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.

England head coach Eddie Jones is self-isolating after assistant Matt Proudfoot tested positive for coronavirus.

England Rugby announced on Wednesday that Proudfoot, who is asymptomatic, returned a positive in the latest round of pre-tournament testing ahead of the Six Nations and is now in isolation.

Jones and attack coach Simon Amor were identified as close contacts and must also self-isolate for 10 days, as per United Kingdom government guidelines.

Should they return further negative tests, Jones and Amor will be able to link up with the squad at St George's Park from January 28.

England, who are set to name their squad on Friday, are due to begin the defence of their Six Nations title against Scotland at Twickenham on February 6.

Jones is expected to name a 28-man selection featuring mostly established international players, with strict COVID-19 bubble arrangements meaning he cannot call up a larger group and allow those needing game time to return to their club sides.

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."

Kyle Sinckler will miss England's opening game in this year's Six Nations after the prop was handed a two-week ban for swearing at a referee.

The Bristol Bears forward was cited by an independent commissioner for failing to respect the authority of a match official during Saturday's Premiership game against Exeter Chiefs.

Sinckler contested the charge at a disciplinary hearing, during which he accepted he had used foul language.

The 27-year-old was handed a suspension by an independent panel and will now be unavailable until February 9, three days after England open their 2021 campaign against Scotland.

"The player was candid in his evidence as to why he had done so and regretted his actions," a statement from the independent panel read.

"The panel found that his actions disrespected the authority of the referee and it was in breach of a core value of rugby - respect of match officials - and warranted a red card.

"The panel determined that in all the circumstances it was a low entry point with no relevant mitigation. The sanction is a two-week ban."

Following on from the Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham, Eddie Jones' squad host Italy on February 13.

The Six Nations is scheduled to go ahead amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, though the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been temporarily suspended after French authorities ruled the participation of Top 14 clubs to be too much of a public health risk.

The European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been temporarily suspended after the French authorities ruled the participation of Top 14 clubs to be too much of a public health risk. 

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) made the announcement on Monday following a meeting last week with French government officials. 

Due to concern over a new variant of coronavirus, the French government has decided to prevent its clubs from participating in games both in France and in the United Kingdom and Ireland. 

It means the EPCR has been forced to suspend the Champions Cup with two rounds of the pool phase remaining. The Challenge Cup is in its preliminary phase. 

The development would appear to place the 2021 Six Nations, scheduled to start with a meeting between France and Italy in Rome on February 6, in jeopardy. 

Last year's Six Nations tournament was only completed in October because of the pandemic-enforced delay. 

An EPCR statement read: "EPCR and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby took part in a meeting by audio conference last week with representatives of the French ministries of the Interior, Health and Sport, as well as of the President's office. 

"Notable updates to EPCR's COVID-19 protocols were presented to the French authorities, including the addition of PCR tests no earlier than three days before matches in the tournaments, conforming to French government guidelines and supplementing the existing, meticulous contact tracing measures put in place with a view to limiting the risk of transmission. 

"Against the backdrop of the recent detection of a new strain of coronavirus, the French government has directed that French clubs postpone their participation in EPCR's tournaments for the month of January, both for matches scheduled in France and for those due to be played in the United Kingdom and Ireland. 

"On the basis of this directive, EPCR had no choice but to temporarily suspend the pool stage of the Heineken Champions Cup and the preliminary stage of the Challenge Cup. 

"While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, and prioritising the health and welfare of players and club staff, EPCR, in conjunction with its shareholder leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to resume and complete the tournaments as soon as practicable. 

"EPCR will be making no further comment at the present time." 

The British and Irish Lions are to hold talks over the future of the 2021 tour to South Africa amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

An eight-match trip is scheduled to begin on July 3 and continue into early August, including three Tests against the Springboks, who are the reigning world champions.

However, the continued complications surrounding the COVID-19 health crisis – in the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa – has led to doubts over whether the tour will go ahead as planned. 

In a statement on the team's official website, Lions managing director Ben Calveley confirmed that all involved are in "constant dialogue" over the ever-changing situation. 

Discussions will continue throughout January and February if needs be knowing a decision is required as soon as possible, particularly for those supporters considering travelling to South Africa.

"As you would expect, we are progressing with our plans based on the latest information available to us," Lions managing director Ben Calveley said in a statement.

"However, given the uncertainty that continues to be caused by the coronavirus pandemic both in South Africa, as well as the UK and Ireland, we are very aware of the need to make a timely decision on the best way forward; not least so that we can provide clarity to supporters booked to travel to South Africa next summer, or those thinking of making the trip.

"To date, the Lions Board has had repeated meetings to discuss all scenarios available and is in constant dialogue.

"It will meet throughout January and into February, if required, to review all relevant information and data. After further consultation with SA Rugby, we will update on the outcome of these meetings in due course.

"In the meantime, we continue regular discussion with our partners in the UK, Ireland and South Africa, including the British High Commission in Pretoria, the Irish Embassy and various government departments, to ascertain as much information as possible on this fast-evolving, complex situation."

Warren Gatland is once again due to be in charge of the tourists; the former Wales coach was at the helm for the 2013 victory over Australia, as well as the drawn series with New Zealand four years later. 

The Lions have toured South Africa 13 times previously, including a 2-1 defeat to the Springboks in 2009 when Ian McGeechan was head coach. 

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.

Toulouse's two-time Rugby World Cup winner Jerome Kaino says he will definitely retire at the end of this season.

The 37-year-old former New Zealand international, who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2011 and 2015, had previously stated that he is likely to hang his boots up next year.

Kaino, who won 81 caps in an illustrious All Blacks career, has now confirmed he will bring his playing days to an end in 2021 but would like to remain with Top 14 club Toulouse in a coaching capacity.

"One hundred percent, this is my last year as a player," he told RMC Sport. "All the players who retire are used to saying it: you know when it is the right moment.

"I feel that I am not going to get any younger, although I still enjoy playing rugby. But I think new players are coming and in particular a new generation looking to the future. I am ready to hang up the spikes."

He added on the prospect of taking up a coaching role: "We talked about it with Ugo [head coach Mola] and Didier [president Lacroix].

"I would be very happy to work with them, because the club has been amazing for me and my family and I love my life in France. So if I can stay a few years learning French, I would like to stay."

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.

Rugby World Cup 2023 hosts France will face New Zealand in the pool phase, while reigning champions South Africa have been paired with Ireland and Scotland. 

France and three-time winners New Zealand are joined in Pool A by Italy, plus qualifiers from the Americas and Africa regions. 

Ireland and Scotland faced each other in the 2019 tournament in Japan and will lock horns again as rivals in Pool B, which also contains the current holders in the Springboks. 

Pool C has a sense of familiarity to it, Wales, Australia and Fiji once again grouped together, as was also the case last year. 

And in Pool D, England coach Eddie Jones will face his former team in Japan plus Argentina, who beat New Zealand for the first time in their history last month.

Twelve teams have so far qualified for the tournament, with eight more to be determined by November 2022.

Tournament organisers will announce fixtures and venues in February 2021.


Pool A: New Zealand, France, Italy, Americas qualifier, Africa qualifier

Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Asia/Pacific qualifier, Europe qualifier

Pool C: Wales, Australia, Fiji, Europe qualifier, final qualifier winner

Pool D: England, Japan, Argentina, Oceania qualifier, Americas qualifier

Welsh referee Nigel Owens has confirmed his retirement from international rugby after an illustrious career on the Test stage.

The revered official took charge of his 100th Test in France's Autumn Nations Cup clash against Italy last month, 17 years on from overseeing his first international between Portugal and Georgia.

"Nobody has a divine right to go on forever," Owens, who holds the record for most refereed internationals, said in quotes reported by the Welsh Rugby Union's official website.

"There comes a time where it's time to move on, so international refereeing will come to an end now. That France v Italy game was my last Test match. To go out on 100 is a good time to go."

Owens has a lengthy list of achievements, including overseeing the 2015 Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia and several European showpieces.

The 49-year-old is a respected figure throughout the game and has struck up strong relationships with players and teams, while he has also been involved in several television appearances away from rugby - including an appearance on popular  ITV quiz show 'The Chase' earlier this year.

While Owens will no longer officiate international matches, he still plans to referee in Pro14.

"I'm not going to be around for 2023, I don't want to be. I still hope to referee in the Pro 14 and locally in Wales this season and maybe next as well," he added.

"I will certainly continue to referee in the community game because when you are very fortunate to get so much out of something, I think it's hugely important that you give something back to it as well.

"I'll also be going into a coaching role with the WRU [Welsh Rugby Union], helping some of our talented, young referees we have here in Wales, so that is something I'm quite excited about.

"We currently have five referees including myself refereeing at Pro 14 level so it will be exciting to help them make further progress, as well as our other upcoming male and female referees."

In total, Owens has refereed matches involving 25 different international teams. He has officiated more matches involving New Zealand than any other nation (25).

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.

Former England hooker Steve Thompson has announced he has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and declared he cannot remember being part of the team's 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph.

The 42-year-old, who spent most of his club career with Northampton, is one of eight players reportedly planning to take legal action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union. Former Wales back-rower Alix Popham is among those players.

According to the Guardian, the players, who are all also reported to have suspected chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), will claim those rugby authorities failed to provide adequate protection against cases of concussion.

CTE is a progressive brain condition that has affected boxers and American football players previously, with medical experts believing it is caused by blows to the head and incidents of concussion.

Thompson played throughout England's World Cup final against Australia, which was settled by Jonny Wilkinson's last-gasp drop goal in extra time, but now he says the memories have gone.

"I can't remember it. I've got no memorabilia. I've got no feelings about it," he told the Guardian. "You see us lifting the World Cup and I can see me there jumping around. But I can’t remember it."

Thompson has no doubt the intense demands of rugby, and particularly the nature of training sessions in the early days of the professional era, have brought him to where he is today.

"It's the rugby that's put me through this," Thompson said.

Thompson suspects the eight players who have enlisted legal representation are far from alone in suffering such effects from playing rugby union.

The sport became professional in the wake of the 1995 World Cup, and Thompson suspects the early years of the paid era, as the sport transitioned to its new ways with full-time training, is when players were at their most vulnerable.

"I can see the numbers being high, especially for the first players to come through, what, ’96‑97 up to the mid-2000s, really," Thompson said.

"The 2011 World Cup camp was completely different to the 2003 World Cup camp. In 2011 it was a lot more technical, whereas in 2003 you just had to beast yourself."

He said at times when he was with England, "they literally just beasted you until you fell apart", describing the demands on players as "brutal".

Thompson believes there was sufficient expertise in the ranks of non-playing staff to know something was not right.

He said: "You think how many specialists were out there watching that and not saying anything.

"They knew what was happening. And nothing was done about it. People were getting knocked on the head and it was not being recorded. I'm knocked out in training and it was always: 'It's just a knock on the head, he’ll be fine.'"

Stats Perform News has asked the WRU and World Rugby for a response.

The RFU said in a statement: "The RFU has had no legal approach on this matter. The Union takes player safety very seriously and implements injury prevention and injury treatment strategies based on the latest research and evidence.

"The Union has played an instrumental role in establishing injury surveillance, concussion education and assessment, collaborating on research as well as supporting law changes and law application to ensure proactive management of player welfare."

Thirteen Barbarians players have been given bans by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) after breaking coronavirus rules and causing a match with England to be cancelled.

The RFU reportedly lost close to £1million in revenue and sponsorship after the match at Twickenham on October 25 was called off.

An independent disciplinary panel on Tuesday passed a range of sanctions against 13 players, who all accepted the disciplinary charges.

Chris Robshaw, Alex Lewington, Fergus McFadden, Juan Pablo Socino, Richard Wigglesworth and Jackson Wray were all given four-week bans after admitting to breaching the COVID-19 bubble and providing a false account of their whereabouts.

The players, who were also ordered to complete unpaid rugby community work, had longer initial suspensions reduced "as a result of their timely acceptance of culpability and the players' other mitigation". All except McFadden have been fined two weeks' wages.

Calum Clark, Sean Maitland, Timothy Swinson, Joel Kpoku, Manu Vunipola, Thomas De Glanville and Simon Kerrod have also received bans.

The RFU said in a statement: "The total charges across 13 players are 85 weeks of match bans; 44 weeks suspended subject to conditions being met and 41 weeks of bans to be taken concurrently; players have been fined a total of 18.5 weeks salary and given a total of 630 hours of community service.

"The sanctions reflect the seriousness of the charges which include behaving in a way that ignored what the public at large and the Rugby community were complying with and deliberately compromising an investigation being carried out by the RFU as swiftly as the circumstances demanded."

The disciplinary panel was told that, on October 20, "Robshaw, Wray and Wigglesworth left the hotel to go for takeaway drinks from the Footman pub in Mayfair and drank them outside. Later they moved into the pub where they were joined by Lewington, Socino, McFadden and Kerrod, contrary to Tier 2 regulations then in place in London".

The players, who had not sought or been given permission to leave their hotel, were seen on CCTV using a fire escape "to avoid any confrontation".

On October 21, 12 players left the hotel to visit Hush bar in Mayfair, The Running Horse pub and Sergio's restaurant, despite the Barbarian management team having told Wray a visit to the latter was not permitted. The players later claimed they had gone to a McDonald's restaurant before sitting in Berkeley Square with takeaway drinks.

During the investigation, the 12 players said in a statement: "We would like unequivocally to apologise to the Barbarians FC and the Rugby Football Union for our misguided and foolish actions on Wednesday evening. We bitterly regret our stupidity. We would like unequivocally to apologise to the RFU legal officer and lawyer for offering misleading statements during our interviews on Thursday; our basic instinct, as rugby players, is to stick together and protect each other, but, in this instance, we now realise we should have told the entire truth. As a group, together, we would now like to set down the precise sequence of events."

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