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6 Nations

Big Calls Cause a Stir; Ireland vs England Preview

The teams have been named and there are some interesting calls on both sides as Ireland and England collide once more

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Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP / Getty Images

It’s getting closer and closer to 16:45 on Saturday when two old foes clash at the Aviva as Ireland host England in the 6 Nations.

Both teams have been named and they have caused some debate, but will the changes pay off?

The hosts and reigning Grand Slam champions have called on their big players, however Robbie Henshaw has been selected at full-back ahead of veteran 15 Rob Kearney.

Kearney has been recovering from an injury and returned to playing duties last weekend with Leinster as they hosted the Scarlets, but made a massive mistake leading to a try and isn’t ready in Schmidt’s eyes.

Instead, his Leinster team-mate, Henshaw, usually at centre, comes in and has opened up the selection battle for the World Cup later in the year.

Elsewhere on the park, captain Rory Best starts alongside Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong in a formidable front-three.

Behind them, Leinster duo Devin Toner and James Ryan partner up once more. While Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier make up the pack, with van der Flier being preferred to Sean O’Brien at seven.

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are the half-backs, with Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose continuing their championship winning partnership in the centre.

Last year’s top try scorer and player of the tournament, Jacob Stockdale, will be looking to continue his fine form at 11, with Keith Earls on the opposite wing, and Henshaw at 15.

The bench sees Dave Kilcoyne picked over Jack McGrath, and Quinn Roux gets a seat ahead of Ultan Dillane. Elsewhere, John Cooney is in line for his championship debut, and Jordan Larmour is selected as the 23rd man.

If Ireland’s selection turned a few heads, England’s certainly raised some eyebrows with some debate as players battled for places.

Like Ireland, they have decided to pick a different full-back, with Elliot Daly starting ahead of Mike Brown, who, like Kearney fails to make his team’s 23.
The visitors have had a few boosts since their November series and none more so then having both Vunipola brothers at their disposal.

Mako Vunipola is joined in the front-row by Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler.

In the second-row Maro Itoje is partnered by George Kruis, who wins his place over the likes of Joe Lauchbury and Courtney Lawes.

The back-row is made up of Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, and Billy Vunipola. While Ben Youngs comes in at scrum-half alongside captain and fly-half Owen Farrell.

In the centre, Manu Tuilagi is in line for his first 6 Nations start in over five years, with Henry Slade by his side.

Jack Nowell has been rewarded for his impressive form at Exeter with a starting role at 11. Jonny May occupies the No 14 jersey, with Daly finishing the starting XV.

Their bench will have a significant role to play with the likes of Courtney Lawes, Nathan Hughes, George Ford, and Chris Ashton to call upon. Wasp’s Dan Robson is also in line for his test debut.

Speaking ahead of the match both coaches are confident and explained their decisions.

Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt, has predicted an exciting match and believes the two teams will go toe to toe on Saturday.

“It will be exhilarating and edge of the seat. I don’t think there will be a huge amount between the teams. People are going to be entertained,” he said.

Schmidt will have made a few players sweat with his logic behind the Henshaw selection too, admitting this may become a permanent position for the Athlone native.

“Maybe even as a longer-term option with only 31 going to the World Cup you need guys who can be versatile. There is probably a little bit of that as well as Robbie being a good player and recognised fullback anyway,” he said.

His opposite number, Eddie Jones, has told the media that his team is ready for Ireland and claim a first win in the Aviva since 2013.

“It is well documented no one thinks we can win but I can tell you everyone inside our camp believes we can win,” he said.

He added to Schmidt’s views on how the game will plan out too, as his team look to end a three-game losing streak in the competition and thinks the final minutes will be crucial.

“Traditionally England and Ireland games are always very close, they are tough affairs, there is a lot of emotion in the games so our ability to finish the game strongly is going to be vital,” he said.

Last year, this fixture saw Ireland claim a 24-15 victory and the Grand Slam with it, but it will be a different beast this time around.

So, the teams have been named, the coaches have had their say, players have been dropped, others have been given an opportunity to impress in battle.

All that is left to do is wait and watch, as these two old foes are set to light up the Aviva on Saturday, with the winner gaining bragging rights and possibly the 6 Nations this year.

6 Nations

British & Irish Lions issue Tour Update

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The British & Irish Lions and SA Rugby have confirmed they are aligned on delivering the Castle Lager Lions Series in South Africa in the scheduled playing window.

The Lions Board confirmed its preference to SA Rugby on Monday evening, prior to follow-up meetings earlier today (Tuesday).

“After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the Board’s intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021,” said Jason Leonard, chairman of The British & Irish Lions.

“We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust COVID-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan.”

Mark Alexander, president of the SA Rugby, said he would inform the Executive Council of the South African Rugby Union of the alignment.

“We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said Alexander.

“We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

“There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners.”

Alexander said the original tour schedule was subject to review because of those considerations. Should any changes be required they will be communicated as soon as possible.

Leonard added: “Every British and Irish player dreams of wearing the famous red jersey, and players from the southern hemisphere aspire to be part of a Lions series. We owe it to the current players vying for a place in both squads to ensure they can become part of Lions history.

“We are very much looking forward to taking on South Africa for what promises to be a highly-competitive Series against the reigning World Champions.”

Alexander thanked the Castle Lager Lions Series’ commercial partners as well as the British & Irish Lions and ticket holders for their patience during the extended period of uncertainty.

“As hosts and ‘owners’ of the Castle Lager Lions Series no one has been more affected or more challenged by the current circumstances than SA Rugby,” said Alexander. “However, with the support of our government and good planning we can navigate the pandemic to nonetheless create a most memorable event for players, fans and partners.”

It is not yet known whether international or cross-border travel for supporters will be possible into the country in July. Supporters who have purchased ticket-inclusive packages through Lions Rugby Travel will be notified directly via email with information on the options available.

The Lions remind supporters that all packages purchased through Lions Rugby Travel are protected by the Covid-19 guarantee*. Supporters who have booked packages with official sub agents should contact them directly. For the latest guidance on travelling to South Africa please visit the UK Foreign Office website: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/south-africa or the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs website: https://www.dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice/a-z-list-of-countries/south-africa/

At this time, it also remains unclear whether spectators will be permitted into stadia in July and August. SA Rugby and the Lions continue to work with relevant South African Government departments to ascertain the latest guidance on COVID-19 countermeasure planning for major sporting events and will communicate any updates as soon as it is possible to do so.

In the event that spectators are not permitted to gain access to the Test matches, Lions supporters who had successfully purchased Test match tickets via the Lions ticket ballot will be refunded.

The British & Irish Lions Test match against Japan at BT Murrayfield Stadium on Saturday 26 June 2021 for the Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup will continue as scheduled. However, a decision on crowd size will be made nearer the time of the event and in line with the latest UK Government guidance. For more information, including ticketing enquiries, please visit:
https://www.lionsrugby.com/1888-cup-faqs/

The British & Irish Lions have toured South Africa on 13 previous occasions, with the first Tour taking place in 1891. In that time, the Lions have won four Test series, lost eight with one drawn. Their overall record against the Springboks is played 46, won 17, lost 23 and drawn six.

*For more information please visit www.lionstour.com

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6 Nations

Ireland make multiple changes for England

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Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The Ireland coaching group have named their final match day squad of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championships ahead of the Round 5 clash with England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

There are a number of changes to the team that started against Scotland last Sunday starting in the half-backs where Captain Johnny Sexton is joined in by Conor Murray.

Garry Ringrose is ruled out of the side through injury so Bundee Aki slots in at inside centre with Robbie Henshaw shifting to the No.13 jersey.

Jacob Stockdale returns to the team for the first time since the Autumn Nations Cup win over Scotland back in December and is named on the left wing with Keith Earls on and Hugo Keenan completing the back three.

In the front row Dave Kilcoyne starts at loosehead alongside Rob Herring at hooker and Tadhg Furlong at tighthead. 

Tadhg Beirne moves into lock to partner Iain Henderson in the absence of the injured James Ryan.

Will Connors was ruled out yesterday with a knee injury in training so Josh van der Flier comes in at openside. CJ Stander moves to 6 for his final Ireland game in Aviva Stadium and Jack Conan is named at No.8.

Speaking this week about Stander, Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton commented,

“He’s done things for the right reason. His wife and daughter are back in South Africa at the moment. They’ve been there for a few months and they went back for the last lockdown as well.

“It takes its toll, doesn’t it? He’s just taken the decision based on family reasons and we respect him for that, but he’s a big loss to Munster and Irish Rugby.

“He’s been huge for both teams over the last five, six years. Very shocked, but we wish him well and we hope that his last game in green will be one to remember.”

The replacements are Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Peter O’Mahony, Jamison Gibson Park, Billy Burns and Jordan Larmour.

The game is being televised by VIRGIN (ROI) and ITV (NI) and kicks off at 4.45pm on Saturday afternoon.

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Engalnd, 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, March 20, kick-off 4:45pm):

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 10 caps
14. Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 92 caps
13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 51 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 30 caps
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 33 caps
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 98 caps CAPTAIN
9. Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 88 caps
1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 42 caps
2. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 20 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 48 caps
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 62 caps
5. Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 21 caps
6. CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 50 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 30 caps
8. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 19 caps

Replacements
16. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 10 caps
17. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 108 caps
18. Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 36 caps
19. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 2 caps
20. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 74 caps
21. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 9 caps
22. Billy Burns (Ulster) 6 caps
23. Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 28 caps

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6 Nations

Wales name Grand Slam chasing team to face France

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Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Wales have made one change to their side for their Guinness Six Nations finale against France on Saturday (KO 21.00 Local BBC & S4C), with Adam Beard returning to the starting line-up.

Wales are four from four in the Championship and top the table heading to Paris. Beard, who started the first three matches for Wales, comes back into the starting side alongside captain Alun Wyn Jones. Jones, who is the world test record holder with 156 international caps to his name (including nine British & Irish Lion appearances), will make his 148th Wales appearance on Saturday. His Wales caps alone are now equal to the second-highest capped player of all time, Richie McCaw.

Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis are named again in the front-row for Wales with Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau comprising the back-row.

Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar are named at half-back with Jonathan Davies and George North continuing their partnership in the midfield.

Josh Adams, Louis Rees-Zammit and Liam Williams make up the back-three.

“We are all looking forward to Saturday and to the finale of the Six Nations,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.

“We are four from four to date but know this weekend will be a great challenge against a very good French side, but we are looking forward to it.

“We know we need to step up from our previous performances and we want to end the tournament with a performance we know we are capable of.

“We have had great continuity in selection throughout the tournament and that is shown once again with the selection for Saturday.”

Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith and Leon Brown are named as the front-row replacements for Wales with Cory Hill and James Botham completing the forward contingent. Tomos Williams returns from injury to take his place on the bench alongside Callum Sheedy and Uilisi Halaholo.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY FRANCE (SATURDAY MARCH 22 KO 21.00 LOCAL, BBC & S4C)

1. Wyn Jones (34 Caps)
2. Ken Owens (81 Caps)
3. Tomas Francis (56 Caps)
4. Adam Beard (24 Caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (CAPT) (147 Caps)
6. Josh Navidi (27 Caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (84 Caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (85 Caps)
9. Gareth Davies (61 Caps)
10. Dan Biggar (91 Caps)
11. Josh Adams (31 Caps)
12. Jonathan Davies (87 Caps)
13. George North (101 Caps)
14. Louis Rees-Zammit (8 Caps)
15. Liam Williams (70 Caps)

Replacements:

16. Elliot Dee (36 Caps)
17. Nicky Smith (38 Caps)
18. Leon Brown (16 Caps)
19. Cory Hill (31 Caps)
20. James Botham (5 Caps)
21. Tomos Williams (21 Caps)
22. Callum Sheedy (8 Caps)
23. Uilisi Halaholo (3 Caps)

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