Six Nations: Scotland call up six players to squad for France clash amid host of withdrawals

By Sports Desk February 21, 2022

Scotland have called up six new players to their Six Nations squad ahead of their meeting with France after a series of injuries and withdrawals.

Gregor Townsend's side sit fourth in the table after a 20-17 opening-round win over England preceded a loss to Wales by the same scoreline.

Scotland next face leaders France on Saturday at Murrayfield, but they will be without a host of familiar faces as more names were added to their growing absentee list.

Rory Sutherland, Javan Sebastian, Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings and Cam Redpath have all returned to their respective clubs after suffering injuries.

As a result, Glasgow Warriors pair Ollie Smith and Kiran McDonald could be in line for their first international caps after being drafted in.

Simon Berghan, Oli Kebble, Marshall Sykes and James Lang are the other four introductions to the camp, with Josh Bayliss also available after missing the opening two games due to concussion.

"This is a great opportunity for the new players to impress," Townsend said after the announcement of the alterations to his playing squad.

"There are often changes made to the squad throughout the championship and it is a challenge we are much better equipped to deal with given our current squad depth."

Forward Gray is set to miss the rest of the tournament with an ankle injury, but Townsend added that the rest of the absentees will be monitored before the final two games against Italy and Ireland.

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    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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    “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.

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    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.

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    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.

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  • Warren Gatland says criticism of Wales infrastructure does not include coaches Warren Gatland says criticism of Wales infrastructure does not include coaches

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    Wales boss Gatland said ahead of last weekend’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Ireland that the Welsh regional game sometimes felt like “a sinking ship” and he was not 100 per cent convinced that a reset of it would happen.

    Ospreys head coach Toby Booth responded by claiming that some of Gatland’s comments were “a bit inflammatory”, while Dragons boss Dai Flanagan met Gatland on Wednesday.

    Gatland had been asked during a press conference to assess key differences between Irish and Welsh rugby and he said that Ireland “have just got the right structures in place”.

    Gatland also urged Wales’ four regional teams – Ospreys, Cardiff, Scarlets and Dragons – to focus on improving infrastructure such as facilities, rather than prioritise signing players.

    “What I was highlighting was the importance of us, for the next 10 years if we want success and sustainability, having the best facilities and the best support staff, whether that is coaches, medical staff, strength and conditioning,” Gatland told reporters on Thursday, as Wales prepared for next week’s Six Nations appointment with France.

    “Probably the difference between us and Ireland at the moment is they have got their systems and structures in place and we’ve got a little bit of a way to go.

    “It wasn’t a criticism of coaches. I know how hard they are working in terms of the regions, and how hard they are trying.

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    Wales will resume their Six Nations campaign against France after successive losses to Scotland, England and Ireland, with Italy following Les Bleus to Cardiff on the tournament’s final weekend.

    It is feasible that Wales could end up finishing fifth for a fourth time in the last five seasons, while they last propped up the Six Nations table without a win 21 years ago when Gatland’s fellow New Zealander Steve Hansen was in charge.

    “Test match rugby is all about winning, it is all about performing,” Gatland said.

    “A couple of close games (Wales lost to Scotland and England by a combined total of three points) where we showed some promise, and then we came up against probably the best team in the world at the moment.

    “We’ve got an opportunity in the next couple of games to go out there, keep working hard and improving. Hopefully, the next two games we can come away with wins.”

    While Wales have have yet to register a Six Nations victory, France were well beaten at home by title favourites Ireland on the opening day and then held 13-13 by Italy in Lille.

    Gatland added: “In fairness to Italy, they stayed in the fight.

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    “They (France) are going to come pretty hard at you early on, so you have got to stay in that battle and try and negate that physical dominance of their forwards, the huge size that they have.”

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