Captain Johnny Sexton and wing Jordan Larmour are expected to be fit for Ireland's opening game of the Six Nations against Scotland.

Sexton has not featured since early last month due to a knee injury but hopes to play a full part in training on Thursday.

The fly-half is optimistic he will be ready to lead his country when they take on Scotland at the Aviva Stadium a week on Saturday, having been named as skipper for the tournament by new head coach Andy Farrell.

"Everything's been going to plan, so hopefully I'll take a full part in training tomorrow," said Sexton. 

"I've had no setbacks, once everything goes smoothly in training I'll be available for selection. I think everyone wants to be captain, it's an honour that I was asked to do it. 

"Obviously it's a campaign by campaign thing at the moment [being skipper], so we'll see how it goes over the next eight weeks."

Larmour damaged his foot in Leinster's European Champions Cup victory over Benetton last weekend, but Farrell is hopeful the flyer will be available for the opening weekend of the Six Nations.

Farrell said: "We met up yesterday and had a bit of a walk-through so he was able to partake in that. We'll take it day by day, it's not serious but we'll see how it goes.

"Obviously there're some new guys who are going to freshen things up, but it's not just about that, it's a matter of picking people in form."

Wales full-back Liam Williams will miss the first game of the Six Nations against Italy but uncapped teenager Louis Rees-Zammit is expected to be fit.

Williams has not played since sustaining an ankle injury during the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall expected the Scarlets-bound British and Irish Lion to return against the Azzurri on February 1.

New Wales head coach Wayne Pivac says Williams will not feature at the Principality Stadium, but hopes he will make his comeback in a blockbuster clash against Ireland in Dublin a week later. 

"Liam is on for round two of the competition, he won't make the first game." said Pivac.

Pivac had more positive news of 18-year-old wing Rees-Zammit, who limped out of Gloucester's European Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse last Sunday with an ankle knock but could make his debut when Wales start the defence of their title.

"Louis picked up a bit of a bump last week, he's worked well with the medical team and he'll hopefully be training this morning, doing some running with the boys," Pivac said at the Six Nations launch on Wednesday.

"He'll go back to his club this weekend and then we'll get him back next week."

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones says the 2019 Grand Slam winners will need time to adjust in a new era under Pivac, who replaced the long-serving Warren Gatland after the World Cup.

The lock said: "It is going to be a bumpy road and we cannot shy away from that. There has been a lot of change and, to a point, we have to cut ties with that.

"But if you continue to look over your shoulder, you will slow yourself down. If we are going to evolve, there are a few more things to adapt to, and that is what you want to do.

"I was asked earlier about desire, and why you keep going, and I just remember why I started. I want to play rugby and I want to be involved with Wales.

"It is Wayne's world now and I am looking forward to what is to come."

Michael Hooper has relinquished the Waratahs captaincy to experienced lock Rob Simmons for the 2020 Super Rugby season.

Simmons, 30, will lead the team into next weekend's clash with the Crusaders after Hooper gave up the role he took on a full-time basis in 2016.

The Wallabies skipper said the "taxing" nature of his dual leadership positions contributed to the decision.

Kurtley Beale will serve as Simmons' deputy.

"This is something that has been on my mind, in this environment, for a good 18 months," Hooper told reporters. "It hasn't been something that's been on a whim or anything like that.

"There's much more than just leading the team out on the park.

"I went into last season fully committed to the role but also before that having question marks over my position as captain."

However, star flanker Hooper indicated he wanted to continue captaining his country under new Australia head coach Dave Rennie.

"That's a fair way away, but my thoughts and ideas around that have not changed," the 28-year-old said.

"I still do think I have a lot of growing in myself, in my gameplay and my captaincy.

"There are conversations Dave and myself will be having, I'm sure, in the future. But it's also a bit of time off, so I'm dealing with the here and now and what that will look like."

Meanwhile, New Zealand international Patrick Tuipulotu has taken over as sole captain of the Blues after sharing the job with Blake Gibson last season.

Will Skelton has been banned for four weeks for a dangerous late tackle on Brice Dulin in beleaguered Saracens' crucial European Champions Cup win over Racing 92 on Sunday.

Skelton was shown a red card just before half-time at Allianz Park after his shoulder struck full-back Dulin's head.

Sarries went on to win 27-24, setting up a quarter-final at Leinster, a day after their relegation to the Championship at the end of the season was confirmed due to salary-cap breaches.

Skelton attended an independent disciplinary hearing in London on Tuesday and the Australian is set to miss the European champions' Premiership clash with Harlequins, two encounters with Sale Sharks – in the league and Premiership Rugby Cup – and a top-flight game at Wasps.

The towering 27-year-old's guilty plea, good disciplinary record and expression of remorse were taken into account when his sanction was handed out.

Skelton will be available to return against Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens on February 29.

Sarries travel to Dublin to face Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in a repeat of last year's final in the first week of April.

 

 

In-demand Wales wing Steff Evans has ended speculation over his future by signing a new deal with the Scarlets.

The 25-year-old flyer attracted interest from France as he neared the end of his contract.

Evans has decided to remain with his home region ahead of the Six Nations, with no mention from the Scarlets of the length of his new deal.

Capped 13 times by the Six Nations champions, Evans said: "I am loving my rugby here at the moment so it was an easy decision to stay with the Scarlets.

"The coaches have built a great environment that all the players are buying into and there's a real buzz about the place at the moment.

"This is my home region, I grew up watching the Scarlets and to have made more than 100 appearances is an achievement I am hugely proud of.

"The squad here is as strong as it has been since I have been here and I really feel there are exciting times ahead.

"The boys have been playing some great rugby this season, we are still alive in two competitions and I am looking forward to playing my part in what should be an exciting few months to come."

Steve Borthwick is to take over as head coach of Leicester Tigers with Geordan Murphy appointed as director of rugby.

Murphy was appointed as full-time coach in December 2018 after an interim stint but the Tigers have struggled badly this season and are second bottom of the Premiership table with just two wins from 11 matches.

The Tigers have consequently opted for a reshuffle which will see Borthwick move to Welford Road at the end of his commitment to England.

Borthwick was forwards coach for an England side who reached the Rugby World Cup final and is working as skills coach under Eddie Jones for the upcoming Six Nations.

"The last four-and-a-half years working with the England team has been an incredible journey. I have worked with some brilliant players and staff," Borthwick told Leicester's official website. 

"In particular I would like thank Eddie Jones. To have worked with one of the greatest head coaches in the world for so long has been an unbelievable experience.

"I am delighted to be joining Leicester Tigers as head coach. The Tigers have such a long and successful history and are one of the greatest rugby clubs in the game. 

"Welford Road, with the special atmosphere created by the club's incredible supporters roaring their team forward, is a very special place to be.

"We must now work to build upon that great history and create our future to get this club to the top of European rugby. It is a brilliant challenge and I am excited to start working with the players and everybody associated with the team.

"Geordan provides a link with the club's greatest teams and we will be working together to ensure that there are many successful days ahead for this club, and for our supporters to enjoy."

Murphy enjoyed a legendary playing with the Tigers, winning eight Premiership titles and back-to-back Heineken Cups and the Irishman welcomed the addition of Borthwick.

"The players and staff have all been working incredibly hard to get the club back on a pathway to where we all want to be, at the top of the professional game," Murphy said.

"We have been building a lot of the foundations around recruitment and retention of the playing squad and the success of our academy structure, and we look forward to Steve's arrival to drive the playing squad onwards.

"Steve is a world-class coach with the skills and determination to get the best out of everyone around him."

Eddie Jones will encourage his players to voice their grievances over the Saracens salary-cap scandal when the England squad assembles before the Six Nations.

Rugby World Cup finalists England are due to begin a seven-day training camp in Portugal on Thursday ahead of their clash with France on February 2.

Jones confirmed he would hold clear-the-air talks in a bid to root out any tension stemming from the Sarries' salary-cap breaches, which resulted in a £5.36million fine and relegation from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje were among seven Sarries stars named in a 34-man England squad on Monday.

"We have got to get everything out on the table," Jones told reporters. "It's common sense. Say what you feel.

"If players are angry about it then say it. At the end of the day, there are 34 players that all want to play for England. Their job is to get ready to play for England.

"We will help them sort it out. I don't envisage any problems at all, in fact I think it is an opportunity for the team to get tighter. They wouldn't be in the squad if they weren't in the right mindset."

Jones admitted the meeting might not reach an easy resolution as England seek to move forward in the aftermath of their World Cup heartbreak against South Africa.

"We are not robots," he said. "You don't know how long it is going to take. It could take longer, but we will sort it out.

"We have got players from potentially 12 different clubs - 12 different ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

"We are like a family around the dinner table, someone wants to have pasta for dinner and the other one wants to have rice. They have a debate and that is ongoing in the national team."

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey has been called up to Ireland's squad for the Six Nations.

Initially omitted from Andy Farrell's 35-man panel, McCloskey was added to the group ahead of a training camp in Portugal.

His inclusion comes after Chris Farrell missed Munster's Champions Cup win over Ospreys, the centre ruled out because of a knee injury.

"Stu has been playing well over the past few weeks," Andy Farrell said.

"Centre is a very competitive area in the squad and with a few backs picking up small niggles at the weekend, Stu is the form back who will now be added to the group to give us some extra options."

Jack Nowell missed out on a place in England's Six Nations squad as he is set to undergo ankle surgery.

Eddie Jones on Monday named eight uncapped players in a 34-man squad that did not include versatile Exeter Chiefs back Nowell.

Exeter revealed via Twitter the 26-year-old, like team-mate Henry Slade, was not deemed fit enough to feature in the tournament despite playing in the European Champions Cup victory over La Rochelle on Saturday.

Nowell recovered from an ankle operation to play in the Rugby World Cup last year, but the Chiefs confirmed he will go under the knife again.

Centre Slade is recovering from a broken leg sustained against Leicester Tigers in December.

Jack Nowell has not been included in the England Six Nations squad, with Eddie Jones calling up eight uncapped players.

Dan Cole and Ben Spencer also missed out on Jones' 34-man squad for the tournament, which England begin with an away clash against France on February 2.

The omission of versatile back Nowell was the biggest surprise of the 10 players from England's Rugby World Cup squad who are not selected, many of whom are injured - including Billy Vunipola (broken arm).

Capped 34 times by his country, the 26-year-old has played regularly for Exeter Chiefs despite struggling with his recovery from an ankle injury suffered prior to the World Cup and reports suggest he will now undergo a second operation.

Alex Moon, Fraser Dingwall and Jacob Umaga earn call-ups for the first time, along with George Furbank and Will Stuart.

Tom Dunn, Ben Earl and Ollie Thorley have been in previous squads and have another chance to make their England debuts.

Alex Mitchell and Josh Hodge are called up as apprentice players.

Seven Saracens players earned a selection after the news the European champions will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of the season.

The squad will meet at Pennyhill Park on Wednesday to begin their Six Nations preparation, before flying to Portugal a day later.

Jones said: "It is always about winning the next game so we have picked the best squad available. 

"At the same time we wanted to bring some young players in because we need to keep building our depth so for those new players it is an exciting opportunity for them.

"The first three days will be about getting organised. We have got players from 11 clubs so we need to get everyone on the same page quickly and spend a lot of time working on our togetherness.

"Then by Tuesday next week we are in Test preparation for France."
 

England squad: 

Forwards: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom Curry, Tom Dunn, Ben Earl, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Ted Hill, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marler, Alex Moon, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart, Sam Underhill, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams.

Backs: Elliot Daly, Ollie Devoto, Fraser Dingwall, Owen Farrell (captain), George Ford, George Furbank, Willi Heinz, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May, Ollie Thorley, Manu Tuilagi, Jacob Umaga, Anthony Watson, Ben Youngs.

Billy Vunipola looks set to miss the entire Six Nations after Saracens confirmed the England number eight suffered a broken arm in their European Champions Cup victory over Racing 92.

Vunipola was hurt in the early stages of Sunday's contest at Allianz Park, with fears he had suffered a fracture that would lead to a lengthy lay-off.

In a statement on Monday, Saracens confirmed the 27-year-old had broken his arm for the fourth time in the last two years.

Although the European champions did not put a timescale on his recovery, it appears certain Vunipola will miss the Six Nations, which runs from February 1 to March 14.

Saracens' statement read: "Billy Vunipola has suffered a broken arm.

"He will see a consultant over the coming days to determine the full extent of the injury before undergoing rehabilitation."

The news also represents a significant blow to Sarries, who have endured a nightmare week with confirmation of their impending relegation from the Premiership due to salary cap breaches.

With the club set to play in the second tier of English rugby in 2020-21, the futures of their England internationals, including Vunipola, have come under scrutiny.

Billy Vunipola is a major doubt for England's Six Nations campaign after sustaining a suspected broken arm on Sunday.

The number eight went off in the sixth minute of Saracens' 27-24 victory over Racing 92, a result that proved sufficient to ensure the week in which it was confirmed they would be demoted from the Premiership after breaching salary cap rules ended with progression to the European Champions Cup quarter-finals.

Vunipola has previously broken his right arm twice and his left arm once in the past two years and looks set to miss out on a place in Eddie Jones' Six Nations squad, which is set to be announced on Monday.

"They suspect a broken arm," said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall. "I hope it's not. I don't think it's been confirmed yet."

The 27-year-old featured in every England game as they finished as 2019 Rugby World Cup runners-up to South Africa.

England begin their Six Nations campaign away to France on February 2.

Saracens will face Leinster in the European Champions Cup quarter-finals - a repeat of last season's final - after the scandal-hit London club finally found something to smile about.

Breaches of Premiership Rugby's salary cap have seen Saracens hit with a severe punishment, with the club told on Saturday they will be demoted from the top tier of English rugby at the end of the season.

Their domestic achievements and their dominance of the Champions Cup, which they have won in three of the past four seasons, have come in for fresh scrutiny since it emerged Saracens had broken the rules.

Director of rugby Mark McCall told his players to set the off-pitch problems aside on Sunday, and a dramatic 27-24 win over Racing 92 proved enough for Saracens to book a last-eight place after Gloucester lost 35-14 to Toulouse later in the day.

Owen Farrell booted a match-winning late penalty for 14-man Saracens, who had Will Skelton sent off in the first half and lost Billy Vunipola to an arm injury.

Two tries from Maro Itoje and one from Mako Vunipola were countered by Racing, whose five-pointers came from Virimi Vakatawa, who dotted down twice, and Louis Dupichot.

Saracens led 17-7 at one stage but were 21-17 behind at the break, turning the game around with Itoje's second try before England captain Farrell nailed a 75th-minute penalty.

At the final whistle, Saracens were not sure of their place in the quarter-finals, with a two-hour wait until that was confirmed.

Racing beat them to top spot in Pool 4, and to grab one of the three last-eight places allocated to the best runners-up Saracens needed Gloucester to fall short against Toulouse.

The Cherry and Whites were well beaten in France, going down by five converted tries to two at Stade Ernest-Wallon, with Romain Ntamack running in two of the Top 14 side's scores.

It means Saracens face another appointment with Leinster, the team they beat 20-10 at St James' Park last May to be crowned European champions.

This time Saracens must travel to Dublin to tackle the 2018 Champions Cup winners.

During Leinster's run to European glory two years ago, Saracens lost away to the Irish outfit in the quarter-finals.

Sunday's other matches involved teams whose run in this competition is over for another year, with Munster beating Ospreys 33-6 and Montpellier grabbing a thrilling 35-29 success against Connacht.

 

Quarter-final line-up (ties to be played on April 3-5):

Clermont Auvergne v Racing 92
Toulouse v Ulster
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints
Leinster v Saracens

Mark McCall has made it clear he intends to remain with Saracens following their relegation, but the director of rugby acknowledges the future of his club's biggest stars may be influenced by England head coach Eddie Jones.

A Premiership Rugby statement on Saturday confirmed Sarries will be demoted from the top flight at the end of the 2019-20 season, following multiple breaches of the competition's salary cap.

Six members of the England team that started last year's World Cup final play for European champions, including captain Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Mako and Billy Vunipola, with significant uncertainty now surrounding their futures.

The London club will not be eligible to play in next term's Champions Cup once they are in the second tier of English rugby, meaning the likes of Farrell and Itoje face a year away from elite club competitions should they stay put.

In an interview with BT Sport ahead of his team's crunch clash with Racing 92 on Sunday, McCall said: "Obviously the news has just come in the last 48 hours, so there's a lot of thinking for us to do and a lot of decisions to make.

"And every player's situation is slightly different - what happens to our established internationals? What does Eddie Jones want to happen to our established internationals, et cetera. et cetera.

"But those decisions and those conversations I think are for another day. Today we just try and get on with the rugby."

Asked about his own future, McCall added: "The one thing now, it feels like there's a line drawn in the sand. We have some real clarity around the future and we can plan for that future and I really want to be part of that.

"I don't think this is the best time to be pointing fingers or trying to apportion blame. This is a time for unity and togetherness. We've got this remarkable playing group who over the last 10 weeks have shown, I think, an incredible amount of resilience given all of the stuff that's been going on off the field."

Saracens have promised to "come back stronger" after the European champions were relegated in disgrace from the Premiership.

The club who won English top flight and European Champions Cup top honours last season will spend next term in the second-tier Championship, after years of salary cap breaches finally caught up with them.

Saracens were docked 35 points and fined £5.36million in November for breaches over each of the past three seasons.

And on Saturday, a second swingeing punishment was announced when Premiership Rugby (PRL), the league's governing body, announced Saracens would be automatically demoted at the end of the current campaign.

The star-studded Saracens squad looks destined to break up, given the unappealing prospect of at least a year in the Championship and no European rugby.

Years of success have come at a high price, and now Saracens have no option but to swallow a bitter pill.

Saracens said in a statement on Sunday: "The board of Saracens wishes to unreservedly apologise for the mistakes made in relation to the salary cap regulations. Our goal is to rebuild confidence and trust."

Former England fly-half Andy Goode claimed on Twitter that the Premiership Rugby ruling against Saracens meant "justice has been served and now we know they have cheated beyond belief".

The club's name will be blackened for many, and their successes - including three Champions Cup wins in the last four years - will be widely considered as tarnished.

The Saracens statement continued: "Following open and frank discussions with PRL, we have accepted the unprecedented measure of automatic relegation from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-2020 season.

"We understand this decision will be difficult for the Saracens family to accept. The board must embody the values of the club, learn from its mistakes so the club can come back stronger.

"It is in the wider interests of the Premiership and English rugby to take this decisive step, to ensure everybody is able once again to focus on the game of rugby, which we all love.

"We hope that we can now start to move forward, begin to restore confidence and over time, rebuild trust with PRL, its stakeholders and the wider rugby community."

The London club are bottom of the Premiership table on minus seven points but have the joint-best record in the division with six wins in eight matches this term.

Six Saracens players started for England in their World Cup final loss to South Africa in November, including national team captain Owen Farrell.

He and international colleagues Elliot Daly, Jamie George, Maro Itoje and Mako and Billy Vunipola may be among those considering their future with the club.

Premiership Rugby recently launched an independent review into the salary cap as a result of the Saracens saga, which will be led by former Treasury minister Lord Myners.

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