Six Nations: Ireland lose injured Gibson-Park and Healy for Wales opener

By Sports Desk February 04, 2023

There was late disruption for Ireland as Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy were ruled out of their Six Nations opener against Wales on Saturday.

Scrum-half Gibson-Park and prop Healy missed out due to injury, forcing head coach Andy Farrell to make late changes.

The vastly experienced Conor Murray replaced Gibson-Park in the number nine shirt at the Principality Stadium.

Craig Casey and Dave Kilcoyne were drafted in to take their places on the bench in Cardiff.

Ireland, the top-ranked side in the world, also this week lost key man Tadhg Furlong to injury ahead of their first match of the tournament.

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    Mackenzie Martin hopes he can be a “trailblazer” to inspire young people in Cardiff’s Ely community after making his Wales debut following just nine games of professional rugby.

    The 20-year-old featured as a replacement in Wales’ 31-7 Guinness Six Nations defeat against Ireland.

    Ely, a western Cardiff suburb, has not always enjoyed positive headlines and was the scene of major riots in 1991 and 2023.

    Martin grew up on the estate’s Grand Avenue, and he is the latest sportsman to emerge from an area that can boast a portfolio containing Ryan Giggs, Steve Robinson and his fellow boxer Nicky Piper.

    “I hope I can be a trailblazer,” Cardiff back-row forward Martin said. “I hope the kids are going to look up to me.

    “When I went down there the other week, even before I made my debut, there were a good few of them copying my haircut.

    “They came up to me and were saying ‘I’ve got the same hair as you’ and that type of thing. All theirs looked better than mine, so I was a bit jealous!

    “Growing up, it wasn’t obviously the easiest, as anybody can imagine, but my family has always been great and I have learnt from them.

    “I was always going to work hard because I think my dad is the hardest worker I know. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you can still make something of yourself.

    “My dad worked in warehouses, he has delivered milk, he has done loads of things. He has always been on the go, so that gives me the inspiration to keep working hard.”

    Martin has a deep religious faith, and he added: “Everybody always thinks that rugby – not saved me – but that rugby put me on the right path. But it was God that helped me do that.

    “God put that opportunity into my life, so that is how strong my faith is and that is why I always say ‘all glory to God’ and stuff like that because I wouldn’t have had the opportunities without him.”

    Martin only made his professional debut in November 2023, but he has joined Cardiff team-mates Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann as exciting Six Nations newcomers.

    Such was Martin’s impact off the bench in Dublin that it would be no surprise if he is promoted to a starting place against France on Sunday week.

    And he will continue to be inspired by a player he describes as “the man” – 104 times-capped Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau.

    “Me and my dad always watched Wales together, and every time we would see him (Faletau) my dad would say ‘he is amazing’,” Martin said.

    “When I transitioned to the back-row when I was about 16 I was always just trying to follow in his footsteps and how he played the game.

    “Obviously, we are a little bit different as players, but it is still the way he works around the field and the way he carries himself. That was the inspiration.

    “He is one of the best number eights in the world – well, for me the best number eight in the world – so if I can even replicate that a little bit I would be doing myself proud.”

  • Wales great JPR Williams remembered as rugby ‘revolutionary’ and family man Wales great JPR Williams remembered as rugby ‘revolutionary’ and family man

    JPR Williams’ life as a rugby “revolutionary” and family man was remembered at a memorial service for the former Wales and British Lions full-back.

    Williams died in January at the age of 74 and former team-mates from Welsh rugby’s golden 1970s era were among those who gathered at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff to celebrate his life on St David’s Day.

    The tough-as-teak Williams gained a worldwide reputation for his fearless defensive play, rock-solid safety under a high ball and attacking prowess.

    Williams won seven Five Nations titles, six Triple Crowns and three Grand Slams as Wales dominated the 1970s and starred on two victorious Lions tours, to New Zealand in 1971 – the only time they have won there – and in South Africa, three years later.

    “On the field he was a revolutionary,” said John Taylor, a former London Welsh and Wales team-mate and Williams’ best man when he married wife Priscilla.

    “JPR ripped up the rule book from the start. Wales went from 1934 to 1967 without a try from a full-back until Keith Jarrett scored there and he was really a centre.

    “JPR scored six, five against England. He was the scourge of the men in white and the most competitive animal I’ve ever met.

    “Nobody created the extra man better than he did.”

    Williams’ love of music, he was a boy soprano – with his young voice played over a loud speaker in the Cathedral – before developing in to a rich baritone, was reflected during the service.

    There were five hymns and a piece of reflection from the Bridgend Tabernacle Choir, of which Williams was a member and where he played the organ.

    Williams, an orthopaedic surgeon who had studied at St Mary’s Hospital in London, also played the piano and the violin and the service concluded with a stirring rendition of the Welsh National Anthem, ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’.

    Williams’ four children – Lauren, Annelise, Francine and Peter – read during a service where their father’s sporting prowess was recalled.

    From 55 Wales caps – a world record upon his retirement in 1981 – to Lions tours; from winning a British junior competition at the All England Club, Wimbledon by beating former Great Britain Davis Cup captain David Lloyd to representing Wales’ senior squash team.

    With his flowing long hair, sideburns and socks rolled down, Williams was an instantly-recognisable figure on the rugby field and was still playing for village team Tondu well into his 50s.

    “I spent so much of my career on the field with JPR,” said Wales and Lions colleague Sir Gareth Edwards.

    “He was a tremendous innovator and changed the full-back position virtually overnight.

    “He would carry the ball back like a guided missile and had so many ways to beat the challenge of a defender.

    “Whenever there were fisticuffs, he would run up and say ‘wait for me’. Phil (Bennett) and I would be running the other way.

    “He was fearless, resilient and competitive – the ultimate warrior.”

    Welsh Rugby Union president Terry Cobner described his former team-mate as “an icon and role model”, saying he had inspired a generation of youngsters “not only in Wales but throughout the world”.

    Former Wales and Lions centre John Devereux recalled the impact Williams had on his local team Bridgend, both as a player and club president in later life.

    Paying tribute at the service, journalist Peter Jackson said: “JPR – ‘the three most famous initials in the history of sport – initials that will forever evoke memories of glory days.”

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    Wigglesworth is central to what England head coach Steve Borthwick promised would comprise a “thorough and honest” review of the performance as they brace for their next clash with Ireland a week on Saturday.

    But speaking in York where the squad has gathered ahead of sold-out training session at the LNER Stadium on Friday night, Wigglesworth is adamant that frustration about a performance littered with “basic errors” will not be allowed to boil over.

    “If it was needed, anyone who knows me will know I can be pretty straight and to the point,” said Wigglesworth, who made 33 England appearances before moving into coaching in 2019.

    “But I think you have a very limited lifespan if you are going to stand and bang a TV and call things out, because there will be reasons, mine as much as any players.

    “If I start shouting and having a go at them, that’s right back at me. We’ll be in this again and make sure we’re better.”

    Wigglesworth reiterated the tentatively positive prognosis on half-backs Marcus Smith and Alex Mitchell as they target being available for the daunting clash against the favourites for back-to-back Grand Slams.

    Smith has missed England’s last three matches with a calf injury while Mitchell started in wins over Italy and Wales but missed the Scotland defeat after picking up a knee injury in training.

    “We’re going to have to see what they get through this week,” added Wigglesworth.

    “We’re hopeful, but we’ve not done anything yet in terms of seeing if they could be involved in a Test match. Tomorrow (Friday) will be a big day for them. Then we’ll see how they go at the start of next week but we’re hopeful.”

    In the meantime Wigglesworth will work with the squad on ironing out the issues which cost them dear against the Scots.

    “We didn’t really play as us,” he added. “We didn’t play how we set out to and how we’d been building to, so that was the disappointment for everyone.

    “There were signs from early on that we weren’t attacking the line. We were passing early away from the line and not challenging the defence. Then we made basic errors on the back of doing things we hadn’t done in the previous couple of weeks.

    “We looked slightly tense and maybe we got more tense as things went on. It is hard to learn from errors when we are not attacking as we want to, but our mindset is that if it doesn’t go right then we will improve and take the lessons.”

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