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6 Nations

Preview: Much changed Welsh visit Rome in Round 2 of the Six Nations

Preview & Verdict.

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Written by Oliver Green
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Wales have named a team for their trip to Rome on Saturday that includes 10 changes from last week’s stunning comeback victory over France.

Coach Warren Gatland made the same number of changes for the match against Italy last year, which saw Wales run out as 38-14 winners.

They take on an Italian side that will be looking to build on a strong finish against Scotland at Murrayfield last week.

Despite a 33-20 loss, Italy will take confidence from the fact they were able to score three tries and were close to a fourth in the final moments.

Wales

Among the 10 players Gatland has brought in for this game, four will be making their 6 Nations debuts. Flankers Thomas Young and Aaron Wainwright, scrum-half Aled Davies, and wing Jonah Holmes will all be making their first appearances in the tournament.

Second-row Alun Wyn Jones has been dropped to the bench, and will hand captaincy duties over to centre Jonathan Davies, who will be leading his country for the first time.

Josh Navidi retains his place in the back-row, but switches to number eight, with lock Adam Beard the only other forward surviving from 24-19 win in Paris.

Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee and Samson Lee form a new-look front row, with Jake Ball joining Beard in second-row.

Dan Biggar starts at fly-half, and Owen Watkin will join skipper Davies in the centres.

George North, who scored twice against the French, has dropped to the bench as he nurses a shoulder injury that has limited his involvement in Wales’ training in Nice this week. He is replaced by debutant Holmes.

Josh Adams and Liam Williams, who also started last week, complete the back three.

Gatland, who was criticised last year for the number of changes he made against Italy, has remained unfazed amid more concern about his team.

“I’ve never been a person who has worried about external influences,” said Gatland.

“People can say, write or imply whatever they like.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been put into a role to make what we think are the best decisions.”

“It’s a challenge this year, making changes. Guys have got to go out there and prove themselves.”

Italy

Italy have made just two changes from the side that lost at Murrayfield, with Tommaso Castello and Andrea Lovotti dropping out.

Wing Edoardo Padovani starts in place of Castello, meaning Wasps back Michele Campagnaro switches to the centres.

Nicola Quaglio starts at prop ahead of Lovotti.

Captain Sergio Parisse will add to his record 66 appearances in the Championship; he overtook Brian O’Driscoll last week.

Following the defeat to Scotland, Parisse was keen to highlight his sides ability when they are possession, even if they do struggle defensively.

“If we had the possession we are dangerous; we can score tries,” Parisse said.  

“I think Scotland deserved the win; they dominated the game, had a lot of possession – more than us – so of course the last ten minutes is a good base to work on for the game next week against Wales.”

Meanwhile Padovani, who scored the second of Italy’s tries last week after coming on as a substitute, has called for his side to continue their discipline against Wales.

“Well, we will have to first improve the performance and keep the discipline under control, which went well with Scotland,” he said.

“Obviously you will need to play a lot more in their half of the field and express a greater volume of play, controlling more possession and above all, as mentioned, managing to be more precise in our performance: especially inside the 22 metres and in the decisive stages of the match.

“Then we need to show ourselves in contact and in the one-on-one, both in attack and defence.”

Verdict

It is hard to see how Italy will beat Wales on Saturday, despite the wholesale changes Warren Gatland has made. He made the same number of changes last year and Wales won comfortably 38-14.

He is one of the best coaches in the world and it would be foolish to doubt his decision making at this level. The players coming in, though inexperienced, have more than enough ability to overcome the Italians.

It will be interesting to see how the cope without influential captain Alun Wyn Jones, but Jonathan Davies is a capable stand in.

Italy will be hoping that star man Sergio Parisse will be able to rattle the cages of the two inexperienced Wales flankers, who will have to be at their best to keep the marauding number eight quiet.

If Parisse can secure Italy enough ball early on, they will hope they can recreate their flowing attacking rugby from the last 10 minutes in Scotland.

If the young Welsh side then begins to panic, then this game will be far from a foregone conclusion.

Despite this, Wales still have a strong bench, which will be beneficial should this game be closer than Gatland would prefer entering the second half.

Italy are always a stern test, regardless of their finishing position each year in the Six Nations, but the match in Rome may just be another one of their ‘nearly’ moments.

6 Nations

Rory Best to retire.

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Ulster and Ireland captain Rory Best has confirmed that he will retire from professional rugby when his current contract expires after the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Best will bow out with a hugely impressive list of honours and will go down as a legend of the modern game, having spent 15 seasons at the top level.

Rory began his rugby development at Banbridge RFC, with whom he is still involved, while he also played at Portadown College and Belfast Harlequins RFC on route to the professional game.

He made his competitive debut for Ulster in 2004 and has amassed 219 appearances to date, scoring 23 tries. He was a key member of the squad which won the Celtic League title in 2005/06.

Best is Ulster’s most-capped international with 116 appearances (10 tries) and has helped Ireland win the Six Nations Championship on four occasions, including two Grand Slam successes (one as captain).

Best’s leadership of Ireland is record-breaking; he captained Ireland to its first ever win against New Zealand in 2016 and has steered the country to second in the world rankings.

He was a member of the British & Irish Lions squad for the 2013 and 2017 tours to Australia and New Zealand respectively.

Best was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to rugby.

“It is with mixed feelings that I announce my retirement from Ulster Rugby as of the end of this season,” said Best.

“This feels like the right time for me to go out on my terms, a luxury for which I feel very privileged.

“I am very excited for the end of the season with Ulster Rugby and for the upcoming World Cup with Ireland, both of which I hope to finish with a massive high, playing at the top of my game.

“In my 15 years at this brilliant club, I have been lucky to have met, played alongside, been coached by and supported by many great people, and I would like to thank every individual for the time they have invested in me since 2004.

“I grew up supporting Ulster Rugby, have been fortunate to play and captain Ulster Rugby, and now look forward to supporting Ulster Rugby in the future with my family.”

Paying tribute to Best, Ulster’s Operations Director, Bryn Cunningham said:

“No player representing Ulster Rugby has had a more profound impact in the professional era than Rory.

“When Rory enters the room, everyone waits for his words. On the training pitch, he demands high standards at all times. During a match, players turn to Rory for leadership and direction. He has been our all-encompassing talismanic figure for more than a decade.

“Rory’s ability to not only stay at the top, but also fight his way through adversity, shows the strength of character he possesses.

“The ever-present support of the Best family on the side-lines, in particular Jodie, Ben, Penny and Richie, encapsulates Rory as the ultimate family man. We know that they will continue to follow Ulster Rugby for many years to come.

“Rory will justifiably go down as one of the greatest legends of Ulster and Irish Rugby.”

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6 Nations

Richards Claims 2003 World Cup Winners Cheated, Woodward Denies

Dean Richards has made some serious accusations to the RFU.

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Former Harlequins director of rugby and ‘Bloodgate’ scandal Dean Richards told the RFU that England’s 2003 World Cup winners cheated in a report.

He claims that his Harlequins side were not the only team using fake injuries to win games and that the World Cup winners were doing so too.

The document, which was uncovered by a documentary on talkSPORT revealed what Richards had said.

“The use of fake blood, cutting players, re-opening wounds, feigning injury in the front row, jabbing players with anaesthetic all occur regularly throughout the game,” he said.

When asked about giving examples by former RFU head of discipline Jeff Blackett he accused the English team.

“RWC 2003. England used faked blood,” he said.

Richards, who was banned from rugby for three years in 2009 for his part in the scandal in which players used fake blood to be taken off as blood substitutions has been shut down by 2003 coach Clive Woodward.

“This is simply not true. I am not sure why Dean raised this. I have never been involved in anything like this. It is ridiculous,” he said.

He also said that the claim was “absolute nonsense”.

It appears as though the RFU have nothing to worry about this time around as it seems like Richards is trying to stir the pot once more in the rugby world.

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6 Nations

French Rugby rule out foreign coach.

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Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been well documented that current French Coach Jacques Brunel will be vacating his role with the FFR post World Cup in Japan later this year and with all confirmed exits, speculation is always rife as to who will step up and take the role.

One thing that was confirmed this week was that the next head coach of France will not be Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt, Eddie Jones – or any other overseas coach that has been linked with the top job in French Rugby.

This decision was made following a referendum of the country’s amateur rugby clubs which ruled out a non-Frenchman taking charge.

59% of the clubs voted with a view that they would not support the appointment of a foreigner to replace Jacques Brunel after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

French Federation president Bernard Laporte has promised to respect the result.

“I welcome this democratic expression and of course I will respect that choice,”

Several names have been linked with the job. Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt who have both coached their last 6 Nations games with Wales & Ireland respectively would be shrewd appointments as would Sir Clive Woodward and John Mitchell were also thought to be on the FFR’s shortlist. Current Montpellier boss Vern Cotter – was also expected to be a contender but he too will now not be considered for the role.

Rumours are still strong regarding Ronan O’Gara taking some sort of coaching role with the FFR pre Rugby World Cup but nothing official has been announced to date.

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