Ashton ruled out for Wales clash

By Sports Desk February 17, 2019

England wing Chris Ashton has been ruled out of next weekend's Six Nations clash with Wales due to a calf injury.

Coach Eddie Jones named a group of 33 players who would prepare for the match but a minor strain means Ashton is absent.

The Sale Sharks man came on as a replacement during the opening victory over Ireland in Dublin and featured from the start as England maintained their winning start against France last time out.

Saturday's trip to Cardiff sees the championship's top two sides go head to head.

England had already confirmed that Mako Vunipola will be missing, with the Saracens prop having sustained an ankle injury at Twickenham last weekend.

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    Wales coach Warren Gatland hopes Alun Wyn Jones can earn more plaudits with a fine performance in his record-equalling 129th Test appearance against Georgia.

    The Six Nations Grand Slam champions will be the last of the big hitters to kick-off their Rugby World Cup campaign when they take to the field in Toyota on Monday.

    As expected, Gatland has named Jones in his line-up and that means the veteran lock will tie Gethin Jenkins' Wales appearance record.

    Jones will be key to Wales' hopes of following up their Six Nations success with worldwide domination in Japan and Gatland is keen to see his star man deliver once again in a red shirt.

    If he comes through that challege unscathed, the 34-year-old would then be able to claim the record outright in a huge Pool D clash against Australia.

    "He has been absolutely outstanding in his services to Welsh rugby," Gatland said of Jones. "He's got better with age - he is like a good wine.

    "Hopefully, he comes out of Monday night's game fit and available and, if selected, as he always says, against Australia, he will get that chance to break that Welsh record.

    "He doesn't like me talking about these things, but he deserves all the accolades.

    "He has been just such a great servant to Welsh rugby and the pleasing thing for me in the last couple of years is that recognition hasn't been just from Wales, it has been worldwide, too.

    "People have realised what a contribution he has given to world rugby in terms of his performances and leadership.

    "That's pleasing to see, that someone from Wales is recognised as one of the best players in the world in his position."

    While Wales have their captain fit and available, opponents Georgia are missing skipper Merab Sharikadze, who is still recovering from injury.

    Gatland is not taking them lightly, though, adding: "With Georgia, we know how strong they are up front and their scrum is a weapon. We've got to be competent at scrum time.

    "The boys had a good training session this morning. We're really excited - we can't wait for Monday night."


    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Wales - Dan Biggar

    Gareth Anscombe's pre-tournament knee injury created a space at fly-half and, with Rhys Patchell among the replacements recovering from his own ailment, Biggar is the man who starts the campaign at number 10. He has started just two games for his country in 2019 but has experience on the world stage, having kicked 23 points to see off England four years ago.

    Georgia - Tedo Abzhandadze

    Abzhandadze, the opposite fly-half, was a star of Georgia's Under-20 team and, still just 20, has earned the starting job at the World Cup, playing what will be only his 10th Test against Wales. His early senior performances have not been entirely convincing and he will need to step up in a big way against the Welsh.


    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - The only previous meeting between these sides took place in November 2017 when Wales earned a hard-fought 13-6 win.
    - Wales come into this fixture having lost their past two Rugby World Cup games. They have never lost three or more in succession at the tournament.
    - Among Tier 1 sides, only Argentina have lost as many Rugby World Games to non-Tier 1 opposition as Wales (both three). The Welsh were beaten by Samoa in 1991 and 1999, as well as by Fiji in 2007.
    - Georgia have lost 10 out of 10 Rugby World Cup games against Tier 1 opposition, with those defeats coming by an average margin of 33 points.
    - Georgia won the 2019 Rugby Europe Championship, the eighth time in the past nine seasons they have triumphed at the second-tier tournament.

  • Rugby World Cup 2019: Hansen says All Blacks have 'plenty' to work on despite opening win Rugby World Cup 2019: Hansen says All Blacks have 'plenty' to work on despite opening win

    Steve Hansen is confident there is more to come from New Zealand after they kicked off their Rugby World Cup defence with an impressive 23-13 victory over South Africa.

    The All Blacks had to withstand plenty of pressure in the opening quarter of their Pool B opener in Yokohama, but they seized control of the game in a stunning six-minute spell featuring tries for George Bridge and Scott Barrett.

    Although South Africa fought back impressively after the interval, New Zealand were able to remain ahead and extend their streak of never losing a World Cup pool game.

    "We're pretty happy with where we're at at the moment," said coach Hansen in his post-match news conference. "Everybody knew that this was going to be a big match and obviously it was. Both teams played very well at times and we're very happy to come out with a win.

    "Were we perfect? No. But you're never gonna be at this stage of the tournament and that was the interesting part about this game for both teams.

    "You're not in the swing of the tournament and right from the get-go you've got probably the biggest game of the group. We've come out on top. [I'm] very happy that we did, but there's plenty of stuff we can work on."

    South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus highlighted New Zealand's discipline as a key factor in the outcome.

    "Discipline was always going to be a massive thing for us," said All Blacks skipper Kieran Read.

    "South Africa love to build pressure through those penalties and they've got a kicker like [Handre] Pollard who showed right from the outset he can kick from 50 metres.

    "It was a conscious decision from us to make sure we didn't give away too many penalties and we probably haven't been as smart throughout this whole year, but we were at a different level today."

  • Rugby World Cup 2019: New Zealand's discipline won them the game, says Erasmus Rugby World Cup 2019: New Zealand's discipline won them the game, says Erasmus

    Rassie Erasmus felt South Africa's Rugby World Cup defeat to New Zealand owed much to the All Blacks' superior discipline.

    The Springboks applied plenty of pressure in the first quarter of Saturday's blockbuster Pool B opener but saw their 3-0 lead quickly turn into a 17-3 deficit, the defending world champions hitting top gear in a stunning six-minute blitz.

    A Pieter-Steph du Toit try and Handre Pollard's second penalty gave South Africa hope after the interval, only for Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett to land three-pointers as New Zealand triumphed 23-13.

    In a post-match news conference, Erasmus said: "I think they won it. I don't think we lost it. Two tries to one, they definitely deserved to win the game.

    "If you concede, I think, 11 penalties to two, you're going to struggle to beat New Zealand. I think discipline was our biggest downfall. I don't think we can moan about anything.

    "As I said, I think the penalty count was 11-2, so we did 11 things wrong. We have to go and fix it. They only did two things wrong, which is unbelievably well disciplined by them. That battle, we lost.

    "I give all credit to New Zealand. When we had territorial and scoreboard pressure and they had that one opportunity to pounce, they pounced."

    No team has ever won the World Cup after losing in the pool stage, but Erasmus believes his side can buck that trend.

    "I think we can fight back. I think even in the game we fought back," he stated. "To be down 17-3 and get back to 17-13 and being in their 22 ... there were stages when we really fought back well."

    With a smile, he added: "If you're grouped with New Zealand in your pool, you've got a good chance of not going undefeated through your pool.

    "And then you have to fight back and try and get to the final, for the first time in history not being unbeaten. We have to go [down] that route now."

    Erasmus said Trevor Nyakane (calf) was the only Springboks player to pick up an injury, attributing late concerns over Cheslin Kolbe and Du Toit to cramp.

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