Fly-half Sam Costelow has been recalled to the Wales starting line-up for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Ireland in Dublin.

The Scarlets number 10 went off because of a neck problem suffered when Wales were beaten 27-26 by opening Six Nations opponents Scotland.

He was replaced by Ioan Lloyd, who started at fly-half in the Twickenham appointment with England, but Costelow now returns as a solitary change from that game.

Elsewhere, there are further starts for squad newcomers Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann, while centre George North wins his 120th cap and is only the third Wales player to reach that mark after Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Alun Wyn Jones has called time on his illustrious international career after a world-record 170 caps.

With 158 appearances for Wales and 12 for the British and Irish Lions, Jones is 22 clear of any other player in rugby union history.

His influence extends far beyond sheer longevity and here, the PA news agency looks back at his record in the two famous red jerseys.

Wales

Jones made his international debut in 2006 at flanker, soon switching to lock where he quickly established himself as a mainstay of the team.

He won the Six Nations title five times, including three Grand Slams in 2008, 2012 and 2019, in the latter of which he captained the side and was named player of the championship.

His other titles came in 2013 and 2021 and his 66 appearances rank second in Six Nations history to former Italy captain Sergio Parisse, after Jones passed Brian O’Driscoll’s 65 games for Ireland during this season’s tournament.

He reached a century of Wales caps against New Zealand in 2016 and overtook prop Gethin Jenkins’ record of 129 when he appeared against Australia at the 2019 World Cup.

He went on to overhaul former New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw’s 148 record international appearances in October 2020 against France, with his 150th cap coming against Italy in March 2022 and his 158th and last against France this year.

He captained Wales on 48 occasions, one short of predecessor Sam Warburton’s record.

Jones scored nine international tries, the last remarkably coming back in 2016 against New Zealand in Wellington. He received only four yellow cards and no reds in his 158 games.

Jones’ retirement leaves New Zealand lock Sam Whitelock as the most-capped active international with 143 appearances, well clear of Australia’s James Slipper with 127.

British and Irish Lions

Jones first toured with the Lions in 2009, starting one Test against South Africa and featuring as a replacement in the other two.

He was ever-present again in 2013, deputising as captain for the injured Warburton in the series-clinching third Test against Australia, and in 2017 to become the first player in the professional era to play in nine consecutive Lions Tests.

He astonishingly was able to extend that record to 12 in 2021 as he recovered from a dislocated shoulder in the warm-up game against Japan to captain the tourists in all three Tests against the Springboks.

His dozen appearances match prop Graham Price as Wales’ most-capped Lion while only former Ireland lock Willie John McBride (17) and England scrum-half Dickie Jeeps (13) have won more Lions caps overall.

Jones, McBride and former Ireland centres O’Driscoll and Mike Gibson are the only players to have been selected for four or more Lions tours.

Including non-cap tour matches, Jones appeared 24 times for the Lions and scored two tries, both as a replacement against a Royal XV in 2009 and the Barbarians four years later.

Warren Gatland has hailed Alun Wyn Jones as “an incredibly special player” after world rugby’s most capped international announced his retirement from Test rugby.

The 37-year-old Ospreys lock played 158 times for Wales and made 12 British and Irish Lions Test appearances.

Wales flanker Justin Tipuric, who won 93 caps, had earlier announced on Friday that he would be stepping down from the international stage.

The players’ decisions come less than four months before Wales’ World Cup opener against Fiji in Bordeaux, and both had recently been named in a 54-player preliminary training squad for the tournament by Gatland.

Wales boss Gatland said: “I would like to congratulate Al on a phenomenal international career.

“His leadership, dedication and determination are second to none, and he has been an incredibly special player for Wales over the past 17 years.

“Every single time he has taken to the training pitch or put on the red jersey in a Test match he has given his absolute all, setting standards and leading by example.

“I am very fortunate to have been able to have worked with him with Wales and with the Lions.

“Al’s passion and commitment for his country are limitless, and he has been an important pillar for the game in Wales.

“He and his family can be immensely proud of all he has achieved and in knowing he leaves a lasting legacy in Welsh rugby.”

Writing on his Instagram page, Jones said: “Having been selected in this year’s preliminary Rugby World Cup squad, and after ongoing dialogue with the coaching staff and WRU (Welsh Rugby Union), I have decided to step away from the international game.

“So, after 17 years, I look back on special memories with Welsh greats and future Welsh greats.

“A huge thank you to the staff and players who have been part of my journey. I wish you well for the future.

“To the supporters, thank you for the support and making the most special occasions even more memorable.

“To the people closest to me, my family, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Jones, who made his Test debut in 2006, is regarded as one of Wales’ greatest-ever players.

Time and time again, he produced inspired displays for his country, with a stellar career harvesting multiple Six Nations titles, Grand Slam successes and World Cup appearances.

He also went on four Lions tours – in 2009, 2013, 2017 and 2021 – and skippered them in South Africa two years ago.

In a statement released by his agents WIN Sports Management, meanwhile, Tipuric said: “During the off-season I’ve had time to reflect on my playing career, and now seems the right time to step away from international rugby.

“It has been a privilege to put on the Welsh jersey and have so many great memories.

“I would like to thank all the players and coaches I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over the years, and the wonderful support I’ve received from the Welsh public.

“I am looking forward to spending more time at home and putting all my energies into playing for my home region the Ospreys.”

Tipuric’s decision comes just a month after his fellow Wales back-row forward Josh Navidi called time on his career, being forced into retirement because of a serious neck problem.

Tipuric, 33, was an integral figure in Wales teams for more than a decade, helping his country win four Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams.

He was awarded his Wales debut by Gatland against Argentina 12 years ago and played in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

Tipuric also made one Test match appearance for the Lions on their 2013 tour to Australia.

Gatland added: “Justin has been an integral player in the Wales back-row since he made his debut back in 2011.

“He is quite quiet off the pitch, but his skill-set and his work-rate really set him apart from others.

“He doesn’t like a lot of fuss, but I would like to congratulate him on a great career. He has made an outstanding contribution to Welsh rugby.”

Alun Wyn Jones will go down in rugby union history as an all-time great of the game.

The 37-year-old Ospreys lock has announced his retirement from international rugby after a career that reaped a world record 170 Test match appearances – 158 for Wales and 12 for the British and Irish Lions.

His Wales odyssey spanned 17 years, while he captained his country and the Lions.

And he will rightly be lauded in the same revered company as Welsh rugby legends such as Sir Gareth Edwards, Barry John and JPR Williams.

Jones’ international career began 7,500 miles from home at the sporting outpost of Estadio Raul Conti in Puerto Madryn, Patagonia.

Selected by new Wales coach Gareth Jenkins alongside James Hook, Richard Hibbard and Ian Evans among four debutants in the match-day 23 against first Test opponents Argentina that June afternoon, a 20-year-old Jones started as blindside flanker.

Little could anyone have known that it would launch approaching two decades in a Wales shirt.

He set a new national cap record when he overtook former prop Gethin Jenkins during the 2019 World Cup.

And then he moved past New Zealand World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw’s mark of 148 caps, maintaining incredible consistency of performance in one of the sport’s toughest playing positions.

He helped Wales win five Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, played in four World Cups and helped Wales reach two World Cup semi-finals.

In the early stages of Jones’ Test career, though, Wales were inconsistent performers.

No greater an illustration of this came at the 2007 World Cup, where a dramatic pool stage defeat against Fiji in Nantes meant an early exit and coach Jenkins losing his job.

Warren Gatland’s appointment as Jenkins’ successor in early 2008 kick-started a spectacular change of fortunes, with players like Jones, Sam Warburton, Mike Phillips and Taulupe Faletau to the fore.

Wales reached the 2011 World Cup semi-finals before having Warburton sent off and losing by a point to France, were quarter-finalists four years later and then semi-finalists again in Japan in 2019. Jones made more World Cup appearances than any other Welshman, proving a driving force on the global stage.

And his Lions chapter was equally as impressive, with only two players – Willie John McBride and Dickie Jeeps – playing in more Tests than Jones did.

He was an ever-present in four Lions Test series, with captaincy on the 2021 tour to South Africa fittingly rewarding his status in the game. He also led the Lions to a Test series-clinching victory over Australia eight years earlier when Warburton was injured.

Given Jones’ fitness levels, it would have been no surprise to have see him being selected for a fifth and final World Cup campaign in France later this year.

But he has decided to call it a day on rugby union’s biggest stage, and Wales – maybe even the world game – are unlikely to see his like again.

Warren Gatland has left experienced trio Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric out of Wales' starting line-up for Saturday's Six Nations clash against Scotland.

Wales were beaten 34-10 on home soil by Ireland in their tournament opener last weekend as Gatland's first game back in charge after replacing Wayne Pivac ended in defeat.

Gatland has rung the changes to his pack ahead of facing Scotland at Murrayfield, with British and Irish Lions veterans Jones, Faletau and Tipuric making way.

Jones and Tipuric have been left out of the matchday squad entirely, while Rhys Davies could make his Test debut from the replacements' bench.

Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza will make their first starts for Wales, who have also added Tommy Reffell to their back row.

"We created opportunities last week but weren't clinical enough in terms of finishing them off," said Gatland, who has won all 10 matches against Scotland as Wales head coach.

"We need to start better. We gave away stupid penalties and unforced penalties when we weren't really under a lot of pressure so that's been an area that we've spoken about."

Wales have won 13 of their past 15 matches against Scotland in the Six Nations (L2), including six of their seven matches at Murrayfield during that run (L1).

 

Scotland also named their 15-man team on Thursday, with Zander Fagerson returning to the front row in the only change from the 29-23 victory over England.

Fagerson, who missed the win at Twickenham having only recently recovered from a hamstring injury, replaces the benched WP Nel.

Last week's Calcutta Cup hero Duhan van der Merwe is joined in the back three by Kyle Steyn and Stuart Hogg, who continues at full-back.

Gregor Townsend has also named an unchanged bench, meaning no place in the squad for Hamish Watson, despite recovering from concussion.

Scotland have won their opening Six Nations fixture in each of the past three years, but they went on to lose to Wales in round two in both 2021 and 2022.

However, since beating Scotland in that most recent meeting 12 months ago, Wales have gone on to win just twice in 11 matches, losing their last three in a row.


Scotland XV: Stuart Hogg, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Jamie Ritchie (c), Luke Crosbie, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, WP Nel, Jonny Gray, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Blair Kinghorn, Chris Harris.

Wales XV: Liam Williams; Josh Adams, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer; Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens (c), Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Adam Beard, Christ Tshiunza, Tommy Reffell, Jac Morgan.

Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Rhys Carre, Leon Brown, Rhys Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Webb, Rhys Patchell, Alex Cuthbert.

Wales and Australia are each set to hand two players their international debuts when the sides meet at the Principality Stadium this weekend.

The two teams face off in their final game of the November international period, as they look to close out on a winning note in Cardiff.

There will be a first appearance for centre Joe Hawkins for the hosts after he was drafted into the squad following Owen Watkin's absence through injury.

Sam Talakai, meanwhile, is primed to figure off the bench for the visitors, though James Hooper has been ruled out with a concussion sustained in last weekend's loss to Ireland.

Wayne Pivac's side hand a first start since 2021 to Leigh Halfpenny at full-back, while Taulupe Faletau will make his 100th Test appearance between Wales and the British and Irish Lions at number eight.

Alun Wyn Jones will also extend his own record as the most-capped men's rugby union international in history as part of the second row.

Playmaker Ben Donaldson gets a first start at fly half for the Wallabies, partnering Jake Gordon, while James Slipper will lead at prop.

Jordan Petaia, on the bench last time out, makes the move to start on the wing for Dave Rennie's side.

Wales team: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements; Ryan Elias, Rhodri Jones, Tomas Francis, Ben Carter, Josh Macleod, Kieran Hardy, Rhys Priestland, Josh Adams.

Australia team: Tom Wright, Jordan Petaia, Len Ikitau, Reece Hodge, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Ben Donaldson, Jake Gordon; James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Jed Holloway, Fraser McReight, Langi Gleeson.

Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Tom Robertson, Sam Talakai, Ned Hanigan, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Noah Lolesio, Jock Campbell.

All eyes will be on the Stade de France on Saturday as the 2022 Six Nations comes to a conclusion when leaders France take on England.

While the visitors can finish no higher than third place, Eddie Jones' men will revel in being the ultimate party poopers in Paris.

Victory for France in 'Le Crunch' will seal a first Grand Slam since 2010, though Les Blues could still finish top and land a first title since then should Ireland fail to beat Scotland.

Saturday's other fixture sees Wales take on pointless Italy in Cardiff and, while there may be little riding on that game, it will be a milestone occasion for a couple of players.

Ahead of the final round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.


FRANCE V ENGLAND

FORM

The omens are good for France as two of their previous three Six Nations Grand Slams have been completed with victory over England in the final round, in 2004 and again six years later, while just one of the past nine games between these sides in the competition has been won by the visitors – England prevailing 31-21 in 2016.

Fabien Galthie's charges have lost just one of their past eight home games in the competition, with that solitary defeat coming at the hands of Scotland last year as they chased a big winning margin to pip Wales to the title.

England are aiming to avoid losing three matches in a single edition of the Six Nations for the third time in seven years playing under Eddie Jones, having also done so in 2018 and 2021, and for a fifth time overall. 


ONES TO WATCH

Damian Penaud, who has a joint-high three tries in this year's tournament, is back in France's starting XV after recovering from coronavirus, replacing the injured Yoram Moefana. France have scored seven tries from counter-attacks this year, which is at least three more than any other team, so pacey Penaud could cause some damage this weekend.

England will need to work incredibly hard if they are to stop arguably the world's top side right now and hope that their key players turn up. In Marcus Smith they boast a player who leads the way for points in 2022 with 63, 19 more than next-best Melvyn Jaminet.

 

IRELAND V SCOTLAND

FORM

Ireland must beat Scotland earlier on Saturday if they are to remain in title contention and they have a great recent record in this fixture, winning seven of their last eight Six Nations meetings.

That record is even better on home soil, meanwhile, having been victorious in 10 of the last 11 encounters in the competition, including each of the last five in a row. Scotland's only win in that run came at Croke Park in 2010.

Fourth-placed Scotland have won five of their last six away games in the tournament, however, which is as many as they had managed in their previous 43.


ONES TO WATCH

Ireland were made to work hard for their victory against an England side that played almost the entire 80 minutes with 14 men last week, but they did ultimately get the job done. Jamison Gibson-Park led the way for passes in that match with 59 – more than double any opposition player – and he has a joint-high three assists in this edition.

Finn Russell is level with Gibson-Park on three assists, but he has been surprisingly omitted from Scotland's squad for the match at the Aviva Stadium due to his growing indiscipline and poor form. Ali Price is next for Scotland on the assists list with two, and there will now be more focus on him on what is his 51st cap.



WALES V ITALY

FORM

Wales are aiming to climb two places and finish third and will be confident of fulfilling their half of the bargain by claiming a bonus-point win against bottom side Italy. The Dragons have won each of their last 14 in this fixture, last tasting defeat in 2007.

After losing at home to France in their most recent home match, Wales are aiming to avoid successive losses at the Principality Stadium in the competition for the first time in 15 years, when losing their final such game in 2006 and first in 2007.

Italy will claim the Wooden Spoon once again having lost all five games this year, stretching their record losing run in the tournament to 36 matches. The Azzurri's most recent win away from home came against Scotland in 2015.

ONES TO WATCH

This will be a special occasion for Dan Biggar, who is in line for his 100th cap, and Alun Wyn Jones, who returns for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand in October for his 150th appearance. That makes the Wales skipper the first player to win 150 or more caps for a single nation in history.

Ange Capuozzo has been handed a first Test start after making a big impression in an otherwise disappointing campaign for Italy. The Grenoble full-back has scored two tries in this year's Six Nations, accounting for half of Italy's total, with both of those coming in a 34-minute appearance against Scotland in round four.

Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones are in line to claim their 100th and 150th Wales caps when Wayne Pivac's side host Italy in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Wales sit fifth in the table after falling to a third defeat in four outings following a 13-9 loss to France last Friday, with their only win coming against Scotland on February 12.

However, Pivac's team will be boosted by the return of Jones, who comes back into the starting side for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand at the end of October.

Biggar retains the captaincy despite 36-year-old Jones returning, with the former set to become the seventh Welshman to win 100 caps for his country.

Coach Pivac, who has made seven changes to his team that lost against table-toppers France, believes the pair deserve to share their milestone appearances together.

"We've said with other players reaching 100 appearances what an achievement that is and for Dan I know he's been looking forward to this moment for a long time," Pivac told reporters on Tuesday.

"For him to achieve it with Al, who is also getting the milestone of 150 caps – which no other player has ever done – I think it's fitting for those two to share the day.

"They've played a lot of rugby together and have a healthy respect for each other. They've given so much for the game in Wales."

Gareth Davies is in line for his first start in this year's Six Nations, with Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit and Willis Halaholo all recalled in the backline as well.

Meanwhile, Dewi Lake, Dillon Lewis and last year's Lions captain Jones are the forwards who come in, with Ryan Elias, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Tomas Francis,  Liam Williams, Tomos Williams and Will Rowlands dropping out of the starting side.

On the changes, Pivac added: "We've made a few changes this week. With one game to go there are some players we need to see out there and put them in the matchday 23.

"We've certainly selected a side which we think can get the job done. Clearly that's what we're here for. There's an opportunity to move up that table, so we think this is an exciting team and one we're looking forward to seeing out there.

"Italy are a side that's improving, they've had some bad luck here and there and with a new coach transitioning we know it takes a bit of time.

"But we know they've got some very good rugby players and as you saw against Scotland they troubled them in that second half and for long periods of the first. So we're going to have to be on our game and we're very much looking forward to playing at home again this weekend.

"We had a good result against Scotland, gave the fans something to cheer about and came very close against an in-form France. Obviously disappointed we couldn't get across the line for our fans there and we hope we can do that this weekend and finish on a high."

Wales team: Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Watkin, Uilisi Halaholo, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Seb Davies, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Wyn Jones, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Ross Moriarty, Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Nick Tompkins.

Wayne Pivac has not totally ruled out of the prospect of Alun Wyn Jones making another astonishing early return from injury to play for Wales in the Six Nations.

Jones was not included in the defending champions' squad last week as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

Dan Biggar was named captain for the tournament in the absence of the inspirational lock, who did the damage in a 54-16 thrashing against New Zealand in October.

Jones incredibly recovered from a dislocated shoulder to skipper the British and Irish Lions in South Africa last year.

Wales head coach Pivac says Jones is unlikely to play in the Six Nations, but there is a chance the 36-year-old could feature.

"Never say never," Pivac said, adding: "It's Alun Wyn Jones. I probably wouldn't enter the conversation if it was anyone else, but the guy has broken so many records.

"I honestly say that, I would never say never. But look, it'll be a long shot. Let's just say that.

"Al is working incredibly hard behind the scenes, as you know he would, to get himself in the best shape possible for either the Ospreys or Wales."

Stand-in captain Biggar echoed Pivac's sentiments as the holders prepare for their opening match against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5.

"I wouldn't put my mortgage on it," the fly-half said.

"I don't think any of us expected [Jones] to turn up in South Africa in the summer, and he managed to get on the plane.

"If there is anybody who has got a chance of being fit for some part of this tournament, then Al is probably the man. I wouldn't rule it out just yet."

Defending champions Wales are set to be without captain Alun Wyn Jones for the Six Nations due to a shoulder injury.

Jones was ruled out of the remainder of the Autumn Nations Series, as he requires surgery due to the damage done in a crushing 54-16 defeat to New Zealand last weekend.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac does not expect the most capped player of all time to play any part when the holders bid to retain their Six Nations title next year.

Pivac said on Thursday: "I don't think he'll be available for the Six Nations.

"You learn a lot about the worth of people when they're not there. I think a lot of people take Alun Wyn for granted – he's always been there and got seniority.

"That leadership is really important. The essence is on others to step up and take that role on."

Jones, who astonishingly recovered from a shoulder injury to captain the British and Irish Lions in South Africa, is in the twilight of his career at the age of 35.

Pivac believes the inspirational towering lock, who won a world record 149th Wales cap in the loss to the All Blacks, can play in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

"The intention is always to see if Al can get to the World Cup. I think it's a realistic goal personally," the New Zealander said.

"You've just got to see him in training and when he's playing, the efforts he puts in. I don't see anything going anywhere near backwards in terms of his performances.

"A bit of time off, we spoke about this before Al left camp. It's not ideal for him. We're all looking forward to him playing 150 Test matches for Wales, but that is still a goal and I'm sure he'll get there."

Pivac has made six changes to the starting XV for the showdown with South Africa at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, with Ellis Jenkins replacing Ross Moriarty (shoulder) in what will be his first Test for three years after recovering from a knee injury.

Dan Biggar returns at fly-half, while wing Louis Rees-Zammit, centre Nick Tompkins and prop Rhys Carre also start and Jonathan Davies takes over as captain.
 

Wales team: Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit, Jonathan Davies (captain), Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Ellis Jenkins, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Wyn Jones, WillGriff John, Ben Carter, Seb Davies, Gareth Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Liam Williams.

Alun Wyn Jones will surpass Richie McCaw's record tally of 148 caps for his country when Wales face New Zealand in a mouthwatering Autumn Nations Series clash on Saturday.

Wales captain Jones matched legendary former All Blacks captain McCaw's astonishing number of Test appearances when he faced Scotland last year.

The British and Irish Lions skipper will set a new record for games played for a country at Principality Stadium this weekend.

Jones, who has played in 12 Lions Tests, will lead out a Wales side that has a blend of experience and youth.

 

Taine Basham made his first start at international level in the back row and Gareth Anscombe makes his return at fly-half against his country of birth over two years after his last Test appearance.

Anscombe has impressed after spending such a long spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Ken Owens was initially selected at hooker, but has since been replaced by Ryan Elias due to a back injury, with Kirby Myhill named on the bench.

Hooker Elliot Dee has been released from the Six Nations champions' squad due to a neck injury.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said: "To win a World Cup you have to play against teams like New Zealand at some stage in the tournament and you have to win those games.

"It’s going to be a great experience for those guys who haven't played a lot of test rugby and they'll certainly know they’ve been in a match afterwards."

Wales have won only three of 35 Tests against the All Blacks ahead of the showdown in Cardiff.

 

Wales: Johnny McNicholl, Owen Lane, Jonathan Davies, Johnny Williams, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Ross Moriarty, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Will Rowlands, Seb Davies, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Ben Thomas.

Siya Kolisi was relieved to reach the end of "the toughest week I've ever had to face" as South Africa beat the British and Irish Lions on Saturday.

Tries from Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am and 17 points from Handre Pollard settled the second Test 27-9 in the Springboks' favour, setting up a decider.

Focus returned to the pitch after a week in which Rassie Erasmus and Kolisi had been open in criticism of first Test referee Nic Berry.

The South Africa captain had said he felt "disrespected" by the manner of communication with the official.

Ben O'Keeffe, who showed two yellow cards and awarded Am's try in slightly contentious circumstances, was more popular with Kolisi.

"Today was better," he told Sky Sports. "I've worked with Ben before and it was great working with him."

Reflecting on the build-up to the match in Cape Town, Kolisi said: "It's been a week and a half. Honestly, for me, personally, as a leader, it was the toughest week I've ever had to face, with everything happening.

"But fortunately the coaches around made sure we focused on the things that we could fix.

"We know we made a lot of mistakes out there last week – especially in the maul and everything. We put all the focus on the game and what we could fix.

"And having our families, to be honest, was one of the things that helped me a lot. Have a tough day at training and you come home and the wives are waiting and the kids are waiting, that's been really special."

Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones – winning his 11th Lions cap, the outright fifth-most – was offered the opportunity to attribute a disappointing performance to the war of words between the sides.

But Jones made no excuses after his side's biggest defeat since the third Test against New Zealand in 2005.

The second half was especially disappointing, as the Lions were held scoreless for the first time since a 9-0 defeat to the All Blacks in 1983.

"Look, our focus was on what happens on the field – and it still is," Jones said. "We'll obviously go back and review where we can go right. That's our focus.

"Straight after the game, it's disappointing. We didn't want to take it to a third Test, but we have. We're fortunate we've got another opportunity next week."

It is at least familiar ground for the Lions, who have been taken to a decider in each of coach Warren Gatland's three series, but the Springboks now have some momentum.

Kolisi added: "It's game on. We're going to go again, nothing different, and we're going to try to do what we did today even harder."

After months of uncertainty over whether the tour will go ahead, the British and Irish Lions start their quest to secure a series win over South Africa on Saturday.

The two sides will go into battle at Cape Town Stadium without the roars of partisan Springboks fans and passionate Lions supporters who have made the trip, as no spectators are allowed in due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, neither team should require a raucous atmosphere to get fired up for a first contest between South Africa and the Lions in 12 years.

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has selected 21 of the 23 players who were World Cup winners in Japan two years ago in the matchday squad for such an eagerly awaited opening showdown. The world champions' preparation has been far from ideal, with 14 players and six members of the management team having tested positive for COVID-19 this month.

Captain Siya Kolisi was among those to have contracted the virus, but he will lead a formidable side that will be so tough to beat on home turf.

As for the Lions, Alun Wyn Jones has made an astonishing recovery to captain the tourists only four weeks after suffering a dislocated shoulder against Japan.

South Africa can win consecutive series against the Lions for the first time since they were successful in both 1962 and 1968, having come out on top by a 2-1 scoreline in 2009.

Yet the Lions have been racking up the points in their tour matches ahead of the three Tests, scoring 39 tries in six games in 2021 - which is 21 more than they managed in the entire 2017 trip to New Zealand.

Warren Gatland's men were beaten 17-13 by a strong South Africa A team during the warm-up fixtures, though, getting a taste of the sort of power they know they will come up against when facing the Boks.

 

TMO CHANGE STOKES THE FIRES

There is never a shortage of off-field sub-plots to fan the flames ahead of a Lions series - and this trip has been no different.

Lions head coach Gatland is said to be fuming over a chance of TMO for the first Test, with South African Marius Jonker replacing New Zealander Brendon Pickerill, who was unable to officiate due to coronavirus-related travel issues.

Robin McBryde, forwards coach for the Lions, said: "It [Jonker stepping in] was a bit unexpected. We only found out on Wednesday. There's a slight like lack of foresight because there's a reason why that position is neutral. There's no plan B put in place. You've just got to get on with it really."

Jonker was the TMO in a clash with South Africa A that saw Faf de Klerk avoid a red card for a high tackle on Josh Navidi.

VAN DER MERWE READY TO BE TARGETED

Duhan van der Merwe gets the nod to start against his country of birth, with the Scotland wing accepting he will be targeted.

Gatland said: "It's a challenge for him. I've spoken to him about what's coming on the weekend and he's fully aware.

"I presume every time he touches the ball, they'll be trying to hit him with everything they've got and there will probably be some verbals as well. So he's well aware of what's at stake and he's been incredibly relaxed."

 

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Kwagga Smith.

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager, Rynhardt Elstadt, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.

British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alan Wyn Jones (captain), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This is the 14th Test series between South Africa and the Lions, with the Springboks winning eight of the previous 13 editions and the Lions triumphant in four.
- South Africa hold the head-to-head advantage in individual Test matches between the sides, winning 23 of their 46 previous Test encounters (L17, D6).
- The Lions are unbeaten in their past two Tests (W1, D1) and have not enjoyed a longer such run since a six-game run spanning the 1971 and 1974 tours (W4, D2).
- South Africa have lost just one of their previous 13 Tests (W11, D1), winning the last seven in a row – their longest winning run since 2013-14 (W8)
- Lions captain Jones will win his 10th Lions Test cap, becoming the eighth player to achieve that feat and the first this century.

Alun Wyn Jones has been deemed fit enough to skipper the British and Irish Lions against South Africa as Warren Gatland predicted an "arm wrestle" in the first Test after naming his XV for the match.

Jones has recovered from the dislocated shoulder he sustained in the tourists 28-10 win over Japan at Murrayfield last month.

The Welsh lock will win his 10th successive Test cap in Cape Town on Saturday and joins an illustrious list of Lions players to have achieved the feat.

Gareth Edwards (10), Graham Price (12), Mike Gibson (12) Dickie Jeeps (13) and Willie-John McBride (17) have all reached the milestone, although Jones is the first in the professional era.

Lions head coach Gatland warned Jones and his team-mates to be ready for a gruelling tussle against the Springboks, the current World Cup holders.

 

"We know what we're coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it," he told the British and Irish Lions website.

"We'll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played South Africa A last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can't afford to do that again this weekend.

"We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come."

Jones is joined in the second row by England's Maro Itoje while compatriot Luke Cowan-Dickie, Wales' Wyn Jones and Ireland's Tadhg Furlong make up the front row.

Courtney Lawes will play on the blind side flank on his first full Test appearance, having won his previous two caps from the bench against New Zealand in 2017.

Lawes' England team-mate Tom Curry has been named on the open side, with Irishman Jack Conan securing the number eight shirt.

Scotland's Ali Price is at scrum-half and has Wales number 10 Dan Biggar for company in the half-back berths while Robbie Henshaw has returned from a hamstring injury to partner Elliot Daly in midfield.

England's Anthony Watson wins his fourth Lions Test cap as he takes his spot on the wing opposite Duhan van der Merwe, with fellow Scot Stuart Hogg at full-back.

The starting XV includes three Scots for the first time since the 1997 Tour to South Africa.
 

 

"In my four tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in," Gatland added.

"We couldn't have asked for more from the players so far. They've all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult.

"In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we're very pleased with the side we've settled on."

 

British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams

British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones is "fit and raring to go" for Saturday's first Test against South Africa, according to defence coach Steve Tandy.

Jones, the most-capped international of all time with 158 appearances for Wales and the Lions, was initially ruled out of the tour after dislocating his shoulder against Japan on June 26.

However, the 35-year-old has made a remarkable comeback and played 30 minutes off the bench in the 49-3 victory against Stormers at the weekend.

That win, on what was Jones' 22nd appearance for the Lions, ensured Warren Gatland's side avoided losing two successive non-Test matches since a three-game streak in New Zealand in 1993

After coming through that match unscathed, Jones in contention to start this week's much-anticipated showdown with reigning world champions South Africa in Cape Town.

Asked if Jones – one of only four players selected to play on four Lions tours – has enough minutes under his belt to return to the starting line-up, Tandy said: "I believe so.

"Al historically does some pretty special things. He is fit, he is raring to go. He keeps himself in great shape, so there will be no issues there.

"He has got unbelievable experience. His leadership qualities are outstanding as well. He will be fine."

 

The Lions have won five of their six warm-up fixtures ahead of the three-match series with the Springboks, the exception being a 17-13 loss to South Africa A last week.

Fly-half Finn Russell is the Lions' only unavailable player for the series opener due to an Achilles issue, leaving Gatland and his coaching staff with some big selection calls.

Following a meeting that lasted more than an hour and a half on Sunday, Tandy revealed the Lions' XV for the first Test is now as good as selected.

"It is one of the toughest things I have been involved in," Tandy said. "So many players put their hands up. There will be massive decisions made and a lot of unlucky players.

"We had the initial selection meeting last night and it was a long one in fairness. There was robust discussion, but now there are just one or two things to confirm. It is mostly done.

"There will be bitter disappointment for some players, but everyone will be geared up to win the first Test and those not playing will support the team."

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