Johnny Sexton is still "loving every moment" of playing rugby and has no intention of announcing his retirement, despite speculation over his future.

Ireland's captain missed the narrow home defeat to France in the second round of the Six Nations having suffered a head injury during his team's opening loss to Wales. 

However, Sexton is fit to return to action as Andy Farrell's side aim to finally get off the mark in this year's tournament when they take on Italy on Saturday at the Stadio Olimpico.

The 35-year-old raised questions over his career plans when he recently suggested he "might not" be around for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, though later clarified that was a "throwaway comment".

While already contemplating what may come in the next chapter of his life, Sexton remains as committed as ever to the game he loves.

"You never tell anyone your plans because they can change, can't they?" Sexton said.

"I've some things to work towards, whether it's over the next year or two years, I don't know. I'll work towards getting into the real world and starting another life.  

"There are some parts of this game that are amazing and you love – you'd love to be part of it forever. There are other parts, though, that you just can't wait to get a million miles away from. 

"I love it at the moment, I'm loving every moment of playing and I just want to focus on this campaign.

"If I stay on next year, I will try to make the most of that, just try to make the most of whatever is left." 

Sexton is under contract until the end of the campaign but has held negotiations about an extension for 2022, which will be a year out from the next World Cup on French soil. 

Asked if a new deal was close, he replied: "Nearly, nearly. I'm waiting on Leinster to see if they want to keep me or not. They have got a few good number 10s coming through!"

Ireland lost 21-16 to Wales after playing the majority of the match a man down following the red card for Peter O’Mahoney, while they were squeezed out 15-13 by Les Bleus last time out. 

"I don't think we've lost our confidence as a group. The start of the campaign has been a million miles off what we wanted, which was two wins from two," Sexton said on morale within the squad.

"But we took a lot of confidence from the Wales game with 14 men, in terms of the chances we created. The hard part in international rugby is creating chances – we've done plenty of that, we need to now go and take the next step and finish them off.  

"I don't think this group is low on confidence, we are all looking forward to finishing this campaign on a high."

England are back to being themselves after recovering from last week's defeat to Scotland with a 41-18 victory over Italy on Saturday, according to captain Owen Farrell.

The reigning champions ran in six tries to claim a bonus-point victory at Twickenham, a week on from losing 11-6 to Calcutta Cup rivals Scotland.

Monty Ioane put Italy ahead early on but Jonny Hill gave England lift-off with their opening try and Anthony Watson crossed over either side of Jonny May's 32nd Test try.

Jack Willis touched down on his debut and, though Tommaso Allan added a second for Italy, it was plain sailing for the home side as Elliot Daly ran through down the left.

And while accepting England were far from their best against Italy, Farrell was pleased with the way they responded to their opening loss.

"We're back to being 'us' there," he told ITV. "It wasn't a perfect performance, not the best we've ever had, but in terms of the feeling, the energy and the intent, that felt back to 'us'..

"We had some honest conversations with ourselves during the week... there was excitement to get on the training field and put things right. 

"And the way that we built up showed in the way that we played. I thought we attacked the game. 

"Obviously they had an advantage to move the ball and they ended up scoring a try, which was probably a bit over over-eagerness from us

"But after that I thought our intent was brilliant. We got in behind them, probably not everything went our way, but we stuck at it and the game ended up going our way."

England have now won each of their 22 Six Nations fixtures against Italy, who have lost their last 29 matches in the competition in a run stretching back to February 2015.

The Azzurri offered promising glimpses, not least with their second-quickest ever Six Nations try through Ioane, but England ultimately proved too strong on home soil.

"Credit to Italy, they were tough, they never gave up, and we knew they were going to do that," said England prop Kyle Sinckler. 

"Up front they were strong, their forwards carried hard, their backs had good energy... it was a tough, tough test match but our boys got stuck in there and got the win."

Echoing the thoughts of skipper Farrell, Sinckler hailed England's response to last week's rare home loss.

"I think it was a step in right direction. I think our intent was a lot better today, especially up front," he said. 

"We probably didn't get the rewards we wanted, but in terms of the intent, and showing how much it means to us to play for our country, I think it was a step in the right direction.

"We were obviously very frustrated with the performance last week, and we knew we had to step up and play the England way, and the way we want to dominate up front. 

"We did that at times today, but we know there's so much more to give. But like I said, it was a step in the right direction. The game's done, we move on to the next one."

Next up for England is a showdown with Wales at the Principality Stadium on February 27.

England belatedly got their 2021 Six Nations campaign up and running with a routine 41-18 bonus-point win against Italy at Twickenham.

The reigning champions suffered an opening defeat at home to Scotland last week and initially continued their slow start when Monty Ioane broke the deadlock for Italy after just two minutes and 23 seconds.

But Eddie Jones' side recovered over the course of the first half, scoring three times, including through Jonny May's 32nd Test try.

Anthony Watson's second of the match put the result beyond doubt, before Jack Willis touched down on his Six Nations debut, only to later depart with an apparently serious knee injury that put a dampener on the day.

England are the only Six Nations side never to have lost to Italy but were briefly threatened as a smart move from right to left saw Jacopo Trulla send Ioane through to score for the first time for the Azzurri.

Owen Farrell's penalty cut the deficit, however, and England led in the 14th minute when Jonny Hill forced the ball over from close range for his own maiden international try.

The hosts did not immediately pull out of sight and Paolo Garbisi's kick levelled the match, although Watson soon sauntered through a misshapen Italy defence and a spectacular May effort, leaping over Luca Sperandio's tackle and riding the left-sided corner flag, added to England's advantage.

Italy scored first again after the break through Garbisi's penalty, but Watson picked off a slack pass to race away for another try, awarded despite the TMO's interest in a prior Farrell challenge.

The scoring continued when Willis bundled over after a weaving Dan Robson run shortly before he was injured in a ruck, then the sides traded tries as Tomasso Allan ran through the middle for Italy but England responded with Elliot Daly in the clear on the left.

Buoyant Scotland will go in search of back-to-back wins over Wales for the first time in 18 years and France travel to Ireland for a mouthwatering Six Nations showdown this weekend.

Scotland ended a 38-year wait for a win at Twickenham on the opening weekend with a dominant 11-6 defeat of the defending champions.

Gregor Townsend's side need to follow that up on Saturday with a victory over a Wales side that got the better of 14-man Ireland at the Principality Stadium following Peter O'Mahony's first-half red card.

France started the tournament by hammering Italy 50-10, but will face a bigger test in Dublin, while England should respond to their Calcutta Cup defeat by beating Italy at home on Saturday.

Ahead of the second round, we preview the upcoming matches with help from Opta.

 

ENGLAND v ITALY

FORM

The Red Rose have won each of their 21 fixtures against Italy in the Six Nations, and they are the only team yet to suffer defeat against the Azzurri in the championship.

England have hosted Italy on 10 occasions in the Six Nations, winning each of those 10 fixtures by an average margin of 31 points and scoring 5.6 tries per game.

Italy have won just twice away from home in the Six Nations (losing 50 and drawing one), with both victories coming against Scotland at Murrayfield (2007 and 2015).

 

ONES TO WATCH

George Ford comes into the England side, with captain Owen Farrell moving to outside centre, in one of five changes to the side, and the fly-half will be ready to make a statement after being named on the bench for the loss to Scotland.

Italy endured a torrid start to the competition, but Luca Sperandio scored a fine try. The wing had seven carries and made 52 metres. The Azzurri will need to get Sperandio flying down the flank again in London.

 

SCOTLAND v WALES

FORM

Scotland were superb against England and will be aiming for consecutive wins over Wales in the Six Nations for the first time since 2002-2003.

Wales had an extra man, but Ireland could consider themselves unfortunate to go down 21-16 in Cardiff. The Welsh have lost their last six Tests away from home and will be in for another huge battle at Murrayfield.

They have conceded 30 points per game in that miserable sequence of matches on their travels.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Captain Stuart Hogg was man of the match in a rousing performance from Scotland against Eddie Jones' men. The full-back made 112 metres and had 13 carries. He was also brilliant with the boot, kicking for 367 metres.

Louis Rees-Zammit showed why he is so highly rated in Wales' win over Ireland. He dived to finish magnificently in the corner as Wayne Pivac's side made a winning start at home last Sunday.

 

IRELAND v FRANCE

FORM

Flanker O'Mahony's reckless dismissal proved to be costly for Andy Farrell's Ireland side in Cardiff. They will be looking to avoid suffer back-to-back losses to Les Bleus in the Six Nations, having not endured such a fate since 2010-11.

Ireland have won five of their last seven clashes with France in the Six Nations (L2) after winning only four of their 30 previous meetings with them in the Five/Six Nations (D3 L23).

 

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont was the player of the opening round of the tournament. The mercurial scrum-half assisted four tries, the joint-most by any player in a Six Nations match, equalling the record set by Frederic Michalak against Italy in 2006. He also scored a try of his own in a sublime performance.

Ireland lock Tadhg Beirne made the most carries (21) of any player in the opening round. He also hit the most rucks of any player (48) and was Ireland’s joint-highest tackler (10, level with CJ Stander).

England head coach Eddie Jones has named a new-look front row and recalled George Ford for the Six Nations game against Italy on Saturday.

The reigning champions went down 11-6 to Scotland on the opening weekend of the 2021 tournament, their first defeat to their Calcutta Cup rivals at Twickenham in 38 years. 

As he looks for a response following that setback, Jones has selected Ford at fly-half in his starting XV, meaning captain Owen Farrell switches to inside centre for the clash with the Azzurri. 

In the pack, the fit-again Mako Vunipola comes in to play opposite fellow prop Kyle Sinckler, while Luke Cowan-Dickie gets the nod at hooker ahead of Jamie George, who is on the bench. 

Courtney Lawes also gets a start at flanker, joining Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola in the back row.  

Ollie Lawrence – who was handed his first Six Nations start against Scotland – is absent from the 23-man squad entirely, with Henry Slade picked to play next to Farrell in midfield.  

"As always, we've picked what we think is our strongest 23 to try and win the game," Jones said.

"We're pleased to have Mako and Kyle back into the team and we've made some changes to our starting XV, but our finishers are just as important to our gameplan. We look at the whole 80 minutes.  

"We've trained very well this week, I've been very pleased with the players' attitudes and work-rate. We're hoping to put on a good performance on Saturday and kick on with our Six Nations campaign." 


England team to face Italy at Twickenham:

Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola

Replacements: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Ben Earl, Jack Willi, Dan Robson, Max Malins.

"I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket."

Christian Vieri is regarded as one of the greatest strikers to have played football.

Once the most expensive player in the world, the former Italy international won titles with Juventus, Inter, Lazio and Torino, while he claimed numerous individual honours – the Pichichi Trophy and Serie A Footballer of the Year to go with his FIFA 100 selection and other awards.

But it could have been a lot different for the cricket-mad 47-year-old after growing up in Australia – a far cry from his birthplace in Bologna.

"My whole family is a soccer-team family," Vieri, who also played for Milan, recalled to Stats Perform News. "My father played, I played, my grandfather, my brother. So when my father at the end of his career in Bologna, they asked him if he wanted to go play in Sydney with Marconi. He said yes and the whole family moved there. He played for some time and coached there. We all went with him. 

"I think I was about four years old and I stayed 10 years there, till about 14. I grew up there. It was good. Growing up with the kids, for me it wasn't strange. Now, if you tell people, it's a bit strange that I grew up in Australia but when I was there it was normal – going to school, playing soccer, playing cricket, playing different sports. I was a big fan of cricket. Even if we were 13-14, we would go watch Australia play Test matches, ODI matches in Sydney. I'm a very big, big cricket fan."

"I just love playing," Vieri said. "I was probably playing more cricket than soccer at school. You know what we would do? The tennis ball, we would tape it up to make it go faster and swing. I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket. I was an all-rounder. I was really good. 

"You know what happened now? Two months ago before the second coronavirus wave, I spoke to someone from the cricket association, I'm going to start playing in March, April. It's a small thing in Italy, in Milan there is a cricket team. I spoke with the Italian cricket captain. They said listen, when you want to play with us, just come. I said listen, one thing is playing with a tennis ball when you're 14, one thing is playing with professionals. I want to come three or four days, train with you guys and see how it is. 

"I just love the game. I watch all the West Indies' games – Viv Richard, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, all those guys. I would watch Australia but in those days, the Windies were too strong for everyone. I'm on YouTube a lot watching cricket. My wife always says 'what are you watching? what is this?', three hours a day watching games from 1984 and 1986, and she is going 'what is wrong with you, why aren't you normal?' I say to her, 'listen, I grew up there, these are the days I was there following cricket'. She takes the p*** out of me. Pakistan had Imran Khan, I know the players. England had Ian Botham. It was fun. 

"I love the game. Couple of months when it gets a bit warmer and we can start to go out a bit easier, I would like to go training with the Italian team, see how fast the ball really comes at you, with your pads and everything. I think it would be a good experience."

So, as Vieri prepares to dust off his pads and helmet in Italy, who would he compare to in the current era of cricket?

"I think Chris Gayle from West Indies. I'm a left-hander," he added. "When I used to play, I'm not a Test match guy, I want to smash the ball outside the stadium. I think I would've been good."

And if Vieri remained down under in Australia, rather than returning to Italy at the age of 14, would he have opted for cricket over a football career?

"Cricket, soccer or tennis," Vieri, who retired in 2009, responded. "I play paddle, I play tennis for 30 years. I like tennis too because it's an individual game – it only depends on you."

Vieri went on to make 49 appearances for his beloved Italy, scoring 23 goals (ninth on the all-time list) following an international career spanning eight years between 1997 and 2005.

He made two trips to the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 – his nine goals across the two major tournaments a joint national record alongside Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio, while he also featured at Euro 2004.

While Vieri joined forces with the likes of past greats Paolo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo for the Azzurri, his younger brother Max followed a different path.

Max Vieri, who was part of Juve's youth team before going on to play for Napoli in a notable spell, opted to represent Australia.

A midfielder, Max earned six caps for the Socceroos, but Christian Vieri never considered wearing the green and gold.

"I had two dreams when I was in Sydney playing and I was only 12, 13, 14, so you're going to school playing soccer. That's why I left Australia when I was 14 – my two dreams were to play in Serie A and for the national team – the blue jersey," said Vieri. "I remember in 1982 when Italy won the World Cup – Paolo Rossi and all those big players – I had it stuck in my head that I wanted to become an Italian player. When I was 14, I started breaking my dad's head about going to play soccer in Italy.

"When I started playing for Marconi, I started left full-back and then after I while, I said to the coach 'put me up front' and that's it, I was scoring goals and that's how everything started. My brother wanted to play for Australia always and I just had my dream to play the World Cups with Italy."

"I think the Australian team has done well in the last 10-15 years World Cup-wise and qualifications," he added. "They've done good. Of course when I was there – the big sports were AFL, rugby league, cricket – football wasn't the main sport but I think it's getting bigger. The evolution of football around world is just so big now, so much money behind it. When I was there, we were playing soccer and it wasn't the main sport but the passion we have and the kids have, it was bigger than the other sports."

Vieri's choice to chase his dream in Italy proved a wise decision, winning the Scudetto with Juve in 1997 before joining Atletico Madrid after just one season in Turin.

An incredible return of 24 goals in as many LaLiga matches for Atletico, and 29 from 32 appearances across all competitions in 1997-98, led to head coach Radomir Antic famously saying: "Vieri dead is better than any other attacker alive".

"We had a good relationship. I won the goalscoring award. I was a bit crazy those days. I would go out a lot. He would always say don't go out too much, train," Vieri recalled. "He knew I wanted to go back to Italy after about seven, eight months. He said, 'where are you going? you are going to stay here, LaLiga is your competition. You stay here and you just train a little bit, you score 50 goals a year with a cigarette'. I said yeah but I wanna go back home. 

"I think it was the best experience in my life playing in the Spanish league. It's the best quality league. There is so much technique and the way all the teams play, they all play to win. A lot of ball possession. Those days, you had to be really good to play. I had an amazing season."

Like his time at Juve, Vieri's spell with Atletico was brief as he returned to Italy via Lazio in a €25million deal the following season.

After 14 goals in 28 appearances and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph in the Italian capital, Vieri became the most expensive player in the world when he reunited with former Juve boss Marcello Lippi at Inter, who splashed out €49m to partner the Italian with Brazilian great Ronaldo.

"The thing is that, if you play in Spain, Italy, England – they're the biggest competitions, so you can't block it out," Vieri said when asked about the pressures of being the world's most expensive player. "Automatically, from being normal to 100 times of pressure on you because 90billion Italian lire in those days, the player who cost more than anyone, every game you play you're judged… even more than before. 

"At Atletico, I was sold to Lazio – big scandal came out – then when I went to Inter for 90b [lire], the world went crazy. From Lazio, moving to Inter, going to play at San Siro, it's a heavy thing because San Siro – the biggest players in the world have played there, 85-90,000 people judging you all the time. They whistle if you don't play good. They've seen everyone. 

"When I went there, I said to myself, 'Bob, first game is at home, when I went to camp, in a month and a half, your first game is at home and whatever happens, you have to go score in that game. if you score in that game, you're gonna fly'. I trained a month and a half in camp, I wouldn't go out anywhere. First game, I scored three goals at home, 90,000 people went crazy. Took a lot of pressure off my shoulders that first game. Here they call me Mr. 90m guy, even today. It's a thing you're gonna call you that for the rest of your life."

Now, Vieri watches the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe bang in the goals across Europe. 

How would he fare in 2020-21?

"I think it's easier to score these days because there's less marking. Before, football, first thing was not to concede, in Italy league at least," Vieri said. "It was probably the hardest league in the world in those days. All the biggest players in the world were there. We started the competition where seven teams were trying to win the league, not one or two but seven big teams with big, big players. If we would shoot twice in 90 minutes, we were happy. Those two shots, we would score one goal, we had to score once. 

"Today, the game has changed. The defenders don't mark as much, they play. They're more like midfielders, you have to play with the ball at your feet – the whole team have to attack. Now you have 15 strikers who score more than 20 goals. It's fun to watch still but changed a lot."

Popular on social media and Italian television in his post-playing days, Vieri has ventured into coaching as he works to complete his UEFA A and B license alongside the likes of former team-mates Del Piero and De Rossi.

"All of us, the former players, when we talk about things, we only miss one thing – staying together and training... having fun. The everyday stuff. The dressing rooms, we had the craziest dressing rooms, people. Taking the p*** out of everyone 24/7. 

"I speak with all my ex-team-mates. It's just fun. Now, I'm doing the coaching course… We just laugh, we have fun. We are doing UEFA A and B together. The way we talk to each other, it's just like back in the days. With a lot of former team-mates, we play paddle ball here in Milan. When we can, we hang out."

"The first thing is you need a license to coach. It's very hard, it's not easy. When you're doing two courses together because the federations asked UEFA if just the top 10 players could do it, so we're doing it," added Vieri, when asked if he was eyeing a coaching career.

"We'll see what happens. If I have a nice project, anything can happen. 1,000 of doors will open like I always say."

Props Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola have returned to the England squad for the Six Nations encounter with Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.

British and Irish Lions duo Sinckler and Vunipola missed the 11-6 Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland on the opening day of the tournament due to suspension and an Achilles injury respectively.

They will be available to beef up the defending champions' pack against an Azzurri side smarting from a 50-10 hammering at the hands of a rampant France at Stadio Olimpico.

Harry Williams and Tom West will not feature for Eddie Jones' side after they were released to return to their clubs.

The Red Rose never got going in a poor performance versus dominant Scotland, but they won the tournament last year after losing their opening match to France and number eight Billy Vunipola said they can respond again.

He said: "It is frustrating. I won't lie. But this happened last year, and we managed to pull it back so it's massive for all of us to make sure we get around each other and whatever we need to fix this week we do as soon as possible.

"We only have a week to do it, which is probably the best thing for us. We don't have a fallow week to let that settle in and frustrate us.

"You never really forget these days, you never really forget these moments, and to be honest I don't really want to forget them.

"I want to move on from it, but I don't want to forget it as it keeps you sharp. Losing like this at Twickenham is never what you dream of."

France made light work of Italy to open their Six Nations account for 2021 with a 50-10 rout in Rome, picking up from where they left off last year.

Les Bleus missed out on the championship only on points difference in 2020, and despite missing the influential Romain Ntamack on Saturday they had little trouble in overcoming Italy, who have now lost their last 28 Six Nations matches.

Dylan Cretin, Gael Fickou and Arthur Vincent crossed for France in a high-quality first-half display, with Ntamack's replacement Matthieu Jalibert on point with the boot.

Brice Dulin's try set the tone for an equally impressive second half, with 2020 player of the tournament Antoine Dupont and Teddy Thomas wrapping up a resounding bonus-point triumph, Luca Sperandio's superb solo try proving small consolation.

It took just five minutes for France to score the tournament's first try – Thomas' break resulting in a sustained push, which was finished off by Cretin under the sticks.

Jalibert added the extras and then made it 10-0 with a simple penalty, yet Italy regained some composure and got on the scoresheet through Paolo Garbisi's three-pointer.

Italy's work was swiftly undone, though – Dupont prodding through for Fickou to touch down.

Dupont turned on the style again moments later. Gabin Villiere pounced on Jacopo Trulla's error and found France's onrushing scrum-half, who displayed great awareness and unerring skill to tee up Vincent.

The TMO denied Italy's Monty Ioane a try before the break, and the hosts' frustration was compounded when Dulin slid over in the corner after the restart.

Thomas' turn of pace did for Italy's defence again as he burst through to play in Dupont in the 52nd minute, with France's number nine returning the favour four minutes later.

Jailbert converted all three tries to maintain his 100 per cent kicking record, and Fabien Galthie was subsequently able to rest his star creators.

Sperandio latched onto his own kick to grab a consolation for Italy, but Thomas helped himself to a second to have the final say and take France to 50.


Les Bleus licking their lips but sorry Italy found wanting

Italy worked extremely hard in the first half, yet they had just three points in the way of a reward, and France's quality simply proved too much.

Only Ireland managed to match France's tally of 17 tries in the 2020 tournament, and Les Bleus already have six on the board for this year's edition, while doubts will remain over Italy's credentials to take part in this competition.

No Ntamack, no problem

Ntamack was in sensational form throughout 2020 and will no doubt be a pivotal figure for France heading into the 2023 World Cup, but Les Bleus hardly suffered in his injury-enforced absence.

In 2018, Jalibert became the first teenager to start at fly-half in the championship since Neil Jenkins did so for Wales in 1991, and he returned to show the quality in depth at France's disposal, while the magnificent Dupont ran the show, becoming just the seventh player to assist three tries in a Six Nations match and later only the second to set up four.

What's next?

Italy face a daunting trip to London to face defending champions England next Saturday, while France are in action against Ireland in Dublin a day later.

England start their quest to retain the Six Nations title against Scotland on Saturday just over three months after they were crowned champions. 

The Red Rose dethroned Wales at the end of October, pipping France on points difference in a dramatic finale to a tournament that ended almost nine months after it started due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Eddie Jones' side are favourites to win the competition again, but Les Bleus are also well fancied to end an 11-year wait for Six Nations glory and face Italy in the first match. 

England do battle with Scotland for the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham, with Wales and Ireland locking horns in Cardiff on Sunday. 

Ahead of the opening round, we preview the upcoming matches with help from Opta.

ITALY v FRANCE

FORM

France have won 19 of their 21 previous Six Nations matches against Italy (L2), including their last seven in a row. Their two defeats in that time both came in Rome, in 2011 and 2013.  

Italy have lost their last 27 Six Nations matches, the longest losing streak in the history of the competition. Their last victory came at Murrayfield against Scotland in 2015, while they have not won at home since 2013. 

Les Bleus achieved a cumulative points difference of +31 in the first 20 minutes of their 2020 Six Nations matches. No other side managed a positive double-digit points difference in that period of matches, but Italy had a -39 difference. 

ONES TO WATCH

France wing Teddy Thomas scored a try in his last Test against Italy and is capable of lighting up the tournament. He can get off to a storming start in Rome.

Paolo Garbisi caught the eye at fly-half last year after being handed his debut against Ireland in October. Hopefully for his country, there is still much more to come from the 20-year-old.

ENGLAND v SCOTLAND

FORM

The last time England hosted Scotland in the Six Nations they drew 38-38 two years ago. Scotland clawed back the biggest ever half-time deficit (-24 pts, 7-31) by a side to avoid defeat in the tournament’s history, almost snatching victory before a late George Ford try denied them. 

Scotland have never beaten England at Twickenham in the Six Nations (D1, L9), their last victory against them the Red Rose at the London venue came in 1983 in the Five Nations (22-12).  

Gregor Townsend's side concluded the 2020 edition by winning their last three games in a row, their best run in the Championship since Italy joined in 2000. 

ONES TO WATCH

England captain Owen Farrell has scored exactly 1,000 Test points, one of just six men to reach that milestone. He is just four points away from reaching a century against Scotland.

Finn Russell returns to the Scotland side and the creativity provided by the fly-half will be key for Townsend's men.

WALES v IRELAND

FORM

Wales have lost their last two home games in the Six Nations, the last time they suffered three consecutive defeats at home was in 2002-03. Wayne Pivac's side have lost their last four games in the competition, their worst streak since 2006-07 (L5).  

No team scored more tries than Ireland in the Six Nations last year (17, along with France), four of those were launched from the back of a scrum. Wales (2) were the only other side to score multiple tries following a scrum.  

Ireland scored seven tries in the final quarter of their fixtures in 2020, more than any other side. Wales, meanwhile, scored the joint-second most in that period (6, level with England). 

ONES TO WATCH

Louis Rees-Zammit turned 20 this week and the Wales wing can celebrate in style with a livewire display at the Principality Stadium.

Ireland centre Garry Ringrose had terrible luck with injuries last year, but he is ready to fire on all cylinders in 2021.

French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte says there is "no question" that the Six Nations will be staged this year.

The Telegraph this weekend reported that the tournament was in doubt after the French sports ministry imposed a ban on playing cross-border elite sports with clubs from the United Kingdom due to a new strain of coronavirus.

With the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup reportedly set to be suspended, the French government and Six Nations officials are expected to hold talks on Monday.

Yet Laporte does not believe there is any doubt that the competition, which starts in just four weeks' time, can be staged. 

He told RMC on Sunday: "It's a puzzle, but I think we should not be alarmed for the Six Nations tournament.

"The tournament will be played, with a health protocol dictated by the government, and linked to this mutant virus. Everything went well in the autumn [when the Autumn Nations Cup was staged], so will the upcoming Six Nations tournament, I'm no more worried than that."

The former Les Bleus coach added: "We have a meeting at the beginning of the week with the ministry of sports, a meeting also with the Six Nations Council.

"But we already talked to each other every day, and today there is no question of considering anything, except that we will play the tournament."

France are due to face Italy in the first game of the Six Nations at Stadio Olimpico on February 6.

Alun Wyn Jones will need at least 10 weeks to recover from his knee injury, Ospreys fear, putting his involvement in Wales' Six Nations opener in doubt.

Wales captain Jones - Test rugby's most capped player - sustained the blow in his side's Autumn Nations Cup win over Italy.

That victory was on December 5, nine weeks out from the start of the 2021 Six Nations, where Wales begin their campaign against Ireland on February 7.

That clash could therefore come too soon for Jones, according to Ospreys coach Toby Booth, although he expects the 35-year-old will work to return ahead of schedule.

"We've spoken to the powers that be in relation to his knee," Booth said, discussing the lock ahead of his team's European Challenge Cup encounter with Worcester Warriors.

"We think he will be double-figure weeks.

"If I said it to Alun, he would say, 'I will be back in eight'. That's the nature of the beast.

"He is probably going to be somewhere around that sort of timeframe, which is disappointing for him and obviously for us.

"If anyone is going to get back early, it will be him."

Jones matched Richie McCaw's total of 148 caps against France in October, claiming the outright record a week later in the defeat to Scotland.

Rugby World Cup 2023 hosts France will face New Zealand in the pool phase, while reigning champions South Africa have been paired with Ireland and Scotland. 

France and three-time winners New Zealand are joined in Pool A by Italy, plus qualifiers from the Americas and Africa regions. 

Ireland and Scotland faced each other in the 2019 tournament in Japan and will lock horns again as rivals in Pool B, which also contains the current holders in the Springboks. 

Pool C has a sense of familiarity to it, Wales, Australia and Fiji once again grouped together, as was also the case last year. 

And in Pool D, England coach Eddie Jones will face his former team in Japan plus Argentina, who beat New Zealand for the first time in their history last month.

Twelve teams have so far qualified for the tournament, with eight more to be determined by November 2022.

Tournament organisers will announce fixtures and venues in February 2021.


Pool A: New Zealand, France, Italy, Americas qualifier, Africa qualifier

Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Asia/Pacific qualifier, Europe qualifier

Pool C: Wales, Australia, Fiji, Europe qualifier, final qualifier winner

Pool D: England, Japan, Argentina, Oceania qualifier, Americas qualifier

Paolo Rossi's home was reportedly burgled during the Italy legend's funeral on Saturday.

Azzurri great Rossi died at the age of 64 on Wednesday following a long illness.

Rossi's 1982 World Cup winning team-mates carried his coffin into the Santa Maria Annunciata Cathedral for his funeral and thousands gathered on the streets of Vicenza to pay their respects.

Reports emerged in Italy later in the day that Federica Cappelletti, Rossi's wife, had returned to their house near the Tuscan village of Bucine to discover thieves had broken in.

La Gazzetta dello Sport said several jewels and a Rolex watch belonging to former Juventus, Milan and Vicenza striker Rossi had been taken.

It was reported that none of Rossi's medals were stolen.

Dario Nardella, the mayor of Florence, tweeted on Sunday: "A more vile and disgusting act than this is truly unthinkable.

"The police must do everything possible to find those responsible. All my solidarity and closeness to the #PaoloRossi family."

Rossi was the leading scorer and best player in the tournament in the Azzurri's 1982 World Cup triumph in Spain.

 

 

Paolo Rossi's World Cup winning team-mates carried his coffin into the cathedral for his funeral and thousands gathered on the streets of Vicenza to pay tribute to the Italy legend on Saturday.

Rossi, the leading scorer and best player in the tournament in the Azzurri's 1982 World Cup triumph, died this week at the age of 64 following a long illness.

Thousands flocked to Vicenza's Stadio Romeo Menti, where Rossi's coffin could be seen by the public, on Friday to pay their respects.

Many lined the streets as the former Juventus, Milan, Vicenza and Hellas Verona striker's body was transported to the Santa Maria Annunciata Cathedral.

There was applause from those who gathered outside before Marco Tardelli, Alessandro Altobelli, Antonio Cabrini and Giampiero Marini were among those to carry the coffin into the cathedral.

Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Baggio were also among the mourners on an emotional day.

Rossi's son Alessandro carried the coffin - which had an Italy shirt with the number 20 and Rossi's name on the back, along with a Vicenza scarf, draped on top of it - out of the cathedral with members of the 1982 World Cup squad following the ceremony.

The funeral was also shown live on television in Italy.

Paolo Rossi has been described as an inspiration and a hero of Italian football following his death at the age of 64.

Striker Rossi played for Juventus, where he won the Serie A title twice and also the European Cup in 1985, as well as representing Milan and Hellas Verona during his career.

However, the former Italy international will be most fondly remembered for his exploits with the national team, particularly during the 1982 World Cup as the Azzurri were crowned champions.

His six-goal haul saw him finish as the leading scorer in Spain, while he also returned home with the Golden Ball after being voted as the best player at the tournament.

Following the announcement of Rossi's death, reportedly after a battle with illness, Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina praised a player who left an indelible mark on the country's footballing history.

"The passing of 'Pablito' is another deeply painful loss, a wound to the heart of all football fans and one which will be difficult to heal," Gravina said in a tribute posted on the FIGC's official website.

"We've lost a friend and an icon of Italian football. In spurring the national team on to success in 1982, he had Italians celebrating in squares across the country, both for him and with him.

"He indelibly tied his name to the Azzurri and, through his style of play, inspired numerous strikers of future generations."

In 48 international appearances, Rossi scored 20 goals. His tally included a famous hat-trick against Brazil in 1982, as well as the opener as Italy triumphed 3-1 over West Germany in the final.

Rossi's feats led to him winning the Ballon d'Or that year, having been selected by coach Enzo Bearzot in Italy's squad despite making just three Serie A appearances for Juventus in the 1981-82 season. Rossi had been banned for his alleged role in the 'Totonero' match-fixing scandal but returned to action in time for the World Cup.

Current Juve boss Andrea Pirlo posted a picture on Twitter of 'Pablito' celebrating with Italy, along with the words: "You will always remain our hero."

Juventus, the reigning Serie A champions, produced an online tribute to their former player, in which they referenced Rossi's ability to score "all types of goals, using his uniquely physical style to his advantage".

Juve also added a description of an "iconic" goal against Manchester United that sealed a place in the Cup Winners' Cup final in 1984, a trophy they went on to lift thanks to victory over Porto.

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