Welsh rugby great John Dawes, who captained the British Lions on their victorious 1971 tour of New Zealand, has died at the age of 80.

Dawes, who also skippered and later coached Wales with great distinction, was remembered by his former international team-mate Gareth Edwards as "one of the giant figures" in the history of their national team.

His death was announced by Newbridge, Dawes' first club, who reported he had experienced "a period of ill health".

Dawes, a centre, won his first Wales cap against Ireland in 1964 and helped the team to Triple Crown successes in 1965 and 1969 prior to captaining his country to a Five Nations Grand Slam in 1971.

A Dawes-skippered Lions squad landed a 2-1 success against the All Blacks in the same year, with the fourth match in the series drawn.

That is the only time New Zealand have lost a series against the touring Lions, whom they beat 3-1 six years later, by which time Dawes was head coach.

Dawes coached a great Wales team from 1974 to 1979, helping them win the Five Nations championship four times in six years, landing four Triple Crowns in the same period and Grand Slams in 1976 and 1978.

He became president of London Welsh, who said his death was "a seismic loss" for all of rugby.

Fellow Welsh legend Edwards featured alongside Dawes in the Barbarians side that famously beat New Zealand 23-11 in Cardiff in 1973, when Edwards scored what many regard as one of rugby's greatest ever tries.

"I can still hear Cliff Morgan in commentary say, 'Dawes, great dummy'," Edwards said. "That moment encapsulated John as he helped to set up a score that has never been forgotten.

"John was a fantastic captain and a great coach. He is one of the giant figures of Welsh rugby of any era."

In his tribute posted on the Welsh Rugby Union website, Edwards added: "John was always calmness personified on the field amid the chaos of international rugby. People don't understand how valuable it is to have someone like that on your side, someone who can see the bigger picture and calm everyone down.

"He never went over the top about our success when he was coaching. He would calmly tell us when we gathered for the first time in a season that while we weren't a good team at that moment, by the end of the season we would be a great side."

Swansea City have announced a seven-day suspension of all social media activities as the Championship club take a "strong stance" against online abuse and discrimination.

The break in activity involves not just Swansea's official accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, but also the first-team players and staff.

Academy players in the under-23 and under-18 squads have also agreed to the week-long boycott, which will start from 17:00 BST on Thursday.

Swansea revealed the move had been decided upon following conversations involving senior club staff, as well as the players and management.

"As a football club, we have seen several of our players subjected to abhorrent abuse in the past seven weeks alone, and we feel it is right to take a stand against behaviour that is a blight on our sport, and society at large," a statement from the club read.

"We will always be unwavering in our support of our players, staff, supporters and the community that we proudly represent, and we are united as a club on this issue.

"We also want to stand with players from other clubs who have had to endure vile discrimination on social media platforms.

"As a club we are also acutely aware of how social media can impact on the mental health of players and staff, and we hope our strong stance will highlight the wider effects of abuse."

Swansea also revealed chief executive Julian Winter had written to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to push for stronger punishment for those guilty of "appalling and cowardly abuse" on their respective platforms.

Swans player Yan Dhanda was abused online following the FA Cup tie against Manchester City on February 10, with the player writing on Twitter in response: "How can this STILL be happening in 2021? I'm so proud of who I am and representing Asians. More has to be done."

Club colleague Ben Cabango was also targeted while away on duty with Wales, along with international team-mate Rabbi Matondo.

The suspension of the club's accounts will cover the away game against Millwall on Saturday, as well as the trip to Sheffield Wednesday on April 13.

Wales captain Gareth Bale would support a boycott of social media sites unless greater action is taken to combat online abuse.

International team-mates Ben Cabango and Rabbi Matondo were victims of racism following the 1-0 friendly win over Mexico last Saturday.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) said it was "disgusted" by the abuse and urged social media platforms and regulators to take "stronger, more effective and urgent action against this despicable behaviour".

Just two days earlier, former Arsenal and Barcelona star Thierry Henry announced he would be disabling his social media accounts until companies took greater accountability for discriminatory posts.

Speaking ahead of Wales' World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Bale agreed that more must be done to clamp down on such behaviour online.

"Something needs to happen," he said. "I think if everyone came together and decided to boycott social media, to make a statement [I would].

"If everybody did it at once, not just one or two people, and if we did a campaign with a lot of big influential people in sport and other forms of life came off social media to make a statement, then yeah, I think it could help.

"If that was the case, I would be all for that.

"I've had a lot of bad things said to me on social media, but I'm sure if they [Cabango and Matondo] wanted to come to me for advice they know where they am.

"We've had a brief chat, I haven't gone into too much details. They've spoken with representatives of the FAW and we know obviously it's in the hands of the police and an ongoing investigation.

"From my point of view, I try to stay off it because there's so many toxic people trying to say negative things and put you down.

"It's nice to be able to share what we do and how we do things, pictures of training and what we're enjoying doing.

"But looking at those comments sometimes it's best to stay away from it, share what you want to share and don't read too much into the comments because there's some horrible people out there."

Gareth Bale is focused on a strong finish to the season, including Wales' Euro 2020 campaign, before contemplating what happens next in his career.

Having become a peripheral figure at Real Madrid, Bale returned to Tottenham for the 2020-21 campaign in a loan move that appeared to be an ideal solution for all parties.

However, the 31-year-old arrived with a knee injury that required rehabilitation, leading to a sedate start to his second spell with Spurs. After waiting until October 18 to feature for the first team, he has completed 90 minutes just once – against Wycombe Wanderers in an FA Cup tie.

Yet there were signs of a return to form prior to the international break, including scoring twice and providing an assist in a resounding 4-0 win over Burnley.

Bale was also on target twice in a Premier League triumph over Crystal Palace, lifting his goal tally into double figures in all competitions.

His immediate focus is on Wales' World Cup qualifying campaign – having lost their Group E opener to Belgium, they host the Czech Republic on Tuesday – while there is no urgency on his part to work out a "solution" to his situation at club level.

"For me, first and foremost, I still have this season, still have plenty of games to go until the Euros," Bale told the media on Monday.

"Going into next season, legally my contract says I have to go back to Real Madrid, which is what I stated. I don't think that was being disrespectful to anybody.

"Real Madrid are my parent club and, as far as I agreed, I'm on loan at Tottenham until the end of the season. That is the plan so far; the reason I left was because I wanted to play games and get match fit, to enjoy my football.

"Obviously, come the summer I will go back to Real Madrid and we will go from there. I think the plan is to go back, whether then I sit down with my agent and decide something, we will do in the summer."

He added: "I want to be playing, but in football it's not just about what you want – it's also about the other side. I'm concentrating on this season – obviously we have a big game tomorrow – a big end of the season with Tottenham, then the Euros in the summer.

"For me, at the moment, I don't need to worry about anything else than this season.

"Regarding next season, after the Euros and my summer holiday, we will sit down and go through something then. Hopefully, we will come up with a solution."

Bale is aiming to finish strongly with Spurs, who have lifted themselves back into the running for a top-four finish in the league. There is also the possibility of securing silverware, with Jose Mourinho's side taking on Manchester City in the EFL Cup final on April 25.

Asked to assess his season so far, the forward replied: "It's been okay. It got off to a slow start as I came into Tottenham with a knee injury. Not having played football continuously for a year and a half, it took a little time to get going.

"The past couple of months I've felt stronger and stronger – I've felt like my form has been there, my speed has been there, I've scored some goals.

"I wish it could have started a lot quicker, but also I'm wise enough to know that it does take a bit of time to get your rhythm back. Now that I'm playing, I feel good and hopefully it can continue for the rest of the season, then into the Euros."

Bale played 84 minutes of last week's 3-1 defeat to Belgium, while he made a late appearance off the bench in the 1-0 friendly win over Mexico on Saturday.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) is in dialogue with police after Ben Cabango and Rabbi Matondo were subjected to racist abuse on social media.

Swansea City defender Cabango and winger Matondo, who was loaned out by Schalke to Stoke this season, revealed they were targeted after playing for Wales in a 1-0 friendly win over Mexico on Saturday.

The FAW on Sunday vowed to do all in its powers to bring those responsible to justice.

"The Football Association of Wales (FAW) is disgusted by the racial abuse received by national team players via social media after last night's game," the governing body stated.

"Racism and all forms of discriminatory behaviour are wholly unacceptable and the FAW condemns it completely.

"The FAW are in dialogue with South Wales Police to ensure this kind of abhorrent behaviour is reported and investigated.

"The FAW joins other national associations and clubs in urging social media platforms and regulatory authorities to take stronger, more effective and urgent action against this despicable behaviour."

Kieffer Moore scored the only goal of the game as Wales secured a 1-0 friendly win over Mexico on Saturday. 

Wales changed all 11 players from their 3-1 World Cup qualifying defeat to Belgium on Wednesday, but the new-look XI acquitted themselves superbly against a side ranked ninth in the world. 

The decisive goal came after just 11 minutes, Moore controlling Jonny Williams' pass before rolling past Guillermo Ochoa.

That was Cardiff City striker Moore's fifth goal in 14 appearances for Wales – at least two more than any other Welshman since his debut in September 2019. 

Hirving Lozano went close for the visitors in the second half, but Wales – for whom Chris Gunter became the first player to reach 100 appearances – held on to secure a first-ever win over Mexico at the fifth attempt.

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.

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."

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.

Chris Gunter has been lauded as "a manager's dream" by Wales caretaker boss Robert Page ahead of the full-back winning his 100th international cap.

Charlton Athletic defender Gunter will bring up the landmark when Wales take on Mexico in a friendly at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday.

Gunter is the first Welshman to achieve the feat, and will be six clear of goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who is next on the list of Wales' most-capped players, ahead of Neville Southall (92) and Gareth Bale (87).

The 31-year-old made his debut in 2007, and Page, who is standing in as Wales boss due to Ryan Giggs' suspension, was full of praise for Gunter.

"I keep saying that every time I work with him, I'm more impressed," said Page.

"He's a model professional, he is a manager's dream. He just gets on with his work, he trains as he plays and he's thoroughly deserved his 100 caps and all the credit he's going to get from having achieved that.

"Good people in the game, you want to see them do well and he's certainly one of them."

For his part, Gunter said it was difficult to describe the emotion of his achievement.

"It's tough to put into words. If you asked me potentially afterwards then there might be something a bit more emotional," he said.

"I'm very proud, it means the world to me to represent the country and do what I know so many people would love to do.

"It's something you never take for granted. You've given your life to hopefully performing for your country."

The omens for Gunter marking the milestone with a win are not great, however. This will be the fifth meeting between the teams, with Wales yet to register a victory.

Indeed, Wales have not scored in either of their last two matches against Mexico, with the last Welshman to net against them John Charles in a May 1962 friendly.

Wales lost to Belgium in their opening World Cup qualifier on Wednesday, with the Czech Republic next up on Tuesday.

Asked if he had discussed the performance with Giggs, Page said: "Absolutely, I spoke with Ryan, of course.

"He was pleased with the second half. We made the change at half-time to be a little bit more positive in our press, get a little bit higher up the pitch and we just didn't want to camp on the edge of our box and allow attack after attack and he absolutely agreed with that.

"There's aspects that he's pleased with and things we can do better on but overall he was pleased."

It remains unclear as to whether Giggs will be in charge when the Euros roll around, though Page insists he is not focusing on taking the role for the tournament.

"No. I'm not interested in that," he added. "It's for other people to make those decisions, we're not worrying about that."

Roberto Martinez praised the "incredible personality" of his Belgium players after a 3-1 win over Wales on Wednesday.

Belgium fell behind in the World Cup qualifier in Leuven after Harry Wilson's 10th-minute opener in Group E.

But they responded and were ahead at the break thanks to Kevin De Bruyne and Thorgan Hazard, before Romelu Lukaku's 73rd-minute penalty.

Belgium coach Martinez was pleased with the character his side showed after falling behind as the nation picked up their first victory against Wales since September 2012.

"We knew that it was going to be a tough game. That's nothing different, but I think it became even harder than we expected," he told a news conference.

"The moment that we conceded the first goal I thought Wales adapted to the game better than us. It was made for the perfect away team performance.

"The conditions, the lack of fans and in the first action that Wales had they showed a great move where it shows the quality that they have in individuals. We then had two choices, either accept it and then allow the performance to go away from you and it becomes an away game. Or you show personality and bravery and that's what the team did. They never accepted that the game would go away from us.

"We scored two very good goals from open play in the first half and then in the second half even though we didn't create many opportunities, every time we were in front of goal it looked like we had a chance to score. So very pleased by the incredible personality that the players showed today."

Belgium continue their qualifying campaign away to the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Belgium got their World Cup qualification campaign up and running as Kevin De Bruyne inspired them to a 3-1 comeback win over Wales.

In the first meeting of the teams since Wales' memorable 3-1 triumph in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, the world's number one ranked side fell behind to Harry Wilson's 10th-minute opener.

Gareth Bale was central to Wales' opener, though Belgium's star player subsequently stepped up, levelling proceedings with a stunning effort.

Thorgan Hazard completed the turnaround six minutes later and, after a bright second-half performance from Wales, Roberto Martinez's team sealed a strong start to Group E through Romelu Lukaku's penalty.

Wales suffered a blow when Joe Allen hobbled off injured in the eighth minute, yet the visitors were celebrating a wonderfully worked goal moments later.

Bale was the heart of the 17-pass move, threading a perfect first-time throughball into the path of Wilson, who calmly slotted home.

De Bruyne's sensational right-wing cross handed Lukaku a golden chance to restore parity, only for the Inter forward to blaze over.

Wales' luck did not last, though, with De Bruyne taking full advantage of being given space and time 25 yards out – the Manchester City star's strike clipping in off the right-hand upright.

Wearing the number 10 shirt typically taken by his older brother Eden, Hazard got the assist for De Bruyne's equaliser, and the Borussia Dortmund playmaker turned scorer when he steered Thomas Meunier's cross home.

No stranger to magnificent overhead kicks, Bale could have equalised early in the second half, but failed to make full contact with an acrobatic attempt.

Lukaku saw a shot well blocked with 24 minutes remaining and De Bruyne sliced wide on the rebound.

But Wales' lingering hopes were quashed when Chris Mepham flung a boot at Dries Mertens and Lukaku drilled in from 12 yards to make sure of the victory.

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.

Wales captain Gareth Bale insists he is not distracted by uncertainty over his future and expects to return to Real Madrid at the end of the season as planned.

The 31-year-old rejoined Tottenham on a season-long loan from Madrid last September after falling out of favour at the Santiago Bernabeu under Zinedine Zidane.

Bale has had a mixed time of things since returning to north London, the forward having scored 10 goals and assisted three more in 25 appearances.

There had recently been talk of Bale staying on at Spurs after hitting form, but he was criticised by Jose Mourinho last week and played no part in Sunday's win at Aston Villa.

And with a year still to run on his Madrid contract, the forward believes he will be back in the Spanish capital after representing Wales at the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament.

"It's no distraction," he said at a news conference on Tuesday previewing Wales' opening World Cup 2022 qualifier against Belgium.

"The main reason I obviously came to Spurs was I wanted to play football, I wanted to be match fit. The original plan was only to do a season.

"After the Euros, I have a year left at Real Madrid. My plan is to go back."

Wales' preparations for Wednesday's clash with Belgium, the world's number one ranked nation, have been disrupted by a number of injury withdrawals.

Having already lost Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey from their initial 31-man squad, Tottenham's Ben Davies and fellow defender Tom Lockyer pulled out on Tuesday.

It is a big blow for Rob Page as he once again takes caretaker charge of Wales in the absence of Ryan Giggs, who remains under investigation due to an allegation of assault, which he denies.

"It's not great news for us, two defenders getting injured prior to camp," Page said. "We've assessed them and they're no good. It's not ideal preparation. We’ve got to react to that and pick a team that we think will win us the game.

"I think they're quite significant injuries. It's a shame. But we have to deal with it."

Page also took charge of Wales' three fixtures in November – a friendly draw against the United States, followed by Nations League wins against the Republic of Ireland and Finland.

Skipper Bale has been impressed by Page's work in the last two camps but is eager for the situation regarding Giggs to be resolved before the Euro 2020 finals.

"Pagey has done an incredible job. He's addressed the situation amazingly well and kept the consistency," Bale said.  "There are no excuses. We've had another good couple of days and we're fully focused. We're ready to go.

"I think my influence has been the same. We're just trying to keep it the same. Nothing has changed. Going into the Euros, ideally things are sorted, but we understand the situation. The FAW [Football Association of Wales] will be in charge of that, not the players."

Asked about his fitness, having been benched against Dinamo Zagreb and not used at all versus Villa three days later, Bale said: "I didn't play Sunday but I've had a couple of days' training. 

"It's been a quick turnaround. Same for every country. Everyone is in the same boat – we're ready to go.

"It's probably the most match fitness I've had. I'm feeling fresh and ready to go."

Wales have won their opening group match in just five of their 18 World Cup qualifying campaigns, although they have done so in two of the previous three.

The Dragons are unbeaten in four games against Belgium, famously beating their next opponents 3-1 in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

But Belgium enter the match in Leuven in great form, winning 23 of their past 24 qualifying matches since going down 1-0 to Wales in June 2015, and Bale is predicting a tough opening Group E test.

"We know Belgium is a great team and we know we're going to be the underdogs," he said. "But you don't need to be the best team to win a game.

"This is why football is so great. What we showed that night [at Euro 2016] was more heart, desire, belief. When we pull on the Welsh shirt, we believe we have more passion than anyone.

"I think beating a big nation in a qualifier gives us confidence to grow. When you enjoy winning, it breeds more."

France coach Fabien Galthie accused Wales' players of making sure Paul Willemse was sent off in Saturday's dramatic Six Nations encounter and urged the authorities not to impose a heavy sanction on the second-rower.

Wales were denied a famous Grand Slam by a last-gasp Brice Dulin try as Les Bleus kept their own championship hopes alive with a breathless 32-30 triumph in Paris.

That was despite France having to play out the final 12 minutes with 14 men after referee Luke Pearce judged Willemse made contact with the eyes of Wyn Jones.

Galthie, speaking through a translator at the post-match news conference, said: "If you watch the Wales players, it feels like they specialise in making sure opponents get red cards.

"Their body language is quite clear, I hope the referees are going to take that into consideration. I don't think he deserves a sanction.

"If you watch the video there is clearly no contact, or if there is it's clearly very limited. It's absolutely not voluntary. I believe we need to share this, I don't see why he should be sanctioned."

Oppositive number Wayne Pivac was keen not to be drawn into a back-and-forth over the incident.

"I don't really have any comment to that," said Pivac. "The match officials are running the game and they have plenty of replays.

"As you saw, it went on for some time. They went through their process and that's what the officials are there to do."

While it was heartbreak in the French capital for Wales, the hosts still have a rearranged fixture against Scotland to play.

To deny Wales the trophy, Galthie's men have to secure a bonus-point win over Scotland and triumph by at least 21 points.

Gael Fickou hopes the best is still to come for France in this year's tournament.

"The pinnacle? I hope it will be next week," the versatile centre said. "Scotland have a great team who are playing very well. We know it will be a complicated match.

"But we will do it step by step. Already, we must try to win it. And then we'll see what happens. We know it will be difficult, but we believe in it."

For Pivac, coming so close to a Grand Slam but falling short left the New Zealander feeling "numb".

"[It's] just desperately frustrating. The players got so close. We have to be proud of them," Pivac added.

"It's quite a numb feeling. The boys had put in such a fantastic effort, the game went pretty much to plan in the first half.

"We were urging them on, but to go from a potential Grand Slam to waiting another six days is frustrating."

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