Joy Neville believes it is “inevitable” that the historic feat of a woman refereeing men’s Six Nations and World Cup Test matches will be accomplished.

Neville, a trailblazer for aspiring female officials during her ground-breaking career as a referee, will exit the international stage after taking charge of Sunday’s Women’s Six Nations game between France and Italy in Paris, when the crowd will include her wife Simona and young son Alfie.

But while refereeing retirement beckons for the 40-year-old, she will continue to play a key role as World Rugby’s head coach for elite women officials in the 15s game.

Scotland’s Hollie Davidson this season became the first female assistant referee in a men’s Six Nations Test, while England’s Sara Cox has refereed in the Gallagher Premiership and South African Aimee Barrett-Theron is a regular on the United Rugby Championship circuit.

“It is going to happen and it will be a completely-deserved appointment,” Neville told the PA news agency.

“It is inevitable. The calibre of female referees that we have in place now is significant.

“I know a lot of the girls so well, how they work and I am just excited about supporting them further in ensuring they have the support to progress and help them achieve whatever goals they have in mind.”

Neville’s 11-year refereeing career began in a Limerick schools match at under-15 level and she can end it by looking back on numerous achievements.

She controlled the 2017 women’s World Cup final between England and New Zealand and was the first woman to referee men’s matches in European and URC competitions.

Neville also took charge of a men’s Rugby Europe Conference match between Norway an Denmark, while in 2017 she was named World Rugby referee of the year and last autumn became the first female to be part of a men’s World Cup officiating panel, working as a television match official.

And all that after an outstanding playing career that saw her win 70 Ireland caps, captain her country, play in two World Cups and win a Six Nations Grand Slam.

“I felt it was time to take a step away for family reasons,” Neville added. “Refereeing demands an awful lot of commitment and time away from home.

“And while I have enjoyed every single experience and I have learnt so much from the difficult moments and enjoyed the great moments, there comes a point that you realise it is time to enjoy a more normal lifestyle!”

Recalling how she became involved in refereeing, Neville said: “It was one or two days after I announced my retirement as a player.

“David McHugh (former international referee who worked for the Irish Rugby Football Union) called me and was coming to me with something that would demand even more time away and commitment.

“I had never for one second contemplated becoming a referee. When people retire from the game, they automatically think about giving back by volunteering, coaching and so on, but no one really properly considers refereeing.

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t find it difficult at the start, going into a new environment, learning a new skill, learning from my mistakes, understanding different people-management. To be honest, refereeing can teach you so much.

“Yes, I have had difficult moments, but I have learnt from them and learnt how to cope and deal with those situations.

“I remember I refereed my first professional game – Southern Kings versus Ulster in Belfast – and all the media attention was about the first female to referee a professional game and all I have ever tried to achieve was drop ‘the first female’. It is just a referee.

“Just make it the norm and thankfully I think we have broken down that door.”

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont paid tribute to Neville ahead of her final game.

He told the World Rugby website: “As someone who continues to blaze a trail for aspiring female and male referees, we are delighted that Joy will be continuing to channel her experience, passion and expertise into helping our international match officials be the best they can be as World Rugby’s elite women’s 15s match officials head coach.”

France returned to winning ways after coming from behind and then holding on to beat Chile 3-2 in an entertaining friendly in Marseille.

Youssouf Fofana cancelled out Marcelino Nunez’s early opener for Chile and after Randal Kolo Muani had given France a half-time lead, Olivier Giroud put them 3-1 up before Dario Osorio’s late effort for the South Americans.

France head coach Didier Deschamps’ made nine changes after Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Germany in Lyon and was rewarded with a much-improved display at the Orange Velodrome.

France conceded after just seven seconds against Germany at the weekend and went behind to another early goal when Nunez buried a low angled shot after being picked out in the area by Mauricio Isla’s cut-back.

Les Bleus gradually grew into the game and equalised with their first shot on target in the 18th minute.

Kylian Mbappe teed up Fofana on the edge of the box and the Monaco midfielder’s curled effort took a slight deflection off Chile defender Igor Lichnovsky on its way into the net.

A second goal seven minutes later put France in control. Theo Hernandez crossed from the left and Paris St Germain striker Kolo Muani rose above two Chile defenders to head home his third goal in four international appearances.

Alexis Sanchez, who set a new record of 162 appearance for Chile, teed up Dario Osorio shortly before half-time, but the latter’s shot was just too high.

Mbappe blazed over for France soon after the restart and Giroud’s deflected header was easily held before an end-to-end spell of action.

Chile striker Eduardo Vargas’ fine header from Gabriel Suazo’s cross hit a post and France substitute Jules Kounde lashed a shot narrowly over.

France extended their lead in the 72nd minute as Kolo Muani wriggled free of Lichnovsky’s challenge and crossed low for Giroud to side-foot home his 57th goal for his country.

Osorio set up a grandstand finish by firing a brilliant low shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area in the 82nd minute.

And Chile substitute Ben Brereton Diaz was denied by William Saliba’s last-ditch tackle as the Sheffield United striker bore down on goal in an exciting finish.

France got back to winning ways as they came from behind to beat Chile 3-2 at Stade Velodrome.

Les Bleus endured a poor start for the second time in as many games, falling behind after just six minutes in Marseille through Marcelino Nunez's finish.

However, they turned the contest on its head before half-time with Youssouf Fofana equalising and Randal Kolo Muani heading them in front.

Olivier Giroud ultimately got the winner for Didier Deschamps' side who, despite Dario Osorio's late strike, completed their Euro 2024 preparations with a ninth victory in 12 games since their 2022 World Cup final defeat to Argentina.

France, who conceded after just seven seconds against Germany on Saturday, were punished for another slow start as a neat one-two down the right flank enabled Mauricio Isla to pull the ball back for Nunez to drive home.

Despite losing Jonathan Clauss and Eduardo Camavinga to injury during the first half, Les Bleus responded well and levelled in the 19th minute when Kylian Mbappe teed up Fofana, who found the net from 20 yards via a slight Igor Lichnovsky deflection.

Mbappe went close himself before the hosts turned matters around when Kolo Muani rose to head home Theo Hernandez’s deep cross.

However, France survived scares either side of the break with Eduardo Vargas twice failing to hit the target from inside the six-yard box, heading against the post with his second attempt.

The hosts capitalised on their good fortune to go 3-1 up in the 72nd minute. Kolo Muani turned provider with a wonderful jinking run into the area from the right wing, before pulling the ball back for Giroud to sweep in his record-extending 57th international goal.

Chile threatened a dramatic fightback when Osorio drilled home eight minutes from time, and it took William Saliba's superb last-ditch sliding challenge to deny Ben Brereton Diaz an equaliser right at the death.

Mbappe moves level with Henry to lead France revival 

Deschamps' team had not suffered successive defeats since June 2015, though it looked a possibility when they fell behind in the sixth minute.

But the revival began when Mbappe set up Fofana, who continued his fine scoring streak with his third international goal in four appearances.

Although Mbappe did not find the net himself, he still managed to achieve yet another milestone courtesy of his 27th assist for Les Blues, moving him joint-second with Thierry Henry on France's all-time list, he now has Antoine Griezmann's record of 30 in sight.

The skipper could well surpass that at Euro 2024, where France will be among the favourites when they launch their quest for a third title against Austria in Group D on June 17.

Chile's rapid start proves academic on Sanchez's record-breaking night

Having begun Ricardo Gareca's reign with a morale-boosting 3-0 victory over the in-form Albania, Chile built on that momentum with their fast start this time around.

Nunez's strike after just five minutes and 12 seconds was their quickest goal since Alexis Sanchez found the net one second earlier against Germany in the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Speaking of Sanchez, the Inter forward enjoyed a momentous night, as he surpassed Gary Medel to become Chile's most-capped player.

One of three players to feature in his nation's last meeting with France in August 2011 – along with Claudio Bravo and Mauricio Isla – it was quite fitting that his landmark 162nd appearance came at the home of Marseille, for whom he scored 18 goals in 44 games last season.

Chile now switch focus to their forthcoming Copa America campaign, which begins against Gareca's former employers Peru on June 22.

Florian Wirtz scored after just seven seconds as Germany grabbed a surprise 2-0 friendly win over France in Lyon.

The 20-year-old Bayer Leverkusen forward struck moments after kick-off as the Euro 2024 hosts stunned the tournament favourites.

There was also an immediate assist for Toni Kroos, back in a Germany shirt three years after announcing his international retirement.

Straight from the whistle, the 34-year-old chipped the ball forward to Wirtz, who had darted to midway inside the France half.

Wirtz controlled the ball, took two more touches as he strolled forward before lashing his shot home from 20 yards.

It was the youngster’s first goal for his country and would have been the fastest international goal on record had Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner not opened the scoring after six seconds in his country’s friendly against Slovakia earlier on Saturday.

The previous quickest was Lukas Podolski’s strike for Germany against Ecuador in 2013.

France dominated the rest of the first half but Marcus Thuram side-footed their first decent chance over the crossbar from the edge of the box.

Kylian Mbappe then brought down a cross in the area only to shank his shot wide, before Aurelien Tchouameni skied a cross from Ousmane Dembele.

But Germany made it to half-time in front and promptly doubled their lead three minutes into the second half.

Wirtz turned provider, lifting the ball into the path of Jamal Musiala, who drove diagonally round France goalkeeper Brice Samba.

The Bayern Munich winger reached the byline before pulling the ball back for Arsenal forward Havertz to slot in his 15th international goal.

Mbappe, enduring a quiet evening, got himself booked after a tussle with Robert Andrich before firing an ambitious shot wide.

Stuttgart defender Maximilian Mittelstadt almost made it a debut to remember 10 minutes from full-time when he strode forward and fired goalwards.

His shot looked destined to nestle inside the far post until Samba stretched to get a fingertip to the ball and divert it wide.

Samba also denied Thomas Muller with a fine one-handed save after the substitute shot from 14 yards.

Mittelstadt was spared a comical own goal late on by a goal-line clearance from Antonio Rudiger, who sliced the ball onto his own crossbar to cap an ultimately disappointing night for the French.

Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer has been ruled out of Germany’s upcoming friendlies against France and the Netherlands due to injury.

Neuer was absent from all of his country’s matches last year because of a broken leg but German media has reported the 37-year-old remains Julian Nagelsmann’s first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Euro 2024.

However, he has withdrawn from the final two tune-ups – against France in Lyon on Saturday and the visit of the Netherlands in Frankfurt next Tuesday – before Nagelsmann names his squad for the tournament.

A brief statement on the German national team’s official website said: “Manuel Neuer has left the German national team early and will be out of the two upcoming international matches against France and the Netherlands.

“The FC Bayern Munich goalkeeper and 2014 world champion left the team’s headquarters in Gravenbruch near Frankfurt due to a torn muscle fibre in his left adductor. He sustained the injury in training on Wednesday morning.”

Neuer earned the last of his 117 national team caps in Germany’s final group stage match at the 2022 World Cup – a 4-2 win over Costa Rica.

Bayonne have announced the signing of England centre Manu Tuilagi from Sale on a two-year contract.

The 32-year-old will join the French club at the end of the season in a move likely to bring an end to his Test career.

Rugby Football Union regulations dictate any player departing the Gallagher Premiership becomes ineligible for international selection.

A short statement on Bayonne’s website read: “England centre Manu Tuilagi has signed for the next two seasons. Welcome Manu!”

Tuilagi won his 60th – and likely final – England cap in Saturday’s 33-31 Guinness Six Nations defeat by France in Lyon.

Earlier on Tuesday, the former Leicester player outlined ambitions of helping Sale lift the Premiership title as he confirmed his decision to leave Alex Sanderson’s side.

“I’ve absolutely loved my time at Sale,” he told the club website. “It was a really tough conversation with Al, and a tough decision for everyone because my family and I have been really happy here.

“I never thought I’d leave Leicester and it was a big move, but since arriving here I’ve grown a lot as a person. I’ve developed as a player, but more so as a person.

“The environment at Sale is amazing. It’s what makes me want to get out of bed and put the work in, and I genuinely love coming in every day.

“If I’ve helped the young players then that’s great, but they’ve helped me so much too and I’m going to miss them all.

“The mindset from the start of the season was to win the Premiership and that’s what we’re all focused on now. Knowing it’s my last season here will give me an extra push to make sure I leave on a high.”

Tuilagi has been an automatic pick in the midfield for four successive England coaches due to the power he provides on both sides of the ball.

However, his career has been heavily interrupted by a number of serious injuries, including groin, chest, hamstring, knee and a broken hand.

Sale currently sit seventh in the Premiership table.

Sharks director of rugby Sanderson said: “We talked about what was best for the club and what was best for Manu and his family, and we had to make a tough decision. But it’s still a wrench and really tough for me to accept that he’s going.

“He is one of the world’s best players and one of the world’s best blokes. There are very few people who can do what he can on the field. As a player he’s every bit as good as I thought he was before I came here, but as a person he continues to surprise and inspire me to be better.

“We’ll miss him massively on the field, but the void he leaves off it will be harder to fill.

“His smile is the same whether he’s running on to the field ready to smash someone, or sitting opposite you having a glass of wine, and I’m really going to miss that.”

Steve Borthwick praised England’s fighting spirit after seeing his team denied a precious Guinness Six Nations win against France by a final-minute Thomas Ramos penalty.

England appeared to have snatched victory with the second of two fightbacks when Tommy Freeman crossed in the right corner only for a no-arms tackle by Ben Earl in the closing seconds to enable Ramos to seal a 33-31 victory.

It ended an enthralling evening in Lyon that saw Borthwick’s side back up their stunning triumph over Ireland in every respect apart from the final result.

Borthwick stated after England lost to Scotland at Murrayfield in round three that the Red Rose jersey was weighing heavily on his players, but he saw the pressure lift at Groupama Stadium.

“My overriding emotion is immense pride in the players and gratitude to our supporters,” Borthwick said.

“The players have been incredible – they played really well and I’m really disappointed for them.

“I’ve talked about the weight of the shirt in the past but with the kind of support we’re getting, the England shirt is starting to feel a bit lighter, it’s helping these players grow.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted but you look at the players and the fight and intensity they had.

“I don’t think these guys are ever beaten and we weren’t beaten in this game, we just ran out of time. We saw the way they went back at it to try to find another score.

“We’ve taken on two teams in the top four of the world and we’ve shown how we can compete with them.

“To be clear, we don’t just want to be competing, we want to win. We shown the team has step forward.”

The nature of France’s victory brought memories of last autumn’s Rugby World Cup flooding back for Jamie George, who recalled the similarity between Ramos’ penalty and Handre Pollard kicking South Africa to a last-gasp semi-final win from a similar position.

“That’s the way Test match rugby goes – we knew it’s going to be hostile and we knew France were coming out to give it a good crack. I thought it was a great Test match all in all,” England captain George said.

“Of course I’m gutted about the result. I feel like we deserved a lot of the game because of the way we attacked it game and went after it.

“There was a lot to be very pleased about and very proud of. Fair play to France for coming back and getting that penalty at the end and fair play to Ramos for knocking it over.

“There was a bit of deja vu from the Pollard penalty a few month ago. That’s always going to be tough to take but like Steve said there’s so much to be proud of over the last few weeks.

“We genuinely feel like this team is on and upward curve and we’re going somewhere.”

France finished second in the Six Nations and boss Fabien Galthie felt it helped make amends for their World Cup quarter-final exit.

“We are very happy, it was a tough game, it was a tough tournament. We paid for our mistakes, we learnt about our mistakes. We were resilient and solid,” Galthie said.

“This game looked like our quarter final against South Africa but at the end, the result is really different.

“And I think this game can help us to forget what happened during the World Cup.”

England finished third in the Guinness Six Nations after a monster Thomas Ramos penalty in the final minute sent them spinning to a heartbreaking 33-31 defeat at Groupama Stadium.

Steve Borthwick’s men have trailed at half-time of every match of the Championship and once more they faced an uphill battle, this time in the form of 16-6 deficit that included a try of the tournament contender for scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec.

But they turned the contest on its head by amassing 21 unanswered points through two Ollie Lawrence tries and a Marcus Smith touch down as their attack ran amok through the France midfield.

France regrouped to cross through Leo Barre and Gael Fickou but England were not done yet as Tommy Freeman stormed over in the right corner with five minutes remaining.

They appeared to have secured their fourth win of the Six Nations having staged multiple fightbacks but when they infringed just outside their half with seconds left, Ramos kept his nerve to hit the target.

Manu Tuilagi came on for what is likely to be his final England appearance and he could not have asked for a more dramatic send-off.

Ireland may already have clinched the title by toppling Scotland but if evidence was needed that this match still mattered it came when Ramos kicked off before the countdown had even begun.

Once the false start had been dealt with, England were greeted with waves of attacks and a challenging opening was compounded when George Furbank departed with a calf injury and was replaced by Smith.

George Ford drew first blood through a penalty and his side were successfully slowing down play to stem the blue tide but there was no stopping the stunning end to end move began by Fickou and finished by Le Garrec.

England were in danger of being swept aside as they scrambled furiously to stop a second long-range strike but a sizeable lead opened up when Ramos kicked his second penalty.

Wing Damian Penaud beat a host of tackles yet made no metres in a crabbing run but it resulted in another opportunity for Ramos and he found the posts once more.

England showed their mettle, however, when Lawrence ran through Fickou on the cusp of half-time for a vitally important try that reduced the interval deficit to 16-10.

And there was better to come as a sweeping move given impetus by big runs from Sam Underhill and Ben Earl ended with a second try for Lawrence.

In a remarkable turn of events, England were now breaking through the home defence at will as Underhill and Earl combined a second time to create the opening before Smith arrived to score.

France now found their second wind and when their opponents eventually ran out of bodies in defence, they crossed through Barre to make it a one-point game heading into the final quarter.

With control restored, the 2023 World Cup hosts conjured a third try by Fickou that was born out of Theo Dan’s line-out overthrow.

But there was yet another twist as England staged a well-constructed attack that led to an overlap, providing a simple run in for Freeman.

Yet, with the Test seemingly won, up stepped Ramos to decide otherwise.

Toni Kroos has been recalled to the Germany squad after an absence of almost three years, the country’s football association has announced.

The Real Madrid midfielder revealed last month he was planning to come out of international retirement.

The 34-year-old made himself unavailable for selection after Germany’s elimination from the delayed Euro 2020 tournament but has reversed his decision following talks with new coach Julian Nagelsmann.

Former Bayern Munich boss Nagelsmann, who took charge of the national side last September, has included Kroos in a 26-man squad for friendlies against France and the Netherlands later this month.

This would indicate Kroos, who has 106 international caps and won the World Cup in 2014, is now in the picture for this summer’s European Championship.

Veteran goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the former Germany captain, has also been recalled for the first time since breaking his leg in a skiing accident in December 2022.

George Ford continues at fly-half as England keep faith with the side that stunned Ireland for their attempt at winning the Guinness Six Nations title.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has made only one enforced changed for the showdown with France in Lyon on Saturday night by choosing Elliot Daly to replace the injured Immanuel Feyi-Waboso.

Feyi-Waboso self-reported concussion symptoms incurred against Ireland, prompting England to stand down their breakout player of the tournament.

Veteran Daly is restored to the left wing in his absence, with Tommy Freeman switching to the number 14 jersey worn by the 21-year Exeter Chief on his first international start.

Manu Tuilagi makes his first appearance of the Six Nations after taking Daly’s place on the bench in what will be his first Test since last autumn’s World Cup bronze medal match, having missed the opening rounds because of a groin problem.

Ford has held off the challenge of Marcus Smith to retain the fly-half duties for the climax to the tournament.

Smith kicked the last-gasp drop goal that sank Ireland 23-22 last Saturday and made a telling contribution off the bench, bring extra zip to England’s attack after Ford had pulled the strings effectively earlier on.

A second change among the replacements sees Ethan Roots replace calf injury victim Chandler Cunningham-South.

England will win the title if Ireland lose to Scotland without claiming a bonus point and they defeat France while securing a bonus point.

“After such a hard-fought win against Ireland last week, we realise how important it is to back that performance up with another similar display in Lyon on Saturday,” Borthwick said.

“France remain one of the very top sides in the world and will pose a great challenge for us.

“We’ve had a great preparation so far this week and there is a genuine sense of anticipation and determination around the camp as we head to what will be an exciting final weekend.”

Six Nations chief executive Tom Harrison insists bonus points are unlikely to be abandoned if it transpires that Ireland win this year’s tournament despite claiming fewer victories than England.

England’s triumph over Andy Farrell’s men on Saturday has brought intrigue to the final day of the Guinness Six Nations, with both sides capable of lifting the crown, while France and Scotland also have mathematical chances of winning.

Ireland are in the driving seat and could retain their title even if they lose or draw against Scotland and England topple France, because they have already accumulated four bonus points.

It would be the first time since bonus points were introduced in 2017 that the team finishing top had collected fewer victories than the side in second, but Harrison has indicated the format is here to stay.

When asked about whether a rethink would be needed if the Six Nations was won in that way, Harrison replied: “Yes, if we think bonus points are a problem.

“But remember why bonus points are there – bonus points are there to promote positive rugby. It’s about fan engagement, right?

“It’s also that the players know. It’s not as though we’re saying ‘You’ve played so well we’re going to award you an extra point afterwards’. No, I don’t think it will change.

“I’m delighted that there is some jeopardy going into the final weekend. It’s great. That’s one of the features of the Six Nations – you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Harrison was speaking at the launch of the Women’s Six Nations in London – a competition England are aiming to win for the sixth successive year, with France their closest rivals.

With their rivals investing more money into their national programmes in an attempt to catch up, Harrison is confident the playing field will level out.

“It would be great to have more competitive matches and I think that, through the investments that have happened just in the last 12 months, we will start to see some of that,” he said.

“Of course, England and France have obviously also upped their game in terms of their performance, and we have had another year of understanding how to become even better.

“Partners are very interested in seeing those improvements and seeing how teams are becoming more competitive.

“And let’s be honest, this isn’t the domination that you might see in Scottish football, for example. We’ve got a couple of years where the gap has widened and I expect that gap to narrow.

“Our role is to provide increased levels of funding for the women’s game because we don’t really get involved in the high-performance space.

“What we can do, though, is ensure those funding streams are healthy, open and exploited to the full extent.”

England wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso has prioritised his health over the prospect of facing France after self-reporting symptoms of concussion.

Attack coach Richard Wigglesworth revealed Feyi-Waboso has been ruled out of the climax to the Guinness Six Nations in Lyon after he became “groggy” in the wake of Saturday’s 23-22 victory over Ireland.

Although the 21-year-old Exeter University medical student finished the match, it was only afterwards that he felt the effects of a possible concussion that cannot be traced to any one incident on the field.

 

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It means England’s breakout star of the Six Nations will be unable to take part in the bid to snatch Ireland’s title a week after setting Twickenham alight with a dynamic display on his first start.

“Manny felt a bit groggy so he is unfortunately ruled out of the game, but we don’t take any risks with that sort of stuff,” Wigglesworth said.

“He’s obviously gutted but being the smart lad he is, he reported his symptoms. He did the right thing.”

England have chosen not to replace Feyi-Waboso in their 36-man training squad, with Elliot Daly likely to take his place on the wing against France.

Cardiff-born Feyi-Waboso was persuaded to pledge his national allegiance to England by Steve Borthwick in January and both player and coach have been rewarded by his dynamic displays, two of them coming off the bench.

“It had been building for Manny. You have to integrate these players carefully and I think Steve did that well in how he exposed him to Test rugby so he was ready to fly,” Wigglesworth said.

“He played really well, got his hands on the ball and did what we asked him to do and brought his talents.

“It’s very disappointing for him as I know how desperate he was to play again and how much he enjoyed his first start.”

England picked themselves up off the canvas after a disappointing defeat by Scotland in round three to end Ireland’s Grand Slam defence when Marcus Smith kicked a last-gasp drop-goal.

Steve Borthwick’s side had been irked by the avalanche of predictions that they would be routed by the favourites, whose former number eight Jamie Heaslip even said their only chance was if Ireland had one or two players sent off.

England back row Ben Earl stated after the win that “apparently we’re the worst England team ever. We’ve done pretty well for that accolade”, but Wigglesworth admits that defiant rage will only take a team so far.

“Every week is different and as a player, a coaching staff and a team, you use different things and you will tap into different emotions,” he said.

“We want to be obsessed with getting better, we want to keep moving on. What is called a disaster, for us is a learning experience so at the end we are moving the dial in the right direction.

“There are emotional buttons the players want to press themselves but at the core is trying to move our game on, trying to get better, having real clarity on what we are going after so we get better.”

Owen Watkin hopes he can “prove a point” when he returns to Wales’ midfield against Guinness Six Nations opponents France on Sunday.

The Ospreys centre has been in and out of favour since winning the first of 37 caps against Australia in 2017.

He was overlooked for last year’s World Cup, not featuring among seven centres chosen by Wales head coach Warren Gatland in a preliminary training squad.

Watkin then gained a recall against Scotland in Wales’ Six Nations opener, only to be omitted for appointments with England and Ireland.

But he has been handed another opportunity, replacing Nick Tompkins as part of a new-look midfield combination with Joe Roberts.

Tompkins and 120 times-capped George North miss out this time around, and it is a golden chance for Watkin and Six Nations debutant Roberts to excel together at the start of a World Cup cycle.

“I am sure Nick and George are disappointed at not playing, but Joe and I have been disappointed as well when we haven’t played in the last two games,” Watkin said.

“I just want to get on the field, but I do enjoy playing at inside centre and it is where I have played for most of the season at the Ospreys.

“Nick and George have played together in the last two games, and so Joe and I have been the opposition for them in training. You come to terms with a combination quite quickly.

“Joe is still pretty young, but I am looking forward to seeing him getting out and playing at the weekend. Hopefully, we can build a partnership together.

“I’ve got a chance to prove a point and show I am really capable of holding on to the 12 or 13 jersey.”

Wales have suffered four successive Six Nations defeats against France, while their only victories in the last 14 tournament starts were against Scotland in 2022 and Italy last year.

France, though, are also struggling on the back of a comprehensive defeat against Ireland and a home draw with Italy.

Watkin added: “We know it is going to be a massive test for our back-line, but I think we’ve got a back-line that can cause problems.

“France haven’t been consistent, but you can never doubt a French team. They can turn up when they want, and when you look at their team they have got some really dangerous players.

“We’ve got to be on our game for 80 minutes.”

Warren Gatland believes that Antoine Dupont’s absence from the Guinness Six Nations has proved “a massive loss” for France.

Les Bleus’ mercurial World Cup captain has joined the sevens circuit ahead of the Paris Olympics later this year.

And France have struggled without him, being beaten comprehensively by Six Nations title favourites Ireland and then drawing at home against Italy, either side of narrowly defeating Scotland.

They tackle Wales at the Principality Stadium on Sunday, when Gatland’s team will target a first Six Nations victory over them since 2019.

“It just shows when you are with a team – and we have been lucky enough with this in the past and it is the challenge going forward – that having two or three X-factor players in your team can make a massive difference,” Wales head coach Gatland said.

“Sometimes you get two relatively even teams, but it is the individual brilliance of someone who can change a game.

“There is no doubt for me that Dupont is a massive loss for them. He is probably the best player in the world.

“We have already seen what he has done with the French sevens team. They won the sevens tournament (in Los Angeles).

“(Romain) Ntamack is a big loss for them in terms of that nine-10 partnership. It is difficult to put your finger on it.

“They have made some changes. They have probably thought they don’t feel like they can win the Six Nations, so there is a chance to give players in their squad an opportunity.”

Whether Wales can take advantage of France’s current position remains to be seen.

Gatland’s team have yet to win in this season’s tournament, raising the potential scenario of a wooden-spoon decider against Italy next weekend if they do not triumph on Sunday.

It is 21 years since Wales last finished bottom of the Six Nations table, although they were fifth in three of the past four seasons.

Considerable interest will surround the appearance of a new centre pairing, with Six Nations debutant Joe Roberts partnering Owen Watkin after Gatland left out George North and Nick Tompkins.

And captain Dafydd Jenkins has been moved from lock to blindside flanker as Will Rowlands and Adam Beard team up in the second-row.

Gatland added: “We’ve spoken to the two boys (Roberts and Watkin) about their roles. They have got a chance to make a statement.

“The big thing for them – what I am looking for – is not about them playing, but them being vocal, making sure they communicate to the 10s and take that communication from the outside.

“That is a massive thing for us in terms of work-on, but also them realising how vocal they need to be in attack and defence.

“We had spoken early in the tournament about giving Daf that chance (at blindside). He was pretty excited when we did talk about it in one of the earlier games.

“When we said we were playing him at second-row, he joked we didn’t have the guts to put him in the back-row!

“It is a good chance as a young player to get that opportunity in a different position.

“We know what a big pack France will put out and particularly that first 20 or 30 minutes. They were really direct against Italy in that time and could have been three tries up.

“We have got to expect a real physical challenge, particularly in the early exchanges of the game.”

Bryony Frost is considering splitting her time between England and France in search of further opportunities.

The jockey has enjoyed many high-profile successes on British shores, notably winning the 2019 Ryanair Chase and 2020 King George aboard Frodon and the Tingle Creek on Greaneteen in 2021.

She has countless other graded wins to her name and rides predominantly in Britain for Paul Nicholls, Lucy Wadham and her father Jimmy.

Now Frost may branch out and head across the Channel to establish herself in France, where she has been riding out for Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm, the team behind Il Est Francais, and Louisa Carberry.

“It’s about getting to know the horses, the training and the way of life,” she told the Sun.

“It’s about laying bricks to build the pyramid of another opportunity - although I have to admit my French is minimal!

“I must say Noel has a brilliant team of people and horses, and I sat on some gorgeous three-year-olds this week.

“It’s a liquid situation currently, but who knows what’s on the horizon?”

The French and English seasons run on different schedules, which would allow Frost to take rides in both jurisdictions – with France’s female rider allowance of particular benefit to her in handicaps there.

“Obviously our season is still rolling, and I’ll be working as hard as ever here, but the French and English basically have split calendars, so let’s see where we go,” she said.

“I’m happy to graft for the chance and, after more than 1,700 rides and over 200 winners, have total confidence in my ability.

“And, of course, in France the female jockeys get a near-5lb allowance in all handicaps, so I’d certainly snap up the benefit of that thank you!

“I’m keeping an open mind about things, but if the right openings come, I’ll grab them with both hands.”

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