Eddie Jones says Joe Marler's decision to withdraw from England's Six Nations squad does not mean his Test career is over.

Marler on Monday revealed he has opted against playing in the upcoming tournament so he can remain with his family during the coronavirus pandemic.

He tweeted: "Always grateful for the opportunity so not an easy decision, but want to do right by my family in these crazy times and won't be meeting up with the squad for this tournament. Look forward to watching the team rip in. Go well."

Marler announced his international retirement in 2018 in order to spend more time with his family but has gone on to take his tally of caps to 72 after reversing that decision.

England head coach Jones said the 30-year-old Harlequins prop, who also made himself unavailable for the tour of Australia in 2016 as he needed a rest, will be considered when he is ready to play for his country again.

"Joe has made a decision that we 100 per cent support," Jones said at the 2021 virtual Six Nations launch.

"When he decides to make himself available again we will have another look at selection. And that's how we look at it - 100 per cent. No ifs or buts, it's as clear as day.

"There will be some time in the future when he's ready to come back and will get selected. We'll take that when it comes.

"Joe has been an outstanding player during my time with England and I'm sure he was outstanding before that.

"He is tough, abrasive, a good defender, a great guy off the field. He's a bit nutty, but we like that, it's good to have characters like that in the squad."

England have also lost Sam Underhill (hip) and Joe Launchbury (fibula stress fracture) for the defence of their title, which they start against Scotland at Twickenham a week on Saturday.

Sam Underhill is the latest player to withdraw from England's Six Nations squad due to a hip injury.

Jack Willis has been called up as a replacement for back-row Underhill, who is another big loss for the defending champions.

Underhill played a big part in England's Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup triumphs last year but sustained an injury blow before he was due to link up with the squad at St. George's Park on Wednesday.

Willis made his Test debut against Georgia last November and will be hoping to make his Six Nations bow in the coming weeks.

Underhill's withdrawal comes a day after Joe Launchbury and Joe Marler were ruled out due to a fibula stress fracture and personal reasons respectively.

England head coach Eddie Jones' preparations had already been disrupted last week when he was forced to go into self-isolation after his assistant Matt Proudfoot tested positive for coronavirus.

The Red Rose start the defence of their title against Scotland at Twickenham a week on Saturday.

Dan Lydiate has been recalled to the Wales squad for the Six Nations but there is no place for Rhys Webb.

Back-row Lydiate last played for his country against Australia in 2018, but the 33-year-old is among the 36 players selected by head coach Wayne Pivac.

Scrum-half Webb has been overlooked, with Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams and Kieran Hardy getting the nod.

Scarlets back-row Josh Macleod is the only uncapped player in the squad for a tournament Wales will start with an encounter against Ireland at the Principality Stadium on February 7.

Pivac revealed he was unable to pick Rhys Priestland, despite the fly-half being set to return to his homeland with Cardiff Blues next season, due to the 60-cap rule.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones is hopeful of being fit to face Ireland in Dublin as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.

Ross Moriarty, Gareth Anscombe, Rhys Patchell and Scott Williams are among the players ruled out due to injury.

Pivac said: "We are hugely looking forward to meeting up as a squad on Monday and to the forthcoming campaign. The Guinness Six Nations is an important tournament and we have selected a squad accordingly.

"As we consistently spoke about, the autumn for us was about opportunity and development, looking ahead to RWC 2023 and it served that purpose for us.

"This campaign is different, it is tournament rugby and we are excited to get going and to play our part. We have picked a squad for this tournament based on form and we are excited to meet up on Monday and to get our preparation underway."

 

Wales squad:

Forwards: Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Rhodri Jones, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Ken Owens, Leon Brown, Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Will Rowlands, Cory Hill, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Josh MacLeod, Justin Tipuric.

Backs: Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar, Callum Sheedy, Jarrod Evans, Johnny Williams, Jonathan Davies, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, George North, Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Louis Rees-Zammit, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams.

Rassie Erasmus says South Africa will "explore any option" to ensure they do not miss out on facing the British and Irish Lions.

The Lions are scheduled to lock horns with the world champions in July and August, but the tour is in doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Playing the series in the United Kingdom has been mooted as a potential alternative to the Lions flying out to South Africa.

Delaying the tour until next year could be another alternative and a decision is expected to be made next month, with talks among the Lions board ongoing.

South Africa's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who who coached the Springboks to Rugby World Cup glory in 2019, says the Webb Ellis Cup holders are willing to be flexible over where and when they take on the Lions.

"We desperately want to play the Lions, and we will do anything to play them," he said in a press conference.

"This series only comes around every 12 years. I have heard the different calls and opinions about the tour, and although we didn't play in the Rugby Championship because of player welfare, it was also because we knew there was this big series in 2021.

"If option one of playing in South Africa doesn't work out, we will go to option Z to make it happen.

"We don't want to lose out on the Lions series, we feel we deserve to play against them. I want to, Jacques Nienaber [Springboks head coach] wants to, the players want to. So from our side, we'll do anything.

"But yes, we will explore any option to play the Lions, we will play next year, we will play over there. This is the view from a player and management perspective."

French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte says there is "no question" that the Six Nations will be staged this year.

The Telegraph this weekend reported that the tournament was in doubt after the French sports ministry imposed a ban on playing cross-border elite sports with clubs from the United Kingdom due to a new strain of coronavirus.

With the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup reportedly set to be suspended, the French government and Six Nations officials are expected to hold talks on Monday.

Yet Laporte does not believe there is any doubt that the competition, which starts in just four weeks' time, can be staged. 

He told RMC on Sunday: "It's a puzzle, but I think we should not be alarmed for the Six Nations tournament.

"The tournament will be played, with a health protocol dictated by the government, and linked to this mutant virus. Everything went well in the autumn [when the Autumn Nations Cup was staged], so will the upcoming Six Nations tournament, I'm no more worried than that."

The former Les Bleus coach added: "We have a meeting at the beginning of the week with the ministry of sports, a meeting also with the Six Nations Council.

"But we already talked to each other every day, and today there is no question of considering anything, except that we will play the tournament."

France are due to face Italy in the first game of the Six Nations at Stadio Olimpico on February 6.

Wales and Scarlets lock Jake Ball will retire from international rugby at the end of the season to be with his family in Australia.

The 29-year-old's wife, Christie, returned to Australia for the birth of their fourth child earlier this year.

Ball, who has not yet been able to meet baby Max, has decided to end his Test career and a nine-year spell with Pro14 side the Scarlets next July so he can be reunited with his family.

"It has been a difficult decision to make but one I have made for the family," said Ball.

"My wife was expecting our fourth child and with Covid around and players having to be in bubbles and everything, we made the decision that she and the kids should go home to have some family help and support around her.

"Max was born last month; there have been Zoom calls and things, but I haven't seen him yet and it has been difficult. As the season goes on, it would be pretty tough of me to ask Christie to come back here away from her family again.

"It has been a fantastic nine seasons I have been here. I love the Scarlets and playing with Wales has been unbelievable and something I will never forget.

"It has been a massive honour to represent my country, but at the end of the day I made a huge sacrifice in staying behind for a year without my family. I have four kids now and I won't have seen them for close on a year."

Ball joined the Scarlets from Western Force in 2012 and has gone on to win 49 caps for Wales.

Alun Wyn Jones will need at least 10 weeks to recover from his knee injury, Ospreys fear, putting his involvement in Wales' Six Nations opener in doubt.

Wales captain Jones - Test rugby's most capped player - sustained the blow in his side's Autumn Nations Cup win over Italy.

That victory was on December 5, nine weeks out from the start of the 2021 Six Nations, where Wales begin their campaign against Ireland on February 7.

That clash could therefore come too soon for Jones, according to Ospreys coach Toby Booth, although he expects the 35-year-old will work to return ahead of schedule.

"We've spoken to the powers that be in relation to his knee," Booth said, discussing the lock ahead of his team's European Challenge Cup encounter with Worcester Warriors.

"We think he will be double-figure weeks.

"If I said it to Alun, he would say, 'I will be back in eight'. That's the nature of the beast.

"He is probably going to be somewhere around that sort of timeframe, which is disappointing for him and obviously for us.

"If anyone is going to get back early, it will be him."

Jones matched Richie McCaw's total of 148 caps against France in October, claiming the outright record a week later in the defeat to Scotland.

Gregor Townsend will remain in charge of Scotland through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup after signing a two-year contract extension.

The former Glasgow Warriors head coach was appointed by Scottish Rugby in 2017 and has won 55 per cent of his 40 Tests in charge of the national team.

Scotland failed to get out of their group at the previous World Cup, missing out on qualifying as they finished behind hosts Japan and Ireland, leading to a restructure of the coaching group.

Townsend oversaw a 2020 Six Nations campaign that resulted in a fourth-place finish, while they recorded two wins in their four Autumn Nations Cup fixtures.

"I am honoured and privileged to have been given the opportunity to continue in my role as Scotland head coach," Townsend said.

"I will be doing all I can, alongside an outstanding support staff, to improve the team as we build towards Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.

"Over the past year I believe we have made progress on and off the field which give real grounds for optimism around what this team can achieve."

Scotland's 2021 Six Nations begins with a Calcutta Cup clash against England at Twickenham on February 6, followed by the visit of Wales to Murrayfield a week later.

Owen Farrell hailed England for digging deep to beat France in a tense Autumn Nations Cup final clash at Twickenham.

Eddie Jones's side triumphed 22-19 after extra time thanks to a sudden-death penalty from Farrell against an inexperienced France side missing 25 senior players.

Les Bleus led by seven points with four minutes of normal time remaining, but a last-gasp try from Luke Cowan-Dickie and a Farrell conversion prolonged a contest that was eventually settled by the captain's boot.

It was a difficult outing for Farrell, who missed four penalty attempts – the most he ever has in a Test match – including one effort that struck the post early in extra time.

However, the Saracens star held his nerve at the critical moments to seal England's eighth consecutive Twickenham victory over France and become only the sixth man to record 1,000 points in Test rugby.

He told Amazon Prime Sport: "We probably didn't come out of the blocks in the first half but the performance when we were on the back foot, and to keep giving me chances to win the game... it took a while! I thought the boys were excellent.

"To be fair, they gave me a few chances of winning it and I didn't quite make them. I was just thankful we got the win. The boys deserved it after that second-half performance.

"Of course there will be stuff to work on, especially in that first half, and of course there's always stuff to get better at and that will be highlighted. 

"But I thought the attitude we came out with in the second half, and when we were under pressure a bit towards the end to get that try and take it into extra time, and to get us two shots at goal to get us two chances to win it, I thought it was a great effort.

"It's been a good nine weeks together. We feel like we've grown again and it's not too long before we get back together again."

England's man of the match Billy Vunipola praised France for a clinical and disciplined performance in which they converted all five penalty kicks and won 10 turnovers to England's four, missing only 20 of 149 tackles.

"They were outstanding, they challenged us all over the pitch," Vunipola said. "They are a great team and we are lucky we came out on the right side of the result.

"Eddie reassured us we can do this. It is another trophy and we keep improving, trying to be the greatest team in the world."

Owen Farrell scored the decisive points as England came from behind to defeat an understrength France 22-19 in sudden death extra time and win the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup.

England captain Farrell missed four of his nine kicks at goal but was successful with a conversion after the 80th minute and a penalty in the second additional period as Eddie Jones' side avoided a chastening Twickenham defeat.

Les Bleus were without 25 key players due to an agreement with Top 14 clubs limiting the amount of times they could select any player during the extended Test window, forcing them to turn to members of their Under-20 World Cup triumphs of 2018 and 2019.

Brice Dulin touched down in the first half and the successful kicking of Matthieu Jalibert and Louis Carbonel gave France a seven-point lead with four minutes remaining.

However, Farrell added the extras following Luke Cowan-Dickie's late try and he made up for a miss two minutes into extra time to end the game after 96 enthralling minutes.

Farrell put England into an early lead after France's front row collapsed in a scrum but he hooked his next effort from the tee to the left.

France stunned the hosts in the 19th minute when fly-half Jalibert darted between Jamie George and Farrell before teeing up Dulin to cross on the left wing.

Jalibert added the extras and, after Elliot Daly split the posts from 46 metres, he sent through a pair of penalties to put Les Bleus up by a converted try.

England went extremely close to getting that before half-time, but France's defence held up impressively through 13 phases on the try line before Ellis Genge lost the ball forward.

The hosts upped the pressure following the restart and, after Farrell was successful with one of his next three penalty attempts, Carbonel added three points with a penalty.

Carbonel got another with the help of the upright but Farrell quickly replied and was then successful with the clock in the red after replacement Luke Cowan-Dickie span over from a driving maul.

Farrell had a chance to win the match in the second minute of extra time but his kick hit the right upright and bounced back across the face of the left post.

But after Maro Itoje won a penalty in the second additional period, Farrell made amends from wide on the left to secure the trophy for England.

Michael Hooper admitted Australia were unhappy with their showing after Saturday's 16-16 draw with Argentina meant the Wallabies finished bottom of the Tri Nations.

The captain rescued the home team from the prospect of defeat when he was carried over for a second-half try, with Reece Hodge making the conversion to tie up the game.

A dramatic contest featuring a red card for Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and three yellows, plus a try for each team, could have had a late twist but Hodge missed a long-range penalty in the 80th minute.

The outcome meant New Zealand were confirmed as champions, which was practically inevitable from the first whistle given it would have taken a landslide victory for either Australia or Argentina to threaten the All Blacks' supremacy.

A frustrated Hooper told Fox Sports: "They're a tough cookie to crack, the Argies. They applied pressure really well and we weren't able to get over the try-line much except for our mauls there.

"It's been a long season, a tough season, and it's been great to salvage some Test matches and get on the field and get some games in front of Aussies crowds.

"We'll build from that, we're not happy with the performance, we're disappointed that we can't get a win there for our last game."

Heavy rain at Bankwest Stadium meant both sides found it difficult to find fluency. It was the second draw between the teams in the Tri Nations, after a 15-15 battle two weeks ago in Newcastle.

"It was hard conditions there," Hooper said.

"I think we were smarter with our kicks and won the territory battle, we were just unable to convert. Disappointed we couldn't play a bit more.

"I think when we did, we showed some nice stuff, but Argentina have been great defensively throughout this competition. It's a tough ask with four back-to-back big Test matches so they did well.

"We've got to be more accurate. We're far too inaccurate around our ball control and playing in the right areas of the field."

Australia and Argentina fought out their second draw in the Tri Nations as the dramatic 16-16 outcome confirmed New Zealand as champions.

Reece Hodge missed a last-minute penalty from long range, in a match that neither side entered with realistic hope of wresting first place away from the All Blacks.

The Wallabies required a bonus-point win with a margin of at least 101 points, while Argentina had to outscore their opponents by 93, so realistically this was a battle to secure second place, which went to the South Americans by virtue of their better points difference.

On a damp night at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney, Australia were trailing when they had Lukhan Salakaia-Loto sent off midway through the second half, but captain Michael Hooper powered over for a game-saving try, with Hodge booting a nerve-testing conversion to level the game.

Argentina had endured a chaotic week, which saw captain Pablo Matera sacked from that job and suspended, along with two team-mates, before the decisions were overturned.

The reinstatements came too late to affect the composition of Saturday's team, with Jeronimo de la Fuente skippering the side, two weeks on from these teams battling out a 15-15 stalemate in Newcastle.

Marcos Kremer was yellow-carded in the 15th minute for cleaning out James O'Connor, using a shoulder. Hodge took the easy three points, but Nicolas Sanchez booted a penalty from halfway for Argentina moments later.

Hooper went to the sin bin for another shoulder-first cleanout, Sanchez the man on the receiving end. With Sanchez off the field for a medical check, replacement Domingo Miotti was charged with kicking duties when Argentina won a penalty, and the Jaguares fly-half made no mistake.

Argentina then snatched a try in the 34th minute as Felipe Ezcurra dashed through midfield before releasing Bautista Delguy to burst through the last lines of Australian defence, celebrating before he dived across the line. Miotti added the extras.

Hodge clipped the Wallabies' deficit to 13-6 at the interval and added a further three points early in the second half, but their momentum was checked when Salakaia-Loto was red-carded for a dangerously high hit on Santiago Grondona.

Miotti booted the ensuing penalty before Lucas Paulos was yellow-carded for collapsing the scrum as Australia pushed close to the Argentina line.

Hooper barged across for his 20th international try and Hodge smacked over the conversion to bring the sides level. But at the death Hodge was off target, Australia denied a win that might have masked some of their shortcomings.

Anthony Watson will start in place of the injured Jonathan Joseph in England's only change for Sunday's Autumn Nations Cup final with France, who have been forced to field a second-string side.

Joseph sustained a calf injury in England's 24-13 victory over Wales last weekend as Eddie Jones' men made it three Pool A wins from three games in the inaugural competition.

Bath Rugby team-mate Watson, who returned from an ankle injury against Wales, has been selected on the right wing in a back three that includes Elliot Daly and Jonny May.

Max Malins and Joe Marchant are back among the replacements, with flanker Jack Willis being left out of the squad entirely.

"We're looking forward to this final, playing France and having another chance to win a trophy this autumn," said Jones, who guided his side to Six Nations success in October.

"This has been another positive learning week with tough, hard training and we're looking forward to getting on the pitch in front of our fans and playing a good game of rugby."

England's starting XV boasts more than 800 caps, which is in stark contrast to depleted opponents France.

Les Blues are without a number of key players due to an agreement between the national side and French clubs over playing limits.

Yoram Moefana has been drafted in for his first international start in place of Jean-Pascal Barraque at outside centre.

That is one of six changes made by head coach Fabien Galthie for the match at Twickenham that will see 2,000 fans back in attendance as coronavirus restrictions are eased.

Alivereti Raka, Selevasio Tolofua, Hassane Kolingar, Pierre Bourgarit and Baptiste Couilloud are also recalled, the latter to captain the side in Baptiste Serin's absence.

France reached the final by topping Pool B with wins over Scotland and Italy after being handed a 28-0 walkover victory against Fiji in their opener.

England team: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (c), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins, Joe Marchant.

France team: Brice Dulin, Alivereti Raka, Yoram Moefana, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere, Matthieu Jalibert, Baptiste Couilloud (c); Hassane Kolingar, Pierre Bourgarit, Dorian Aldegheri, Killian Geraci, Baptiste Pesenti, Cameron Woki, Anthony Jelonch, Selevasio Tolofua.

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Rodrigue Neti, Uini Atonio, Guillaume Ducat, Sekou Macalou, Sebastien Bezy, Louis Carbonel, Jean-Pascal Barraque.

Australia or Argentina must do something miraculous on Saturday to rip the Tri Nations title from New Zealand's grasp.

With the All Blacks boasting a points differential of plus 64, the Wallabies need a bonus-point win with a margin of at least 101 points.

The task facing the Pumas, who also need a bonus point, is only slightly less daunting as Mario Ledesma's side must outscore their opponents by 93.

With such lofty targets to hit, this weekend's clash in Sydney is more about signing off from the competition in style than any remote prospect of actually winning it.

Nonetheless, these two sides drew in their meeting on matchday four, making it an intriguing fixture even if silverware is not realistically on the line.

We use Opta data to preview the showdown as the 2020 Tri Nations draws to a close.

FORM

Australia are enduring a tough time, with Dave Rennie's side having won only one of their previous six Tests, although that victory was against New Zealand on matchday two.

The Wallabies' record against the Pumas offers scope for encouragement for the hosts, who have lost just one of the teams' past 10 meetings.

Argentina have proven particularly stubborn in the first half of matches, conceding only one try before the break in their four games so far in the Tri Nations.

On the flip side, Ledesma's charges have allowed six second-half tries.

ONES TO WATCH

Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez has the best goal-kicking accuracy in the competition this year, nailing 85.7 per cent of his attempts. His tally of 40 points is the second best return of any player at the tournament.

Tom Wright has proven a formidable force for Australia, gaining 9.9 metres per carry, putting him top in that category of players who have made at least 10 carries.

Pablo Matera has been reinstated as Argentina captain, just two days after being sacked from the post and suspended.

The 27-year-old Matera and two team-mates have had suspensions lifted after the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) decided the sanctions imposed for historic "discriminatory" social media posts had been "unnecessary".

It was announced by the UAR on Tuesday that Matera, Guido Petti and Santiago Socino had all been stood down from international duty ahead of Saturday's Tri Nations clash with Australia at Bankwest Stadium.

The trio were found to have posted "discriminatory and xenophobic comments" to their social media channels between 2011 and 2013.

All three were reported to have published apologies on Instagram before setting their profiles to private, while they were summoned to address a disciplinary committee on Wednesday.

Although the UAR says the disciplinary process will continue as it aims to reach a final conclusion, the governing body confirmed Matera has been restored to his previous role and all three players' suspensions have been lifted.

In a statement, the UAR said: "[While addressing the committee] the three players expressed their deep regret, reiterated the apology, ratified that it is not what they think and that it was a reckless act typical of immaturity. However, they take full responsibility and are responsible, for which they made themselves available to the commission to investigate the circumstances and seek to repair the damage caused.

"At the time of preliminary issuance, the disciplinary committee has considered and valued the attitude of the three players during this process, and understands that they have not repeated similar actions during these more than eight years, and that they have shown during this time to be people with firm and upright values, worthy of being part of our team."

It appears the trio will not be involved against Australia, with Argentina coach Mario Ledesma having already named his 23-man squad for the game, leaving out Matera, Petti and Socino.

The UAR statement added: "The disciplinary process continues and the commission will reach a final resolution in the next few days in accordance with the time of the procedure. In this first instance it considers that the maintenance of preventive measures is unnecessary, for which it resolves to lift the suspension of the three players and restore the captaincy of Pablo Matera.

"The Argentine Rugby Union and the squad have different roles and responsibilities but the same objective: to make rugby continue to grow as a sport.

"The path of deep reflection on certain practices associated with our sport, which began at the beginning of the year with the Rugby 2030 programme, we have no doubt that it will take time. And it requires, both on the part of the leadership and the establishment, to give strong signals at the right moment."

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