World Rugby announced it had made the "reluctant decision" to scrap plans for a Nations Championship.

The governing body announced the 10 unions – from the Rugby Championship and Six Nations – failed to unanimously agree to enter into exclusive negotiations before Wednesday's deadline.

The Nations Championship was set to start in 2022 with a two-division format, with the Six Nations and Rugby Championship – with two added teams – making up conferences before semi-finals and a final.

However, there was a "lack of consensus on key issues, particularly the timing and format of promotion and relegation".

"World Rugby undertook this important project with the best interests of the global game at heart in line with our vision to grow the sport as a game for all," World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement.

"While we are naturally disappointed that a unanimous position on the Nations Championship could not be achieved among our unions, we remain fully committed to exploring alternative ways to enhance the meaning, value and opportunity of international rugby for the betterment of all unions.

"This includes our continued commitment to competition and investment opportunities for emerging nations to increase the competitiveness of the international game with a view to possible Rugby World Cup expansion in 2027.

"I would like to thank all stakeholders for their detailed consideration and engagement, World Rugby’s executive team for their hard work and Infront Sports and Media for their full and ongoing support of our vision to grow rugby's global footprint."

The Nations Championship had been underpinned by a 12-year, £6.1billion guarantee from Infront Sports and Media.

Ireland need a fully fit Johnny Sexton if they are to challenge for the Rugby World Cup, according to Brian O'Driscoll.

Sexton has not played for Leinster in 2019, sitting out the win over Ulster in the European Champions Cup quarter-finals due to a quad problem.

The 33-year-old fly-half was able to feature for his country in each of their Six Nations matches, but suffered a concussion against Scotland.

And retired Ireland great O'Driscoll is concerned about the key man's tendency to put his body on the line.

"I think of course there's a worry," O'Driscoll told the Daily Mail.

"You want your best player, or one of your best players, on the park whenever you can.

"He definitely got targeted against Scotland and I felt as though all of the collisions were right on the line. But I think it would've been hard to penalise any of those shots.

"That's the way that Johnny plays the game. Of course you would worry a small bit about the aggressive nature he takes the ball with but that's his selflessness in creating space for others out wide.

"There's a contingency with Joey Carbery in there, trying to give game time to the likes of Jack Carty as well, but if Ireland are to win the World Cup you do sense that they need Johnny Sexton."

Ireland prop Jack McGrath will leave Leinster at the end of the Pro14 season and join rivals Ulster, the provinces have announced.

McGrath has played over 140 games for Leinster since making his debut in 2010, the forward winning three European Champions Cups, a European Challenge Cup, two Pro12 titles and a Pro14 crown.

The 29-year-old has also established himself as a key member of Joe Schmidt's squad, winning three Six Nations titles – including the Grand Slam in 2018.

McGrath – who was part of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand – admitted the decision to leave Leinster was a tough one, but one he felt would benefit his chances both at club and international level in the future.

"This was a difficult decision but one I believe will put me in the best position to continue to perform at the top end of the game," said the forward.

"I have enjoyed a huge amount of success at Leinster, but I feel that looking beyond the World Cup to the next phase of my career, I will benefit from the opportunity within the Ulster environment.

"I am now fully fit after a disrupted start to the season and I'm looking forward to putting all my energy into helping Leinster's drive to defend the European and Pro14 titles and finishing this season on a high."

Ulster – who were beaten by Leinster in the Champions Cup quarter-finals on Saturday - are understandably thrilled to have acquired the services of McGrath.

"We are delighted to be welcoming Jack on board next season, and it is hugely encouraging to see a player of his calibre express the desire to join us," said head coach Dan McFarland.

"Jack’s quality on the field is undoubtable, and his experience of playing at the highest level will be a hugely valuable asset to the club as we continue to develop a promising group of young forwards."

Irish Rugby's performance director David Nucifora added: "Jack has made a very tough decision which he believes will advance his case for selection for Ireland. You have to respect a player with such ambition.

"Leinster is a fantastic environment but it is testament to the work that all four provinces are doing that players are seeking opportunities within Ireland to advance their international careers."

Rugby's tier-one unions to look beyond their own national interest and back plans for a global Nations Championship, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper has urged.

The sport's governing body revealed its revised format for the tournament this month, after the original proposals were met with concerns about player welfare.

Under the new plans, the Six Nations and Rugby Championship would feed into a league system that would also feature fixtures in rugby's other international windows.

The top team in each of the two hemispheres would then face off in a grand final, while those at the bottom would be at risk of relegation, with nations in the lower tiers battling to force their way into the elite.

The prospect of introducing promotion and relegation has been greeted with some trepidation, given that the tournaments have always been a closed shop.

But Gosper insists the changes would be for the good of the sport as a whole.

"Everyone sees the merits of what we're doing," Gosper told BBC Sport.

"Everyone sees that adding meaning and context to all of these matches that happen throughout the year is an exciting prospect.

"Generally, where there's a bit of discomfort is around the issue of promotion and relegation. That's understandable – many of these teams have been pretty well protected in closed competitions for a long time.

"What we're asking is that some of that national interest is tempered by a little bit of concern about where the global game might be going as well. It's trying to find that balance that will be important if this is to get across the line."

Gosper added that the benefits of World Rugby's proposals outweigh those of a rival bid for a 30 per cent stake in the Six Nations from private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, who also have a share in the Premiership.

"It's about keeping the money in the sport and it's about making our own decisions about what's right for the sport, and you can do that when you have 100 per cent ownership," he said.

World Rugby has also revealed that it will explore changes to the laws of the game following this week's player welfare symposium.

Continued height tackle trials and a review of kicking rules are among the topics that will be looked into, as well as the possibility of reviewing yellow cards while a player in the sin bin.

Alun Wyn Jones and George North will miss the next month after picking up injuries during Wales' triumphant Six Nations Grand Slam campaign, the Ospreys have confirmed.

Jones led Wales to five wins out of five in the championship and was named player of the tournament on Friday after a public vote.

North scored twice in the opening match against France, but only played nine minutes of the victory over Ireland that sealed the Grand Slam.

They have both returned to club rugby ahead of the final weeks of the Pro14 season, but the Ospreys remain unsure whether they will be able to feature in any of their four matches.

"Alun Wyn suffered knee ligament damage last weekend and is currently rehabbing," an Ospreys statement read.

"He won't travel to South Africa [to face the Cheetahs and Southern Kings] with the squad at the start of April but at this stage we haven't ruled him out of the Judgment Day game against Cardiff Blues [on April 27].

"George fractured two metacarpals in his left hand early in the Scotland match. Having seen a specialist this week, he needs time for the bones to heal but we are optimistic about the potential for him to be involved on Judgment Day."

While Jones and North have a chance of playing again this season, Scott Williams is "progressing well" towards a return ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

"Scott is recovering from the disc problem in his lower back which kept him out of the Six Nations," the Ospreys' statement continued.

"He is progressing well but we aren't expecting to see him back representing the Ospreys before the end of the season. He will continue his rehabilitation into pre-season with the goal of making himself available for the Rugby World Cup."

Alun Wyn Jones has been named the Six Nations Player of the Championship after guiding Wales to their first Grand Slam in seven years.

After a comeback victory over France on the opening weekend, Wales defeated Italy before getting the better of England in round three. A monumental defensive display at Murrayfield saw them hold off Scotland and the Grand Slam was wrapped up in style with a 25-7 triumph over Ireland in Cardiff.

Jones featured in all five wins, starting four and coming off the bench in Wales' 26-15 success in Rome.

The 33-year-old was one of six players to be nominated ahead of a public vote, and he becomes the fifth Welsh player to be awarded the accolade after Martyn Williams, Shane Williams, Dan Lydiate and Leigh Halfpenny.

"I'm very flattered to be named the Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship," he told the tournament's official website.

"For me as the captain, it's a validation of what we've done as a squad throughout the campaign.

"To be up there as a nominee with three other Welsh players and two outstanding players from England would have been more than enough and I'm very grateful to the people who have taken the time to vote."

Jones beat off competition from team-mates Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams and Liam Williams, with England duo Jonny May and Tom Curry also nominated.

Billy Vunipola has staunchly defended Owen Farrell's leadership skills after England's Six Nations capitulation against Scotland.

Farrell had a second half to forget as England blew a 31-point lead to draw 38-38 in an astonishing final match of the tournament at Twickenham on Saturday.

Eddie Jones replaced Farrell, sole captain in the absence of Dylan Hartley, and said the fly-half had "lost a bit of his edge" after Scotland roared back to retain the Calcutta Cup.

Vunipola says his Saracens and England team-mate does not deserve the criticism that has come his way.

The number eight told Omnisport: "The media is up and down and sometimes you can't believe the hype. I support Faz and what he's brought to the group, the way he's led us.

"It's just unfortunate that we didn't get the results that we wanted but it's coming, I believe that it will, I have faith that it will, we just have to show everyone else."

He added: "It was only a few weeks ago that he was one of the best [fly-halves in the world] and now obviously we have one bad half and now everyone's questioning, is he still our captain?

"That's the pressure that comes with playing for England and that's just something that we have to learn from, same for him.

"He has my support and I'm just in the team to try and help in any way that I can and he's doing the same but leading us."

 

- Vunipola was speaking at a coaching session he was leading with fellow Saracens and Harlequins players on behalf of Land Rover at Beaconsfield RFC.

 

Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens and Rob Evans have followed up their Grand Slam heroics with Wales by signing contract extensions at the Scarlets.

The trio were key players for Warren Gatland's side as they finished the Six Nations unbeaten, capping the championship with an impressive 25-7 win against Ireland in Cardiff.

Davies, Owens and Evans, who all came through the region's academy, were also part of the Scarlets side that won the Pro12 in 2016-17.

Outgoing coach Wayne Pivac paid tribute to the contribution of the players during his tenure and added that successor Brad Mooar had been eager to retain them.

"They have been a big part of our success in recent years and I know that our incoming coach Brad was very keen to secure their services moving forward," he said.

Davies, who was named British and Irish Lions player of the series in 2017, added: "I could not be happier to be staying with the Scarlets.

"I am excited about the end of the season and, having spoken to our new coach Brad, excited about what is to come.

"It is something I want to be part of"

Skipper Owens has made 238 appearances for the region, while prop Evans was named in the Pro14 Dream Team last season.

"I am delighted to have signed an extension to my contract," said Owens.

"I am looking forward to a big end of season and building on the success we have achieved in recent years."

Meanwhile, Ospreys and Wales hooker Scott Baldwin has become the latest man to join Harlequins from next season, following Martin Landajo, Santiago Garcia Botta and Michele Campagnaro into the club.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones is one of four members of Wales' Grand Slam-winning team on a six-man shortlist for the Six Nations' Player of the Championship award.

Jones - Wales' inspirational skipper who earned his 134th Test cap in the victory over Ireland on Saturday - is joined by a trio of backline team-mates in Josh Adams, Liam Williams and Hadleigh Parkes.

The quartet all played key roles as Warren Gatland's men completed a clean sweep of wins for the third time under the New Zealander.

England's Jonny May and Tom Curry round off the shortlist.

May was the top try-scorer in the championship with six, while 20-year-old flanker Curry was arguably the breakout star of the tournament, excelling in the number seven shirt for Eddie Jones' side.

Jacob Stockdale of Ireland won last year's award, with Scotland's Stuart Hogg collecting the honour following each of the two previous campaigns.

Fans will again select this season's winner and have until Wednesday to vote.

 

Shaun Edwards' return to Wigan Warriors could be off after the Wales defence coach stated he will "consider all offers" for a new role after the Rugby World Cup. 

Edwards was unveiled by Wigan at a press conference last August and was due to take over as head coach of his hometown club next year.

The Wigan legend agreed to succeed Adrian Lam after fulfilling his commitments with new Six Nations champions Wales, but says he has not signed a contract to take charge of the Super League giants.

"On my future, my next step really is to sign a contract, I haven't signed a contract with anybody yet," said Edwards, who has been linked with Wasps.

"I haven't signed a contract. The only team I'm not going to go to is Wales, because the new coach [Wayne Pivac] is going in a different direction.

"He wants to do something different. So that's where I'm at at the moment. So as it stands, come the end of the World Cup I'm unemployed."

Edwards added: "I agreed with Wigan and thought we would sign a contract,

"But then Wigan said, 'it's okay, we'll sign one later', and I thought that was unusual. And that was nine months ago. I agreed to go to Wigan, but I never signed a contract.

"I'll consider all offers, league, union. All I can say is that I haven't signed anything with anybody."
 

Warren Gatland is hopeful Wales can continue the fine work he has set in motion after he departs later this year, although he admits he will miss the Six Nations.

Gatland became the first coach to win three Grand Slams when Wales crushed Ireland 25-7 at a raucous Principality Stadium on Saturday.

The former Ireland boss will leave his post after this year's Rugby World Cup - with Wayne Pivac to take over - having been in charge of Wales since 2007.

Gatland is confident he has restored the team's pride and respect - and will be watching on when they return to defend their Six Nations championship in 2020.

"Sitting somewhere next year watching the Six Nations, it'll be something I miss," he told a news conference.

"But having been involved here so long, I just hope they can continue what we've done in the last 10 or 12 years in terms of putting some respectability back in that jersey - being successful and being a team that is hard to beat.

"I know that when the players put that red jersey on, it's not always about winning but the Welsh public want to see this group try hard. If they do that, it's all you can ask for.

"Those are the sort of things that I'm going to miss with this group."

Asked if he had been seen shedding a tear at full-time, Gatland replied: "It was the rain, I think.

"There's no doubt that I was reasonably emotional afterwards. It's great. I get such a buzz out of watching those guys go up and collect trophies and celebrate. That's what it's all about."

The 2019 Six Nations reached a thrilling conclusion on Saturday as Wales won the Grand Slam and Scotland held England in an incredible draw.

Wales were rewarded for keeping their nerve after rivals Ireland and England slipped up earlier in the tournament, while France endured a tough campaign and Italy could not get a win.

With the competition over for another year, we look back at the key numbers with the help of Opta.

 

1 - Ireland lost at home in the Six Nations for the first time under Joe Schmidt. They had won 12 and drawn one of their 13 such matches before defeat to England.

4 - Italy took the Wooden Spoon for the fourth year in a row after losing all five of their matches.

12 - Wales won their 12th Grand Slam in tournament history and their fourth in the Six Nations, more than any other side; three of those have come during Warren Gatland's tenure.

14 - Wales have won their last 14 Test matches, England are the only European tier one side to have ever won more consecutive matches in all competitions (W18 – 2015-17).

22 - Italy have lost their last 22 Six Nations games. The Azzurri's defeat to Scotland saw them surpass France's record of 17 consecutive tournament defeats between 1911 and 1920.

24 - England led by 24 points at half-time on Saturday against Scotland but failed to win, the joint highest half-time lead any tier one team has failed to go on and win from in Test history; South Africa (v New Zealand) and Argentina (v Australia) each lost despite leading by 24 points after 40 minutes on the same day in October 2018.

36 - England beat France by 36 points. Only once before in Test rugby have they won by a greater margin against France – a 37-0 victory in 1911.

50 - Warren Gatland took charge of Wales for the 50th time in the Six Nations against Ireland on Saturday. He won 36 of his 50 games (72 per cent win rate).

76 - There were 76 points scored in the Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland (38-38), making it the highest scoring draw in Test history.

134 - Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones won his 134th Test cap in against Ireland, drawing level with Gethin Jenkins as the fifth most capped player in history, behind only Richie McCaw, Brian O’Driscoll, George Gregan and Sergio Parisse.

Ireland were not "catastrophic" in the Six Nations, says Joe Schmidt, as he urged supporters to stick with his slumping side.

Schmidt's men won the Grand Slam in 2018 but could not defend their title this year, losing to Wales in Cardiff on Saturday as the hosts completed their own perfect campaign.

Ireland were still in the running for the championship ahead of the match at the Principality Stadium, but they were way off the pace and went down 25-7, only scoring with the final attack from Jordan Larmour.

But after dominating last term and beating the All Blacks in New Zealand, Schmidt hopes Ireland have earned enough credit that they will not be written off after a tournament in which he concedes they were below par.

"[The media] will set the narrative," he told a news conference. "We can only perform in those two 40-minute windows that we get and then the narrative will be whatever pundits or journalists put out there.

"We would certainly encourage the genuine supporter not to lose faith with the team, that the team will definitely turn up in Japan [for the Rugby World Cup] and we'll grow a bit from this.

"You only have to look back a year to see England went back-to-back in the championship and then ended up fifth. We fought our way up to third, we're in the top half of the championship.

"We haven't been catastrophic but we haven't been as good as we need to be and today was probably an example of that."

He added: "We've won 23 of our last 26 Test matches, we've finished third in the Six Nations - once upon a time that wasn't the catastrophe that it is today for Ireland.

"We'll be the first to put our hands up and say that that's not as good as we want to be. We'll be first to take our hats off to acknowledge the performance Wales put in today and then we'll reflect, rebuild and go forward.

"I'd like to think the genuine supporter will still be 100 per cent behind us."

Eddie Jones was relieved to get England's second-half horror show against Scotland out of the way, believing it was better to come in what was essentially a Six Nations dead rubber rather than at the Rugby World Cup.

England were in scintillating form in the first half at Twickenham and led 31-0 after four unanswered tries, only to then collapse spectacularly.

Scotland took control to lead by seven and only a last-ditch George Ford try and conversion allowed the hosts to claim a thrilling 38-38 draw against their Calcutta Cup rivals on Saturday.

Jones acknowledged afterwards that England have problems that need addressing but, having seen Wales wrap up the Grand Slam earlier in the day, he welcomed the dismal dip as a lesson.

"Unfortunately, it's a reoccurring problem we have got," he told ITV Sport. "I was just saying in the dressing room it was similar in the first Test against South Africa in June.

"We got out to a big lead, had the run of the game and then we lost control of the game and we don't find a way to get the control of the game back.

"We probably should have been ahead by more, we gave them some easy points at the start of the second half and then again couldn't get control of the game back.

"It's not something you can fix easily. It's something that is going to take some digging deep into the team psyche. We think we've got a pretty good idea what the problem is, but it's going to take time to fix. We'll be able to do that pre-World Cup.

"I think it's a great lesson for us. I would rather have these sort of games now than have them at the World Cup. We know what the problem is, but it's not easy to fix.

"It'll take time to fix it, but that's why you have pre-World Cup preparation."

Gregor Townsend believed Scotland had no chance of turning around their Six Nations clash with England before a stunning second half at Twickenham.

The visitors trailed 31-0 in the first half after England made a sensational start, yet Scotland could have won the tie after six tries without reply saw Sam Johnson's score put them in front late on.

There was still time for England to belatedly rally and cross through George Ford to earn a draw, although Scotland retained the Calcutta Cup.

And visiting coach Townsend admitted afterwards that the second-half display from his side was beyond any expectations he had at the break.

"Do you want to talk about the first half or the second half?" Townsend joked to ITV Sport. "We showed a lot of character today. To respond the way we did in the second half, I was more than proud.

"We set a goal of winning the second half - not winning the game. We thought it was gone when you're 31-7 down.

"But it's amazing what can happen in a game of rugby. Momentum can swing and we can get confidence and take the game to the opposition like we did in the second half.

"Ultimately, we're the team that's really disappointed to have drawn the game."

Outlining his half-time team talk, Townsend added: "We talked about winning the second half and coming out with respect. How we did that was to stick with the tactics."

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