Fierce rivals England and Wales continue their Guinness Six Nations campaigns with an eagerly-awaited clash at Twickenham.

England kicked off with a narrow victory over Italy in Rome, while Wales almost pulled off the biggest comeback in Six Nations history, scoring 26 unanswered points before going down 27-26 to Scotland.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points heading into Saturday’s encounter.

England’s magnificent seven

England have a strong record against Wales at Twickenham since losing to them in 2012. Centre Scott Williams’ late try clinched a Six Nations Triple Crown that day, but Wales have come unstuck on five subsequent Six Nations visits. The shining light from a Welsh perspective was their 2015 World Cup pool victory over England, but it is seven defeats on the bounce at English rugby headquarters following that 28-25 success, with England winning four Six Nations Tests, two World Cup warm-up games and a summer international. Wales can take heart from five of those reversals being by six points or fewer, but they face a tough ask to turn things around.

Half-century for George North

Wales are boosted by the return after injury of centre George North for their trip to south-west London. North, who wins his 119th cap, is the solitary player in Saturday’s match-day 23 to have been part of a winning Wales team at Twickenham, while he also clocks up 50 Six Nations games. Only four other players have reached a half-century in the competition for Wales – Alun Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams. North, who made his Six Nations bow against France in Paris 13 years ago, remains an integral part of head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.

Pump up the Twickenham volume

England return to headquarters for the first time since they were booed during a shock World Cup warm-up defeat against Fiji. Steve Borthwick’s team went on to finish third in the World Cup, and they host Wales on the back of an opening Six Nations victory over Italy. The Twickenham atmosphere in recent times has undoubtedly been flat, and changes introduced to the match-day experience include an increase in length of the players’ walk through the crowds from their bus to the changing room.

Ioan Lloyd in the spotlight

Former Bristol back Lloyd makes his first Wales start on Saturday, and it will be in the number 10 shirt after taking over from the injured Sam Costelow. The 22-year-old featured twice as a substitute during Wales’ 2020 autumn campaign, but it was more than three years until he reappeared on the international stage, replacing Costelow against Scotland last weekend and helping to orchestrate a spectacular second-half fightback. Lloyd is among several players in Wales’ match-day 23 never to have played Test rugby at Twickenham, but the visitors need him to thrive.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso to make a mark?

The Exeter wing pledged allegiance to England and made his debut off the bench against Italy, despite being born and raised in Cardiff. It prompted Wales boss Warren Gatland to remark last month that his decision had not gone down well across the border, although Gatland also insisted that preparations for England had not involved the 21-year-old being mentioned, stating: “It doesn’t add any extra spice. Good luck to him. I hope things go well for him.”

England have named an unchanged team for the first time in four years for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales at Twickenham.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has retained the same starting XV and bench originally announced for the 27-24 victory over Italy in round one following prop Ellis Genge’s recovery from a foot injury.

Genge, who had been named on the bench, was ruled out of the Stadio Olimpico opener on the morning of the game but has been passed fit for the visit of Warren Gatland’s men.

Beno Obano deputised at loosehead in Genge’s absence and now drops out of the matchday 23 altogether.

The most recent occasion England named an unchanged side was under Eddie Jones for the 2019 World Cup final against South Africa in Japan, which they lost 32-12.

Jamie George will lead the team out at Twickenham for the first time since being named as Owen Farrell’s successor as captain.

Five players made their Test debuts against Italy – Ethan Roots, Fraser Dingwall, Chandler Cunningham-South, Fin Smith and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso – and have the opportunity to press their claim for ongoing selection.

Roots was named man of the match in Rome after a blockbusting display at blindside flanker while for the first time Feyi-Waboso will be facing the nation of his birth, who he declined to represent in favour of England.


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“It was both pleasing and important to have started our Six Nations campaign in Rome with a victory,” Borthwick said.


“However, we know there are areas of our game to improve as we prepare for this Saturday’s game against a spirited Wales team.

“With a new player group and a number of new caps, we have tried to develop our game on both sides of the ball.

“Such changes take time and I was pleased how quickly the players settled and adapted last weekend against Italy.

“We’re delighted to be back playing in front of a sold-out Twickenham Stadium this Saturday. The visit of the Wales team is always a fixture that creates a special atmosphere.

“I have no doubt that this group of players are relishing the challenge before them and are looking forward to creating a very special experience for our supporters.”

England will take special care with Immanuel Feyi-Waboso this week knowing the exciting Exeter wing is closing in on a first appearance against the country of his birth.

Feyi-Waboso made his Test debut as a late replacement in the 27-24 Guinness Six Nations victory over Italy, capturing his eligibility for England at the expense of Wales – Saturday’s round two visitors to Twickenham.

Born and raised in Cardiff but qualifying for the Red Rose through a grandmother, a tug of war for his allegiance was brewing only for the 21-year-old sensation to quickly opt for Steve Borthwick’s team.

Wales boss Warren Gatland said in response that the decision made by the Exeter University medical student and former Wales Under-18 international had not gone down well in some quarters across the border.


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England are acutely aware of the need to protect their players in the wake of fly-half Owen Farrell and flanker Tom Curry facing intense online criticism during the World Cup and it’s build-up.


Head coach Borthwick said: “We are really cognoscente of that and rightly so given the World Cup experience.

“There is a heightened awareness now of those external noises and external factors. We will give all the players all the support they need.

“Regarding Manny, three things: he trains really hard, he enjoys being with the players and in the remaining time he is studying for his medicine degree. He is pretty busy.

“My experience right now is that he has his head focused on where it needs to be.”

Veteran fly-half George Ford, who directed Saturday’s victory in Rome, is backing Feyi-Waboso to take the coming week in his stride.

“Manny’s a pretty quiet lad but it looks like not many things affect him. He gets on with it and gets on with his work as good as anyone I’ve seen,” Ford said.

“He’s an exciting player – so physical and fast. He’s a game-breaker, so hopefully we can get the ball in his hands a bit more.”

England are assessing injuries to Marcus Smith, Ellis Genge, Ollie Lawrence and George Martin.

Smith has a calf problem and the results of another scan will dictate whether he is able to participate in the latter stages of the Six Nations.

Genge pulled out on the morning of the Italy clash because of a foot issue and England are optimistic he will be available against Wales, but Lawrence and Martin will not feature because of respective hip and knee complaints.

Feyi-Waboso was one of five England debutants against Italy, another was his Exeter team-mate Ethan Roots, who delivered a man-of-the-match display at blindside flanker.

“He didn’t look like he was playing his first game, did he? That’s what struck me from the first day he came into camp,” Borthwick said.

“We did a fitness session in the afternoon on the first training day. It was a special session to put the players through their paces. What struck us was how much he was talking to the other players around him.

“He was loud, he was encouraging others and demanding of others. That’s his personality in camp. That really impressed me and we saw that out there against Italy.

“I knew he was a good player, but as a character he’s grounded and experienced, with a real leader’s voice.”

Rory Darge and Grant Gilchrist look set for Test match returns when Scotland continue their Guinness Six Nations campaign against France at Murrayfield.

Both players were sidelined for Scotland’s thrilling 27-26 victory over Wales in Cardiff, with flanker Darge nursing a knee injury and lock Gilchrist being suspended.

And their availability is timely, given that second-row forward Richie Gray could miss the rest of this season’s tournament due to a biceps problem, while Luke Crosbie suffered a shoulder injury as both players made early exits at the Principality Stadium.

“Grant will be available,” Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said.

“He trained all week, and it is good we have got a second-row back this week with Richie’s injury.

“Rory trained fully the last two days, so he will be good to go. It is timely that we’ve got two replacements there.”

Scotland were almost overwhelmed by a stunning Wales fightback that saw them score 26 unanswered points between the 48th and 68th minutes.

It left Townsend’s team hanging on by a point – they also had two players yellow-carded and conceded 14 successive penalties – before regaining their composure and closing out the game for a first win in Cardiff since 2002.

“We will look at each penalty, why we got on the wrong side of the referee,” he added.

“We have to show the players of being aware if a referee is penalising you, or if a team starts to get dominance, let’s not help them by giving more penalties away.

“The two yellow cards really cost us, just when the momentum swing went in their favour.

“There are going to be times when the opposition do gain momentum. We just can’t help them by going down to 14 men and giving penalties away.

“We had to contain Wales at the end, call a play and execute it. That was really good. But if we had lost, it would have been a big blow. No denying that.”

France will arrive in Edinburgh following a crushing 38-17 home defeat against Ireland, which was their first game since bowing out of the World Cup to quarter-final conquerors South Africa.

“They are a great side with world-class players and a massive pack,” Townsend said, of Les Bleus.

“France will be desperate to get a win on the back of the two defeats they’ve had – one in the World Cup and one against Ireland.

“But we also have an opportunity to play in front of our supporters and make sure we deliver the game we did for 42 minutes (against Wales), and the last few minutes. Don’t forget those!”

George Ford has called on England to build on the attacking endeavour shown against Italy when their Guinness Six Nations continues against Wales at Twickenham.

Although outscored 3-2 on the try count, England honoured their pre-match pledge to play with greater freedom after releasing the handbrake imposed by the kick-focussed tactics used during the first year of Steve Borthwick’s reign.

Roaming wing Tommy Freeman, scrum-half Alex Mitchell, debutant Ethan Roots and Ford himself were influential in a pleasing pivot away from the conservatism seen at the World Cup.

While England’s ambition dimmed after half-time of the 27-24 victory in Rome, Ford views the opener as a promising start.

“I know the scoreboard says it was very close, but that second half, we were pretty comfortable,” Ford said.

“The main positives for me were how we responded to them scoring tries, how it felt when we were trying to fire shots in attack and then how we controlled the game in the second half.

“Our intent to play and move the ball was good and I’m really pleased about that. It’s always a balance. You always want to make good decisions and do the right thing at the right time.

“At the very front of our minds is the intent to play, the intent to get behind the ball and attack the defence and go and try and break the line and scores tries.

“Since coming into camp two weeks ago, that’s been the biggest mindset shift from us as a team.

“This is the first game and we’ve been trying to implement that. We could have made better decisions a couple of times but playing in it was pretty exciting. We want to build this.

“I want to keep the intent to play, break the line and score tries and probably pick our execution up when we’ve got the ball.

“We understand it’s going to be a tough day – it always is against Wales – but we’re really excited to keep on getting better.

“There has been a mindset shift in defence and attack that is really enjoyable to be a part of.”

For the first time since 2019, England began the Six Nations with a win as the Jamie George era began with five debuts being issued amid a call from the new captain to believe they can win the title.

Front runners Ireland will have a major say in that given their demolition of France in Marseille, but – in the meantime – Ford values a start that produced few mishaps other than lapses in the new defensive system.

“Winning the first game is huge. You always want to start this tournament with a win. It gives you a bit of momentum, confidence,” Ford said.

“You want to win that first game because you go back home to Twickenham against Wales, which is such an exciting game anyway, with a good result so that you can go again.”

Rio Dyer believes that Wales will need to back themselves and build on a stunning second-half display against Scotland when they tackle England at Twickenham next Saturday.

Although Wales lost a pulsating Guinness Six Nations clash 27-26 to the Scots, it could not overshadow the vintage rugby they conjured from nowhere.

Trailing by 27 points with almost half the game left, Wales were heading towards record Six Nations defeat territory at a frightening speed.

But four tries in 20 minutes from Dyer, James Botham, Aaron Wainwright and Alex Mann, plus three Ioan Lloyd conversions, left Scotland hanging on.

“We were in our shell during that first-half, ” Wales wing Dyer said.

“We were hitting it up and getting put on the back foot, so the only thing we could do then was to kick it.

“Gats (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) said at half-time: ‘let’s actually play, let’s go out there, we have got nothing to lose now. We are under the pump, so let’s go out and show what we can actually do’.

“He was softly spoken, he wasn’t shouting at people, he just brought the boys in and said we can’t be putting out performances like that in the first-half in the first game of the Six Nations.

“I think it was amazing to see how the boys stuck together.

“We are a young squad who have only been in camp for two weeks. It is just about getting used to each other, but throughout that second-half we showed what we could do.”

More of the same is likely to be required against England, whose recent Twickenham record in the fixture is an imposing one.

Wales have lost their last seven Tests in south-west London since claiming a 2015 World Cup pool win, with just two Six Nations victories – in 2008 and 2012 – since the competition expanded 24 years ago.

Dyer added: “I think that kind of second-half should give the boys the confidence to say we can back ourselves a little bit more than we did in the first-half.

“Personally, I just think it is that confidence to play. We need to back ourselves, and that was the message at half-time before we went back out there.

“Everyone is here for a reason, everyone has got things they can do, and let’s not go into our shells.

“It is about pushing ourselves as a young squad to build the momentum on to next week.”

Changes look likely to the Wales line-up against England, headlined by a fit-again George North’s anticipated return in midfield.

And given the considerable impact made by a number of his substitutes, Gatland could easily hand starts to players like scrum-half Tomos Williams, hooker Elliot Dee and prop Keiron Assiratti.

Gatland said: “We will go there (Twickenham) with a lot of confidence we can build on that second-half and belief. That is the biggest thing, really.

“I think we can go there and say we know what we want to do.”

Scotland captain Finn Russell reflected on a range of emotions after his team ended their Cardiff hoodoo by thwarting an astonishing Wales fightback at the Principality Stadium.

A nerve-shredding 27-26 victory was Scotland’s first win in the Welsh capital since 2002, but it did not come before they were left staring at a 12th successive defeat as Wales threatened arguably the greatest Six Nations recovery act.

Having helped orchestrate a 27-point lead two minutes into the second half, Russell could have been excused for thinking it was a case of job done.

But Wales had other ideas, scoring four tries during 20 minutes of mayhem that included yellow cards for Scotland pair George Turner and Sione Tuipulotu, transforming what had been a hopelessly one-sided encounter.

Scotland also conceded 14 successive penalties, such was the ferocity and unrelenting nature of Wales’ all-court game.

Just when it was required, though, Scotland showed courage and composure during the closing minutes to dominate territory and go close to claiming a bonus-point fourth try.

“We had a really good first half and a brilliant start to the second, then a bit of complacency crept in,” Russell said.

“We had discipline issues in the second half which led to two yellow cards and them really getting on the front foot.

“But it showed that we’ve come quite a long way that we managed to win the game in the end. We held tough and did not allow them to get anything towards the end.

“I am probably a little bit disappointed with the second half, but overall it is a great start to the tournament for us. We’ve not won here in 22 years.

“We managed to dig it out in the end, but it shows how tough a place it (Cardiff) is to come. Wales never went away, and that was the pressure the team put us under, but also that the crowd getting involved.

“I’ve played in games with Scotland like that when we have lost, and that was the most pleasing thing, that we managed to find a way to win even though momentum, the crowd, everything was against us towards the end.

“There was loads of good stuff in that first half. With the way everything unfolded in the second half, I am a little bit down, a little bit frustrated, but when we look back there will be loads of positives to take.

“It (the second-half performance) was nowhere near where we need to be. But that is something we will address on Monday and we will build on the back of it and get ready for France (next weekend).”

Les Bleus will arrive at Murrayfield following a crushing defeat against Ireland, and Scotland can also take heart from beating France five times out of the last seven attempts in Edinburgh.

Their mission, though, will be undertaken without lock Richie Gray, who could miss the rest of this season’s Six Nations due to a biceps injury.

And flanker Luke Crosbie is a major doubt after hurting his shoulder, with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend stating: “Both are in a lot of pain.

“Richie and the medics knew straight away it was a biceps injury. So that doesn’t look good for this Championship.

“Luke was a shoulder injury. It’s a painful one and that might settle. Let’s hope he has not done any significant damage there.”

Ireland, England and Scotland made winning starts to the Guinness Six Nations on a dramatic opening weekend that provided many twists and turns.

Here, the PA news agency examines five things we learned from round one.

England broaden their horizons

While a too-close-for-comfort victory over Italy hardly paints a flattering picture of their performance in Rome, tactically the game was a welcome change in direction for England.

True to the word of Steve Borthwick and Jamie George, their head coach and captain, greater ambition was shown in attack than at the World Cup.

Marauding wing Tommy Freeman roaming the Stadio Olimpico provided the most obvious evidence of a change in thinking, but the sight of scrum-half Alex Mitchell taking on defenders in a way not seen at a kick-heavy France 2023 was possibly more telling.

Italy’s near miss

Italy making an encouraging start to the Six Nations before falling away in the later rounds is a familiar theme, but in Rome there were many impressive moments from the tournament’s perennial strugglers.

Not only was it the smallest margin of defeat in their 31 Tests against England, but the inspired Azzurri were sharp in attack with Tommaso Allan’s first-half try brilliantly constructed and finished.

They led 17-14 at the interval and outscored England 3-2 on the try count and should march into round two with a renewed sense of purpose even if it is Ireland they face.

A star is born

What Ireland’s rivals would give to have their own ‘Big’ Joe McCarthy, the hulking second-row who laid waste to France’s pack in a remarkable victory in Marseille.

A man-of-the-match performance on his Six Nations debut was evidence of his nation’s depth at lock with even the outstanding James Ryan unable to force his way into the starting XV.

McCarthy’s physicality was a throwback to old school tight five forward play and he took on the role of enforcer by bossing the collisions and breakdown as well as carrying hard. Every team should have one.

Les Bleus in post-World Cup limbo

The question of how France would recover from the crushing disappointment of exiting their home World Cup in the quarter-finals was answered emphatically at the Stade Velodrome.

Their hangover from the tournament was most visible in a passive defence, which was breached easily by Ireland.

It could be a long Six Nations unless Fabien Galthie finds the right buttons to push psychologically as well as providing a new sense of purpose in the wake of their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity being snatched away by a one-point defeat by South Africa.

The great entertainers

Scotland feature heavily in the recent Netflix documentary on the Six Nations and they are undoubtedly box office, although not always for reasons they would appreciate.

From amassing a sensational 27-0 lead against Wales in swashbuckling fashion to almost falling victim to the greatest comeback in Championship history, they can dazzle and confound in equal measure.

And with magician fly-half Finn Russell – the self-anointed Lionel Messi of rugby – pulling the strings, you can not take your eyes off them.

Wales host Guinness Six Nations opponents Scotland on Saturday with both countries looking to blast out of the starting blocks.

Momentum is key in European rugby’s blue riband tournament, and it could be a long campaign for whichever team ends up losing.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key talking points heading into the game.

Home sweet home for Wales

When it comes to making home advantage count in the Six Nations, Wales have repeatedly delivered against Scotland. It is 22 years since the Scots triumphed in Cardiff, a 27-22 victory secured through stoppage-time penalties kicked by Brendan Laney and Duncan Hodge. Current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was the fly-half that April afternoon, with hooker Gordon Bulloch scoring two tries, but it has been a tale of woe since then.

Eleven successive defeats – nine Six Nations games, one World Cup warm-up and an autumn Test – unfolded at an average scoreline of 29-14. Scotland did claim a Six Nations win on Welsh soil four years ago during the coronavirus pandemic, but that match was staged in Llanelli behind closed doors.

Flying Finn to fire Scots?

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell is one of world rugby’s genuine box-office talents, and a Six Nations tournament that will not see the likes of star names Antoine Dupont, Louis Rees-Zammit and potentially Marcus Smith this season needs Russell firing on all cylinders. The 31-year-old captains Scotland on Saturday, and he can be expected to relish that responsibility.

Russell lines up on the post-World Cup international stage after producing some command performances for his new club Bath in domestic and European arenas, with the west country club challenging for Premiership and Champions Cup honours. If he hits top form, Scotland will flourish.

Captain Jenkins in the spotlight

Exeter’s 21-year-old lock Dafydd Jenkins will become the youngest Wales captain since Gareth Edwards in 1968 when he leads his country out against Scotland. But such an honour being handed to him only 12 caps into his Test career should not come as a surprise. He first captained Exeter at the age of 19, and this season he has led impressively from the front, with Chiefs firmly in Premiership play-off contention and through to the Champions Cup round of 16.

“He pretty much gets everything right,” Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter said of Jenkins. “Our job is to try not to put too much on his shoulders, but at the same time he is exactly the kind of guy you want as captain of your team.”

Wales fans might need to be patient

Wales have enjoyed considerable success in the Six Nations, being crowned champions on six occasions, with four of those titles achieved in Grand Slam fashion. Five Triple Crowns can also be added to an impressive roll of honour as they have repeatedly punched above their weight, but any challenge for silverware this season appears unlikely.

The long road to World Cup 2027 in Australia starts with Wales fielding their least-experienced Six Nations starting XV since 2019, as a combination of factors mean players like Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, George North, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau are unavailable. The Scotland game is followed by England at Twickenham, Ireland in Dublin and France at home, so Wales are unquestionably up against it.

Can Scotland handle expectation?

Six Nations history might be against them, but Scotland will arrive in Cardiff as firm favourites to end their dismal losing run. Wales field just seven of the side that lost to World Cup quarter-final opponents Argentina last time out, and players like Russell, wing Duhan van der Merwe and centre Huw Jones are genuine game-breakers more than capable of testing a new-look Wales side.

If the Scots hit their straps, then they could win with something to spare, setting themselves up for a Murrayfield showdown with France next weekend, but the biggest battle could be overcoming those Cardiff demons and keeping them at bay.

England will begin rebuilding for the 2027 World Cup when they clash with Italy in Rome on Saturday.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points ahead of the Stadio Olimpico opener.

All change

While picking veteran fly-half George Ford might be an opportunity missed against the Six Nations’ weakest opposition – the inclusion of rookie Fin Smith would have provided a glimpse of the future – Steve Borthwick has shown a willingness to experiment elsewhere. Flanker Ethan Roots and inside centre Fraser Dingwall are given debuts while Smith, exciting wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and back row Chandler Cunningham-South will win their first caps if they step off the bench. Some of the changes have been forced on Borthwick by circumstance but it is still England’s biggest injection of fresh faces in the Six Nations since 2012.

Dingwall’s chance to shine

England have been unable to find a potent, enduring answer to who plays inside centre since Will Greenwood retired in 2004. The next player to be given the opportunity to prove he is the solution is Dingwall, who profits from injuries to Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence to take the number 12 jersey at the Stadio Olimpico and possibly beyond. The Northampton Saint has added three kilos of muscle for this season and plays with greater physicality as a result, especially in defence, but his true skill is an all-rounder who brings out the best in the players around him.

Release the handbrake

England must show greater ambition in attack or the goodwill generated amongst fans by finishing third at the World Cup will be washed away. The simplified, kick-focused, data-driven approach was acceptable for the first year of Borthwick’s reign given the need to pick up the pieces of the Eddie Jones era but a failure to add new layers will lead to unrest in the stands. New captain Jamie George has acknowledged that “you get people on their feet when they see tries being scored” and one of the hopes is that they play with greater freedom outside their own half.

Carrying threats needed

A concern hanging over England’s team selection is the lack of carrying power outside the explosive Ben Earl, who continues at number eight having taken the World Cup by storm. In particular, the backline is short on players who can muscle through heavy traffic in the absence of blockbusting centres Tuilagi and Lawrence. There are plenty of options to grind out yards up front, but few to blast big holes in the defence.

Quesada plots Roman ambush

Italy have a new head coach in Argentinian Gonzalo Quesada, who is expected to tighten up the loose game introduced by his predecessor Kieran Crowley. It helped deliver wins against Wales and Australia but the Azzurri self-destructed at the World Cup with crushing losses to New Zealand and France reversing the progress made in the previous 18 months. Since joining the Six Nations in 2000 Italy have recorded a win rate of only 11 per cent and have yet to defeat England in 30 meetings but traditionally they are at their strongest at the start of the tournament as France found out a year ago when they edged home by the skin of their teeth.

Reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland launch their Guinness Six Nations title defence against pre-tournament favourites France in Marseille.

Antoine Dupont and Johnny Sexton will be notable absentees as the two sides go into a new era on the back of agonising Rugby World Cup exits.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points ahead of Friday’s tantalising championship curtain-raiser.

World Cup hangovers? Grand Slam decider?

France versus Ireland was widely touted as a potential World Cup final. The two nations were Test rugby’s top-ranked teams in the build-up to the tournament before their campaigns ended in the space of 24 hours with enthralling quarter-final defeats. Ireland’s 17-match winning run was halted by a 28-24 loss to New Zealand in Paris, before the hosts were beaten 29-28 in the same city by eventual champions South Africa. Both will be eager to respond to those disappointments in a mouth-watering fixture which has ultimately proved to be a Grand Slam decider in the past two years.

Absent stars

Dupont’s decision to focus on France’s sevens squad for this year’s Paris Olympics has deprived the championship of its leading star. The scrum-half has been crowned player of the tournament in the three of the past four years. He will be replaced in the number nine jersey by Maxime Lucu, with Gregory Alldritt taking on the captaincy. Ireland, meanwhile, must move on following the retirement of talismanic former captain Sexton. The 38-year-old – the Six Nations’ record points scorer with 566 – has left a void on and off the field. Flanker Peter O’Mahony is Ireland’s new skipper, while Jack Crowley, Ciaran Frawley and Harry Byrne will compete for the fly-half role.

Sexton’s long-term successor

To coin an Andy Farrell phrase, Crowley is the “next cab off the rank” in the contest to become Sexton’s long-term successor. The Munster player served as understudy at the World Cup and has been selected for his full Six Nations debut. Crowley’s only previous championship appearance was a three-minute cameo away to Italy last February, while just three of his nine caps have come as a starter. Yet the 24-year-old is the most experienced out-half in his country’s 34-man squad. Frawley, who has been named on the bench, has only 40 minutes of Test action to his name, while his Leinster team-mate Byrne has not featured at international level since playing 56 minutes across substitute outings against the USA and Argentina in 2021.

Unfamiliar surroundings

Stade de France in Paris became a second home for Ireland during last autumn’s World Cup. Farrell’s men had hoped to play five successive matches there but had to settle for three following defeat to the All Blacks. There will be no swift return to Saint-Denis – the scene of memorable wins over South Africa and Scotland – for the Irish as France are this year playing their tournament matches away from the capital due to the upcoming Olympics. Stade Velodrome will be unfamiliar surroundings for many of Farrell’s squad, albeit the Leinster contingent suffered a heart-breaking, last-gasp loss to La Rochelle there in the 2022 Champions Cup final.

Opportunity knocks for McCarthy and Nash

In addition to the selection of Crowley, Farrell has handed Six Nations debuts to Test rookies Joe McCarthy and Calvin Nash. The head coach has shown plenty of faith in 22-year-old Leinster lock McCarthy by picking him ahead of experienced duo James Ryan and Iain Henderson. Meanwhile, Munster wing Nash has an opportunity to capitalise on the misfortune of injured star Mack Hansen. The 26-year-old won his only previous cap as a replacement in a World Cup warm-up win over Italy but has been in fine form for his province. “All you need in life is an opportunity, and it’s a big one for Calvin,” said Farrell.

Jamie George insists England are determined to make Twickenham a “horrible” place for opponents to visit while also reassuring fans that their intent is to score more tries.

England open their Six Nations against Italy in Rome on Saturday but George, their captain for the tournament, believes it is the home fixtures against Wales and Ireland that provide crucial opportunities to reconnect with fans.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has highlighted a win ratio of only 50 per cent from the past six Championships as evidence of significant underachievement and George is keen for that to be addressed with a flourish.

“We want to get Twickenham back to being a place that is horrible to play in for opposition,” George told the PA news agency.

“But at the same time we want to love representing England at Twickenham. Steve’s very passionate about that too and it’s a message I love hearing.

“We need to take fans on a journey with us and we have a responsibility for that through the way that we play, the brand of rugby we play and by showing how passionate we are when we’re on the field.

“If we do that it will feed into the crowds and we saw that in the South Africa and Fiji games at the World Cup. That’s the sort of environment we want to try to create.

“Style has a role to play. Ultimately we are a team that makes the right decision at the right time, but the way we play the game is also important to get people off their seats.


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“Constantly throughout the World Cup – and we didn’t achieve it quite as much as we wanted to – how we attacked was a focus point because we want to score more tries.

“You get people on their feet when they see tries being scored. We want to create more chances to score. That for me will lead to more excitement in stadiums.”

A feature of George’s World Cup was the sheer volume of minutes he played due to the inexperience of supporting hookers Theo Dan and Jack Walker.

And with Luke Cowan-Dickie missing the start of the Six Nations for undisclosed medical reasons, the Saracens front row could be set for another heavy workload – a prospect he relishes.

“I was pleased with how the World Cup went. There are certain areas that I need to be better at, but that’s natural,” he said.

“In terms of playing minutes, I want to be on the field in every minute of the game. I would never complain about that because I’ve been on the other side of the coin and sat on the bench for 80 minutes, which isn’t very nice.

“I will never complain about playing too much rugby, I absolutely love it. I will never take it for granted being on the field at any stage. For me, it’s something I love so much.

“A strength of mine has always been my fitness and my ability to stay involved in a game. The more time I spend in a game the better I feel almost.”

Aaron Wainwright has handed Welsh rugby a major pre-Six Nations boost by agreeing a new contract with the Dragons.

The Wales back-row forward, who looks set to line up at number eight in next week’s Six Nations clash against Scotland, has agreed what the Dragons described as “a multi-year” deal.

The 26-year-old would undoubtedly have courted considerable interest elsewhere, given his Test experience of 43 caps and outstanding displays during the Rugby World Cup in France.

“Lots of positive conversations have gone on between Dai (Dragons head coach Dai Flanagan), myself and the club,” Wainwright said.

“I am looking forward to the next few years. I love the Dragons, I am a home boy.

“I love turning up to Rodney Parade, seeing fans out on the terraces, and that’s what I want to keep doing, turning up on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday and playing well, trying to make them happy.

“I am happy to have re-signed and I am excited to see what the next few years have to hold.”

Wainwright made his Wales debut in 2018 and he has developed into a player whose consistency of performance is an invaluable commodity for head coach Warren Gatland.

Only six players – and just two forwards – have more caps than him in Wales’ 34-strong Six Nations squad, and he is comfortably the senior back-row figure.

With Taulupe Faletau sidelined for the whole Six Nations, along with flanker and co-captain Jac Morgan, through injury, Wainwright will head up Gatland’s back-row resources.

A move from blindside flanker can be expected, unless Gatland hands uncapped Cardiff number eight Mackenzie Martin an opportunity and leaves Wainwright in the number six shirt.

“It is a fairly young group at the moment. It is definitely exciting, and it is about how we build on that,” Wainwright added.

“When I came in for my first campaign, some of the back rows in the squad – Tips (Justin Tipuric), Lyds (Dan Lydiate), Taulupe (Faletau) – it’s trying to be a figure to them like those boys were to me. I am just trying to be the best role model for them.

“I am not always the loudest of talkers. I hope to do it through my actions.

“We have been pushing each other in training, and everyone has fitted in well really quickly. We’ve only had three days of training, but information is being taken on really quickly.”

Scotland have not beaten Wales in Cardiff since 2002 – current head coach Gregor Townsend was their fly-half that day – losing 11 successive Tests in the Welsh capital.

But they have been strongly backed to end that sequence, particularly given Wales’ inexperience and the absence of players like Faletau, Morgan, Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams and Dan Biggar.

The squad’s cap total is 735, but 438 of those appearances have been made by just seven players – Wainwright, Josh Adams, George North, Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams, Elliot Dee and Adam Beard.

Steve Borthwick feels that England supporters “deserve better” when it comes to performances and results in the Guinness Six Nations.

While England’s seven Six Nations titles put them top of the tree, the tally also gives a slightly distorted picture.

Three of those successes came during the competition’s first four seasons – and before England won the 2003 World Cup – and it has been a mere 20 per cent success-rate since then.

One title over the past six years underlines how tough England have found it and they have their work cut out again this time around, given the dominant form of Ireland and France.

“What has happened sometimes is England have been coming into the tournament and we are often talked about being favourites, and essentially England’s performance has not been anywhere near that level,” England head coach Borthwick said.

“The team knows that and the team wants to deliver better and the supporters deserve better.”

England will arrive in the competition after a third-place finish at the World Cup, an outcome that exceeded many expectations.

And the fixture schedule has been relatively kind as games against opening opponents Italy in Rome and Wales at Twickenham could see them generate early momentum.

But given it is then a Murrayfield appointment with Scotland, chasing four successive victories over England for the first time since 1972, then Ireland before a finale against France in Lyon, starting well is pretty much non-negotiable.

With World Cup captain Owen Farrell deciding to miss the Six Nations as he prioritises his and his family’s mental well-being, hooker Jamie George takes over as skipper.

Borthwick’s 36-strong squad includes seven uncapped players, headlined by 21-year-old Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, with only 17 survivors from the World Cup.

Experienced forwards Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola missed out, while Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs and Mako Vunipola retired from Test rugby, but approaching half the squad have each won 30 caps or more

Borthwick added: “I think you can see from my selections that I value the importance of having experience in there with younger, less experienced players and having that sort of support around them.

“I think that’s really important on the international stage. I think it is important at any level.

“You look at the effect Jamie George has in gluing the team together. It is just awesome. And I am delighted that we have got Joe Marler and his experience around the group, Dan Cole as well, just to mention a few.

“So I think getting that balance right with the experience and with these exciting players, younger players coming in is going to be really important.

“Our intent is to hit the ground running in Rome the way we want with the intensity that we want to, which is something that England have not done in recent years.

“At times, we have not jumped into this tournament and have been caught in that first game.

“We want this to be a different mindset for England, a different way of approaching the game and the tournament.

“We are taking a different approach because we need different results to previous tournaments.”

The Rugby World Cup done and dusted until 2027, attention now turns to this season’s Guinness Six Nations and a battle for European supremacy.

Ireland and France, who meet in the competition’s opening game, are favourites for silverware, while a host of new captains include England hooker Jamie George, Wales lock Dafydd Jenkins and Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some key talking points ahead of the tournament.

No Owen Farrell for new-look England

England will head into the Six Nations without their World Cup captain and fly-half Farrell, who has decided to miss the tournament in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing.

Farrell’s Saracens colleague George takes over leadership duties, heading up a squad that includes Exeter pair Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Ethan Roots among seven uncapped players, but experienced forwards Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola have been left out. Italy away and Wales at home suggests England should make an unbeaten start, but life then gets infinitely tougher with Scotland at Murrayfield being followed by Ireland on home soil and France in Lyon.

The World Cup bronze medallists have their work cut out to shake up principal title contenders Ireland and France, but with players like Alex Mitchell, Henry Slade and Tommy Freeman in blistering form for their clubs, Steve Borthwick’s men could make a strong impression if everything clicks.

Big boots to fill for Ireland’s fly-halves

Andy Farrell’s approach with reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland is very much evolution, not revolution following 29 wins from their last 32 fixtures. Farrell has retained 26 of the 33 players he took to the World Cup, with the alterations all enforced due to injuries and retirements.

Yet the major transition facing Farrell is undoubtedly in the most influential position. Johnny Sexton’s departure has left a void at fly-half and is expected to result in Munster’s Jack Crowley being elevated to first choice. The exciting 24-year-old has impressed when selected, but just three of his nine Test outings have come as a starter.

With Ross Byrne out due to an arm issue, Crowley’s rivals – Ciaran Frawley and Harry Byrne – also lack international experience, having won only three caps combined.

All change for Warren Gatland’s Wales

Wales’ player turnaround from World Cup to Six Nations is considerable. International retirements, injuries, unavailability and selection calls mean that head coach Gatland will go into the tournament without 15 of his squad that were on duty in France.

They will be minus the services of players like NFL hopeful Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Dewi Lake, Tomas Francis, Jac Morgan and Taulupe Faletau, with Gatland’s group including five uncapped players.

Wales kick off against Scotland in Cardiff, before successive appointments with England, Ireland and France. Gatland frequently weaves his magic and Wales often punch above their weight, but it will be a tall order for them this time around.

Scots need to banish World Cup blues

Scotland are in need of an uplifting Six Nations campaign after having the wind removed from their sails by a deflating World Cup pool-stage exit. The recently-retired Stuart Hogg is the only notable absentee from the side that generally performed well in last year’s championship, finishing as best of the rest behind the big two of Ireland and France.

Most of their pre-tournament injury concerns have cleared up, so they have the personnel to compete strongly, particularly with back quartet Blair Kinghorn, Ben White, Finn Russell and Ali Price all thriving after their recent moves to Toulouse, Toulon, Bath and Edinburgh respectively.

In a tournament where a strong start is often so crucial, much will depend on whether Gregor Townsend’s side can get off on the right foot against Wales in Cardiff, a city in which the Scots have not tasted victory for more than two decades.

Absent friends have left fond memories

While inevitable excitement surrounds the 2024 Six Nations tournament, it will unfold with some notable names missing, highlighted by France World Cup captain Antoine Dupont.

The Toulouse scrum-half will not be part of Les Bleus’ campaign after deciding to push for selection in France’s sevens squad for the Paris Olympics. Dupont is likely to take part in two World Series tournaments while the Six Nations happens, with Maxime Lucu favourite to replace him in the number nine shirt. La Rochelle number eight Gregory Alldritt is the new skipper.

Dupont’s fellow former world player of the year Sexton has retired, with another high-profile playmaker – Wales number 10 Biggar – stepping away from Test rugby, in addition to vastly-experienced England trio Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs and Mako Vunipola.

Top referees Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper, meanwhile, have blown the whistle on their careers, and there will also be no Stade de France on this year’s Six Nations schedule as it is being prepared for the Olympics. France’s home games will take place in Marseille, Lille and Lyon.

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