Wales head coach Warren Gatland thinks the enormity of a crucial Six Nations clash in Cardiff on Saturday could be challenging for the temperament of England's "time-bomb" Kyle Sinckler.

Prop Sinckler had an altercation with Peter O'Mahony in the win over Ireland and was reminded to adhere to "rugby values" by referee Nigel Owens following a clash with France's Arthur Iturria at Twickenham.

Gatland, who selected Sinckler for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017, would not be surprised to see Sinckler sailing close to the wind again in the heat of the battle at the Principality Stadium.

"There is a challenge sometimes with his temperament. He's aware of it. Other players are aware of it. We've already seen in the Six Nations that he has been involved in a couple of incidents," said the New Zealander.

"Hopefully, we don't get dragged into that on Saturday. Emotionally, he can be a bit of a time-bomb. I am not saying anything that people aren't aware of.

"Look, we won't be going out there trying to antagonise him, because that's not in our make-up. We will just go out there and play.

"Hopefully, he goes out and has a good game and is able to keep his emotions in control, because that's a big challenge for him."

Eddie Jones will not try and dissuade Manu Tuilagi from turning his back on England by making a lucrative move to Racing 92.

Tuilagi has reportedly held talks over a move to Paris when his Leicester Tigers contract expires at the end of the season.

The 27-year-old has forced his way into the England starting line-up after putting his injury woes behind him to make a long-awaited comeback last year, but a switch to the Top 14 would effectively make him unavailable for Test rugby.

England head coach Jones says only Tuilagi can decide what his future holds.

"We just have fun about it. [We] give him baguettes, croissants, wear berets. Good fun." the Australian said ahead of England's crunch Six Nations clash with Wales on Saturday.

"As long as he doesn't get on the Eurostar between now and Saturday I've got no comment on it because all I'm worried about is Saturday.

"I don't decide what he does for his family. Every player has a family situation they have got to look after and I want them to look after their families.

"He is in our family at the moment and we want him to play well for us - that is our only concern right now. He's got to make a decision and what decision he makes will be up to him. He's a massively important part of our team. The guys like playing with him, they love him.

"He loves playing with the team and that is his only concern at the moment."

England's trip to Wales looks primed to be a pivotal clash in the outcome of this year's Six Nations and the mind games started early.

Eddie Jones described Warren Gatland's outfit as "the greatest Welsh team ever", although the Wales coach was quick to reject that claim.

Jones is likely to be trying to deflect pressure and attention away from his side after England installed themselves as tournament favourites with a victory in Ireland followed by a dominant home success against France.

Wales are the other side with a 100 per cent record in this year's competition, but Scotland and Ireland are still in with a shot at claiming the title and will have a keen eye on events in Cardiff.

With the help of Opta, we take a statistical look at the third round of matches.

France v Scotland

A chastening 44-8 loss at Twickenham left France reeling and a showdown with Scotland no longer provides the historical comfort it once might have.

France won 15 of their first 16 Six Nations matches against Scotland but have lost two of the previous three.

Greig Laidlaw will have a personal milestone on his radar, requiring just two points to overtake Gavin Hastings (667) as Scotland’s second top points scorer behind Chris Paterson (809).

 

Wales v England

Everything points to a nail-biting clash in the Welsh capital on Saturday, despite England's relative dominance of this fixture.

Each of the last five meetings between the two in the Six Nations have been won by England, but the most recent four of those triumphs have been by a margin smaller than that of a converted try.

Wales will have their sights set on a slice of history, knowing that beating England would make it a national record 12 wins in a row.

Italy v Ireland

Italy have come away from their first two games empty handed and the omens against reigning champions Ireland do not bode well.

Ireland have won 18 of their 19 Six Nations games versus Italy, who themselves have been beaten in 33 of their last 34 fixtures with tier-one opponents.

There is one thing going in the hosts' favour, though, as their last win at the Stadio Olimpico in the Six Nations came in 2013 against Ireland.

Chris Silverwood is in contention to succeed Trevor Bayliss as England head coach, with director of cricket Ashley Giles "99.9 per cent" certain that one person will be appointed to the role.

Giles had previously been open to the idea of employing split coaches for the Test and limited-overs teams when Bayliss leaves his role in September.

But he is now inclined to entrust the position to an individual, believing it will bring "stability in culture as well as voice".

Bowling coach Silverwood, part of a three-man team assisting Bayliss along with Paul Collingwood and Graham Thorpe, impressed Giles when at the helm of Essex, where he won promotion before sealing the County Championship title in 2017. 

"I'll put my cards on the table," Giles told reporters in Barbados on Thursday. "My feeling's now 99.9 per cent that we should have one coach.

"One coach gives us stability in culture as well as voice. But I see it as one guy in charge – and prepared for time off – and three assistant coaches, not just one, that work together and help share the burden. We'll see the start of that shape going into World Cup.

"Paul Collingwood will be involved in the World Cup, but he is not replacing Paul Farbrace [who leaves for Warwickshire next month]. I think having one assistant puts a lot of pressure on that person.

"Spoons [Silverwood] is a candidate, yes. Seeing what he did as head coach of Essex was remarkable. They were a bit of a shambles when he came and, in two years, he'd turned them round completely.

"And he's got a nice way about him. He's a tough bloke, with a fair amount of discipline, but he communicates really well. We know he's capable."

Vishwa Fernando and Kasun Rajitha took three wickets apiece as history-chasing Sri Lanka dismissed South Africa for 222 on day one of the second Test at St George's Park.

No Asian nation has won a Test series in South Africa, but Sri Lanka could become the first after a sensational victory at Kingsmead and they made a promising start in Port Elizabeth.

Needing to avoid defeat in order to go down in the record books, Vishwa (3-62) and Rajitha (3-67) excelled on a grassy pitch as the Proteas were bowled out early in the final session.

South Africa slumped to 15-3 before Aiden Markram (60) and Quinton de Kock (86) spared their blushes and Sri Lanka were 60-3 in reply at stumps, Duanne Olivier taking 2-25.

Vishwa offered great support for Kusal Perera in a record match-winning 10th wicket stand in Durban after starring with the ball and the paceman gave Sri Lanka a dream start on Thursday.

The left-armer removed Dean Elgar's off stump and produced a peach of a delivery to clean up Hashim Amla first ball in a magnificent sixth over.

Temba Bavuma only just survived the hat-trick ball and fell without scoring when he was run out by a direct hit from Rajitha at the non-striker's end.

South Africa were in the mire on 15-3 when Faf du Plessis strolled out to the middle not long after winning the toss and the captain was content to hang in there as Vishwa continued to steam in, generating movement and bounce.

Markram was in great touch, playing glorious drives on both sides of the wicket as Du Plessis dug in at the other end, but captain Dimuth Karunaratne yorked his opposite number for 25 in his first over on the stroke of lunch to end a stand of 58.

The stylish Markram had a deserved sixth Test half-century early in the afternoon session and looked untroubled until he was trapped in front by Rajitha, who quickly dismissed debutant Wiaan Mulder in the same fashion.

South Africa were 157-7 when Keshav Maharaj became the excellent Rajitha's third victim, but De Kock played with great fluency in a typically attacking knock.

De Kock brought up his half-century from only 51 balls before Kagiso Rabada (22) was dropped by Dhananjaya de Silva and Lasith Embuldeniya, who was left with blood streaming from his thumb after putting down a simple chance off his own bowling.

Wicketkeeper-batsman De Kock needed treatment on his left leg, but that did not stop him from hooking and driving Vishwa to the boundary before he was bowled by De Silva (2-15).

De Silva and Vishwa mopped up the tail, then Olivier saw the back of Oshada Fernando and Kusal Mendis after Rabada had Karunaratne caught behind to leave the match well poised.

Warren Gatland distanced himself from the notion put forward by England coach Eddie Jones that this Wales team is the best of all time.

Jones made the comments ahead of England's visit to Cardiff on Saturday, when the two sides boasting 100 per cent records in this year's Six Nations will meet in a crunch clash.

The Australian insisted this was "the greatest Welsh side ever", but Gatland does not feel his charges are at that level.

"The only quotes I can see about this being the greatest Wales team are from Eddie Jones," said Gatland.

"It hasn't come from anyone else, so I wouldn't be disrespectful enough to say this was the greatest Welsh team ever.

"It's a long way off being the greatest Welsh team ever. He's the one talking us up."

Wales would make history with a win, setting a new national record of 12 victories on the bounce, and Gatland believes home advantage could prove key, while England's decision to head across the border the day before the game may also be telling. 

"The big challenge for England is five of their forward pack, it's the first time they're starting at the Principality Stadium," he said. 

"I think England are making a significant mistake by travelling tomorrow [Friday], coming through Newport at about five o'clock is probably not the best thing to be doing, going through the Brynglas tunnels.

"There's a good chance there could be tractors and buses holding them up. That's going to be an experience for them."

Gatland has opted for Gareth Anscombe over Dan Biggar in his starting line-up, while Gareth Davies will start at scrum-half.

Gareth Anscombe has been preferred to Dan Biggar in Wales' starting line-up for the Six Nations blockbuster showdown with England in Cardiff on Saturday.

Anscombe is restored to the side after Biggar came in at number 10 for the victory over Italy before the rest weekend.

Biggar will be among the replacements at the Principality Stadium after recovering from a knee injury sustained while playing for Northampton Saints last Saturday.

Gareth Davies starts at scrum-half as Warren Gatland rings the changes following a win over the Azzurri that leaves Wales and England as the only sides to have won both matches.

Wales head coach Gatland said: "We are really happy with the experience we have got in the side. We have been on the road for the first two weeks, we are looking forward to being back at home and to build on those first two wins and to build on our performance.

"We've had a great two-week lead up to this game, we've looked really sharp and the squad are incredibly motivated to kick on.

"We know how important this game is for the rest of the championship. It's a massive challenge playing against an England team that is playing really well and with a lot of confidence and we've got to make it difficult for them on Saturday."

Leigh Halfpenny trained with the team this week but will not have the chance to make his first appearance since sustaining a concussion against Australia in November.

 

Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin.

 

Pete Horne starts at fly-half in one of four changes to the Scotland team to face France in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Gregor Townsend has turned to Horne in the absence of Finn Russell, who was ruled out with a head injury, so Adam Hastings has to settle for a place on the bench.

Blair Kinghorn is restored to the side in place of full-back Stuart Hogg (shoulder), while centre Nick Grigg replaces Huw Jones (knee) at Stade de France.

The other change is in the back row, with Magnus Bradbury handed a Six Nations debut after Ryan Wilson (knee) was ruled out.

Scotland head coach Townsend said: "Injuries create opportunities for others to show what they can do and, throughout the past couple of seasons, we've seen a number of players really step up.

"All of the players coming in started against Argentina in the summer, which ranks as one of our best-ever away performances.

"On top of that there is cohesion forged through familiarity at club level – Magnus in the back row lines up with club-mate Jamie Ritchie, and Pete Horne and Nick Grigg are either side of Sam Johnson in the backs."

 

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Sam Johnson, Sean Maitland, Pete Horne, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Allan Dell, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Josh Strauss.

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Alex Allan, Zander Fagerson, Ben Toolis, Gary Graham, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Darcy Graham.

Ben Moon and Jack Nowell have been named in the starting line-up for England's crunch Six Nations clash with Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

Moon gets the nod after influential prop Mako Vunipola suffered a tournament-ending ankle injury in the thrashing of France last time out.

Nowell will be back on the right wing at the Principality Stadium in the absence of Chris Ashton, who misses out due to a calf strain.

Joe Cokanasiga, Brad Shields, Ellis Genge and Harry Williams have been named among the replacements as both sides look to make it three wins out of three.

England head coach Eddie Jones said: "England and Wales is always a big game.

"Intense rivals and there is the historical context to it, but for us it is our most important game because it is our next game and that is how we are treating it.

"As you have read in the media, it's all about Wales, we are playing potentially the greatest team ever. Their players are full of emotion and it's the biggest game they are going to play in their lives.

"We have had a good week just focusing on ourselves and focusing on getting our preparation right."

 

England: Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (captain), Ben Youngs; Ben Moon, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Harry Williams, Joe Launchbury, Brad Shields, Dan Robson, George Ford, Joe Cokanasiga.

Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne believes the Port Elizabeth pitch offers the tourists the chance to make history in South Africa this week.

After the sensational one-wicket victory in the first contest in Durban, Sri Lanka could claim their first Test-series win in South Africa if they can avoid defeat at St George's Park.

Kusal Perera rescued the tourists at Kingsmead with an incredible batting performance that saw him score 153 of their 304-run second-innings target.

Karunaratne hopes the rest of his side's batting line-up will be able to assist more in Port Elizabeth, particularly on a pitch that is not as conducive to fast bowling like the ones in previous Tests.

"We had a tough two games in Australia on fast and bouncy wickets," the skipper told reporters.

"We consistently got pitches where bowlers were bowling 150kph. But I told my team-mates that here it's much easier than in Australia.

"You have to get better, from that experience. You have to keep your head clear and play positively. 

"I think we saw that in the last game. This Port Elizabeth pitch is a pretty good wicket compared to the others, like Johannesburg, which is fast and bouncy. We have a good batting wicket here.

"We came here to win matches, I just want to make sure the boys give their maximum each day."

 

 

Faf du Plessis warned South Africa must raise their game if they are to avoid a first home Test series defeat to Sri Lanka.

Kusal Perera was the hero with a magnificent unbeaten 153 to seal a sensational one-wicket victory in the first Test at Kingsmead.

Du Plessis said the Proteas were taken by surprise in Durban, having gone into the match as strong favourites given the on and off-field issues Sri Lanka have had to contend with.

South Africa have won five and drawn one of their last six Tests in Port Elizabeth, but captain Du Plessis knows they will have to step it up to avoid making unwanted history.

"We're very proud about our record - we have made sure that we've made our home a fortress," said the skipper.

"For the last two years or so, I don't think we played a bad game against Sri Lanka at home. But we need to be better to beat them."

The batsman added: "They surprised us with the way they played in Durban, but here there will be bit of sideways movement.

"In Durban, there's not a lot of that. Kingsmead has always [offered] a five-wicket haul for spinners. Here, although the spinner plays a role, I don't think that much help will be there."

All-rounder Wiaan Mulder could make his South Africa Test debut in the absence of Vernon Philander (hamstring).

 

 

Josh Strauss will be available for Scotland's Six Nations clash with France on Saturday despite losing his passport.

Strauss was in danger of missing the encounter after misplacing his South African travel document ahead of the trip to Paris.

The Scottish Rugby Union on Wednesday confirmed to Omnisport the issue has been resolved and the back row will be in contention to take on Les Bleus.

That will come as a relief to Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, who has already lost Finn Russell (concussion) and Stuart Hogg (shoulder).

Scotland are third in the table after a 22-13 defeat to Ireland before the rest weekend.

Right now the 2019 Cricket World Cup is now the focus for most international sides but England and Australia know this is also an Ashes year.

Plenty can change between now and the first Test at Edgbaston, which starts on August 1, as demonstrated in recent months.

Not too long ago, England were riding high after securing a series sweep in Sri Lanka, while Australia had lost a series at home for the first time against India.

Since then, however, Joe Root's side slipped up against West Indies and Australia returned to winning ways on home soil, crushing the Sri Lankans.

So, before the 50-over game takes centre stage, we grasped the chance to assess the state of the two rival nations.

BATTING

England began their busy winter without a clear idea over the identity of their top three in the order. Now, several months and six Tests later, they seem further away from finding a solution than when they left home. 

Keaton Jennings did make a century on Sri Lankan soil, but his problems against seam bowling were exposed once again in the Caribbean. Rory Burns fared better in the 2-1 series defeat, yet is still far from certain of his place in the Test XI. 

Joe Denly made his debut in Antigua, opening instead of the dropped Jennings, yet ended the West Indies series at number three and made 69 during the second innings in St Lucia.

It all leaves the top-order picture unclear. Candidates from outside the previous two touring parties know a stack of early runs in the County Championship will push them into contention That is easier said than done, though, considering the domestic schedule and pitches favouring seam early in the English summer.

At least the rest of the line-up is more settled. With Root locked in at four, England appear set to have Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, who briefly went up to three before resuming duties behind the stumps, in the middle order. That quartet can power the team to competitive totals, provided they get better protection from those above them.

Much like their opponents, the batting order undoubtedly remains the biggest question mark for Australia, even though the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner from suspension will provide a huge boost.

The series against India and Sri Lanka did little to ease doubts over the top order, with the former's seamers dominating. Opener Marcus Harris was Australia's leading run-scorer against India with 258 at 36.85 but, for plenty of positive signs, his inability to convert starts into big scores hurt the team.

Joe Burns' big ton against Sri Lanka may be enough to get him a spot, while Travis Head has locked down his. Usman Khawaja scored what may have been a place-saving century in Canberra, having looked out of touch throughout the Australian summer.

 

The Australian Men's Cricket team celebrate the end of a successful Domain Test Series against Sri Lanka, winning 2-0 to claim the Warne–Muralitharan Trophypic.twitter.com/XJEMTmV06N

— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) February 4, 2019

Kurtis Patterson also reached three figures versus Sri Lanka and may grab the final spot in the top six, although the remainder of the Sheffield Shield season could be decisive.

Shaun Marsh has surely lost his Test place for a final time, but he has continually scored runs at domestic level - not that that has mattered for the Shield's leading run-scorer this season in Matthew Wade. Aaron Finch, meanwhile, endured a miserable campaign after being asked to open.

Even during the successful series over Sri Lanka, Australia found themselves in tough spots at 76-3, 28-3 and 37-3. But they have been playing without their two best batsmen in Warner and Smith, the latter's ability to steady an innings and make big scores a particular miss.

Their returns may not solve Australia's problems but will help, although English conditions will provide yet another huge test.


BOWLING

Let us start with Australia, who, barring injuries, appear far more settled in this area of their team.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are sidelined with pectoral and back injuries respectively, though their places are safe. Neither reached any great heights during the Australian summer, but Starc did find form against Sri Lanka, grabbing a 10-wicket Test haul in Canberra.

The pace attack was led by Pat Cummins instead, who was impressive and deserved greater rewards against India. Those duly arrived along with Sri Lanka as he took 14 wickets at 7.78. His 28 wickets were the most by an Australian across the six Tests. Such was his form, it was suggested Cummins should be taking the new ball.

In a further good sign on the pace front for Australia, Jhye Richardson replaced Hazlewood versus Sri Lanka and was handy. The 22-year-old took six wickets in the series.

Nathan Lyon enjoyed another strong summer and was, alongside Cummins, Australia's best bowler against India. The off-spinner finished that series with an equal-high 21 wickets – alongside the hugely impressive Jasprit Bumrah – to lift Australia as Starc and Hazlewood largely struggled.

Australia will need more from Starc and Hazlewood during the Ashes, and the latter will certainly enjoy the seaming conditions not often offered on flat wickets at home. But with Cummins also approaching his best, Australia have yet another pace option capable of causing England problems.

England, meanwhile, chopped and changed their attack in overseas conditions, but will likely revert to a more tried-and-tested battery of seamers on home turf.

Stuart Broad may not be a regular on the team's travels anymore, but he will undoubtedly play a leading role in the Ashes, alongside the evergreen James Anderson. 

Moeen Ali also is locked in as the frontline spinner – England are unlikely to pick two unless the conditions at any of the venues are certain to suit – and, while his form with the bat has dipped over the past year, the all-rounder has taken 177 Test wickets in 58 Test appearances. 

With Stokes - fitness permitting - certain to be in the team too, England appear to have one seamer spot up for grabs.

Mark Wood burst back onto the Test scene with a scintillating spell in St Lucia that the national selectors will struggle to forget. The Durham paceman’s injury record makes him far from a certainty to complete such a congested series, even if two fragile-looking batting units suggest there could be a few extra days of rest.

Sam Curran was England's new golden boy at the end of 2018 before his reputation lost a little shine on pitches that failed to suit in the Caribbean, while Olly Stone's tour was cut short by a back injury. Wood was his replacement and may well have skipped to the front of the queue with his five-wicket haul.


CURRENT OUTLOOK

England are favourites to regain the urn on home soil, mainly due to the fact Australia have not won an Ashes away series since 2001.

The hosts prevailed 3-2 four years ago and a repeat result would not be a surprise, considering how both teams are strong in the bowling department. The tourists' hopes may rest on Smith and Warner quickly settling back in, but previous issues for the Aussies against the moving ball may once again come back to haunt them.

Like Swiss cheese, these teams have holes. However, their problems - plus being prone to batting collapses - should make for entertaining viewing.

Lock Iain Henderson is set to be involved in the Six Nations for the first time this year after linking up with the Ireland squad.

Henderson was named in the initial group for the tournament, yet a finger injury kept him out of the opening two matches against England and Scotland.

But having made his return ahead of schedule for Ulster last week, the 26-year-old has been named in the squad to face Italy in Rome this weekend, along with Tadhg Beirne, who has also been out.

A citing complaint has been made against Henderson for an incident in the game against Ospreys on Friday.

It was confirmed earlier in the week that Chris Farrell had been in full training despite a head injury last time out and he makes the 34-man group, but not all of Ireland's fitness concerns have been eased.

Garry Ringrose and Rhys Ruddock are both suffering with hamstring issues and will continue rehabilitation with Leinster.

Meanwhile, Will Addison is not involved as he experiences back stiffness and remains with Ulster.

South Africa have confirmed Vernon Philander will miss the second Test against Sri Lanka due to a hamstring problem.

The injury-prone seamer bowled only eight overs in the second innings of the opening Test at Kingsmead as the tourists chased down 304 to win by one wicket in remarkable scenes.

And if the Proteas are to prevail in Port Elizabeth and secure a 1-1 series draw, they will have to do so without Philander, who has 214 Test wickets at an average of 21.64.

"Injury update from the Proteas camp: Vernon Philander will miss the second Test against Sri Lanka due to a hamstring injury. There will be no replacement added to the squad," read a Cricket South Africa statement.

The second Test at St George's Park gets under way on Thursday.

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