Eddie Jones has warned in-form England they must be prepared to face the best Wales side in history in Cardiff later this month.

England moved back top of the Six Nations table with a 44-8 annihilation of France at Twickenham, wing Jonny May scoring half of their six tries on Sunday.

That impressive performance followed a win over reigning champions Ireland in Dublin in England's opening game of the tournament, but Jones is mindful that another stern test awaits in the Welsh capital on February 23.

A much-changed Wales outfit equalled the longest winning run in their Test history with their 11th straight success over Italy in Rome on Saturday and Jones acknowledged England must not let their standards slip.

"There's a lot more in this team and we understand that and we're committed to being the very best we can be," Jones said at a news conference.

"When we get back together on Wednesday we'll start the process of how we can get better again.

"We're playing the greatest Welsh side ever; we're going to have to be at our absolute best.

"You know you're playing against a Warren Gatland side. He's been at the top of the tree in European rugby for the last 15 years, through his club and country and the [British and Irish] Lions.

"You're playing against a tough, physical team. They contest hard at the breakdown. You've got to earn every point against them. We're looking forward to going down there. Should be fun."

May's hat-trick came inside the opening 30 minutes as England constantly exposed space behind France's back-line with a kick-chase tactic.

"Jonny May's like when you go to the park and you see someone with a tennis ball and they throw it, the dog runs 100mph and chases it and brings it back - he does that pretty well," Jones added.

With Henry Slade's try on the stroke of half-time, England had already secured a bonus point.

Two further scores - via a penalty try and Owen Farrell - followed early in the second period but neither team registered a point after the 56th minute.

"The second half I thought our performance was even better," Jones added. "Even though we didn't score as many points, our focus and our discipline to keep France scoreless was outstanding."

Warren Gatland believes Wales' opening Six Nations victories over France and Italy were useful preparation for this year's Rugby World Cup, even if performances were below par.

Gatland's side were 16-0 down at half-time before storming back to win 24-19 in Paris last week and in Rome on Saturday the visitors were always ahead but less than convincing in defeating the Azzurri 26-15.

Gatland made 10 changes to his XV from the triumph over France and conceded that the side lacked cohesion and fluency as a result.

But, seven months out from the World Cup in Japan, Gatland was satisfied to be heading back to Cardiff - and a date with England in a fortnight - with two wins in the bag.

"For us, there's a bigger picture that we were looking at for the first two games," Gatland told a news conference. "That was having the opportunity to get away for a week with a squad of 31 and replicating what might happen at the World Cup.

"If that was a normal year, on reflection, maybe we wouldn't have made so many changes. But we wanted to give everyone in the 31 an opportunity to be involved in the first two games.

"We didn't play as well as we would have liked. Probably part of that is that we didn't have the continuity that we would have if we hadn't made so many changes.

"There's no regret. We're two from two and we have a couple of weeks of training before England. It sets us up nicely for the England match. A lot of people will be writing us off, which is a good position to be in.

"Hopefully we'll go under the radar, have two good weeks of training and get ourselves mentally and physically right. You're not always brilliant and we weren't today. We will be a lot better against England."

Victory over Eddie Jones' side would see Wales claim a national record 12th consecutive Test win, something Gatland hopes will act as an extra incentive for his players.

"We didn't speak about the record at all this week, but we will probably talk about it before England," he said. "If this group of players achieve that, it'll be something nobody can take away from them.

"That's the nice thing about records, once you've achieved it, it's there for life … until someone else comes and breaks it, obviously!

"We've got a chance, we're at home, the stadium will be full, it'll be some atmosphere at the Principality Stadium. There will definitely be no lack of motivation in trying to beat England and break that record."

Jonathan Davies conceded Wales will have to improve their performance considerably against England after toiling to victory over Italy in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Warren Gatland's side, showing 10 changes from the remarkable come-from-behind win over France last time out, prevailed 26-15 in Rome to claim a record-equalling 11th straight success.

Four Dan Biggar penalties and second-half tries from Josh Adams and Owen Watkin saw the visitors head back to Cardiff as leaders of the early table, ahead of a clash with England at the Principality Stadium in a fortnight.

"We will probably have to be a lot better than today, but the team are excited by that. It should be a tasty one," Davies, captaining the side for the first time on his 70th appearance, told ITV Sport.

"I think there was a lot of frustration in the performance, that accuracy to turn pressure into points was what we lacked.

"We have come to a difficult place to play rugby and got a result.

"We expected to be smarter and cleaner with the ball. But it was great to show the depth of the squad and we are looking forward to a big match in two weeks' time."

Davies' opposite number Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, rued the Azzurri's failure to make their periods of pressure count when they reduced the deficit to 12-10 shortly after the interval.

"We lost a couple of opportunities in the second half, but the team was still fighting and scored a try in the end. Wales deserved their victory so we must keep working and growing," he said.

"Now we have 15 days before receiving Ireland and now we must keep working in the same way. Credit to Wales of course but I can't say to my team that they didn't fight today.

"We did good things against Scotland and Wales, it's not enough so we'll keep working because Ireland will be another tough game at home."

Wales made it two wins from two in the 2019 Six Nations thanks to Saturday's hard-fought 26-15 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico.

Having staged a remarkable second-half comeback in France last time out, Warren Gatland's side were far from at their best again in Rome against a side whose opening loss at Scotland was a record 18th in succession in this competition.

The boot of Dan Biggar earned the visitors a seemingly commanding 12-0 lead in the first half but Braam Steyn's score and Tommaso Allan's penalty saw that advantage cut to only two.

It was Josh Adams who made a breakthrough 15 minutes into the second period, going over in the left corner at the end of a sweeping move and Owen Watkin made the game safe as Wales moved top of the early table despite Edoardo Padovani's late consolation score.

Wales had trailed 16-0 in Paris last week but they needed a little over a minute to forge ahead here as Biggar slotted a simple penalty and added three more before the half-hour as the Azzurri repeatedly transgressed.

Italy belatedly got a foothold in the game and turned down a kickable penalty - a decision that was vindicated as they retained the ball from the line-out and worked it right for Steyn to barge over.

Allan struck the post with a chance to reduce the deficit to two at the break but he made no mistake from right in front shortly after the interval.

But Wales finally found some attacking fluency, capitalising on Aled Davies' break and working it left through the hands of Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams for Adams to score.

Davies saw a try ruled out for a knock-on but the game was effectively put to bed 10 minutes from time as Watkin gathered Gareth Anscombe's dink over the top to dot down, rendering Padovani's fine late score academic.

 

WALES WINNING UGLY

Gatland, who made 10 changes from the France game, will perhaps not be too dissatisfied to see his side head back to Cardiff with two wins in the bag having played well below their usual level. One would imagine performances will have to improve against England, Ireland and Scotland.

WHAT'S NEXT?

After back-to-back games on the road to start this year's Six Nations, Wales return home to face England on February 23 while Italy host defending Grand Slam champions Ireland a day later.

Scotland will be out to claim a record-equalling eighth consecutive home victory in the Six Nations when they face a wounded Ireland, while England and Wales are strong favourites to make it two wins out of two.

Ireland were rocked by England in Dublin last Saturday, the defending champions and 2018 Grand Slam winners going down 32-20 at the Aviva Stadium.

Scotland started the tournament with a 33-20 victory over Italy at Murrayfield and will be looking to show they are genuine title contenders by inflicting more misery on the injury-hit holders on Saturday.

In the final match of the weekend on Sunday, England will be expected to see off a France side smarting from a second-half collapse against Wales in the opening game of the tournament in Paris last Friday.

Warren Gatland has made 10 changes to his side to face Italy, but Wales should still have too much for the Azzurri in Rome on Saturday.

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

 

Scotland v Ireland

Scotland have not reeled off eight victories in a row in the tournament since achieving the feat between 1972 and 1975.

Gregor Townsend's men can expect a backlash from an Ireland side attempting to avoid back-to-back defeats for the first time since their tour of South Africa in 2016.

Ireland have won four of their last five Six Nations matches against Scotland, the one defeat coming at Murrayfield two years ago.

Captain Greig Laidlaw needs 10 points to overtake Gavin Hastings's tally of 667 and become Scotland's second-highest points scorer behind Chris Paterson (809).

 

Italy v Wales

Wales produced a record-breaking second-half fightback to beat Les Bleus at Stade de France, rallying from 16-0 down to win 24-19 after George North was gifted a double.

Italy will have their hands full as they attempt to deny Wales an 11th consecutive victory and secure their first Six Nations win at Stadio Olimpico since 2013.

Wales will be expected to record back-to-back away victories in the competition for the first time since 2015.

Italy's defeat against Scotland was their 18th in a row in the tournament, setting a new unwanted record which was previously held by France.

 

England v France

France beat England in Paris last year, but have lost nine of the last 12 Six Nations games between the two nations.

England have been beaten only once at Twickenham in 'Le Crunch' in the Six Nations era, Dimitri Yachvili inspiring an 18-17 victory in 2005.

Since the start of 2018, France have lost five of the seven games that they have led at half-time in - more than any other international side in that time.

Mark Wilson and Mako Vunipola both made 27 tackles against Ireland. No other player in any of the three matches made more than 20 and no England player has ever made as many in a Six Nations game 

Warren Gatland says that naming a much-changed Wales XV to face Italy in the Six Nations is all part of the process to prepare for the Rugby World Cup.

Wales won 24-19 in France last week, but Gatland has made 10 changes to his starting line-up as they head to Rome on Saturday.

While some decisions were influenced by injuries, Gatland insists he had always earmarked a relatively gentle start to the Six Nations as an opportunity to get to grips with his squad.

The World Cup takes place in Japan, starting in September, and Gatland hopes he will this week gain a greater understanding of the depth of his group.

"Very much a part of these first two weeks was trying to replicate what's going to happen in Japan later in the year," Gatland told the Welsh Rugby Union's official website.

"That's been tough, but it put us into a good situation with those experiences of dealing with a squad of 31 and dealing with injuries. We've made a number of changes but, looking back on the week, it's been really good for us.

"Justin Tipuric picked up a sort of back spasm injury, so he wasn't considered for this week. Then Corey Hill had a gash on his knee last week. He could have been available for selection, but we've decided to rest him.

"So we've gone through these scenarios in terms of squad selection and what would happen in Japan. It's been great for us to be able to have that opportunity to replicate what's going to happen later in the year.

"There's some experience and there's some opportunities for players to put their hand up."

One such player who has been handed an opportunity is Jonathan Davies, who will captain the side, with Gatland comparing the 30-year-old to Irish great Brian O'Driscoll.

"Some people say I need to pick a back to captain the team, but it's the right person at the right time. [Davies] is great for the squad," the coach said. "He's a great person. When he plays well, the team tends to play well.

"His decision-making as an experienced player has really improved. He reminds me a little bit of Brian O'Driscoll getting a little bit older, even though Foxy's not at the end of his career yet.

"He doesn't make many mistakes, he's excellent in defence and, when he carries, he carries strongly.

"He gets a great opportunity. He's incredibly well respected and liked within the squad. I'm sure he'll do a good job and do Wales proud."

Edoardo Padovani and Nicola Quaglio have been named in the Italy team to face Wales as Conor O'Shea makes two changes to the XV that lost in Scotland.

Italy were beaten 33-20 in their Six Nations opener, but Padovani scored a try from the bench at Murrayfield and has been rewarded with a start this week in Rome.

His call-up on the wing sees Michele Campagnaro move inside to centre, with Tommaso Castello left out of the matchday squad.

Quaglio, the other new face, joins Simone Ferrari and Leonardo Ghiraldini in the front row as Andrea Lovotti misses out with illness.

Scrum-half Tito Tebaldi strained his back in the warm-up before the Scotland game and has not recovered in time to face Wales, meaning Guglielmo Palazzani starts again.

 

Italy: Jayden Hayward, Edoardo Padovani, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Allan, Guglielmo Palazzani; Nicola Quaglio, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Simone Ferrari, David Sisi, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn, Sergio Parisse (captain).

Replacements: Luca Bigi, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Federico Ruzza, Marco Barbini, Edoardo Gori, Ian McKinley, Tommaso Benvenuti.

Jonathan Davies will captain a much-changed Wales side for the first time in the Six Nations encounter with Italy in Rome on Saturday.

Alun Wyn Jones drops to the bench at Stadio Olimpico, so centre Davies steps up to lead his country when he earns a 70th cap.

Wing Jonah Holmes and back-row Thomas Young make their Six Nations debuts as Warren Gatland makes 10 changes to his starting line-up following the 24-19 victory over France in Paris.

Liam Williams, Davies, Josh Adams, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard are the only players to retain their places in the side.

Owen Watkin will play alongside Davies, while fly-half Dan Biggar and scrum-half Aled Davies start.

Navidi moves to number eight, with Aaron Wainwright coming in at openside flanker and Jake Ball joining Beard in the second row.

Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee and Samson Lee form a new-look front row against an Azzurri side that was beaten 33-20 by Scotland in their opening match of the tournament.

 

Wales: Liam Williams, Jonah Holmes, Jonathan Davies (captain), Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Aled Davies; Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Thomas Young, Josh Navidi. 

Replacements: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Alun Wyn Jones, Ross Moriarty, Gareth Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Hallam Amos.

Tito Tebaldi will miss Italy's Six Nations clash with Wales on Saturday, courtesy of the back problem that forced him to miss last weekend's defeat to Scotland.

Scrum-half Tebaldi was named in Conor O'Shea's line-up to face Scotland but pulled out after suffering an injury in the warm-up at Murrayfield, with his place going to Guglielmo Palazzani.

Tebaldi has now been released from Italy's squad for the Wales game and will be re-evaluated ahead of the clash with Ireland a fortnight later.

Italy added veteran number nine Edoardo Gori to their squad on Sunday, together with Zebre hooker Oliviero Fabiani.

However, Fabiani has now been withdrawn from the group after a second evaluation of his condition, with the uncapped Engjel Makelara of Benetton Treviso taking his place.

Warren Gatland said Wales have "forgotten how to lose" following their stunning come-from-behind victory over France in the Six Nations.

Wales trailed 16-0 at half-time in Paris on Friday, however, the visitors rallied to produce a memorable 24-19 win in the French capital.

George North claimed a second-half double as Wales completed the comeback against Les Bleus in their Six Nations opener.

Speaking after the nation's 10th successive victory, Wales head coach Gatland said: "France were very good in the first half. We made too many errors and tried to play too much rugby. We were much better in the second half and created some chances.

"For me, the big difference between the two teams is that we've become a side that has probably forgotten how to lose and can dig deep like that.

"On the other hand, they are probably a team searching for some confidence, having not had a great run in the last seven or eight matches."

"We know that we get better the more time we have together," Gatland continued. "To win this tournament, you need a bit of luck. We look back on our victories and know that sometimes you have the bounce of the ball.

"It's tough in the Six Nations when you come up against one of the big teams. France in Paris is a real challenge, and if you can win the first game then you have a good chance of winning the tournament. Hopefully we can build on this and start thinking about the rest of the tournament."

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones added: "Had we not taken the opportunity early in the second half, we might have felt the fear. If France had got the first opportunity in the second half, we probably would have chased the game.

"Sixteen-point swings usually don't happen, but we were able to get that snowball effect."

Reeling from an unlikely defeat on home soil, France must turn their attention to next week's showdown against England at Twickenham.

"We'll try to keep the same spirit despite the disappointment, and focus on the positives," France head coach Jacques Brunel said. "We have to improve the control we lacked in this match. But facing England will be as difficult a challenge as facing Wales, and it will also be a mental test for us.

"We were fully committed, did lots of interesting things, especially in the first half. Even if we didn't master everything, we managed to put Wales under pressure. We know they have a formidable defence, and unfortunately we didn't start the second half well and they did."

George North was gifted a second-half double as Wales fought back to beat fragile France 24-19 in the Six Nations opener on a miserable Friday in Paris.

A 10th successive victory looked unlikely for Warren Gatland's side when Les Bleus went in at half-time with a 16-0 lead following tries from Louis Picamoles and Yoann Huget, with Camille Lopez slotting over a penalty and a drop goal.

Wales looked flat in the first half and made far too many errors in difficult conditions, with the rain driving down at Stade de France, but Jacques Brunel's side capitulated after the break.

Tomos Williams got Wales back in it on his Six Nations debut and a Huget howler put a try on a plate for North, who then intercepted a dreadful pass from Sebastien Vahaamahina to put Wales in front eight minutes from time.

Dan Biggar had come off the bench to put Warren Gatland's men in front for the first time before Lopez gave France a one-point advantage, but the second score from North was decisive.

England will attempt to claim a rare victory in Dublin when they face all-conquering champions Ireland, while in-form Wales can expect a brutal battle with France when the Six Nations starts on Friday.

Ireland beat England to secure a third Grand slam last year and are favourites to retain their title as they prepare to take on Eddie Jones' men at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Wales make the trip to Paris with nine consecutive wins under their belt, but must address their poor away form in the competition.

Scotland should get their campaign under way with a comfortable win Italy at Murrayfield, where the Azzurri claimed their last Six Nations win three years ago.

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

 

France v Wales 

Wales will be looking to rack up a 50th win against Les Bleus and have won six of the last seven meetings between the two nations.

France have came out on top in four of their last five games at home, though, not conceding more than 18 points in any of those matches.

Wales have struggled on their travels in the Six Nations, losing four in a row away from home and Warren Gatland will be expecting that run to come to a halt in his final year as head coach.

Morgan Parra is 27 points shy of becoming just the second France player to score 200 points in the competition, matching a feat only Dimitri Yachvili (217) has achieved. 

Scotland v Italy

Italy have lost 17 consecutive Six Nations contests since stunning Scotland 22-19 at Murrayfield in 2015.

Scotland have shown they are capable of turning on the style in recent years and they are just three tries shy of 500 at Murrayfield. 

Italy legend Sergio Parisse is set to make a record 66th appearance in the Six Nations, surpassing Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll's tally.

Captain Greig Laidlaw needs 16 points to overtake Gavin Hastings (667) as Scotland's second-highest top points scorer behind Chris Paterson (809).

 

Ireland v England

The holders have won their last 12 home games in all competitions, their longest ever such run. They have also put together seven consecutive home victories in the Six Nations.

England were dethroned with a whimper last year, losing three matches in a row, and they have won just twice in their last nine visits to Dublin.

Ireland will be looking to become the first team in since Italy joined the tournament to win back-to-back Grand Slams.

Jacob Stockdale scored a record seven tries in the Six Nations last year and will be aiming to become the ninth player to score in five consecutive matches in the competition.

Wales' longest-serving and most successful coach is in the home straight of his time in the job.

After 12 years, Warren Gatland will stand down after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Gatland's reign has seen Wales win two Grand Slams and reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, while the Kiwi has also led the British and Irish Lions on two tours.

When Wales kick off the Six Nations in Paris on February 1, Gatland begins a long goodbye that will finish in Japan, when he will hand over to successor Wayne Pivac.

We pick out some of the highlights of Gatland's time in charge and assess his chances of finishing with a flourish.

 

GRAND SLAM WINNERS

Wales had ended their long wait for a Grand Slam three years prior to Gatland's first Six Nations in the job, winning the championship in 2005 to complete a clean sweep for the first time since 1978. But it did not take Gatland long to repeat that feat after he was brought in to replace Gareth Jenkins, who had been dismissed after Wales made a pool-stage exit at the 2007 World Cup. It was a success built on defence, with Wales conceding only two tries over the course of the championship, but one that reaped the benefits of the attacking talents of players like Shane Williams. A first Twickenham win over England since 1988 and a Triple Crown-clinching win in Dublin helped Wales on their way to a Grand Slam wrapped up against France in Cardiff.

WORLD CUP SEMI-FINALS AND ANOTHER CLEAN SWEEP

Given his predecessor's failure at the previous tournament, Gatland did not have a particularly high marker to beat when he took his players home to New Zealand in 2011. However, it is safe to say Wales exceeded expectations as they came agonisingly close to reaching a World Cup final for the first time. Amid rising optimism, their bid for glory ended in painful fashion. After losing skipper Sam Warburton to a controversial red card in the 19th minute of a semi-final against France, Wales fought doggedly to stay in the game, only to be beaten 9-8. It was France's turn to be on the receiving end of a one-point defeat as New Zealand won the trophy, before Wales emphatically underlined their credentials as the pick of the northern hemisphere sides by securing another Grand Slam in the 2012 Six Nations.

LIONS LEADER

Gatland's achievements with Wales have been impressive, but he also made a huge impact in two tours as the Lions coach. A host of his Wales team played starring roles in 2013 as the Lions beat Australia 2-1 and Gatland was then at the helm again for the ultimate test in 2017 - a tour of his homeland. The Lions lost two of their tour matches before the opening Test and were then beaten 30-15 in their first meeting with New Zealand. However, a stirring fightback followed, with the tourists edging the second Test 24-21 and then holding the All Blacks to the most dramatic of draws as the series reached a remarkable conclusion at Auckland's Eden Park. Gatland now appears the leading candidate to lead the Lions for a third time in 2021 when they visit South Africa.

A TEAM IN FORM

Only 2018 Grand Slam winners Ireland boasted a better record than Wales last year among northern hemisphere teams. Gatland's men won 10 out of 12 Tests, including a hugely encouraging clean sweep of their November internationals. Victories over Scotland, Australia and South Africa - together with a thrashing of Tonga - extended Wales' winning streak to nine Tests, two short of their record run.

THE PERFECT FINALE?

Wales face a stern test at the start of their Six Nations campaign, with a visit to France representing the first of three away fixtures in the championship. Intriguingly, their toughest match on paper comes on the final weekend as they host reigning champions Ireland. Given recent form, it is not unfeasible that both teams reach that contest unbeaten. Ireland are the clear favourites for the Six Nations and currently represent the leading European candidate for World Cup glory. However, Wales - third in the world rankings behind New Zealand and Joe Schmidt's men - will surely be a force to be reckoned with if they make it to Japan with most of their leading players available. Gatland could yet enjoy a dream send-off to his distinguished reign.

 

The 2019 Six Nations gets under way on Friday, when France host Wales in Paris.

Ireland won the Grand Slam last time around and begin their campaign in Dublin on Saturday against England, whose Twickenham home was the setting for the defending champions' crowning moment in 2018.

Scotland will be keen to continue the improvements of recent seasons, while for Italy the priority will be ending a Six Nations losing run which stands at 17 matches.

Here we take a look at the teams and what each can expect from their 2019 campaign.

 

IRELAND

Who's in charge?

Joe Schmidt is nearing the end of his time at the Irish helm after announcing that he will leave the job at the end of the World Cup. Successor Andy Farrell is already on Schmidt's staff and will be taking notes during this year’s championship.

Rory Best has skippered Ireland for the past two years – a period of tremendous success for Schmidt’s side that has seen them crowned Grand Slam winners and beat the All Blacks for the first two times in their history. He is the oldest player in this year's championship at 36.

Who's the key man?

Ireland boast World Rugby's Player in the Year in the shape of fly-half Johnny Sexton. He has faced a race to be fit for the opener against England but will be key to Ireland's success if he has shaken off the effects of a knee injury. Wing Jacob Stockdale - player of the tournament in 2018 - also poses a threat to any defence.

What happened last year?

Ireland completed the Grand Slam at Twickenham on the final weekend of the championship, consigning their opponents to a fifth-place finish. It was Ireland's first clean sweep since 2009.

What's expected this year?

Ireland have arguably enhanced their reputation since last year’s championship, picking up a series win in Australia, as well as a 16-9 victory over the All Blacks in November. If they can keep up that kind of form over the coming weeks, they will prove themselves to be serious contenders for the 2019 World Cup.

WALES

Who's in charge?

Another coach preparing to say his goodbyes at the end of the year is Warren Gatland, who will stand down as Wales chief after 12 years in charge. The Kiwi has led the team to two Grand Slams during his tenure.

Alun Wyn Jones is captain and, with 119 caps to his name, is rapidly closing in on Gethin Jenkins' record of 129 appearances for his country.

Who's the key man?

The battle for Wales' number 10 jersey is always fiercely fought and Gareth Anscombe appears to have his hands on the prize after starting the wins over Scotland, Australia and South Africa in November. Anscombe's challenge will be maintaining his level of performance with Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell snapping at his heels.

What happened last year?

It was an impressive second-placed finish for Wales in 2018, although their failure to win a match on the road may be a lingering cause for concern ahead of a championship in which they face three away fixtures.

What's expected this year?

Wales have been faced with dreadful luck when it comes to injuries, with Gatland saying only a week and a half before the tournament that just 27 members of his 39-man squad had been able to train, with experienced campaigners Taulupe Faletau and Dan Lydiate among those missing altogether. The situation will likely see players such as Thomas Young and Aaron Wainwright given their chance – experience that could come in useful in Japan later this year. Of the sides contesting the Six Nations, only Ireland can better Wales' record of 10 Test wins in 2018.

SCOTLAND

Who's in charge?

Gregor Townsend continued Scotland's sustained growth in the competition last season, guiding them to impressive victories over England and France.

The captaincy has returned to scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, with John Barclay, who led Scotland in the 2018 championship, yet to recover from an Achilles injury that has prevented him from making his Edinburgh debut since joining from the Scarlets ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Who's the key man?

Stuart Hogg has been the most eye-catching star of Scotland's resurgence over recent years and made more metres than any other player in the competition last year.

What happened last year?

Scotland finished third but things could have been better had it not been for a slow start in Wales, where they kicked off the championship with a 34-7 defeat. Their campaign will be remembered for the 25-13 win against England at Murrayfield – their first Calcutta Cup victory for a decade.

What's expected this year?

With Italy heading to Edinburgh on the opening weekend, Scotland should have an opportunity to get into gear before they welcome Ireland a week later. Scotland are capable of upsetting the campaigns of other would-be Six Nations champions but, with trips to Paris and Twickenham in their itinerary, a challenge for the title looks unlikely.

FRANCE

Who's in charge?

Jacques Brunel took over not long before last year's championship, following the sacking of Guy Noves. He almost got France off to a winning start in his first match in charge against eventual champions Ireland - Les Bleus undone by a last-minute Sexton drop goal in Paris.

Toulon hooker Guilhem Guirado skippers the side, having held onto the role despite the change of coach.

Who's the key man?

Centre Mathieu Bastareaud sits on 50 caps and his experience should complement the wave of young talent coming into the squad. Romain Ntamack - son of former France international Emile - is among the youthful contingent and could make his debut.

What happened last year?

Victory over England in round four was the highlight for France but a series of narrow defeats limited their impact on the championship. The disappointment of a 15-13 home defeat to Ireland was compounded by a 32-26 loss at Murrayfield and a 14-13 reverse in Cardiff as they finished fourth. France dropped a number of players after they were involved in an incident on a night out following the Scotland defeat.

What's expected this year?

France are, as ever, difficult to predict but if they could convert some of those narrow defeats into victories, there is no reason why they could not put themselves in the mix at the top of the table.

ENGLAND

Who's in charge?

Eddie Jones came under pressure for the first time in his England tenure in 2018. The team were unbeatable in the first 17 matches of his time in charge but last year lost six of 12 Tests - they had only lost one of the previous 23 under Jones.

Jones has opted for joint-captains over recent times but will begin the championship with a solo skipper in the form of Owen Farrell, with Dylan Hartley having been ruled out of the opener against Ireland due to a knee injury.

Who's the key man?

It is difficult to look beyond Farrell - a man who has spent most of his time as a centre under Jones and in a share of leadership with Hartley. The Saracens man was utilised at fly-half in November and, with the captaincy his for the time being, this could be Farrell's chance to make both roles his own ahead of the World Cup.

What happened last year?

England's disappointing 2018 kicked off with a shock fifth-place finish in the Six Nations - a championship that saw them beaten by Scotland, France and Ireland after they opened with wins against Italy and Wales. It was England's worst performance since the 1987 Five Nations.

What's expected this year?

An improvement at the very least. England will be underdogs for their opener against Ireland and how they fare in Dublin could set the tone for their campaign. France at home and a trip to Cardiff follow, so England are going to have to work hard for their points early in the championship.

ITALY

Who's in charge?

Conor O'Shea's time as Italy coach has failed to bring about much of an improvement in their Six Nations performances and he may be under pressure in 2019 to show the fruits of his three years at the helm.

Stalwart Sergio Parisse has been a fantastic servant to Italy over the years and at 35 years old, with 134 caps to his name, he remains the figurehead of the national team.

Who's the key man?

Matteo Minozzi would have this category all tied up based on his breakthrough performance last year, but a serious knee injury has ruled out the full-back. His absence puts the pressure on Jayden Hayward or Edoardo Padovani to perform at 15.

What happened last year?

Italy’s defeat to Scotland in their final match of 2018 means they have lost their last 17 games in the championship, the joint longest such run in Five/Six Nations history, level with France who lost 17 matches in succession from 1911 to 1920. Italy's run stretches back to 2015.

What's expected this year?

With injuries to key players there appears little hope Italy can break their torrid run and avoid going a full World Cup cycle without winning a Six Nations fixture.

Tomos Williams will make his Six Nations debut for Wales against France on Friday and Gareth Anscombe is preferred to Dan Biggar for the first game of the tournament in Paris.

Scrum-half Williams gets the nod over Gareth Davies, and his Cardiff Blues team-mate Anscombe retains the number 10 shirt for the Stade de France showdown, with Biggar on the bench.

Liam Williams switches to full-back in the absence of Leigh Halfpenny (concussion), so Josh Adams comes in on the left wing.

Adam Beard keeps his place in the second row alongside captain Alun Wyn Jones, while Ross Moriarty has overcome concussion to don the number eight shirt.

Josh Navidi has also recovered from injury to take his place in the back row along with British and Irish Lions flanker Justin Tipuric.

Coach Warren Gatland has once again gone with the midfield pairing of Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies.

 

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

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Aaron Wainwright, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.