Johnny Sexton's omission from the British and Irish Lions squad was one of Warren Gatland's "toughest decisions", the coach has admitted.

Ireland legend Sexton, the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year, was one of the surprise exclusions from Gatland's 37-man selection for the upcoming tour of South Africa.

Sexton misses out despite the fly-half playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand, with Gatland expressing some concerns over the 35-year-old's "durability" and instead calling up Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell.

"There's no doubt that that was one of the toughest decisions that we had to make," said Gatland at a news conference on Thursday.

"I've got a huge amount of respect for Johnny and his quality, but it's such a pivotal position for us and it's about sending a message to the 10s that we have selected that we have the confidence and belief in them to do a job.

"When we looked at where we were going in South Africa probably the thing that kept coming back to us was Johnny's durability, being able to put a string of matches together consecutively, and big matches.

"He has been rested on a number of occasions and unfortunately that's possibly what swayed it for us in terms of us not having the confidence that he can get through what's going to be a tough, physical tour."

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan left out.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.

Alun Wyn Jones has been named captain of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa, leading a 37-man squad.

Warren Gatland announced his selection on Thursday ahead of the trip in July, which follows a warm-up against Japan next month.

Wales great Jones has been chosen for the leadership role having featured in the past nine Lions Tests going back to 2009, the longest run in the professional era.

Jones has already skippered the side once previously in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton in Australia eight years ago, clinching a first series win since 1997.

Elsewhere in Gatland's squad, Ireland's former World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton misses out despite playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand.

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan excluded.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

"We believe we've picked a squad capable of winning a Test series in South Africa," Gatland - who opted for 11 Englishmen, 10 Welshmen and eight apiece from Ireland and Scotland - said following the squad announcement.

"Selecting a Lions squad is never easy and, in many ways, this has been the most challenging selection I have been involved in.

"Over the course of the last three weeks the coaches and I have rigorously debated each position.

"We saw some outstanding performances in the recent Six Nations, so competition for places has been tough with some incredibly tight calls to make. 

"However, we are very happy with the squad we have assembled and look forward to meeting up in Jersey in just over a month's time to start our preparation to take on the world champions.

"We've left out some very talented players which gives an indication to the strength of this squad and we know how important that stand-by list will be.

"Being selected for a Lions tour is the greatest honour for a British and Irish player and I congratulate everyone named today."

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.


British and Irish Lions squad in full:

Josh Adams (Cardiff, Wales), Bundee Aki (Connacht, Ireland), Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England), Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales), Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland), Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester, Wales), Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh, Scotland), Anthony Watson (Bath, England), Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland), Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Bath, Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland), Jamie George (Saracens, England), Iain Henderson (Ulster, Ireland), Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, England), Maro Itoje (Saracens, England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales), Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Andrew Porter (Leinster, Ireland), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh, Scotland).

Alun Wyn Jones has been named captain of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa, leading a 36-man squad.

Warren Gatland announced his selection on Thursday ahead of the trip in July, which follows a warm-up against Japan next month.

Wales great Jones has been chosen as captain having featured in the past nine Lions Tests going back to 2009, the longest run in the professional era.

Jones has already skippered the side once in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton in Australia eight years ago, clinching a first series win since 1997.

It was not sealed in the fashion they would have hoped for, but Wales could belatedly celebrate Six Nations glory on Friday.

Wayne Pivac's side had missed the chance to claim a Grand Slam triumph last week in a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat to France.

But with France needing a bonus-point win by a 21-point margin in Friday's rearranged clash with Scotland - delayed due to an earlier COVID-19 outbreak - to deny Wales again, Les Bleus' loss in Paris handed them the title.

"It's a real emotional rollercoaster, the last seven days really," Wales head coach Pivac said on Saturday.

He added: "It was just different and that's what we've come to expect from this pandemic really.

"It was evident that we had to go and do something different and that was to watch us win a championship from our living room."

That was far from the only first in a tournament with its fair share of twists and turns, though, as Opta data shows.
 

MORE TRIES, MORE DRAMA

There were six tries in Friday's frantic affair at the Stade de France and that contributed to a new Six Nations record.

A total of 86 tries were scored across the 15 matches, the most in a single edition of the tournament in its history.

And Scotland's dramatic 27-23 success, sealed with an 80th-minute Duhan van der Merwe score, was a fitting end to the competition.

Eight of the 15 games were decided by margins of five points or fewer, another new benchmark.

"There were some great games," Pivac said. "It was just a shame we didn't have crowds. You can imagine how much of an atmosphere would have been generated.

"It was a good advertisement for the game and a lot of nations are heading in the right direction. It's exciting."

Van der Merwe beat two defenders in the decisive fixture and in doing so set a new tournament high of 31, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's 30 defenders beaten in 2000.

The wing's brace also saw him become the first Scotland player to finish a Six Nations campaign as the outright leading try scorer (five).

France needed to score at least one more try in order to have a chance of snatching the championship, but they still matched their best haul of 18 from 2006.

Not all the records were quite so impressive.

Italy conceded 239 points, 34 tries and had a points difference of -184, the worst such tallies for any team in an edition of the Six Nations.
 

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Wales' title was their sixth since Italy were introduced to the tournament to form the Six Nations in 2000.

Four of their previous five had been Grand Slam successes, a record over this period they could not extend thanks to France's epic win last week.

But Wales are now only one Six Nations crown behind England's seven.

"It gives us a lot of confidence to feel like we're on the right track," the title-winning coach said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves."

This was not a tournament England will reflect on fondly, even as captain Owen Farrell became only the third man - after Ronan O'Gara and Jonny Wilkinson - to reach 500 points in the Five/Six Nations.

Eddie Jones' outfit came in as defending champions but slumped to their joint-worst Six Nations finish, coming fifth as they had in 2018.

England also lost against Ireland, Wales and Scotland in the same Five/Six Nations campaign for the first time since 1976.

At the bottom of the table, though, there was no change.

Italy have picked up the Wooden Spoon in each of the past six years, this after finishing bottom of the championship just once in the prior four seasons.

France star Gael Fickou insists Les Bleus 'don't have to question everything' after missing out on the Six Nations title once again following their 27-23 loss to Scotland on Friday.

Les Bleus had to score four tries or more and win by a margin of at least 21 points to end their 11-year wait for the title but fell short in the final match of the Six Nations handing Wales their second crown in three years.

Fickou, who moved from inside centre to the wing and was named Player of the Match, was hugely disappointed to see France miss out on their first title since 2010 but said they did not need an overhaul.

“There were some good things and not so good things," Fickou said post-game.

"Of course, we're disappointed. It's a huge disappointment. We had a chance to win the match. We were facing a beautiful Scottish team.

"It was difficult. We could have done better. We can’t throw everything away. We don’t have to question everything."

The win was Scotland's first in France in 12 Tests, last winning in Paris 22 years ago, but Fickou explained the scenario played its part for Les Bleus.

“We were chasing the title, perhaps we got mixed up in some areas, we maybe wanted to score too quickly, we didn’t finish our attacks," he said.

“They held onto the ball well, they went through 50 phases, we were rushed, we wanted to score the 21 points. In the end, that cost us dear.”

Wayne Pivac says Wales' failure to win the Grand Slam takes nothing away from their Six Nations success after they were crowned champions on Friday.

Six days after Wales missed out on the Grand Slam with a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat to France at Stade de France, Scotland denied Les Bleus the title with a stunning 27-23 victory in the final match of the tournament.

Duhan van der Merwe's second try right at the end of a thrilling contest gave Scotland a first win in Paris since 1999.

France had to claim a bonus-point victory by a margin of at least 21 points to win the title, but fell short due to an outstanding Scotland performance in tough conditions on a rainy evening.

Wales head coach Pivac had to contend with speculation over his future last year during a difficult start to his reign, but the New Zealander was celebrating on Friday.

He said: "From a Welsh point of view, we are over the moon and very happy to have won the Championship. It's just a shame we couldn't have done it together as a group last week.

"It [France v Scotland] was a hell of a game. It reminded me of last week with cards, penalties and missed opportunities. It had everything.

"It was a great game to watch and following on from last week, what a tournament it's been."

Pivac added: "We don't want to talk too much about last week – it [the Grand Slam] wasn't to be.

"It certainly doesn't take anything away from the fact a lot of hard work has been done, we've come out on top of the points table and won the tournament.

"We are very happy with how things are going at the moment in our camp and we've built nicely through the competition. Some great rugby has been played in this Championship and it's exciting times for all concerned."

Gregor Townsend felt a first win in Paris since 1999 was a fitting finale for one of Scotland's "best-ever seasons" as France missed out on the Six Nations title with a dramatic defeat.

Les Bleus had to secure a bonus-point victory in the final match of the tournament by a margin of at least 21 points to be crowned champions at Stade de France on Friday.

It was Scotland who were celebrated on a wet night in the French capital, though, and Wales took the title after Duhan van der Merwe snatched a stunning 27-23 triumph by scoring his second try of a pulsating contest right at the end.

David Cherry also dotted down in the second half before Finn Russell was shown a red card nine minutes from time for catching Brice Dulin in the throat with his leading arm, having booted 10 points on his return to the side.

Scotland started the tournament with a first win over England at Twickenham since 1983 and ended it with a long-awaited away victory against France.

Townsend's men finished in fourth spot, but the Scotland head coach believes they made great strides this season.

He told BBC One: "I'm so proud of the team. They came here with a bit of adversity with not our full squad, an injury to one of our starters [Matt Fagerson] on Wednesday, a yellow card [for Stuart Hogg], a red card, we had to come back against a very good side, but they showed courage, effort, togetherness, and skill to win.

"A great end to a really promising season for us. Even though we finished fourth, it feels like one of our best-ever seasons with the victories we've had this year and the performances tonight especially.

"That's now been the last two years we've been competitive in every game. We've grown a lot this year, grown a lot this campaign, and we've got to continue to grow over the next few years."

Scotland captain Hogg expressed his pride following a famous win, but was left with mixed feelings.

"Results at times at times have been outstanding, the performances at times have been very good, but we're probably going to be kicking ourselves in the foot with some of the losses," said the full-back.

"We're not going to get carried away, we're going to enjoy this moment and start building towards something memorable.

"I'm the captain of a very, very proud nation and we'll continue to work hard."

Wales were crowned Six Nations champions as Scotland denied France with a dramatic long-awaited 27-23 victory in Paris on Friday despite Finn Russell's red card.

Les Bleus had to score four tries or more and win by a margin of at least 21 points to end their 11-year wait for the title, but they were denied in a pulsating final match of the tournament on a rainy evening.

France led 13-10 at half-time courtesy of a Brice Dulin score after Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe's somewhat contentious opening try at the Stade de France.

Damian Penaud scored a classy second France try early in the second half, but David Cherry touched down on the hour mark to put Scotland back in front and leave Les Bleus' title hopes hanging by a thread.

Swan Rebbadj's try gave Fabien Galthie's side the lead once again before Russell, who booted 10 points, was shown a red card for making contact with Dulin's neck with his arm.

France then had Baptiste Serin sent to the sin bin and there was a stunning twist with the clock in the red, as Van der Merwe claimed a decisive double to give Scotland a first win in Paris since 1999.

France have named fly-half Romain Ntamack in the XV for their potential Six Nations-winning finale with Scotland on Friday.

The 21-year-old Stade Toulousain man replaces Matthieu Jalibert, who misses out with the head injury sustained during their thrilling 32-30 win over Wales last Saturday.

Ntamack was the 2020 Six Nations player of the Championship and would have been first choice in this campaign had he not suffered a jaw injury in December which gave Jailbert the chance to feature.

The match was originally scheduled for February 28 but a COVID-19 outbreak in the French camp saw the fixture postponed.

France must record a bonus-point victory, and win by at least 21 points, or claim a 20-point win and score at least six tries, to snatch the title away from Wales.

If France score precisely five tries and are victorious by 20 points the Championship will be shared for the first time since 1988.

In a twist of circumstance, it was Wales and France who shared the honours on that occasion, when the tournament was the Five Nations.

The return of Ntamack is one of two enforces changes, and five overall, made by France coach Fabien Galthie.

Paul Willemse is suspended after his red card against Wales so Galthie has decided to pair Swan Rebbadj and Bernard Le Roux at second row, with Romain Taofifenua named among the replacements.

Anthony Jelonch has been selected ahead of Dylan Cretin at blindside flanker, while centre Arthur Vincent comes in at inside centre as Gael Fickou moves to the wing with Teddy Thomas dropped to the bench.

"The Scots have the best defence in the tournament. They are very well organised and well disciplined," Galthie told France Rugby.

"We must not be wrong about what is at stake. You have to win the match, the rest will come later. We have to focus on performance and winning the match, we'll see what happens next."

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend makes four changes to his XV as outside centre Chris Harris, scrum-half Ali Price, hooker George Turner and fly-half Finn Russell return.

Russell is back from concussion which means captain Stuart Hogg returns to full-back while Sean Maitland stands aside.

Huw Jones, Scott Steele and Dave Cherry will be on the bench, where they are joined by Adam Hastings, who may feature for the first time in the tournament after injury and suspension absences.

"The match against France provides us with an opportunity to finish the Six Nations in our highest position in its history," Townsend told Scottish Rugby.

"This is a great opportunity for us to take on France, at home in Paris, as they also look to end the championship on a high."

France: Brice Dulin, Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Swan Rebbadj, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Uini Atonio, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: Dave Cherry, Oli Kebble, Simon Berghan, Alex Craig, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Adam Hastings, Huw Jones.

The British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa is set to go ahead as planned later this year after proposals to stage matches elsewhere were rejected.

Due to continued complications surrounding the coronavirus crisis, questions were raised over whether the Lions would be able to travel to South Africa for the eight-match trip.

But rather than host matches in the UK and Ireland, or take up Australia's offer to play games Down Under, it has been decided to press ahead with the original itinerary

The Lions and SA Rugby released a joint statement on Tuesday to confirm an agreement is in place over the staging of the tour, which begins on July 3 and continues into early August.

"After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board's intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021," said Lions chairman Jason Leonard.

"We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan."

However, the original plan for the Lions to play five warm-up matches against provincial teams, an invitational side and second-string South Africa A before the three-Test series with the Springboks could still change.

"We appreciate the Lions' faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander in the same statement. 

"We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

"There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. 

"But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners."

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney acknowledged the preferred contingency plan of staging the tour in the UK had become increasingly unviable.

"It was always the preferred option to go to South Africa," he said. "We had to develop a whole range of different scenarios given the potential outcomes and one of those was a UK series.

"It's quite controversial as it's not the spirit of the Lions, but as fall-back option, we thought it was a strong one. If they can't host it, the agreement's off and we've probably run out of time to host it in the UK, so you play in 2025."

Lions coach Warren Gatland is due to announce a squad for the tour at the start of May, with the first warm-up match to be played on home soil on Murrayfield against Japan on June 26.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg hailed "a hell of a performance" but still felt his team could have bagged more points after they pummelled Italy 52-10 at Murrayfield.

The rampant Scots topped 50 points for the first time against the Azzurri and also clinched their biggest margin of victory in the rivalry between the teams.

They ran in eight tries and Hogg overcame early misfiring to finish with six conversions, having been pressed into action at fly-half in the absence of Finn Russell.

Defeats in Edinburgh earlier in the championship had knocked Scotland out of contention, with a 25-24 loss to Wales followed by a 27-24 setback against Ireland.

The Scots showed their capabilities by beating England at Twickenham, however, and they will finish their campaign against France in Paris on Friday.

Hogg told the BBC: "I think all week we talked about having a big reaction and showing a performance that represented us.

"At times we probably lacked that clinical edge and we didn't score as many as we'd like to, but I am chuffed to bits with that. The boys put in a hell of a performance and that's where we want to be.

"We've had a huge amount of confidence from the very beginning of this Six Nations. It's just the little things that have killed us and that's the things that have annoyed us.

"We've been in every single game and we've scored 24 points in the last two games and managed to come away with defeats, so that's been bitterly disappointing.

"Today, that was more like us. We know we can throw the ball around and have some fun and hopefully that gives us a big boost ahead of next week as well."

Flanker Hamish Watson made 21 carries and was named man of the match.

Because Italy scored the game's first try, Watson admitted there had been early jitters in the Scotland ranks. But three yellow cards for Italy players made Scotland's task all the more comfortable.

"We were a bit worried at the start," Watson said. "We probably took our time to get into it a bit, but when we did I thought we did really well and we were clinical when we got the ball. I thought it was a good performance by us overall.

"We said earlier in the week that we were pretty gutted after the last two home defeats and we needed to put it right today and I think we did that.

"Italy always come here with a lot of ambition and they're a very aggressive team. We knew it was going to be tough for the first 10 or 20 minutes, then we had to build into the game. It's nice to get a good scoreline as well."

Italy captain Luca Bigi, who scored that early try, saw his team complete another championship of five consecutive defeats.

They have now lost 32 matches in a row in the Six Nations, and Bigi said: "It was a tough championship. We are so far from where we want to be.

"Obviously we cannot compete with three yellow cards so discipline was a key of this game. Scotland played an outstanding game.

"We will keep working. We have to be focused on what we can control and discipline is one of those things. It's a tough moment for us, but we never give up."

Scotland crushed Six Nations whipping boys Italy with an eight-try demolition in Edinburgh as the ill-disciplined Azzurri suffered a 52-10 defeat.

Two tries from hooker David Cherry on his first start, plus a double from Duhan van der Merwe, helped the home side steam to an emphatic win, and Scotland should head to France in good spirits for the finale to their campaign on Friday.

After home defeats to Ireland and Wales earlier in the campaign, either side of a Calcutta Cup triumph at Twickenham, this was a match that coach Gregor Townsend and Scotland knew they must win.

The Italians' last victory in the championship came against the Scots at Murrayfield in 2015, and although a sketchy start from the home team may have had a Scottish crowd worried, in front of empty stands the home side were able to rapidly regroup and overwhelm their visitors.

In 2007, a hapless Scotland team trailed the Italians 21-0 after six minutes at Murrayfield following three tries, on their way to a 37-17 defeat. This time it was 7-0 to the Azzurri at that early stage after hooker Luca Bigi drove over in the left corner and Paolo Garbisi added a magnificent touchline kick.

Cherry burrowed over for a swift response, before Van der Merwe ran in a second Scots try, dashing down the left and taking his time before dotting down under the posts.

Italy lost Federico Mori to a yellow card for a dangerous dash at Sam Johnson, and the Scots took advantage, moving the ball well through hands to allow Darcy Graham and Huw Jones to plunder further tries.

Cherry powered through Italian blue shirts as the Scots drove a maul at the Italian line in the 45th minute, bagging his second try of the game. Stuart Hogg, having missed two of his four conversion attempts in the first half, nailed an excellent kick from just inside the right touchline to give Scotland a 31-10 cushion.

Sebastian Negri was the next Italian to be yellow-carded, and scrum-half Scott Steele boosted the Scotland lead from close range moments later. Monty Ioane followed Negri to the sin bin after picking up Hogg and dumping him to the ground.

Johnson dived in for a try and Van der Merwe streaked away for another to add to the misery of the disorientated Italians, who have now lost on 32 consecutive outings in the championship.

Peter Lorimer was remembered as "a legend" after Leeds United announced the death of their great midfielder.

Lorimer, who was 74, died after a long illness. It was recently announced the man who lit up Elland Road for many years had been moved to live in a hospice.

He made over 700 appearances across two spells at Leeds and scored 238 goals, a club record, with Lorimer famed for his powerful shooting.

His debut for the club came at the age of 15 years and 289 days in September 1962 and he won two First Division titles, in 1969 and 1974, and the FA Cup in 1972.

The Scotland international, who won 21 caps for his country, also helped Leeds reach the final of the 1973 European Cup Winners' Cup and the 1975 European Cup.

Leeds said news of Lorimer's death had been received "with great sadness".

"Peter's contribution to Leeds United will never be forgotten and his passing leaves another huge hole in the Leeds United family," Leeds said in a statement.

"He will always remain a club icon and his legacy at Elland Road will live on."

Lorimer's death follows that of his fellow Leeds great and former team-mate Jack Charlton last July. Charlton made a club-record 773 appearances for the club.

Tributes to Lorimer were paid from far and wide, with world governing body FIFA saying: "Everyone at FIFA is saddened by the news of Peter Lorimer's passing. Lorimer was a @LUFC legend with one of the most powerful shots in football."

Current Leeds captain Liam Cooper wrote on Twitter: "Fly High Peter. A legend that we all aspire to be like. Sending all our love to Peter's family."

Lorimer also had spells with Toronto Blizzard, Vancouver Whitecaps and York City, between his two spells at Leeds.

Another present-day Leeds star, Stuart Dallas, reflected on the sorry news coming in the wake of Friday's 2-1 Premier League victory at Fulham.

"After the high of last night, we learn of such sad news this morning," Dallas wrote. "My thoughts are with Peter's family and friends at this difficult time."

Thomas Tuchel has no concerns over the application or attitude of Tammy Abraham and Billy Gilmour, but he understands their frustration at a lack of game time.

Abraham has not featured for Chelsea since February 20, while Gilmour has made just one appearance, in an FA Cup tie against Barnsley last month, under Tuchel.

With Euro 2020 coming up at the end of the season, both players missed out on their respective national squads for the upcoming March internationals.

Tuchel knows this could be of concern but insisted that he was at fault in Abraham's case, rather than the striker, who has scored six league goals this season.

"He's had a bit of a tough time," Tuchel said of Abraham in a news conference previewing Sunday's FA Cup clash with Sheffield United.

"He suffers a little bit also from me not finding the real formation up front. Like, 'Okay, let's play always like this, this is your position, these are the guys you compete against, try to compete against A, B and C and therefore you can go'.

"It's a bit more complex because I need to get to know the team better. We have Timo [Werner] who can play as a number nine, we have Olivier [Giroud] and Kai [Havertz], so he suffers a little bit from all these circumstances.

"It's not his fault, it is also maybe more my fault than his fault. We have some talks now to encourage him never to give in, to accept the situation and to not overthink it and to just come back to the momentum in training and to stay positive.

"The team is winning now without him, he could feel a bit excluded, but it is not like this with him so hopefully he can be back now in the squad, be totally free. There are some hard choices, there's still a long way to go and he’s part of it."

Across all competitions, Abraham averages a goal every 127 minutes, while he boasts an admirable big chance conversion rate of 62.5 per cent (10/16).

All 12 of Abraham's goals this season have come from inside the box, and his shooting accuracy stands at 51.22 per cent – excluding blocked efforts.

Asked if England international Abraham had voiced any concern over his participation in the Euros, Tuchel replied: "We have not talked about this. I feel more concerned about his role in our team.

"He clearly knows a role in our team improves the chances for him to have a role in the English national team, for sure.

"We did not talk about it, but it would not surprise me if it's in his head. This is totally normal that the players have their own interests to have a role in their team but also for their country.

"I hope that he's not too harsh on himself and does not overthink it. What is important is the situation in the club and he has every chance to find his way back."

In Gilmour's case, Tuchel stressed the Scottish youngster's limited opportunity has been merely down to the quality of Chelsea's midfield options.

"He has three big problems – N'Golo Kante, Kovacic and Jorginho," Tuchel said.

"They are never injured and perform on a level in central midfield, it is not easy to compete with them. This is the only thing. I have no trust issue with him, I have no problem with his attitude."

Wales need a victory against France in Paris to reclaim the Six Nations crown, and complete a Grand Slam in the process.

Wayne Pivac's team have enjoyed a sensational turnaround in fortunes this year and last week's 48-7 thrashing of lowly Italy made it four wins from four.

With France subsequently losing to England at Twickenham, Wales will wrap up the title with a win on Saturday, while even a losing bonus point could be enough, though that may still leave the door open for Les Bleus to snatch glory should they win their postponed fixture against Scotland.

England are well out of the race, but their captain Owen Farrell is eyeing up a points landmark when the 2020 champions take on Ireland in Dublin.

Scotland, meanwhile, round off what will ultimately go down as a frustrating campaign against Italy.

We use Opta data to preview the round-five, Super Saturday encounters.

 

SCOTLAND V ITALY

FORM

Scotland have won their last five Six Nations games against Italy – the previous 10 clashes between the sides had seen them share five wins each.

Italy have lost 52 of 54 away games in the Six Nations, with their only two victories on the road coming in Scotland in 2007 and 2015.

That victory at Murrayfield in 2015 was Italy's last in the competition. Their losing streak now stands at 31 games, and they will pick up the wooden spoon for the 16th time in Six Nations history.

ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have the best tackle success rate (92 per cent) of any side in this year's competition. Hamish Watson leads the way in that regard, completing all 44 of his attempted tackles – he has made 133 consecutive tackles in the tournament without missing one, the second-longest such run in Six Nations history, behind Lionel Nallet's 154 for France.

Italy's Sebastian Negri has made 127 post-contact metres in the 2021 Six Nations, the most of any forward in the championship.

IRELAND V ENGLAND

FORM

England have won their last two meetings with Ireland in the Six Nations and could win three in a row against them for only the second time, after doing so between 2012 and 2014.

Ireland lost to France in their last home game, only once before have they suffered defeat in back-to-back home games in the Six Nations – in 2010 versus Scotland at Croke Park and 2011 versus France at the Aviva Stadium.

Jones' England have won their last four Tests against Ireland, preventing them from scoring any first-half points in their last two meetings and scoring an average of 4.3 tries per game in that run.

ONES TO WATCH

CJ Stander announced his retirement this week, with the 31-year-old set to hang up his boots at the end of the season. This will be his final appearance for Ireland, having won his 50th cap in the 27-24 win over Scotland in round four.

Owen Farrell, son of Ireland coach Andy, is the top scorer in the Six Nations this year (44) and is just six points away from 500 in the championship. Only Ronan O'Gara (557) has reached that milestone exclusively in the Six Nations (since 2000).

FRANCE V WALES

FORM

Wales are bidding to win a sixth Six Nations title (since 2000), only England (seven) have won the championship more often. If they win this match it would be their fifth
Grand Slam – no other side has more than three.

Recent history is on Wales' side heading to the Stade de France. They have won three of their last four away games against Les Bleus in the Six Nations (L1), triumphing in their last trip to Paris (24-19 in 2019) despite trailing by 16 points at half-time – the biggest comeback for a team in the competition. 

Indeed, pre-tournament favourites France have won only two of their last nine Six Nations games against Wales (L7) after winning nine of the previous 12 (L3).

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont already has four try assists in this Six Nations, only five players have ever recorded more in an edition of the championship, with Frederic Michalak
(seven in 2006) the only Frenchman to do so.

Louis Rees-Zammit is the joint top try scorer in the 2021 Six Nations (four, level with England's Anthony Watson). Shane Williams (six in 2008) is the only Welsh player to score more than four in an edition of the tournament.

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