Maro Itoje gave away five penalties in England's 40-24 Six Nations defeat to Wales but head coach Eddie Jones claimed officials can "tend to over-referee a player like him".

Referee Pascal Gauzere faced scrutiny over his decision-making in Saturday's Cardiff clash, a third-round tussle in the Six Nations.

Wales scored two controversial first-half tries, but England's lack of discipline was also the Red Rose's undoing, giving away 14 penalties in total.

Jones related the attention Itoje draws from match officials to that experienced by former Australia forward George Smith.

Speaking about Saracens star Itoje, Jones said: "He is one of the best players in the world and he plays the game on the edge.

"I can remember the same sort of discussion being had about George Smith at one stage. Sometimes the referees tend to over-referee a player like him."

Quoted in several newspapers, Jones said Itoje could find ways to improve, for the benefit of his teams.

"There are areas of the game he needs to tidy up and he knows that," Jones said. "He's a good boy. A good player. There are just a few things in his game he needs to tidy up."

Jones would not want a repeat in England's next scheduled match, the home clash with coronavirus-hit France on March 13.

The apparent depths to which sporting rivalries can sink was underlined on Sunday when England prop Ellis Genge revealed he had received death threats after the Principality Stadium defeat.

Genge was shown on camera not clapping off the Wales team at the end of the match.

Genge wrote on Twitter: "Don't know why I'm not clapping in that tunnel must be deep in thought, utmost respect for the Welsh. As for keyboard warriors sending death threats etc ...."

England Rugby denounced such social media targeting of players, stating: "Respect is a core value of rugby. Yesterday we lost to Wales who deserved their victory.

"Unfortunately some of the reaction on social media to players and the team has not shown the level of respect the rugby community prides itself on.

"We will support our players and team against online abuse and hope true rugby fans will stand with us."

Eddie Jones and Owen Farrell refused to point the finger at referee Pascal Gauzere after clinical Wales beat England 40-24 to secure the Triple Crown.

The Red Rose's hopes of retaining the Six Nations title are all-but over after Wales scored four tries in a bonus-point victory at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

England were made to pay for indiscipline as Wales moved two wins away from a Grand Slam in Cardiff, but the defending champions had every right to feel aggrieved by two controversial first-half tries.

Josh Adams touched down in the corner when he was picked out by a kick from Dan Biggar soon after Gauzere had called time out, having instructed captain Farrell to warn his team-mates about giving away too many penalties.

Farrell confronted Gauzere after he allowed that try to stand and both players were stunned when Liam Williams was awarded a score following a knock-on from Louis Rees-Zammit.

Jones said ahead the match that Gauzere would be under pressure to make the right decisions and the England head coach has previous with the French official, who he complained about to World Rugby in 2018.

The Australian would not say whether he would speak to the governing body again after tries from Anthony Watson and Ben Youngs, as well as 14 points for Farrell, were in vain.

Jones told BBC Sport: "It is what it is. We can't argue with the referee, the result is there in stone, we've got to accept it. Maybe they were tough calls but we weren't good enough to overcome that.

"I'm not going to make a comment on it, I accept the referee's decision. It could have been tough, but we've got to handle it. That’s the decision. It’s 40-24, let’s accept that we weren’t good enough on the day.

"We might have had some though calls. We’ve got to adapt to the game, adapt to the referee. If the referee is going to referee like that, we’ve got to deal with it."

Asked if he might make another complaint over Gauzere, he said: "That's not something to discuss today. Wales were worthy winners.

"I was pleased with how our players fought back, got ourselves back to 24-24 and probably the last play summed up our day.

"We did some lovely attacking work, get to the last pass, they intercepted and go down and score at the other end. That’s the difference of the game."

Skipper Farrell was also not prepared to blame Gauzere.

Asked about the referee's performance, he said: "That's not for us to talk about. We got our way back into it and didn't quite finish it off. There’s plenty that we can do better.

"I'd have to look back at it [the first Wales try]. I don’t know [if we could have been more alert]. There's no point in talking about it now, let everybody else talk about it. We’ll focus on what we can control. We’ll control what we can control."

Wayne Pivac shrugged off the suggestion Wales had luck on their side as they overcame England 40-24 to wrap up a Six Nations triple crown.

Wales have now beaten Ireland, Scotland and England across their opening three matches to take a five-point lead at the top of the standings, though second-placed France have a game in hand.

Saturday's victory was not without its contentious moments, however, as the calls of referee Pascal Gauzere took centre stage in the first half.

First, the French official allowed Josh Adams' opening try to stand, despite having given England little time to set themselves from a Wales penalty, with the referee having asked Owen Farrell to speak to his team.

Gauzere then made the on-field decision to award Liam Williams' try, with TMO unable to definitively prove that Louis Rees-Zammit had knocked on in the build-up.

Wales benefitted from a red card in their wins over Ireland and Scotland, but Pivac put the victory against England in Cardiff down to his team's application.

"Some people are going to say that, they'll say it's been on our side for the last three matches, but you've got to be in games to win them," Pivac told BBC Sport.

"England put a lot of pressure on us and came back, each time we hit them they came back again, so it was a hell of a game and a lot of resilience shown from our boys."

Asked if he had any sympathy for England, Pivac added: "I think when you give away that many penalties – one player giving away five penalties – I think you’re lucky not to concede a yellow card to be honest. I suppose you could argue either way."

Wales lost four of their five games in last season's Six Nations campaign, finishing fifth above winless Italy, yet now look on course for a Grand Slam.

"Time. A bit of time," was Pivac's explanation when asked how his team have turned their fortunes around.

"We've picked a squad to get results in this tournament and we had a good look at some players in the last tournament that we've well and truly documented, but certainly time together and I think you can see there's a good bond growing in this group.

"They enjoy winning things, as they did under Warren [Gatland]. Hopefully we can press on."

England fell foul of some contentious refereeing decisions and indiscipline as Wales clinched a Six Nations triple crown with a 40-24 bonus-point win in Cardiff.

Eddie Jones' team felt hard done by in the first half with referee Pascal Gauzere at the centre of the discussion, allowing questionable tries from Josh Adams and Liam Williams to stand.

Anthony Watson's try handed England some momentum heading into the second half, though Kieran Hardy's effort seemed to have put Wales back in control.

Owen Farrell moved onto 1000 points in international rugby either side of Ben Youngs' score to level proceedings, yet a trio of composed penalties from Callum Sheedy and a late Cory Hill try settled a topsy-turvy contest.

Biggar kicked Wales ahead in the fifth minute, though Williams just denied Mario Itoje an opening try after a charge down at the other end.

Farrell restored parity after Ben Youngs' break resulted in an England penalty, but the visiting captain was soon left seething with referee Gauzere soon after.

England were given little time to set from a penalty restart, and Biggar's kick found Adams, who raced over in the corner.

Farrell channelled his frustration as he slotted a long-range penalty between the posts, though another contentious call then went against the Red Rose as Williams went over.

Louis Rees-Zammit's fumble in the build-up was adjudged to have gone backwards, and Biggar's conversion clipped the post on its way through.

England hit back when Watson forced himself through a crowd of defenders, and though Farrell missed the kick, he atoned with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.

Hardy cruised through a gap to restore Wales' cushion, though Farrell's penalty pulled England to within seven points – the skipper then reached his milestone 1000 international points by converting Youngs' try.

But with the scores level, defensive errors cost England, and in the space of eight minutes, Sheedy had struck nine points.

It set the stage for Hill to add further gloss as he bundled over under the sticks to send Wales to the top of the standings in style.

Wales looking good in Wayne's world

It was a tough 2020 for Wayne Pivac, but the New Zealander now has his team playing with real confidence and belief.

England might point to the refereeing decisions going against them, but their own errors in the final stages ultimately proved decisive and Wales took full advantage. They now top the standings by two points, with France not playing this weekend due to a COVID-19 outbreak in their camp, and having wrapped up a triple crown, look well on course for a Grand Slam.

Farrell's landmark proves fruitless

It is now 1000 points from 91 caps for England captain Farrell, who appeared to be leading his side back into the contest until those costly defensive slip ups.

Farrell is just the second man to reach that tally for England after World Cup 2003 hero Jonny Wilkinson (1179).

What's next?

England face another huge test in the form of France in round four, while Wales travel to Rome to face lowly Italy.

Wales go in search of a Triple Crown in a blockbuster battle against England, but France will not have an opportunity to make it three Six Nations wins out of three this weekend.

Wayne Pivac's Wales side are level on nine points with Les Bleus following victories over Ireland and Scotland, both of whom had a man sent off.

George North will become the youngest player in history to win 100 caps, but defending champions England will be determined to spoil the Wales centre's big occasion at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

The Red Rose beat Italy 41-18 last time out, following a loss to Scotland at Twickenham.

Winless Ireland will be expected to defeat the Azzurri to get up and running in the opening match of round three at Stadio Olimpico.

Sunday's planned showdown between France and Scotland was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the French squad.

We preview the matches in Rome and Cardiff with help from Opta.

ITALY v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have scored 45 tries across their last seven games against Italy in the Six Nations (6.4 per game), scoring eight or more tries in three of their last five clashes.

Italy have conceded a try-scoring bonus point in 17 of their 22 matches since those incentives were introduced to the Six Nations in 2017; only England (9) have picked up more bonus points in the championship than Ireland (8). The Azzurri are the only side yet to register one.

Ireland have lost their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign for the first time. The last time they lost their opening three matches was in 1998, when they were beaten in all four Five Nations clashes.

ONES TO WATCH

Sebastian Negri has made 96 metres and made 21 tackles combined in Italy's losses to France and England. Franco Smith will need another strong showing from the flanker.

Ireland back-row CJ Stander has made more carries (36) than any other player in the 2021 Six Nations. He has topped the final rankings for this category in three of the last four editions of the championship.

WALES v ENGLAND

FORM

England have won six of their last seven Six Nations matches against Wales, with the last six of those fixtures all decided by a single-figure margin.

Wales have won their opening two games of the tournament for a sixth time. On four of the previous five occasions when they have started with back-to-back victories, they have gone on to win a Grand Slam (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019, not in 2009).

This weekend's visitors are the only team to have never conceded more than two tries in a Six Nations game played in Wales. They have scored 19 tries in Wales during the Six Nations, no visiting team have scored more (Ireland also 19).

ONES TO WATCH

North will become only the sixth Wales player to win a century of caps. The 28-year-old will form a new pairing with Jonathan Davies and will be looking to bring up his hundred with an all-action display.

Elliot Daly will win his 50th cap for England and coach Eddie Jones will expect the full-back to repay the faith he has shown in him after a slow start to the tournament.

George North will become the youngest player in world rugby to reach 100 caps after being named in Wales' starting line-up for Saturday's Six Nations showdown with England.

The 28-year-old, who won his first cap in November 2010, returns to the side at outside centre as one of five changes from the 25-24 win over Scotland on February 13.

Wing Josh Adams is back from suspension while Josh Navidi, Jonathan Davies and scrum-half Kieran Hardy are also included in the XV, the latter making his first Six Nations start.

Wales have won their opening two games in this year's tournament and are three points ahead of England, who beat Italy 41-18 last time out after losing to Scotland in their opener.

Eddie Jones makes two changes to the England line-up, with hooker Jamie George and flanker Mark Wilson replacing Luke Cowan-Dickie and the injured Courtney Lawes respectively.

Elliot Daly retains his place and is set to win his 50th cap for England, who have named the uncapped George Martin among their replacements for the Principality Stadium clash. 

"We know we'll be up against a strong Welsh challenge on Saturday, but we've worked really hard in training this week and have got a very good team to face it," Jones said.

"We want to show people what we are capable of, keep building our performances and show the best is yet to come from this England team."

 

Wales XV: Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Kieran Hardy; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Uilisi Halaholo.

England XV: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, George Martin, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins.

Wayne Pivac urged Wales not to get carried away with making it two wins from two in this year's Six Nations by beating Scotland 25-24 at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg put Scotland 14 points ahead in the first half, only for Louis Rees-Zammit to reduce the deficit before half-time.

Liam Williams and Wyn Jones touched down either side of a red card for Zander Fagerson to put Wales in front for the first time, before Hogg went over again for the depleted hosts.

However, Rees-Zammit scored a brilliant solo try to seal a bonus-point victory, which followed a win over 14-man Ireland on the opening weekend of the tournament.

Prior to this year's Six Nations, Wales had won just three of Pivac's first 10 Tests at the helm and he urged them to remain grounded despite the upturn in results.

"From 17-3 down against a side full a confidence, it was very, very pleasing," said Pivac.

"There were some big moments from both sides so we are just happy to come away with a win.

"We are improving each week in certain areas of the game and we showed a lot of character today.

"The squad has changed a lot since autumn, and it's tournament rugby now, a couple months is a long time to reflect.

"We cannot get carried away with this, though, and we need to build on it."

Having also set up Williams' try, Rees-Zammit has been directly involved in six tries in just five starts for Wales (four scored, two assisted).

Pivac said of the Gloucester wing: "Louis Rees-Zammit is doing some very good things with the ball. He's got things to work on, he dropped a high ball earlier and he wasn't the complete package, but he has scored some really well-worked tries."

Hogg took his Test try tally to 22, with Ian Smith and Tony Stanger (both 24) the only players to have registered more for Scotland.

He was frustrated Gregor Townsend's men let the game slip through their fingers a week after a famous victory over reigning champions England at Twickenham.

"We're bitterly disappointed. For large parts of that game we were very much in control of it. We looked the dominant side, especially in the first half, and we started to be ill-disciplined," he told the BBC.

"For us, giving away a couple of penalties is fine, four on the bounce is unacceptable. We've gone from one end of the field to the other conceding seven points within a couple of minutes and that's international rugby. You can't let a team like Wales get easy, cheap field positions because they are going to punish you.

"I think, for us, it's a vital lesson to stay disciplined throughout. It hurts right now, and rightly so."

Louis Rees-Zammit's excellent second try gave Wales a narrow 25-24 bonus-point victory over 14-man Scotland in the Six Nations.

After claiming a first win at Twickenham in 38 years by beating England 11-6 on the opening weekend, Scotland stormed ahead with tries from Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg on Saturday.

Rees-Zammit went over before half-time and set up Liam Williams to haul Wales back into the game, and they took the lead when Wyn Jones touched down after Zander Fagerson saw red.

Hogg put Scotland back in front despite their numerical disadvantage but a stunning solo effort from Rees-Zammit saw Wales follow up their win over 14-man Ireland last week with another success.

Scotland only conceded six penalties against England but had half that amount inside six minutes, with Leigh Halfpenny splitting the posts after the third.

Finn Russell restored parity and added the extras after Ali Price chipped the ball over the Wales defence for Darcy Graham to dot down in the 18th minute.

The hosts increased their advantage when Halfpenny spilled Hogg's kick over the top and the Scotland full-back took it over the line, but Rees-Zammit reduced the arrears before half-time.

Halfpenny sat out the second half due to a failed HIA and, after Gary Graham had a try ruled out for obstruction, Williams went over in the left corner.

Scotland were reduced to 14 men when Fagerson was dismissed for catching Jones on the head at the breakdown, and the Wales prop made them pay by scoring a third try.

The hosts responded with a sustained spell of pressure in front of the posts that culminated in Hogg evading Owen Watkin and Nick Tompkins to cross.

However, Rees-Zammit showed incredible pace to chase down his own kick and score the decisive points with 10 minutes remaining.

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

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

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

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

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

 

ENGLAND v ITALY

FORM

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

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

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

 

ONES TO WATCH

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

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

 

SCOTLAND v WALES

FORM

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

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

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

 

ONES TO WATCH

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

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

 

IRELAND v FRANCE

FORM

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

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

 

ONES TO WATCH

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

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

Scotland have made three changes to their XV for Saturday's Six Nations clash against Wales at Murrayfield.

Head coach Gregor Townsend has brought in back-row Blade Thomson, centre James Lang and winger Darcy Graham for injured trio Jamie Ritchie, Sean Maitland and Cameron Redpath.

Scotland are seeking consecutive over the Welsh for the first time since 2003 with Townsend in a confident frame of mind after their first Twickenham win over England since 1983 last time out.

"It was a very encouraging performance at Twickenham and the squad performed to a level which has to be the benchmark throughout the tournament," he told Scottish Rugby's website.

"Wales are also coming into this game after a win and will have the same objective, so it will be a tough challenge as always.

"Both teams were involved in physical contests last weekend, and that is evidenced by the injuries Wales and we ourselves have picked up. 

"For us, we are able to bring in three quality players in Blade, James and Darcy. They have been training well and are highly motivated to make the most of this opportunity."

Wales began with a 21-16 win over Ireland in Cardiff and their injury-hit team is boosted by the return of Liam Williams after a three-match ban. 

Williams replaces Hallam Amos, with Gareth Davies taking the number nine shirt and Aaron Wainwright called into the back row, as coach Wayne Pivac makes five enforced changes.

Nick Tompkins and Owen Watkin also come into midfield for George North and Johnny Williams with Dan Lydiate and Tomos Williams also dropping out through injury.

New Zealand-born Willis Halaholo could make his debut off the bench.

Pivac said: "We were pleased to kick the tournament off with a victory last weekend and to be heading to Scotland with a win behind us.

"We continue to build and to move forward and it is great to do that from a position of winning. It is a quick six-day turnaround this week but we are looking forward to getting back out there.

"We have picked up a couple of injuries but we see it as more of an opportunity for those coming into the side."

Scotland team in full

Stuart Hogg; Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, James Lang, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Blade Thomson, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements

David Cherry, Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Richie Gray, Gary Graham, Scott Steele,  Jaco van der Walt, Huw Jones.

Wales team in full

Leigh Halfpenny; Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins, Liam Williams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements

Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, James Botham, Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Willis Halaholo.

Wales are set to be without four players for their Six Nations clash with Scotland next Saturday as they count the cost of a hard-fought win over Ireland.

Wayne Pivac's men had to recover from a first-half blip as they surrendered a 6-0 lead to 14-man Ireland after the visitors had Peter O'Mahony sent off for leading with the elbow to the head of Tomas Francis.

Ireland went into the break 13-6 ahead despite their personnel disadvantage, but tries from George North and Louis Rees-Zammit proved enough for Wales to claim a 21-16 victory.

However, it was something of a pyrrhic triumph with Johnny Wiliams and Hallam Amos poised to miss the visit to Murrayfield with head injuries, while Pivac also ruled out Tomos Williams with a hamstring issue and Dan Lydiate, who is suspected to have a knee ligament problem.

"We've picked up a few injuries so we're looking at those now, we'll make a better assessment [on Monday]," Pivac said.

"We're sort of counting the walking wounded after that one.

"The six-day turnaround means certain players won't be playing for us, two with the head knocks. A six-day turnaround means any head knocks, you're gone.

"Unfortunately we lose a couple of players straight away. We'll see how the rest of the squad is [on Monday] and look at what sort of side we can put together on Tuesday.

"Johnny Williams went off for a HIA [head injury assessment] and didn't come back on. The other one was Hallam Amos who took a late knock too. Those are the two head knocks.

"Then we've got a hamstring for Tomos Williams – we're hoping that's not serious but it won't turn round in six days, I wouldn't have thought."

Pivac added of Lydiate: "We're going to get that scanned but it's not looking too good. It could be an ACL but we'll get that scanned for a definite result.

"It's very disappointing for Dan and he's very disappointed in the changing room right now."

Ireland coach Andy Farrell, meanwhile, expressed confidence O'Mahony will make amends for his indiscretion, telling BBC Sport: "We've seen red cards for that in the past haven't we?

"I think we've seen yellow cards for other incidents that didn't quite go our way.

"He's been around enough a long time and he's gutted. He's been a pretty stalwart player for us in the past and he'll continue to do so in the future."

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.

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