Wales took advantage of Peter O'Mahony's early dismissal and survived a fightback from 14-man Ireland to start their Six Nations campaign with a 21-16 win in Cardiff.

O'Mahony was sent off in the opening 15 minutes for contact to the head but Andy Farrell's men overcame their disadvantage in personnel to lead 13-6 at the interval.

But tries from George North and Louis Rees-Zammit turned the contest back in Wales' favour, with Ireland unable to produce another riposte.

The visitors were also dealt a late blow as Johnny Sexton went off with a head injury, giving Farrell plenty to worry about ahead of next week's clash with France.

Ireland were pinned for side entry at the ruck in the opening five minutes, giving Leigh Halfpenny the chance to boot Wales into a three-point lead.

O'Mahony was guilty of a much more serious infraction in the 14th minute, the flanker seeing red for leading with the elbow to the head of Tomas Francis as he attempted a clearout.

Wales, who earlier lost Dan Lydiate to a leg injury, doubled their advantage four minutes later through Halfpenny's trusty right peg.

However, Ireland enjoyed the majority of possession and territory thereafter in the first half and were rewarded for an extremely spirited fightback.

A pair of Sexton penalties drew Ireland level and a break from Robbie Henshaw then enabled Tadhg Beirne to dive over and give them a seven-point lead to defend.

Wales saw scrum-half Tomos Williams suffer a hamstring injury on the stroke of half-time but his absence did not prevent the hosts from getting back into the contest.

North capitalised after a series of Ireland handling errors to surge through a gap on the right and touch down, but Halfpenny misjudged the conversion attempt.

But that instance of profligacy from the tee did not prove costly as Rees-Zammit produced a stunning finish in the right-hand corner to put Wales back in front.

Halfpenny atoned for his earlier miss with a superb kick from the sideline to add the extras before knocking over a more routine kick as a penalty made it 21-13.

Billy Burns trimmed the deficit back to five points shortly after Sexton's exit but he failed to find touch with a penalty as he attempted to push Ireland to the five-metre line in stoppage time as Wales survived a dramatic final push from the visitors.

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

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

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

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

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

ITALY v FRANCE

FORM

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

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

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

ONES TO WATCH

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

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

ENGLAND v SCOTLAND

FORM

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

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

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

ONES TO WATCH

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

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

WALES v IRELAND

FORM

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

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

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

ONES TO WATCH

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

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

Josh Adams has been suspended for Wales' Six Nations games against Ireland and Scotland after breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Wayne Pivac's squad were released from their training camp on Saturday and wing Adams attended a gathering the following day, where his immediate family were present.

That breach of the rules came to light when the squad returned for international duty on Tuesday, with Adams missing Wales' first Six Nations game against Ireland at the Principality Stadium on Sunday and the trip to Murrayfield six days later.

Adams said: "I would like to apologise unreservedly. When out of camp, at the weekend, I made an error of judgement. I attended a small gathering of immediate family to celebrate a family milestone.

"It was wrong to do this. I'm aware that everyone needs to follow the rules and being in the public eye I have a responsibility to lead by example and I've fallen short on this occasion.

"I'd like to apologise to my team-mates and to our supporters for my mistake."

Wales head coach Pivac said: "We are extremely disappointed with the breach and have acted robustly and swiftly to take all appropriate measures.

"All players and management have received detailed briefings and education regarding our protocols, and everyone has a responsibility to abide by the rules.

"On this occasion, Josh has made an error of judgement, he made a mistake and he has shown immediate remorse. He was present at a small, immediate family gathering to celebrate a milestone with those close to him but that is against the rules and action had to be taken.

"All members of the national squad have received extensive COVID-19 protocol briefings and education. We will continue with our programme, which has been very effective to date, and remind everyone of their responsibility to not only adhere to the extensive measures in place but also to set an example.

"We will work with Josh in relation to his integration back into camp following a further testing and re-education process."

Dan Lydiate has been recalled to the Wales squad for the Six Nations but there is no place for Rhys Webb.

Back-row Lydiate last played for his country against Australia in 2018, but the 33-year-old is among the 36 players selected by head coach Wayne Pivac.

Scrum-half Webb has been overlooked, with Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams and Kieran Hardy getting the nod.

Scarlets back-row Josh Macleod is the only uncapped player in the squad for a tournament Wales will start with an encounter against Ireland at the Principality Stadium on February 7.

Pivac revealed he was unable to pick Rhys Priestland, despite the fly-half being set to return to his homeland with Cardiff Blues next season, due to the 60-cap rule.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones is hopeful of being fit to face Ireland in Dublin as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.

Ross Moriarty, Gareth Anscombe, Rhys Patchell and Scott Williams are among the players ruled out due to injury.

Pivac said: "We are hugely looking forward to meeting up as a squad on Monday and to the forthcoming campaign. The Guinness Six Nations is an important tournament and we have selected a squad accordingly.

"As we consistently spoke about, the autumn for us was about opportunity and development, looking ahead to RWC 2023 and it served that purpose for us.

"This campaign is different, it is tournament rugby and we are excited to get going and to play our part. We have picked a squad for this tournament based on form and we are excited to meet up on Monday and to get our preparation underway."

 

Wales squad:

Forwards: Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Rhodri Jones, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Ken Owens, Leon Brown, Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Will Rowlands, Cory Hill, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Josh MacLeod, Justin Tipuric.

Backs: Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar, Callum Sheedy, Jarrod Evans, Johnny Williams, Jonathan Davies, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, George North, Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Louis Rees-Zammit, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The British and Irish Lions are to hold talks over the future of the 2021 tour to South Africa amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

An eight-match trip is scheduled to begin on July 3 and continue into early August, including three Tests against the Springboks, who are the reigning world champions.

However, the continued complications surrounding the COVID-19 health crisis – in the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa – has led to doubts over whether the tour will go ahead as planned. 

In a statement on the team's official website, Lions managing director Ben Calveley confirmed that all involved are in "constant dialogue" over the ever-changing situation. 

Discussions will continue throughout January and February if needs be knowing a decision is required as soon as possible, particularly for those supporters considering travelling to South Africa.

"As you would expect, we are progressing with our plans based on the latest information available to us," Lions managing director Ben Calveley said in a statement.

"However, given the uncertainty that continues to be caused by the coronavirus pandemic both in South Africa, as well as the UK and Ireland, we are very aware of the need to make a timely decision on the best way forward; not least so that we can provide clarity to supporters booked to travel to South Africa next summer, or those thinking of making the trip.

"To date, the Lions Board has had repeated meetings to discuss all scenarios available and is in constant dialogue.

"It will meet throughout January and into February, if required, to review all relevant information and data. After further consultation with SA Rugby, we will update on the outcome of these meetings in due course.

"In the meantime, we continue regular discussion with our partners in the UK, Ireland and South Africa, including the British High Commission in Pretoria, the Irish Embassy and various government departments, to ascertain as much information as possible on this fast-evolving, complex situation."

Warren Gatland is once again due to be in charge of the tourists; the former Wales coach was at the helm for the 2013 victory over Australia, as well as the drawn series with New Zealand four years later. 

The Lions have toured South Africa 13 times previously, including a 2-1 defeat to the Springboks in 2009 when Ian McGeechan was head coach. 

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