Kieran Hardy has been released from the Wales squad after suffering a hamstring problem and Dan Biggar is also nursing an injury following the Six Nations victory over England last weekend.

The scrum-half scored a try in the leaders' 40-24 win at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, but also sustained an injury.

Hardy has returned to the Scarlets to continue his rehabilitation, with a weekend off to come before a trip to face bottom side Italy at Stadio Olimpico a week on Saturday.

Wales attack coach Stephen Jones said: "It's unfortunate [for Hardy] after having a wonderful performance against England.

"We've got three scrum-halves left who are good to go."

 Jones also confirmed fly-half Biggar is carrying an injury, but is "very optimistic" he can face the Azzurri.

Aaron Wainwright and Owen Watkin have been released to play for the Dragons and the Ospreys respectively this weekend. The duo will return to link up with the national team after featuring for their regions.

Wales wrapped up the Triple Crown with a defeat of the defending champions and lead France, who have a game in hand against Scotland, by five points.

France and Wales are set to do battle at Stade de France on March 20.

All Blacks half-back Aaron Smith has committed to New Zealand Rugby (NZR) until the 2023 World Cup in France after signing a new contract.

NZR confirmed on Tuesday that the 32-year-old, who has 97 caps for the All Blacks, had penned a new deal securing his future with Super Rugby side Highlanders and provincially with Manawatu.

Palmerston North-born Smith is New Zealand's most capped half-back and remains a key member of the All Blacks side who finished third at the 2019 World Cup.

"One thing that hasn't changed is my love for the Highlanders, the All Blacks and Manawatu," Smith said.

"The decision to stay is based on a number of things, but I'm very keen to see the Highlanders do well, we have a good environment here and some great, young players, so I think the next few years will be exciting for us and it'll be great to be part of it.

"Dunedin has been good to me. My wife Teagan and I have a home and a business here and our son Luka was born here. 

"I felt that committing to the Highlanders for another few years in some small way says thanks for all the support we have enjoyed over the years."

All Blacks coach Ian Foster added that Smith's influence on the side could not be underestimated.

"He is so instrumental in the way we play the game and is such a vital cog for us, both on and off the field, so this is fantastic news," Foster said. 

"We're delighted that Aaron, Teagan and his family have decided to commit to New Zealand and congratulate them on the decision."

It is anticipated Smith will bring up his 100th New Zealand cap this year, while he is two caps away from equalling the record for most appearances for the Highlanders.

Wayne Pivac shrugged off the suggestion Wales had luck on their side as they overcame England 40-24 to wrap up a Six Nations triple crown.

Wales have now beaten Ireland, Scotland and England across their opening three matches to take a five-point lead at the top of the standings, though second-placed France have a game in hand.

Saturday's victory was not without its contentious moments, however, as the calls of referee Pascal Gauzere took centre stage in the first half.

First, the French official allowed Josh Adams' opening try to stand, despite having given England little time to set themselves from a Wales penalty, with the referee having asked Owen Farrell to speak to his team.

Gauzere then made the on-field decision to award Liam Williams' try, with TMO unable to definitively prove that Louis Rees-Zammit had knocked on in the build-up.

Wales benefitted from a red card in their wins over Ireland and Scotland, but Pivac put the victory against England in Cardiff down to his team's application.

"Some people are going to say that, they'll say it's been on our side for the last three matches, but you've got to be in games to win them," Pivac told BBC Sport.

"England put a lot of pressure on us and came back, each time we hit them they came back again, so it was a hell of a game and a lot of resilience shown from our boys."

Asked if he had any sympathy for England, Pivac added: "I think when you give away that many penalties – one player giving away five penalties – I think you’re lucky not to concede a yellow card to be honest. I suppose you could argue either way."

Wales lost four of their five games in last season's Six Nations campaign, finishing fifth above winless Italy, yet now look on course for a Grand Slam.

"Time. A bit of time," was Pivac's explanation when asked how his team have turned their fortunes around.

"We've picked a squad to get results in this tournament and we had a good look at some players in the last tournament that we've well and truly documented, but certainly time together and I think you can see there's a good bond growing in this group.

"They enjoy winning things, as they did under Warren [Gatland]. Hopefully we can press on."

As ruthless Wales celebrated winning the Triple Crown, Eddie Jones might have been regretting saying the pressure would be on referee Pascal Gauzere in Cardiff.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac endured a difficult start to his reign after succeeding Warren Gatland, but his side are two victories from a Grand Slam after beating the defending champions 40-24.

England, on the other hand, saw the Six Nations title all-but slip through their fingers as they were left to rue poor discipline and two controversial first-half tries for Wales.

Red Rose boss Jones has previous with Gauzere and spoke to World Rugby about an incident involving the French official during Wales' win over Scotland in 2018.

The Australian was his usually outspoken self ahead of Saturday's clash at the Principality Stadium.

He said: "Unfortunately, there are no fans but the intensity of the clash I think over the last four or five years, the games I have been involved in, the points difference is six points. They always go down to the wire, so the pressure is going to be on the referee to make the right decisions."

So when Gauzere twice took centre stage in the first half by awarding tries for Josh Adams and Liam Williams, Jones may have been thinking he had made the wrong decision by putting the spotlight on the referee.

Jones should also be pointing the finger at his players, who he said had become more "street-smart" than they were when losing to Wales at the same stadium two years ago.

They were their own worst enemies, conceding 14 penalties as they lost for the second time in three matches, but Gauzere left them up against it and resurgent Wales took full advantage.

Owen Farrell has come in for criticism for having too much to say to referees, but he was understandably aggrieved when Adams was awarded an opening try 16 minutes in.

Gauzere had called time out after instructing the skipper to warn his team-mates about their indiscipline, only to give Dan Biggar the green light to pick out Adams with a pinpoint cross-field kick soon after with the majority of Red Rose caught out in a huddle.

Farrell exchanged words with Gauzere before reducing the deficit to 10-6 with his second penalty, yet the French official took centre stage once again when he raised his arm to signal a try for Williams with half an hour on the clock.

Louis Rees-Zammit was shaking his head in frustration after knocking the ball forward prior to Williams dotting down, but Gauzere opted against changing his decision after consulting the TMO as the ball struck the wing's leg prior to hitting the ground after he knocked it forward.

Rees-Zammit raised eyebrows over the verdict and England responded with a well-finished try from Anthony Watson before Farrell made it 17-14 just before the break.

Kieran Hardy caught England napping early in the second half with a sharp turn of foot to score a third Wales try but Farrell made it a seven-point game when he was on target with the boot again.

England were showing the sort of inventive play they were so badly lacking in the defeat to Scotland and the quick-thinking Ben Youngs nipped in for a superb try, which Farrell converted to level at 24-24 with 17 minutes to go.

The Red Rose continued to give away far too many penalties, though, and Callum Sheedy punished them on three occasion to put Pivac's men 33-24 up with six minutes remaining.

Cory Hill put the icing on the cake as it was Wales who proved to be more "street-smart”, with Pivac celebrating gleefully as his side took a big stride on the road towards another title.

Wales go in search of a Triple Crown in a blockbuster battle against England, but France will not have an opportunity to make it three Six Nations wins out of three this weekend.

Wayne Pivac's Wales side are level on nine points with Les Bleus following victories over Ireland and Scotland, both of whom had a man sent off.

George North will become the youngest player in history to win 100 caps, but defending champions England will be determined to spoil the Wales centre's big occasion at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

The Red Rose beat Italy 41-18 last time out, following a loss to Scotland at Twickenham.

Winless Ireland will be expected to defeat the Azzurri to get up and running in the opening match of round three at Stadio Olimpico.

Sunday's planned showdown between France and Scotland was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the French squad.

We preview the matches in Rome and Cardiff with help from Opta.

ITALY v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have scored 45 tries across their last seven games against Italy in the Six Nations (6.4 per game), scoring eight or more tries in three of their last five clashes.

Italy have conceded a try-scoring bonus point in 17 of their 22 matches since those incentives were introduced to the Six Nations in 2017; only England (9) have picked up more bonus points in the championship than Ireland (8). The Azzurri are the only side yet to register one.

Ireland have lost their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign for the first time. The last time they lost their opening three matches was in 1998, when they were beaten in all four Five Nations clashes.

ONES TO WATCH

Sebastian Negri has made 96 metres and made 21 tackles combined in Italy's losses to France and England. Franco Smith will need another strong showing from the flanker.

Ireland back-row CJ Stander has made more carries (36) than any other player in the 2021 Six Nations. He has topped the final rankings for this category in three of the last four editions of the championship.

WALES v ENGLAND

FORM

England have won six of their last seven Six Nations matches against Wales, with the last six of those fixtures all decided by a single-figure margin.

Wales have won their opening two games of the tournament for a sixth time. On four of the previous five occasions when they have started with back-to-back victories, they have gone on to win a Grand Slam (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019, not in 2009).

This weekend's visitors are the only team to have never conceded more than two tries in a Six Nations game played in Wales. They have scored 19 tries in Wales during the Six Nations, no visiting team have scored more (Ireland also 19).

ONES TO WATCH

North will become only the sixth Wales player to win a century of caps. The 28-year-old will form a new pairing with Jonathan Davies and will be looking to bring up his hundred with an all-action display.

Elliot Daly will win his 50th cap for England and coach Eddie Jones will expect the full-back to repay the faith he has shown in him after a slow start to the tournament.

George North will become the youngest player in world rugby to reach 100 caps after being named in Wales' starting line-up for Saturday's Six Nations showdown with England.

The 28-year-old, who won his first cap in November 2010, returns to the side at outside centre as one of five changes from the 25-24 win over Scotland on February 13.

Wing Josh Adams is back from suspension while Josh Navidi, Jonathan Davies and scrum-half Kieran Hardy are also included in the XV, the latter making his first Six Nations start.

Wales have won their opening two games in this year's tournament and are three points ahead of England, who beat Italy 41-18 last time out after losing to Scotland in their opener.

Eddie Jones makes two changes to the England line-up, with hooker Jamie George and flanker Mark Wilson replacing Luke Cowan-Dickie and the injured Courtney Lawes respectively.

Elliot Daly retains his place and is set to win his 50th cap for England, who have named the uncapped George Martin among their replacements for the Principality Stadium clash. 

"We know we'll be up against a strong Welsh challenge on Saturday, but we've worked really hard in training this week and have got a very good team to face it," Jones said.

"We want to show people what we are capable of, keep building our performances and show the best is yet to come from this England team."

 

Wales XV: Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Kieran Hardy; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Uilisi Halaholo.

England XV: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, George Martin, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins.

France's Six Nations clash with Scotland in Paris has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak within the hosts' squad.

Earlier on Thursday, it was announced France had suspended training ahead of the fixture at Stade de France due to a further COVID-19 case.  

Tournament organisers had said 24 hours earlier that the match would still take place despite the situation developing within France's squad.  

However, following the latest development, a Six Nations spokesperson confirmed to Stats Perform News that the game will not take place.  

A Six Nations statement, as reported by the Guardian, read: "The Six Nations testing oversight group (TOG) met today to review the situation in the French camp.   

"They unanimously recommended the postponement of the France v Scotland match. This will be ratified later today by the Six Nations Council.   

"We will be working on the rescheduling of this fixture and will communicate the date in due course." 

Captain Charles Ollivon, scrum-half Antoine Dupont and Brice Dulin were among the French players to have tested positive, while head coach Fabien Galthie also contracted the virus following the 15-13 win over Ireland in Dublin. 

France were originally given the go-ahead to resume high-intensity training after no further positive tests were returned on Wednesday, but it remains to seen now when the fixture will be held.

Next weekend's rest period is thought to be considered a risk due to the ongoing situation within the French squad. 

Les Bleus have won two out of two in the tournament so far, with Scotland following up an opening win against England at Twickenham with a home defeat to Wales.

The Six Nations clash between France and Scotland is set to go ahead as scheduled on Sunday after a second successive days of no new positive COVID-19 tests within Les Bleus' squad.

There were major doubts over whether the round three encounter at Stade de France could be staged following a COVID-19 outbreak in the France camp.

Captain Charles Ollivon, scrum-half Antoine Dupont and Brice Dulin were among a host of players to test positive, while head coach Fabien Galthie also contracted the virus following the win over Ireland.

The French Rugby Federation on Wednesday revealed that there have been no more positive tests and the squad were able to resume high-intensity training.

Leaders France have therefore been given the green light to try and make it three wins out of three in Paris this weekend.

A Six Nations statement said: "Further to a meeting of the Six Nations Testing Oversight Group (TOG) this morning to review the latest tests results of the French Squad, the Six Nations confirm the plans to stage the France v Scotland match as originally scheduled this coming Sunday.

"We continue to monitor the situation very closely and are in regular contact with both unions."

Les Bleus are level on nine points with Wales, who face defending champions England at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Ireland take on Italy in the first game of the weekend at the Stadio Olimpico in what will be a battle of sides who have lost both matches.

France captain Charles Ollivon is among five further France players to have tested positive for coronavirus as Sunday's clash with Scotland comes under increasing doubt.

The latest round of testing took the total number of positives up to 14 as Ollivon was joined by Brice Dulin, Cyril Baille, Romain Taofifenua and Peato Mauvaka.

It was only on Sunday that Julien Marchand and Arthur Vincent were found to have contracted the virus, with the first reported case coming last Tuesday.

Prop Mohamed Haouas, wing Gabin Villiere and scrum-half Antoine Dupont are in the same boat, along with head coach Fabien Galthie, assistant Karim Ghezal, forwards coach William Servat and an unnamed member of the support staff.

Les Bleus, who top the table after wins over Italy and Ireland, revealed five more players had been called up on Monday for a game in Paris that may well have to be postponed.

Uncapped trio Gaetan Barlot, Thierry Paiva and Cyril Cazeaux have been drafted in, with Baptiste Pesenti and Thomas Ramos also getting the call.

A statement from the French Rugby Federation said the intention is to return to group training on Wednesday, though further testing would take place every day.

Julien Marchand and Arthur Vincent have become the latest France players to test positive for coronavirus.

The French Rugby Federation (FFR) announced Toulouse hooker Marchand and Montpellier centre Vincent had been omitted from the 31-man squad to face Scotland next weekend.

It takes the overall number of COVID-19 cases from the Six Nations leaders' camp to nine, with prop Mohamed Haouas, wing Gabin Villiere and scrum-half Antoine Dupont also sidelined.

Head coach Fabien Galthie, assistant Karim Ghezal, forwards coach William Servat and another unnamed member of support staff have also tested positive.

As a result, there are six new additions to the squad as Les Bleus aim to make it three wins out of three.

Racing 92 hooker Teddy Baubigny fills the void left by Marchand, with Demba Bamba offering cover at prop.

Maxime Lucu comes in as another option at scrum-half, while centres Yoram Moefana and Jonathan Danty, along with Baubigny's club-mate Donovan Taofifenua, bolster the depleted backs.

France prop Mohamed Haouas and wing Gabin Villiere have followed scrum-half Antoine Dupont and coach Fabien Galthie in testing positive for coronavirus.

The Six Nations leaders, who have won two games from two in this year's tournament, are struggling to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in their camp.

Dupont, Galthie, forwards coach William Servat and another staff member returned positive tests earlier this week.

Following another round of testing, the French Rugby Federation (FFR) announced on its website on Saturday that Haouas and Villiere have also contracted the disease.

France's health minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday that anyone testing positive would now need to self-isolate for 10 days, instead of the previous seven.

All members of Les Blues' squad will be tested again on Sunday, the same day that a new 31-man training squad is to be named for next week's clash with Scotland in Paris.

Haouas, Villiere and Dupont started France's victories over Italy and Ireland, with the latter named player of the round in the opening set of fixtures.

Dan Carter was hailed as "one of the best to have ever played the game" who has "amazed for almost two decades" after the New Zealand legend announced his retirement.

Mercurial fly-half Carter confirmed on Saturday that his incredible career is over at the age of 38.

The All Blacks great won the Rugby World Cup twice and is the record points-scorer in Tests with 1,598, while he was named World Rugby Player of the Year a joint-record three times.

Carter claimed three Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, while he also won honours with Perpignan, Racing 92 and Kobelco Steelers.

He tweeted: "I officially retire from professional rugby today. A sport I've played 32 years which has helped shape me into the person I am today.

"I can't thank everyone who has played a part in my journey enough, particularly you, the fans. Rugby will always be a part of my life. Thank you."

The All Blacks paid tribute to Carter on social media, posting: "Thank you @dancarter_. You have amazed us for almost two decades with your deeds on the field.

"Now it's time to put your feet up and enjoy the next chapter. #Icon."

The world governing body also expressed its gratitude to the number 10.

A post from the World Rugby account said: "A two-times @rugbyworldcup winner and one of the best to have ever played the game. Thank you for everything you have given to our sport, @DanCarter."

Former South Africa wing Bryan Habana simply wrote: "Congrats on an incredible career @DanCarter !!"

A tweet from the Springboks account read: "Congratulations on a stellar career @DanCarter and good luck with the next chapter. You'll always be welcome for a braai here in South Africa!"

Former referee Nigel Owens posted: "You will be remembered as one of the greatest ever, but more importantly, not just on the field but off it as well.

"A true gentleman. It was always a pleasure and privilege. Best wishes for the future."

New Zealand great Dan Carter has announced his retirement from rugby at the age of 38.

The fly-half won two World Cups with the All Blacks and holds the record for the most Test points scored with 1,598, ahead of Jonny Wilkinson on 1,246.

The former Crusaders star, who also played for Perpignan and Racing 92 in France, has been playing for Kobelco Steelers in Japan and also turned out for the Blues in his homeland last year.

"I've thought about this on so many occasions but today is the day and I am very grateful that I can do it on my terms," Carter wrote on Instagram on Saturday.

"I'm officially retiring from professional rugby. A sport I've played for 32 years which has helped shape me into the person I am today.

"I can't thank everyone who has played a part in my journey enough – from my team-mates, opponents, coaching and management teams, sponsors and in particular you, the fans.

"A special mention to my friends and family who have supported and guided me through my career. Mum and Dad, thank you for everything you have sacrificed for me. My wife Honor for being my rock and allowing me to fulfil my dreams while raising our beautiful family – I can't thank you enough.

"I'm excited about my next chapter in life and what that will look like. For now, I'm sad to walk away from playing but the timing is right. Rugby will always be a part of my life. Thank you."

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, Carter said "I knew in my mind the time was right" as the coronavirus pandemic made him consider whether he should keep playing abroad away from his family, with his fourth child on the way.

"After experiencing rugby in Japan I thought I could squeeze a few more years out of my body," he said. "There was something really enjoyable about being part of that environment and the culture we had at the Kobe Steelers. I was playing rugby and enjoying it and wasn't sure when I would stop.

"I got forced back by COVID in March and was gutted about that. I was coming off contract and I guess the frustrations of not being able to finish the Japanese season and then going to the Blues for a little bit, I loved that. I loved being part of the team environment but going through that process it made me realise that I play to be the best player out on the field.

"That is my drive and it always has been and I just didn't have that drive back here in New Zealand. When I realised the age my kids are and the amount of work Honor [Carter's wife] was doing looking after them while I was away chasing my dream, it made me realise it was time to stop."

Carter won three Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders and remains the leading scorer in the competition.

He won 112 caps for New Zealand, lifting the 2011 World Cup, although he missed much of the tournament due to a groin injury. He then led the All Blacks to defend their crown four years later with a man-of-the-match display in the final against Australia.

Former England coach Clive Woodward described Carter's performance against the British and Irish Lions in a Wellington Test in 2005 as "off the Richter scale" and "possibly the best individual performance I have ever witnessed at Test level".

Antoine Dupont has become the latest member of France's Six Nations set-up to test positive for COVID-19.

Head coach Fabien Galthie, assistant William Servat and another unspecified member of the backroom team have returned positive results since last weekend's 15-13 victory over Ireland in Dublin.

The French Rugby Federation (FFR) announced on Wednesday that no players had tested positive for coronavirus and they had been permitted to return home ahead of further testing on Friday.

Although 11 players returned negative results in the latest batch of testing, Dupont was found to be positive.

"The player who tested positive for COVID-19 is Antoine Dupont," read an FFR statement. "To date, he is asymptomatic. In accordance with protocol he will remain in isolation for the next few days."

The France squad are due to return to the National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis on Sunday to begin preparing for Scotland's visit to Paris the following weekend.

A third member of the France backroom team has tested positive for coronavirus, but the players have been cleared to continue their isolation at home after returning negative results.

The French Rugby Federation confirmed on Tuesday that head coach Fabien Galthie and an unnamed member of staff were positive for COVID-19 and would self-isolate for seven days.

Following another round of testing later that day, assistant coach William Servat returned a positive result.

However, with all players testing negative for the second time in succession, they were permitted to return home on Wednesday.

Further coronavirus tests will be carried out at their homes on Friday and on Sunday, when the players return to the National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis.

France, who won their opening two Six Nations games against Italy and Ireland, are scheduled to face Scotland in Paris on February 28.

The squad for that game is due to be announced on Wednesday.

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