Second row is the main area of concern for Ireland for the opening round of the Six Nations. Iain Henderson faces some time on the sidelines after a reoccurrence of an ongoing problem with his finger. Tadhg Beirne will miss the opening two games after sustaining a knee injury in Munster’s win over Exeter. Dan Leavy is still rehabbing a calf problem, but will probably be in contention for selection for Leinster against Scarlets this weekend.
Scrum-halves are a potential issue. Conor Murray is back, but both Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath are out. John Cooney is in flying form for Ulster, and is a very able deputy. Caoilin Blade will be raring for a run out, after impressing for Connacht for the last few seasons. Joe Schmidt will have been happy to see two of his most important big game players return to action in the Champion’s Cup last weekend, Sean O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw both completed 55 minutes against Wasps and showed no signs of being rusty.
Hooker is the biggest area of concern for Scotland. While number one choice Stuart McInally is fit, usual backups Fraser Brown and George Turner are unlikely to feature. Gregor Townsend has called up the uncapped trio of Edinburgh’s Dave Cherry, Glasgow’s Grant Stewart or Leicester’s Jake Kerr.
Hamish Watson was a huge loss to Scotland last weekend. The openside has a firm grasp on the Scotland 7 jersey, and was a part of a very effective combination with Johnny Barclay and Ryan Wilson. ‘Pinball’ was considered by many to be unlucky to miss out on a Lions jersey. Jonny Gray is currently dealing with a shoulder issue, but will remain in camp. His brother Richie unfortunately, will miss the tournament, as will captain Barclay, and the permanently crocked Duncan Taylor.
Eddie Jones may have been tempting fate when he said that England’s injury list is the lowest its been for three years. There are some minor concerns however. Dylan Hartley is set to miss the opening rounds, so Owen Farrell will retain the captaincy. Chris Robshaw is likely to miss the majority of the tournament, as is flanker Sam Underhill, and winger Anthony Watson.
There are recalls however for the Vunipola brothers and Ellis Genge who missed the Autumn internationals through injury. Joe Launchbury was withdrawn early from Wasps’ loss to Leinster, but Dai Young has played down any worries saying “We don’t see it potentially being an issue moving forward.”
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The backrow is an area of concern for Warren Gatland. Taulupe Faletau returned after three months out with a broken arm, only to re-break it in his comeback game.
Ellis Jenkins and Aaron Shingler are both still recovering from cruciate ligament damage, while Ross Moriarty and Ollie Griffiths still haven’t returned to action. James Davies had a reoccurrence of a foot problem playing for Scarlets against the Blues around Christmas and hasnt featured since. Dan Lydiate injured his bicep playing for Wales in November and is a doubt for the start of the competition. Leigh Halfpenny has been included in the extended squad, but is still suffering from concussion symptoms, so it remains to be seen whether he will make it back during the Six Nations. Props Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown and Nicky Smith are also in doubt, as is Cardiff out-half Jarrod Evans. Gareth Davies is also likely to miss the first game or two
France have a quite short injury list, or maybe its harder to judge to the high player turnover rate in the national squad. Dangerous wing Teddy Thomas is the biggest name to miss out for France, along with fellow winger Alivereti Raka, who recently gained French citizenship. Other players to miss out include Castres flanker Mathieu Babillot, prop Cedate Gomes Sa, and veteran lock Yoann MaestriEmbed from Getty Images
Italy have a similar problem to France with the player turnover rate, so there is not a long list of absent players. The two injured players are two important ones however. Gloucester flanker Jake Polledri. Polledri is an incredible ball-carrier and will be a huge loss to Italy’s source of go-forward ball. The other main absentee is electric full-back Matteo Minozzi. Minozzi lit up last year’s tournament with box office displays in every game, earning himself a nomination for Player of the Tournament
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British & Irish Lions issue Tour Update
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:
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.
Ireland make multiple changes for England
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
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
Wales name Grand Slam chasing team to face France
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)
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)