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6 Nations

Scotland change 6 for England Clash

6 Changes.

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Head Coach Gregor Townsend has made six changes to the starting Scotland team to face England in this Saturday’s final Guinness Six Nations Test at Twickenham Stadium (16 March) – live on ITV.

The Scots travel south in defence of the Calcutta Cup trophy they lifted for the first time in ten years at BT Murrayfield last year, with a victory in west London escaping the Scots in each of the biennial times of asking since 1983.

Looking ahead to the challenge that awaits, Townsend said: “First of all we have to build on the positive aspects of our performance from last weekend against Wales, when we were able to generate quick ball and build a lot of pressure on the opposition.

“The character and fitness the players displayed showed, in the second-half, what the team is capable of against one of the best sides in the world. The next step is making that pressure count on the scoreboard, more regularly.

“Winning away from home tends to be achieved through an outstanding defensive performance and we are determined to deliver that this Saturday. At times against Wales we weren’t aggressive or accurate enough so that has been a focus for us this week in training.”

He continued: “England are a quality side and have been playing really well throughout the championship.

“They have shown a different game plan this season, which is built on power, both through direct ball carrying and also getting off the line in defence.

“They’ve kicked the ball more than any other team in the Guinness Six Nations, which has worked well for them, and produced tries, and it also shows that they are more than comfortable defending for several phases.”

Scotland’s team changes are split evenly between the backs and forwards and see English Premiership pair Sean Maitland (Saracens) and Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) start in place of back-three counterparts Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour – both injured in last weekend’s loss to Wales – alongside try-scorer Darcy Graham.

The alterations to the back division are completed by Glasgow Warriors inside-centre Sam Johnson, who starts his fourth Test of the tournament in place of clubmate Pete Horne.

Johnson partners fellow Warrior Nick Grigg in midfield, with half-backs Finn Russell and Ali Price starting once again.

The starting back-row features two of the three pack changes where Edinburgh openside Hamish Watson will earn his 25th cap in place of Jamie Ritchie, who has not recovered sufficiently from the head / neck injury sustained against Wales to feature this weekend.

Exeter Chiefs forward Sam Skinner – injured in the opening round win over Italy – returns to blindside flank in place of Sale Sharks’ Josh Strauss – who moves to the bench – with Edinburgh’s Magnus Bradbury moving to the national number 8 position for the first time.

The last change sees Edinburgh lock Ben Toolis start in place of Jonny Gray – who moves to the bench – alongside clubmate Grant Gilchrist to form an all-Edinburgh tight five with returning front-row forwards Allan Dell, captain Stuart McInally and Willem Nel, meaning all but one of the starting pack hails from the capital club.

Newcastle Falcons back Chris Harris marks his return from the calf injury he sustained representing his club in the fallow week of the tournament with a place on the most experienced bench to be named by Townsend this campaign.

Head Coach comments on selection…

“Both Sam Skinner and Ben Toolis started for us against Italy and deserve another opportunity to show what they can do in a blue jersey.

“While it’s tough on Jamie to miss this game through injury, we’re delighted to bring back Hamish Watson into the starting line-up. He made a real impact on Saturday and we have no doubt that he’s ready to take the game to the opposition in attack and defence.

“Sam [Skinner] brings a lot of set-piece nous and gives us good balance in the back-row and we are keen to give Magnus [Bradbury] an opportunity to start at number eight.

“His match fitness has grown over the last two games and he did a number of good things last weekend. There is more to come from him and, as a pack, we know we have to deliver a massive performance of work-rate and physicality this weekend.

“Sam Johnson gets an opportunity to build on his strong performances against Italy and Ireland, while it’s good to have Sean Maitland back in the back-three alongside Darcy and Byron, who both played well last weekend.

“These three players and the team as a whole, will have to put in a lot of work off the ball to counter this threat on Saturday.”

6 Nations

Leinster and Ireland Star Signs New Contract

One of Ireland’s key men has signed a new two-year deal with the IRFU

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Cian Healy has signed a new two-year deal with the IRFU to remain with Leinster and Ireland until the summer of 2021.

The prop is one of the country’s most consistent performers and is delighted to have the opportunity to continue representing both province and country.

“Pulling on a Leinster or an Ireland jersey is something that I have always taken a huge amount of pride in and I am thankful for every opportunity I get. I am delighted therefore to have extended my IRFU contract and to continue to line out for Leinster. I believe that we have built something special at Leinster and with the national team and I want to contribute as best I can to both teams in what will be a hugely exciting few months and years ahead,” he said.

Healy has faced a number of serious injuries over the years but has thanked everyone at club and national level for their support and looks forward to the future with both.

“There has been some difficult times over the last few years for me personally with injury but the support within the Leinster and the Irish rugby family was very humbling from fellow players, coaches and supporters and it’s something that I won’t forget. It made this decision all the easier knowing that I was part of something bigger than just a rugby team. I hope to play my part in helping Leinster and Ireland achieve further success over the next few years and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in that journey,” he added.

Having been capped by Ireland 88 times since his debut in 2009 and holding 207 Leinster caps to his name already Healy is almost ever-present and IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora paid tribute to his consistency.

“Cian is performing at a very high level week in and week out. He works incredibly hard in ensuring that he is physically in the best condition to perform and has bounced back from adversity to return to the top of the international and club game. He will continue to be a leading performer for Ireland and Leinster over the coming years,” he said.

Healy has represented Ireland at two World Cups (2011 and 2015) and will be hoping to be heading to a third in Japan later this year, he also represented the British and Irish Lions in 2013.

As well as that Healy has a host of winner’s medals to his name with three Six Nations Championships in the bag for Ireland, while with Leinster he has won four European Cups, three Guinness Pro titles and a Challenge Cup.

Healy will be hoping to end the week on a high when he has the chance to add a fourth league title to his name as Leinster head to Celtic Park to face Glasgow Warriors in the Pro 14 final.

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6 Nations

O’Shea to be Replaced as Italy Head Coach

Conor O’Shea is set to pass on the reins following the Rugby World Cup in Japan

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(Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Cheetahs Rugby appear to have confirmed that head coach Franco Smith will replace Conor O’Shea as Italy’s head coach after the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

The Italian Rugby Federation are yet to comment on the matter. However, the South African side have made the announcement and wished their current head coach the best of luck in a deal that is set to run until 2023.

“Franco was offered the opportunity to coach the Italian national side from 1 January 2020. The Board of Directors see this as a great opportunity for Franco and is proud of the fact that so many top coaches have been developed by the Free State Cheetahs. The Board of Directors is proud of and wishes Franco the best of luck with the opportunity to coach on an international level until the next world cup in 2023,” they said in a statement.

The statement also confirmed that Smith will remain with the Cheetahs for the Currie Cup to provide a smooth take-over in management, with the new head coach to come in for the start of the Pro 14 season.

Former Ireland international O’Shea has been in charge of the Italians since 2016 but has led them on a run of 22 Six Nations defeats in a row.

However, it remains to be seen whether O’Shea who has earned praise from the likes of Italy captain and legend Sergio Parisse for his work behind the scenes, will be offered a different role with the men in blue.

In his current role he is more of a director of rugby overseeing more than just the men’s national side and there has been huge development on the club scene with Benetton reaching the Pro 14 play-offs for the first time ever this season.

Having performed in a directing role at both London Irish and Harlequins before it would allow O’Shea to focus on one task and may even benefit the country’s development. Either way he will hope to finish on a high when his side head to Japan later in the year.

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6 Nations

Munster End Terrible Week on a High with New Contracts

After a hard week for Munster fans the club has given them something to cheer about heading into the weekend

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Munster’s Tadhg Beirne and Craig Casey have signed contracts keeping them at the club to give fans something to smile about following a tough week.

Beirne, who signed for the men in red last summer on a two-year deal has signed with the IRFU and Munster for a further two years extending his stay down south to 2022.

The versatile forward has made 20 appearances for the province this season, winning man of the match awards on five of those occasions as well as scoring two tries along the way.

He also made his Six Nations debut for Ireland in their final day defeat to Wales and is looking for a seat on the plane to the World Cup in Japan later this year.

The other signing is of academy scrum-half Craig Casey, who has put pen to paper on a development contract for next season with a full contract beginning at the start of the 2020/21 season.

Casey played a key role in Ireland’s Under 20 Grand Slam success and had attracted interest from rivals Leinster, but the Munster academy player of the year will stay on the red side of the country.

The retention of two key men will come as a relief to those involved at the club after the announcement earlier in the week that coaches Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones will be departing when their contracts expire in the summer.

The news came as a shock to most as head coach Johann van Graan, must now rebuild his back-room set-up, however, this is the silver lining of their week.

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