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6 Nations

Wales v England – The Key Battles

Six Nations Round 3: Wales vs England

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Written by Oliver Green
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Two sides looking to maintain their unbeaten starts to the 2019 Six Nations will meet at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

Eddie Jones’ England have already beaten majority favourites Ireland in their own back yard in round one, and swept aside France two weeks ago at Twickenham.

Meanwhile Wales, led by Warren Gatland, produced a remarkable comeback to scrape past the French in Paris, and stumbled to victory over Italy with a much-changed side.

With both sides’ prospects of a Grand Slam on the line, this historic rivalry looks set to be reignited once again.

Ahead of this monumental clash, we’ve taken a look at some of the key battles where this game could be won and lost.

Rob Evans vs Ben Moon

With Mako Vunipola injured, Ben Moon is one of two enforced changes for England. He will take on the returning Rob Evans at loosehead, who was seemingly ‘rested’ for Wales’ game against Italy.

Moon has played just 37 minutes so far this campaign; during the emphatic victory over France. The Exeter Chiefs man only made his England debut during the autumn internationals, and has just 5 caps to his name.

In contrast, Evans made his first appearance for Wales four years ago, and has made 32 appearances for his national side.

With that being said, it is clear that the Welshman has experience on his side in this matchup. He will have also benefited from missing the Italy game, and be in peak condition for Saturday.

Moon was a surprise call-up to the England squad for some, and he will have to assert his dominance in the early stages in Cardiff if he wants to prove his doubters wrong.

Evans may be superior in the scrum, but if Moon can replicate his industrious, hard-working performances he has put in for Exeter this season, he may come out on top in terms of metres and tackles made across the course of the game.

Gareth Anscombe vs Owen Farrell

Owen Farrell’s displays in the first two games of this competition have further cemented his status as one of the world’s best fly-halves.

With no disrespect to Gareth Anscombe, who is a tremendously intelligent number ten, it would take a serious performance from Welshman to outshine Eddie Jones’ golden boy.

Farrell’s stats so far dwarf those of his counterpart – he has already racked up 29 points compared to Anscombe’s 6, he has a higher goal-kicking accuracy (71% compared to 60%), and he has a higher average gain (27.5m compared to 18m).

It is not just Farrell’s attacking prowess that makes him such a daunting opponent; his defensive play has improved massively over the last few seasons. He has already made 22 tackles across the first two rounds.

Anscombe has however shown what positive impact he can have on this Wales team. Prior to his introduction against Italy, Wales were lacklustre in attack and looked pedestrian at times. With Anscombe’s kicking from hand, the Welsh backs looked far more dangerous and dynamic.

Gatland’s decision to select Anscombe ahead of Dan Biggar for such a crucial game highlights his trust in the 27-year-old.

If Anscombe is to come out on top in this battle though, he will primarily have to be more clinical from the tee. A 60% kick success rate against this England side will not go unpunished.

George North vs Jonny May

Jonny May is yet another England player who seems to be hitting their best form in this year’s Six Nations. He currently leads the way in the try-scoring charts with four, and was electric in England’s demolition of France.

In comparison, George North is beginning to look back to his rampaging best after a difficult period with injuries. His brace against France in round one demonstrated his devastating pace, power and finishing ability.

He was one of the victims of Warren Gatland’s many changes for the game against Italy, so the game on Saturday will be his first chance to add to his tally.

North’s defensive ability will also be under scrutiny against England, should Jones’ side be as dominant as they have in the first two games. His sheer physical presence may offer a different challenge for England’s back three who have been so fluid so far this competition.

Although May and North may not be playing directly opposite each other on the pitch, their roles as their respective team’s talisman makes this a key battle.

It may be the case that the winger that is more clinical when they get the chance, and whoever scores more points on Saturday, is on the winning side.

Gareth Davies vs Ben Youngs

Ben Youngs seems to have finally established himself as Eddie Jones’ first-choice scrum-half, amid stiff competition in the position during the head coaches reign.

The Leicester Tigers man has started both games in the Six Nations, and has missed just 11 minutes across the two rounds.

In comparison, Gareth Davies is Warren Gatland’s third different starting number nine. Davies has played just 46 minutes across Wales’ first two games, with Tomos Williams and Aled Davies favoured ahead of the Scarlets man.

Despite this, Davies has managed to gain more metres than Youngs so far in the competition – The Welshman has made 22m, compared to the Englishman’s 17m.

Youngs however, has been much more secure in possession. Davies has twice as many handling errors (4) than Youngs (2), in a much shorter space of time.

This highlights a new Ben Youngs that Eddie Jones has moulded; he has cut out silly mistakes from his game, albeit at the expense of some the poaching he was known for in his younger years.

His change in style may have negatively impacted his individual stats, but his overall contribution to the team has been massively positive.

Davies will try to be as much of a nuisance to the England back-row as he can in Cardiff, and if he is able to retain possession, his small gains may prove to be vital to any Wales success.

6 Nations

British & Irish Lions issue Tour Update

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Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

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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