m also thrilled for Liam that his rehab is almost complete. 

"Obviously, his immediate availability for us will depend on how Wayne wants to play it during the Six Nations and we look forward to seeing Liam back at Parc y Scarlets in due course."

Webb will spend the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign with Premiership side Bath ahead of a move to Ospreys.

The scrum-half was granted an early release from his Toulon contract at the end of last year and agreed to rejoin Ospreys on a two-year deal.

Webb, who made his Wales comeback in the Six Nations defeat of Italy this month, could make his debut in the derby against Bristol Bears on March 1.

 

Wayne Pivac was unimpressed with the officiating after Wales suffered a narrow defeat to France that leaves the defending champions with only a slim chance of retaining their Six Nations title.

Romain Ntamack was the star of the show as Les Bleus ended a 10-year wait for a victory in Cardiff, winning a thriller 27-23 on Saturday.

Ntamack scored 17 points in a fly-half masterclass at the Principality Stadium for a France side that have won three out of three this year, putting them on track for a first Six Nations crown in a decade.

However, Wales felt they should have been awarded a penalty try by referee Matthew Carley for what they saw as a deliberate knock-on by Paul Willemse when Ken Owens attempted to set up Josh Adams in the second half.

Head coach Pivac said: "We have had a look at the slap down and I think the officials may have got that one wrong.

"That killed momentum as well."

Pivac was also aggrieved when France were awarded a penalty in a scrum as Wales applied the pressure, with prop Wyn Jones having stated this week he expected Les Bleus to "cheat" when they packed down.

"Another disappointing moment was when the French tighthead [Demba Bamba] came on and went straight across the scrum and was rewarded for that," said the New Zealander.

"Those were the big moments in the game. The scrums, from our point of view, had gone okay up until that point.

"You have got to go with the forward motion but he clearly went across the scrum."

Pivac said wings George North and Adams will be checked over after suffering head and ankle injuries respectively, with Wales having games against England and Scotland in March.

"George will go through the normal protocols for a HIA [head injury assessment]. He was taken off the field for a HIA," Pivac stated.

"Josh Adams had an ankle injury. We will have to check him in the next day or two to see how severe it is."

Romain Ntamack says Six Nations leaders France are not discussing the prospect of winning a Grand Slam after he inspired a magnificent 27-23 victory over Wales.

Les Bleus ended a 10-year wait for a victory in Cardiff to outline their title credentials in a thriller at a raucous Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Fly-half Ntamack score a crucial intercept try in the second half following first-half scores from Anthony Bouthier and Paul Willemse.

Dan Biggar's 18-point haul was in vain as the defending champions suffered back-to-back defeats to leave their hopes of retaining the title in tatters.

France went on to complete a clean sweep after their last win in Wales back in 2010, which is the last time they won the tournament.

Ntamack, who was named man of the match after scoring 17 points and showing maturity way beyond his years, says they are not getting ahead of themselves in what has been a dream start to the Fabien Galthie era.

"It's amazing. We worked the whole week for a big game like that. It was a very tough game," he told BBC Sport.

"We have no experience, but we play with a smile. It was a good experience to win at the Principality.

"The try was a good moment. We don't think about the Grand Slam, we play match after match."

Captain Alun Wyn Jones says Wales only had themselves to blame.

"The scoreboard said they deserved it," he said. "You make your own luck sometimes and we fell short on the scoreboard.

"We gave them two penalties and they scored. In the second half, we had the ascendancy and we felt we should have got more out of that scrum. There was a case for a couple of penalty tries.

"They have a very good defence coach [former Wales defence guru Shaun Edwards] and were an embodiment of that today."

Serge Betsen feels the "unbelievable" Shaun Edwards has already made a big impact since he was appointed France defence coach and declared "this is just the beginning".

Edwards was lured across the English Channel to join a new-look Les Bleus coaching set-up under Fabien Galthie after 12 years as Wales defensive guru.

It was clear that the hugely respected, no-nonsense 53-year-old has already stamped his authority early in his new role with the manner in which France defended for their lives in a victory over England in their Six Nations opener.

Edwards returns to Cardiff on Saturday for France's showdown with his former employers at the Principality Stadium on what promises to be a pivotal weekend in the battle for the title.

Betsen has first-hand experience of Edwards' coaching skills from his time at Wasps and the former France flanker has paid tribute to the Englishman.

He told Omnisport: "Shaun Edwards used to be my coach at Wasps. He coached me for three years, he's an unbelievable coach, very passionate and very effective with what he does.

"He's one of the best defensive coaches in the world and everybody who he coaches, you can see the impact he has made. I'm looking forward to seeing how he is going to empower the French players for this game because it's really fine margins and those margins are so important.

"I don't feel he'll be looking to use his past experience with Wales as an advantage so much, but what he is really good at [is] empowering people and he'll make sure the players know how to be the best they can be."

Betsen revealed Edwards asked to pick his brains before embarking on his new challenge.

"I really appreciated the fact that Shaun asked to meet with me before he went to France, to try to understand the French mentality, et cetera," he added.

"As a Frenchman and someone who understands his coaching philosophy, I think he made a very good decision to try to understand the people he would be working with and the culture, to ensure he can adapt himself and make a difference.

"We saw the impact he has made in the game against England, not so much against Italy. He brings to the team with instilling discipline, effectiveness, attention to detail and this is just the beginning.

"What people remember from Shaun Edwards is the blitz defence and I want to see the French team being able to apply that at some point."

Devin Toner has been promoted to the Ireland team to play England in the Six Nations on Sunday after Iain Henderson was ruled out.

Coach Andy Farrell had initially named an unchanged team for the crunch Twickenham clash, with Ireland joint-top alongside France after winning their beating Scotland and defending champions Wales.

However, the continuity has been disrupted, as family reasons mean Henderson will be unavailable.

Towering lock Toner, who was surprisingly left out of Ireland's Rugby World Cup squad under previous boss Joe Schmidt, comes into the side for his 70th cap.

The change sees Ultan Dillane take Toner's spot among the replacements.

England are under huge pressure heading into what Lewis Moody has described as a "must-win game" against Ireland in the Six Nations.

Eddie Jones' side were lacklustre in a shock loss to France before getting their campaign up and running by beating Scotland in torrid conditions at Murrayfield.

The Rugby World Cup runners-up welcome Andy Farrell's Ireland to Twickenham on Sunday and former England flanker Moody believes the onus is on the hosts to get a result.

Speaking to Omnisport ahead of the England v Ireland Rugby Legends Charity Match at Twickenham Stoop on Saturday, Moody said: "Without a shadow of a doubt we all expected England to drive on after the World Cup. They faltered in the first game, the Scotland game allowed us to see they can knuckle out a victory in diabolical conditions. 

"All being the well the weather conditions will be favourable this weekend and we can really see where England are at.

"Ireland will come with confidence from the first two matches, they have the energy and enthusiasm of having a new coaching staff.

"For England it's a must-win game, because otherwise all of a sudden you're going into your fourth game having lost two, only just won one and staring down the barrel of a seriously disappointing Six Nations, which they started with big expectations.

"Without a shadow of a doubt there is a lot of pressure on this England side and coaching staff, which there always is, but we need to see them crack on and Eddie take them forward."

Moody, who made 71 appearances for his country and was part of the 2003 World Cup-winning squad, feels England – who won in Dublin last year – are slight underdogs for this weekend's match against an Ireland side who received a visit from U2 frontman Bono this week.

"I have to admit I'm not overly confident, I even think Ireland will come in as slight favourites," he said.

"England have not really fired so far in the Six Nations, they had that really disappointing start in France, they got what they needed in Murrayfield – which is a very difficult place to go and win.

"To knock out a win in those unbelievably horrific weather conditions was impressive, but this is the true test, this is the game that matters. They [Ireland] have a very well-organised side, with a new coach who seems to be instilling some real belief and I'm sure they've got a slight degree of vengeance from last year's upset at home to inspire them."

While England still have not found what they are looking for in this year's Six Nations, Ireland's desire to win may have been boosted by the presence of Irish singer-songwriter Bono at the team hotel.

Moody does not know exactly how the away side will benefit from that experience, but he suggested some song lyrics might provide some inspiration. 

He said: "I'm not sure what motivation that will provide, but it'll be interesting for sure. Perhaps there may be a few of his lyrics quoted beforehand, but I'm not so sure what impact that might have."

- The England v Ireland Rugby Legends Charity Match will take place at Twickenham Stoop on February 22, kick-off 17.30 and will be raising money for Restart Rugby, RFU Injured Players Fund and the Tom Smith Testimonial Committee. Visit http://tickets.quins.co.uk for tickets and more information.

Serge Betsen laughed off Wyn Jones' claim that France will "cheat" in the Six Nations showdown on Saturday and urged Les Bleus to keep their discipline on a revenge mission in Cardiff.

Wales prop Jones fanned the flames this week by stating that the defending champions know France will "hit and chase and cheat" in the scrum.

France head coach Fabien Galthie accused Wales of a "lack of respect towards our scrum, towards our team, towards French rugby, towards our nation", while manager Raphael Ibanez described Jones' barbs as a "blatant, childish attack".

Betsen says joint-leaders Les Bleus are best advised to let their rugby do the talking when they bid to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive.

Asked about Jones' comments, the former France flanker told Omnisport: "That made me laugh, because it is an attempt to create disruption and get into the head of your opponents.

"Communication is a key aspect of the game, but I believe none of the French players responded to that. My view is better to be quiet and play at your best than start talking about things that are not the truth.

"Saying that, we are not really in the press outside of France because we are not speaking, we are not talking a lot about what we are doing, and we talk after the game."

A moment of madness from Sebastien Vahaamahina cost France dearly the last time the two nations met in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final at Oita Stadium in October.

Les Bleus were leading 19-10 at half-time and looked to be heading into the last four before lock Vahaamahina was dismissed for elbowing Aaron Wainwright, with Wales going on to win 20-19.

While a host of players who will feature at the Principality Stadium were not involved in that painful encounter, Betsen says it should make them even more eager to give Wales a taste of their own medicine.

"I think that red card gave them a lot of experience of high level. It is a great opportunity for all those players who felt that frustration of losing," he added.

"It will be very challenging for France, it is a young side, with players who have not experienced playing in Cardiff.

"At the highest level it is all about keeping your nerve, maintain your discipline."

Family loyalty will go out of the window when England and Ireland do battle this weekend, and France face a major test of their Six Nations title credentials against Wales.

Ireland beat defending champions Wales 24-14 in Dublin last time out, while France also made it two wins out of two with a 35-22 triumph over Italy.

The joint-leaders will not have home comforts for the first time in the tournament, with the third round of matches seeing Les Bleus travel to Cardiff on Saturday and Ireland taking on England at Twickenham on Sunday.

England captain Owen Farrell could inflict a first defeat on his father, Andy, since he become Ireland head coach.

Winless Scotland and Italy do battle on Saturday at Rome's Stadio Olimpico, where the hosts go in search of their first points of the tournament.

We take a look at what promises to a be pivotal round of matches with some standout Opta data.

 

Italy v Scotland

- Scotland have won six of their last seven Six Nations games against Italy, their solitary loss in that spell coming at Murrayfield in 2015 – the Azzurri’s last victory against any side in the Championship.

- Seven of the last eight Six Nations meetings between Italy and Scotland in Rome have been decided by seven points or fewer.

- Italy have spent 40 minutes in possession in the Six Nations this year, longer than any other side, making the most carries (300) and metres (857) in the process; in contrast, Scotland have spent the least time in possession during this campaign (33m 56s).

- Scotland have missed just 25 tackles in this year's Six Nations, fewer than any of their rivals and as a result boast the best tackle success rate (91 per cent).

 

Wales v France

- Wales have won eight of their last nine Test matches against France, this after winning just two of their previous 12 clashes with Les Bleus before that run.

- France and Scotland (7/7) are the only sides who boast a 100 per cent scrum success rate on their own feed in the Six Nations this year, while Wales have recorded the worst success rate at that particular set-piece - with 11 from 15.

- France’s Bernard Le Roux has made the most tackles of any player in the tournament with 38, one more than Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones.

- No player has beaten more defenders in the Six Nations this year than France's Antoine Dupont (10, level with Stuart Hogg), while he also has the second-most offloads with seven.

 

England v Ireland

- Ireland are the only side to hold a winning record over England in the Six Nations (winning 11 and losing nine); however, they suffered a record 57-15 to the Red Rose in their last meeting before the Rugby World Cup.

- England have lost just one of their last 19 home games in the Six Nations (W17, D1). That one defeat came the last time they hosted Ireland in 2018.

- Ireland have won 95 per cent of their lineouts in the Six Nations this year (19/20), which is the best rate of any team. However, England have stolen the most lineouts (5) in the Championship.

- Maro Itoje has hit 74 rucks in the 2020 Six Nations, more than any other player, and has also won the most turnovers with six.

Lewis Moody wants England head coach Eddie Jones to unleash the "fire" of Ellis Genge on Ireland in a blockbuster Six Nations battle on Sunday.

Genge came off the bench to score a late try that ensured England regained the Calcutta Cup with a 13-6 victory over fierce rivals Scotland at Storm Ciara-battered Murrayfield last time out.

Powerhouse prop Mako Vunipola is unavailable for family reasons for a pivotal round-three showdown at Twickenham this weekend, so either Genge or Joe Marler are set to come into the starting line-up.

Former England flanker Moody wants to see Genge, who described critics of the Rugby World Cup runners-up as "sausages" after the win over Scotland, in the front row from the start.

Speaking to Omnisport ahead of the England v Ireland Rugby Legends Charity Match at Twickenham Stoop, Moody said: "I love Genge, I just think he's something different, as is Marler.

"From a character point of view they are both very authentic, unique individuals. From a playing point of view Ellis just brings some proper fire, he's got that fire in his belly.

"You can see how hungry he is, how passionate he is for his team to do well. He's totally bought into that, you can see that with the post-match chat after the Scotland game, where he was clearly upset people were attacking his coach and his team.

"I like that sort of spirit in a player. Whether he's technically the best scrummager, I'm probably not a good enough artiste of the front row to be able to give enough information on that, but in terms of an individual I'd want him in my team, he'd be on the starting sheet."

Moody says the return to fitness of centre Manu Tuilagi is a major boost for England, particularly with Billy Vunipola unable to play any part in the tournament due to a broken arm.

The World Cup winner added: "For England, it will be enormous. Without Billy Vunipola and Manu it's a different proposition without that ball carrying. They get those extra yards every time and that ability to offload.

"Manu coming in would go some way to reinstilling that momentum in the England attack, it feels like it's been missing for the last two games - obviously you have to take into account the conditions against Scotland."

 

- The England v Ireland Rugby Legends Charity Match will take place at Twickenham Stoop on February 22, kick-off 17.30 and will be raising money for Restart Rugby, RFU Injured Players Fund and the Tom Smith Testimonial Committee. Visit http://tickets.quins.co.uk for tickets and more information.

Alessandro Zanni will start for Italy in Saturday's Six Nations showdown with Scotland in Rome.

The veteran lock was injured in the warm-up prior to the 35-22 defeat to France in Paris on February 9.

Zanni returns in place of Dean Budd for what will be his 119th cap, with Italy otherwise unchanged from the loss to Les Bleus.

"We showed some improvements against France," said head coach Franco Smith. "We want to produce a big performance in front of our fans at the Stadio Olimpico showing everyone our game and our true potential."

Tommaso Allan, who managed three successful kicks against France, will start at fly-half on Saturday.

Italy are seeking their first points of the 2020 tournament, having suffered a chastening 42-0 defeat to Wales in round one.

The Azzurri are, along with Scotland, the only team yet to record a win this year.

Italy: Jayden Hayward, Mattia Bellini, Luca Morisi, Carlo Canna, Matteo Minozzi, Tommaso Allan, Callum Braley; Andrea Lovotti, Luca Bigi (captain), Giosue Zilocchi, Alessandro Zanni, Niccolo Cannone, Jake Polledri, Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn.

Replacements: Federico Zani, Danilo Fischetti, Marco Riccioni, Marco Lazzaroni, Dean Budd, Giovanni Licata, Guglielmo Palazzani, Giulio Bisegni.

Gael Fickou moves to the wing and the fit-again Virimi Vakatawa is back in France's starting line-up for the Six Nations battle with Wales on Saturday.

Vakatawa was ruled out of the victory over Italy with a triceps injury but will make a centre pairing with Arthur Vincent at the Principality Stadium.

Fickou shifts out wide from midfield with Vincent Rattez (broken fibula) and Damian Penaud (calf) on the sidelines.

They are the only changes made to the starting line-up by Fabien Galthie as Les Bleus attempt to make it three wins out of three in Cardiff.

Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack have shaken off niggles to start for a France side that are joint-top with Ireland.

Prop Jean-Baptiste Gros and flanker Dylan Cretin are set to make their debuts off the bench against the defending champions, with Jefferson Poirot and Cameron Woki overlooked.

 

France: Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon (captain) Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Matthieu Jalibert, Thomas Ramos.

 

Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade are on course to be fit for England's crunch Six Nations showdown with Ireland at Twickenham on Sunday.

Tuilagi suffered a groin injury early in England's defeat to France on the opening weekend of the tournament, while Slade has been out since sustaining an ankle injury in December.

The centres trained with the Rugby World Cup runners-up on Wednesday and could face joint-leaders Ireland this weekend.

England head coach Eddie Jones said: "Manu trained fully so should be in contention for selection. It's good to have a quality player back.

"Slade also trained so we have just got to monitor his progress. He has a positive chance. He's a quality player. This gives us more options."

One player who will play no part is prop Mako Vunipola, who flew to Tonga and is not available for "family reasons".

Jones says England are well stocked to cover for the absence of the British and Irish Lion, with Joe Marler and Ellis Genge vying for a start.

The Australian said: "Mako's a quality player but we are lucky we are blessed with two outstanding loosehead props in Joe and Ellis, so we can recover the loss of Mako.

"But it's disappointing to lose him."

Genge scored the winning try in a battling 13-6 defeat of Scotland before the rest weekend. 

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