One of the craziest weeks in recent memory in world rugby has meant that this week’s Six Nations games have slipped under the radar a little bit. Between the universally despised World League, a will-they-won’t-they merger between the Ospreys and Scarlets, allegations of Wallabies match-fixing, there’s been a lot going on.
Scotland had a bad weekend in Paris last time out. Ponderous in
Ali Price takes the place of captain Greig Laidlaw at 9, partnered by his old mate Finn Russell, who was badly missed against France last week. Sam Johnson misses out on the 12 jersey after performing well in his previous appearances, losing his spot to Pete Horne. Edinburgh flyer Darcy Graham gets his first start on the left wing. The 21 year old will earn his third cap, after spending last season performing on the World Sevens Series. Graham will need to be on his game defensively, with the considerable frame of George North coming down his channel. The Ospreys wing has 6 inches and almost six stone on his opposite number.
Embed from Getty Images
It’s a bit of a case of ‘what could have been’ for Toonie’s men this year. Losing players as important as Stuart Hogg and Huw Jones out of the backline, and the entire backrow that performed so well in the 2018 competition. John Barclay leading from the front, Hamish Watson being absolutely everywhere, and Ryan Wilson enforcing things from number 8. All three are being sorely missed this year. Hamish Watson makes his return this week, wearing the number 20 jersey. So much potential for this Scottish team, but they have failed to deliver on the hype. If they don’t win at home this week, that trip to Twickenham on Super Saturday suddenly looks a whole lot tougher.
Embed from Getty Images
Wales are in quite the tricky situation. They would have been riding high after the cracking win in Cardiff but then the news of the proposed merger has sent Welsh rugby into the unknown. 13 of the 23 are (maybe this should be ‘were affected’? God only knows), but you’d wonder how this is playing on the minds of the players. Warren Gatland has made one injury-enforced change, Ospreys lock Adam Beard comes into the team in place of Cory Hill. Wales’ away form has been poor enough this Six Nations. A dire performance in France was rescued by Sebastian Vahaamahina and Yoann Huget, and that was followed by an unimpressive outing in Rome. While the games havent been pretty, the fact is Wales have still got the job done, playing way below their best. Maybe Gatland has a point when he says that Wales have “forgotten how to lose”?
Embed from Getty Images
This, if it lives up to its potential will be the game of the weekend. Scotland in Murrayfield
Prediction: Scotland by 5-10 points.
Paul O’Connell Joins Ireland Coaching Group
Former Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has joined the Ireland national coaching group as forwards coach with Simon Easterby to focus on defence.
Paul was capped 108 times by Ireland and captained the team to Six Nations success in 2014. O’Connell’s distinguished playing career also included seven Test match appearances for the British & Ireland Lions across three tours and two Heineken Cup titles with Munster.
Since retiring from playing in 2015, Paul has held coaching positions with the Munster Academy, Ireland Under-20s and Top 14 side Stade Francais.
“I am really looking forward to working with Andy and the rest of the coaching group. I worked with Simon as a player and am looking forward to working with him again. It’s an exciting young group of players to be involved with and there are talented forwards coming through across the four provinces that will no doubt be pushing for international selection in the coming months and years.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell commented:
“Paul brings a wealth of rugby knowledge with him and as forwards coach he will have responsibility for the forwards including the line-out working alongside John (Fogarty). He will also be another strong voice and leader within the group.
“Simon (Easterby) has a real passion for defence and having developed Ireland’s forward play over the past six years with the additional responsibility for the defence over the past 12 months, he will now be able to focus his energy and rugby intellect on this area of our game.
“The weekend’s Interpro games and the European fixtures in the weeks ahead will give players the opportunity to push for selection for the Six Nations squad. The squad will not be selected until after the Champions Cup Round 4 fixtures have been completed.”
IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, commented: “Paul is a young Irish coach with a huge amount of international rugby experience. We have been keen to find the right opportunity for him within Irish Rugby and we think the fit with the national squad will work well. He joins the national coaching group with immediate effect as they prepare for the upcoming Six Nations Championship.”
Scotland name strong team for Wales
Issued by SRU
Fresh from securing the European and Premiership double with his club Exeter Chiefs, Hogg plays at full back as one of five changes to the starting XV from the Scotland side that defeated Georgia 48-7 last week.
Finn Russell lines up at fly-half after winning his 50th Scotland cap in the Georgia victory at BT Murrayfield on Friday night, and is joined in the half-backs by Glasgow Warriors’ Ali Price.
In the back division, Blair Kinghorn shifts to the wing from full-back and replaces Edinburgh teammate Duhan van de Merwe, who is named among the replacements. James Lang and Chris Harris continue their centre partnership after playing together against Georgia.
In the pack fellow Exeter Chief Jonny Gray comes into the second row and Scarlets’ Blade Thomson is selected at number 8 and will run out on his club ground on Saturday in Llanelli.Hooker Fraser Brown is named as Vice-Captain and packs down with Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson in an unchanged front row.
Scott Cummings also retains his starting place to partner Gray in the second row.Edinburgh pair Jamie Ritchie, also a Vice Captain, and Hamish Watson make up the back-row with Thomson.
In the replacements Harlequins scrum-half Scott Steele could make his Scotland debut if called into action.
Adam Hastings and van de Merwe complete the backline replacements. Townsend can also call upon the same front row of Oli Kebble, Stuart McInally and Simon Berghan as featured in against Georgia, alongside Worcester Warrior Cornell du Preez and Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis from the bench.
“As a group we are very much looking forward to finally completing our fixture against Wales and returning to play Guinness Six Nations rugby again. We were highly motivated back in March, and that extra edge has come back into our training and preparations this week.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend
“It’s been great to bring in quality and experience to our starting line-up with players such as Stuart, Jonny and Finn who have been involved in some high-level games in recent weeks. We were also encouraged by Blade’s display at the weekend for Scarlets, which is a timely boost given last weekend’s injury to Matt Fagerson.
“We are expecting a physical battle against a very good side, one which we will be working hard to stay in the fight and to finish the fight in Llanelli. Ultimately, this game provides an opportunity for us to end this extended championship on a positive note and go into the Autumn Nations Cup with some added belief in what this group of players can achieve.”
Wales XV announced for 6 Nations finale v Scotland.
Jones levelled the record last weekend but will take the honour for himself at Parc y Scarlets this weekend as Wales face Scotland in their re-arranged Guinness Six Nations finale (14.15 KO BBC & S4C).
At the other end of the international spectrum, Cardiff Blues back-row Shane Lewis-Hughes will make his first test appearance for Wales in a back-row alongside experienced Lions duo Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.
European Champion and English Premiership winner Tomas Francis comes into the front-row alongside Rhys Carre and Ryan Elias.
In the backline Gareth Davies partners Dan Biggar with Owen Watkin coming into the midfield alongside Jonathan Davies.
Liam Williams returns to the back-three to feature alongside Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny.
On the bench Sam Parry, Wyn Jones and Dillon Lewis provide the front-row replacements with Cory Hill and James Davies completing the forward contingent. Lloyd Williams comes straight into the matchday squad and provides backline cover along with Rhys Patchell and Nick Tompkins.
Issued by WRU