Adam Beard says Wales will relish the size of their challenge against Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland in Dublin.

Wales have not won a Six Nations game at the Aviva Stadium since 2012, drawing one and losing four of the subsequent meetings.

And they face an Ireland side firmly on course to achieve an historic feat of winning Six Nations Grand Slams in successive seasons.

Having accounted for France and Italy in bonus-point fashion, Andy Farrell’s team will be backed by many to inflict similar pain on Wales on February 24.

Wales lost their opening games to Scotland and England – albeit by a combined total of just three points – so a tall order awaits them.

“Physicality is going to be one of the key components of the game,” 53-cap Wales lock Beard said.

“You see the way Ireland play their rugby. It is all about speed, winning collisions and the breakdown.

“Defensively, we have to match up with that physical battle, and in attack it’s about being clinical and physical. It will be a tough game, but one we are looking forward to.

“Ireland are a team that are playing with confidence, and it helps when a lot of them play club rugby together. We are excited to get stuck into them.”

Wales have a new look about them in this season’s Six Nations, with Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar having retired from Test rugby, Louis Rees-Zammit now concentrating on a possible American football career and the likes of Jac Morgan, Taulupe Faletau and Dewi Lake all injured.

It has meant Six Nations opportunities for others, including players like Cameron Winnett, Ioan Lloyd, Archie Griffin and Alex Mann, while 21-year-old Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins is Wales’ youngest captain for 56 years.

Beard added: “We are not far away. This squad is fairly new and boys are experiencing Six Nations rugby for the first time.

“These narrow losses (27-26 against Scotland and 16-14 against England) are disappointing, but can be good for us because it is a learning curve for a lot of players.

“If we keep working hard and developing our game, we are going to be a tough squad to beat and winning a lot more games than we are losing.

“It has probably been two great 40-minute performances from each game. We are a young squad, but Daf Jenkins hit the nail on the head after the (England) game that we can’t use that as an excuse.”

Beard has been impressed with Jenkins’ leadership, a quality he has carried into the tournament after skippering Exeter this season to strong positions in the Gallagher Premiership and Investec Champions Cup.

“He is doing great,” Beard said.

“There are a lot of leaders in this squad, and we are trying to help him out as much as possible and not have too much weight on his shoulders.

“He has had a lot of experience captaining Exeter, and he has taken things in his stride.

“It has not affected his performances in any shape or form. He has been playing some of his best rugby.

“He speaks when he needs to speak, and people listen.”

Wales fly-half Sam Costelow is expected to be sidelined until January after suffering shoulder and hamstring injuries.

Scarlets playmaker Costelow was hurt during Wales’ 49-26 victory over the Barbarians on Saturday and went off at half-time.

He is a clear favourite to succeed Dan Biggar, who retired from Test rugby after the World Cup, in Wales’ number 10 shirt.

Wales kick off their Six Nations campaign against Scotland in Cardiff on February 3.

“We are not expecting him in the short term,” Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel told reporters ahead of Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against South African side the Lions.

“It will be beyond Christmas, beyond the new year before we see him. I haven’t an exact date. We are still waiting on the final prognosis and some specialist opinion, really, on that.

“It is a disappointing one for us because he is going to be out for the large part of the first half of the season.

“There is loads more to come from him, and this is obviously a setback in his career at the minute to have this injury.”

Costelow impressed for Wales at the World Cup in France, starting the pool game against Georgia when Gareth Anscombe was a late withdrawal.

And he is the latest member of that squad to be sidelined, with Exeter forward Christ Tshiunza suffering a broken foot on his return to domestic action and number eight Taulupe Faletau continuing his recovery from a broken arm sustained in the Georgia match.

Wales, meanwhile, are without the Six Nations services of Anscombe and full-back Liam Williams, who will play domestic rugby in Japan next year.

George North says he is not contemplating following the likes of fellow Wales stars Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar into international retirement.

Halfpenny, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric are the centre of attention when Wales face Principality Stadium opponents the Barbarians on Saturday.

Jones, who made a world record 158 Test match appearances for Wales, captains a Barbarians team that features 93 times-capped flanker Tipuric among his colleagues.

And full-back Halfpenny, with 101 caps under his belt, is set for a final Wales outing before moving to the southern hemisphere, where he is expected to join Super Rugby giants the Crusaders.

Fly-half Biggar, meanwhile, left the international stage following Wales’ World Cup campaign in France and continues to play for Top 14 club Toulon.

At 31, centre North can reflect on a Wales career that has yielded 118 caps and 47 tries, but his appetite for more remains firmly intact.

“I felt like I was really happy with my performance in the World Cup,” said North, who will partner Johnny Williams in Wales’ midfield this weekend.

“(I am) still competing, so for me, I am very much still wanting to play and compete for that jersey. It is still a huge part of me and a big driver for me.

“If the boss (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) keeps picking me, I will keep doing the best I can.

“It is obviously a sad day to be losing them. They are big characters and big players for us and have delivered on numerous occasions in big games that people still talk about now.

“But that is the evolution of rugby and you have got to keep up with the curve.

“I think we saw in the World Cup a number of younger players putting their hands up and taking a step forward. It is time for these boys to get that exposure and get into Test match rugby.”

North, meanwhile, has paid glowing tributes to Jones, Tipuric and Halfpenny as he prepares to share a big-match stage with them for a final time.

“Al is a guy I’ve known for many years and played alongside,” he added.

“He is an absolute Trojan horse, what he has given to Welsh rugby over the, what is it, 25-30 years he has been playing! For Al to have his last game at home, playing against Wales, is special for him.

“I think Justin is probably one of the best players I’ve played with, his understanding of the game, how best to apply himself and one of the fittest players.

“He could play anywhere. Some people say he could play from full-back to back-row and I am sure he could do a better job than most of us.

“Leigh is another awesome servant of Welsh rugby, a close friend of mine and a brother in arms.

“He literally leaves no stone unturned and he goes out of his way to help anyone and everyone. For Leigh to finish at home is special for him and his family and he has got an exciting next step as well.”

Dan Biggar feels that the future is bright for Wales after his Test career drew to a close following an agonising Rugby World Cup exit.

Wales fly-half Biggar bowed out at Stade Velodrome as hopes of reaching a third World Cup semi-final in the last four tournaments were ended by Argentina.

Biggar, who turns 34 on Monday, won 112 caps during a 15-year career at the top.

He also scored more than 600 points for Wales and was the team’s tactical controller, but Argentina ensured no fairy-tale finish for him, posting a 29-17 victory that took them to Paris and a semi-final appointment with New Zealand on Friday.

Biggar, though, is enthused by the squad he leaves behind, with head coach Warren Gatland having already started an impressive transformation process following last season’s Six Nations misery.

Wales only avoided the wooden spoon by beating Italy in Rome as their campaign played out against a back-drop of contractual and financial uncertainty in Welsh professional rugby that almost led to a players’ strike prior to facing England in Cardiff.

But an unbeaten march through their World Cup pool – it included a record 40-6 win against Australia – and 19 points collected from a possible 20 highlighted an impressive revival.

The tournament also saw further progression for players like Biggar’s expected fly-half successor Sam Costelow, squad co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake and Exeter forwards Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza.

And there were those who did not make the final 33-strong World Cup group – centre Max Llewellyn, wing Tom Rogers, prop Keiron Assiratti, plus locks Ben Carter and Teddy Williams, among others – that give further cause for optimism.

“If you had offered this five months ago, we would have snapped your hand off,” Biggar said.

“This young group have driven standards and pushed us to keep going.

“I have got no doubt they will achieve some really good things if they keep the squad together and allow boys like Sam Costelow some time in that 10 seat and allow him to drive it and make it his team.

“I sat Sam down and told him to make this team his own going forward. I told him ‘my time is over – this is your time, so make it count’.

“I am sure he will because he is a huge talent with a bit of genuine X-factor about him. He can develop into a real leader.

“A strong core of young players will have learned so much from this experience, and they will know that they have got the talent to rub shoulders with the best of the best. I really think the future is bright for Welsh rugby.

“Hopefully people will remember me for being passionate and caring about every moment.

“I am going to miss it. I didn’t think I would be particularly emotional – I almost thought I would be relieved – but there is definitely a bit of sadness.

“I am definitely going to miss it in the months and years to come.

“I think it will be raw for a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks, but when I reflect back on my career hopefully I will be fairly pleased with what I have done.”

With Gatland in the early phase of a five-year contract during a second stint as Wales boss, attention will soon turn to this season’s Six Nations, while Wales also have a fixture against the Barbarians on November 4.

Japan-bound backs Liam Williams and Gareth Anscombe will not be available for the Six Nations, and it remains to be seen if any players follow Biggar into international retirement.

Gatland added: “You have got to take learnings. How do we develop and improve as a squad?

“I am incredibly proud of the work these players and the whole staff have put in. We have made some really good strides.

“We need to continue on that path. We don’t want to be going backwards, and that is a good challenge for us to accept and make sure we continue to keep improving.”

Warren Gatland felt the change in referee knocked Wales off their stride as they crashed out of the World Cup with a 29-17 quarter-final defeat to Argentina in Marseille.

South African official Jaco Peyper hobbled off with a calf injury after Wales had scored their first try in the 15th minute, taking a 7-0 lead in a match they had dominated.

But with Karl Dickson replacing Peyper their ascendency slipped away and Argentina came on strong in the second half with tries from Joel Sclavi and Nicolas Sanchez sweeping them into the last four.

Head coach Gatland was full of praise for the Pumas’ performance but also felt events had conspired against Wales.

“It probably didn’t help with the referee getting injured. That was a little bit disruptive in terms of the game,” said Gatland, who confirmed his commitment to remaining in charge of Wales until the 2027 World Cup.

“We were 10-0 up and were thinking that if we take a few of the opportunities that were presented to us. Unfortunately we gave away a couple of soft penalties.

“It does throw you off. We were comfortable with Jaco Peyper and the relationship we have with him in terms of his control of the game.

“It’s nothing against Karl but you do a lot of analysis through what referees tend to be tough on and what they are looking for.

“We hadn’t prepared for the change. Sometimes that happens in a game and you just have to deal with it. That is the way Test match rugby goes sometimes.”

A controversial refereeing decision saw Guido Petti hit Nick Tompkins in the head with his shoulder in the third quarter but Dickson and TMO Marius Jonker ruled there was no foul play.

It was explained that because the tackle had been called, Tompkins was falling and Petti entered legally while bent at the waist, there was no offence. Argentina went over from the same period of play to stretch their lead.

“It would be interesting to see what happens in terms of the feedback from the panel,” Gatland said.

“He (Dickson) felt that Nick has dropped his height and he said it wasn’t foul play. I would need to go back and look at it, but it was probably at least a penalty situation.

“Sometimes those things happen in a game in big moments and can swing things. That is just the way it is.”

Dan Biggar’s final match for Wales ended in disappointment with the fly-half eventually departing in the second half having taken a bang to the chest early on, possibly exacerbating a pectoral muscle injury he had been carrying.

“Dan has been a great servant for Welsh rugby. He has been through some incredible highs and some lows as well. To see him come into the side and mature and develop as a player, that has been pretty special,” Gatland said.

Argentina were transformed from the team routed 27-10 by 14-man England in their group opener and head coach Michael Cheika insisted the lessons of that defeat had been learned.

“We knew that first game would be rough for us and we learned a lot from it because we had a lot of World Cup first timers,” Cheika said.

“There hasn’t been a radical turnaround, we’ve just built from what we’ve learned. The progress hasn’t been lineal, but all that work we put in as a foundation has paid off.

“We’re starting to get a bit of flow and one thing this team has always had is lots of flow. We just didn’t handle the occasion against England well.”

Wales fly-half Dan Biggar will banish any thoughts of Test rugby retirement when he lines up in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

The 33-year-old wins his 112th cap at Stade Velodrome – and it will be a final Wales appearance if Argentina triumph.

Biggar announced in August that he will step away from the international arena he has graced for the past 15 years, post-World Cup.

But Wales have their sights set on going deep into the tournament and he has no intention of reaching journey’s end just yet.

“For me, I am not thinking about anything, I don’t want this to be my last day as a rugby player for Wales. Hopefully, it will be the case I have another two weeks,” Biggar said.

“For those of us who will be finishing after the World Cup there will be a bit of extra pressure, but it is also a huge motivation.

“I definitely don’t want my last day as a Welsh rugby player to be losing a quarter-final.

“We have worked as hard as we possibly can all week, doing everything we possibly can as a team and individuals to make sure we go out on a high rather than a disappointing end.”

Wales have reached a fourth successive World Cup quarter-final, with Biggar returning to action after recovering from a pectoral muscle strain suffered early in the record 40-6 victory over Australia three weeks ago.

Biggar went off after just 12 minutes, and he added: “Initially, I thought it was going to be really difficult, but we have managed to heal up okay.

“Basically, I have just been with the physios pretty much every day for the last two-and-a-half weeks and getting myself back for this. It was one which I really didn’t want to miss.

“I am just really lucky, I suppose, lucky and grateful to be preparing for a game tomorrow. It was one of those where I thought it would have been such a shame to have ended it that way.

“It is important to say it’s not about myself or anybody else leaving the team tomorrow, it is about making sure that we stay on because the belief and the confidence we’ve got in the group now is really high.”

Biggar’s game management and goalkicking will see him have a key role to play against the Pumas when Wales target a third semi-final in the last four World Cups.

“We have spoken all week about not being ready to go home yet,” he said.

“It is funny how time changes because probably three, four or five months ago if somebody had said we were going to win our pool and be in a really strong position to get to a semi-final, people would have thought you were talking absolute madness.

“So it just shows how much confidence and belief we have had as a group as the weeks have gone by and spent more time together.

“We noticed as the weeks have gone on that the support for us from back home has grown and grown, and the belief has grown.

“We are hoping to have a load of Welsh fans in here (Stade Velodrome) tomorrow. Loads of families and friends are coming to the game – I’ve got 13 people staying in my house in Toulon!

“We know we are playing a very, very tough team tomorrow.

“They have probably got a little bit more to come than what they’ve shown in the pool stages, we probably know that they are going to be right up for this tomorrow and we know how difficult it is going to be.

“I think a lot of people in Wales just think we’ve got to turn up tomorrow to get the job done. We have spoken all week about how that is the absolute opposite of what our mindset is.

“We are going to have to play a lot better than probably what we have done in the pool stages to win. Hopefully we can deliver a really good performance and make this World Cup even more special than it already has been.”

Dan Biggar and Liam Williams have been passed fit to start Wales’ World Cup quarter-final against Argentina on Saturday.

Biggar has been struggling with a chest injury and Williams was a doubt because of a knee problem, but they have been given the all-clear for the Stade Velodrome showdown and start at fly-half and full-back respectively.

There is no place in the 23 for Gareth Anscombe, however, after he was forced to withdraw 45 minutes before kick-off against Georgia last Saturday because of a groin issue.

Wales say that fly-half talisman Dan Biggar is fit for the Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash against Argentina on Saturday.

Biggar went off after just 12 minutes of Wales’ record 40-6 win against Australia during an unbeaten march through Pool C.

He suffered a pectoral muscle strain and was an unused replacement for the Georgia game last weekend, having been rushed on to the bench when Sam Costelow was summoned to start instead of an injured Gareth Anscombe.

When asked if Biggar was fit to face the Pumas in Marseille, Wales assistant coach Jonathan Thomas said: “Yes.”

There is also encouraging news about Anscombe and full-back Liam Williams.

Anscombe withdrew 45 minutes before kick-off against Georgia due to a groin problem, while Williams was on crutches after taking a blow to his knee.

Those issues came on top of number eight Taulupe Faletau breaking his arm and being ruled out of the tournament remainder.

“At this stage, it is looking positive,” Thomas said, of Anscombe and Williams. “Every day it will evolve. It is probably not as bad as first feared.

“The crutches thing was to try and offload any pressure. It doesn’t mean he (Williams) has done anything severe. He was jogging about today with the medics.

“I saw him (Anscombe) jogging around on the pitch, along with Liam today.

“The first 48 hours after you have a knock is very important in terms of assessing it. With both Liam and Gareth, it is pretty positive.

“That is not me committing to saying they are definitely going to be available. It is an ongoing thing. They were both running around today with the medics, and they will try to progress that each day.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland is due to name his starting line-up on Thursday, with Aaron Wainwright expected to move from blindside flanker as Faletau’s replacement.

That could then mean captain Jac Morgan wearing the number six shirt and Tommy Reffell starting at openside, although Dan Lydiate and Christ Tshiunza could also be back-row options.

Thomas added: “There was definitely a little bit of a cloud over the victory (against Georgia) because of what happened to Taulupe.

“We have been together for a long time as a whole group, and you build relationships and you become a little bit like a family. When one of your brothers has to leave, it is tough.

“It is what it is. You have got to deal with it and you have got to move on. That is sport and the harsh reality of it.”

Wales face Argentina for the first time in a World Cup game since 1999, and they will start as favourites after collecting 19 points from a possible 20 in their group.

Argentina, in contrast, lost to 14-man England and were unconvincing against Samoa, before clinching qualification by beating Japan.

“For us as a collective, our goal from day one has been to get to knockout rugby,” Thomas said.

“We have achieved that, but we are not satisfied with just getting to the quarter-finals.

“When you get to this stage, any team on their day can beat anyone. There are quality teams and quality players in the last eight.

“I thought they (Argentina) looked more cohesive in their last game against Japan in terms of their attack.

“If you win your first game in the Six Nations, momentum is huge, and it is the same with the World Cup. Every team at this stage will feel confident and feel they have momentum on their side.”

Courtney Lawes is poised to make his England return at the Principality Stadium, while Dan Biggar drops to the bench as Warren Gatland has made nine changes to his team for the Six Nations clash on Saturday.

Lock Lawes has been named among the replacements after recovering from injury and is set to make his first appearance for the Red Rose since captaining his country for the series victory in Australia last year.

Anthony Watson has got the nod to start on the left wing ahead of Ollie Hassell-Collins in the only change to the team that beat Italy 31-14 before the weekend off.

That means Marcus Smith is on the bench once again, with captain Owen Farrell staying at fly-half.

Warren Gatland has wielded the axe following a 35-7 hammered at the hands of Scotland, fly-half Biggar among those to lose his place. George North, Liam Williams and Wyn Jones miss out altogether.

Centre Mason Grady will make his senior bow, Owen Williams comes in at number 10 and the fit-again Louis Rees-Zammit is back on the wing.

It was confirmed on Wednesday that the game will go ahead following a threat of strike action from Wales players, who will attempt to get up and running following defeats to Ireland and Scotland.

Wales team: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, Mason Grady, Joe Hawkins, Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Williams, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (captain), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Christ Tshiunza, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar, Nick Tompkins.

England team: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence, Anthony Watson, Owen Farrell (captain), Jack van Poortvliet;  Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Jack Willis, Alex Dombrandt.

Replacements: Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Ben Curry, Alex Mitchell, Marcus Smith, Henry Arundell.

Justin Tipuric has been named as Wales captain for the Autumn Nations Series next month.

The flanker takes over as skipper in the absence of Dan Biggar, who misses the Tests against New Zealand, Argentina, Georgia and Australia due to a knee injury.

Tipuric is relishing the opportunity to lead the side at Principality Stadium, where New Zealand will be their first opponents on November 5.

"I am honoured and didn't quite expect it, to be honest," said Tipuric.

The 33-year-old missed last season due to a shoulder injury but has returned to full fitness.

He added: "I am just happy to get back in the squad, and to have the responsibility of leading such a great bunch of boys on to the field is one of those definite highlights of your career.

"It's very exciting to be back at the stadium. You take it for granted not playing there for a while, and I guess when you're out of the game for a while, you look back on it and shows how much you do miss it.

"It's one of the big things that you miss in rugby, and it's something you want to make the most of, whether it's one more game or 10 more minutes left to play there."

Alun Wyn Jones was included in Wayne Pivac's squad but was not selected as captain due to not being a guaranteed starter.

Pivac on Tuesday called up hooker Bradley Roberts after Dewi Lake was ruled out with a shoulder injury.

Dan Biggar and Dillon Lewis have been passed fit to start Wales' series decider with South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday.

Wales skipper Biggar and tight-head prop Lewis left the field in last weekend's 13-12 victory in Bloemfontein with shoulder and arm injuries respectively.

However, both players were named in Wales' starting XV on Thursday, with head coach Wayne Pivac making just one enforced change.

With wing Alex Cuthbert having already been ruled out, Josh Adams – who scored Wales' late try last time out – comes into the side for the crunch clash.

It means the tourists will go with the same side that started the series opener two weeks ago, which ended in a dramatic 32-29 defeat in Pretoria.

George North will also start, seeing him overtake Stephen Jones as Wales' most-capped men's international back of all time with 105 appearances.

 

South Africa named their squad on Tuesday, with Jacques Nienaber making 11 changes to the hosts' line-up.

Eben Etzebeth will become the seventh Springboks player to win 100 Test caps, while Bongi Mbonambi reaches the half-century mark.

The Boks, gearing up for next month's Rugby Championship, are out to avoid successive home defeats for the first time since losing three in a row between July 2015 and June 2016.

 

South Africa: Willemse, Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, De Allende, Mapimpi, Pollard, Hendrikse; Nyakane, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, De Jager, Kolisi, Du Toit, Wiese.
Replacements: Marx, Kitshoff, Koch, Mostert, Smith, Louw, De Klerk, Le Roux.

Wales: L Williams; Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins, Adams; Biggar (c), Hardy; G Thomas, Elias, D Lewis, Rowlands, Beard, Lydiate, Reffell, Faletau.
Replacements: Lake, W Jones, S Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones, Navidi, T Williams, Anscombe, Watkin.

Dan Biggar was bemused by criticism of Wales' approach to their first Test in South Africa, wondering if they were expected to "just roll the carpet out".

Wales came agonisingly close to a famous win in Pretoria, ultimately going down 32-29 following four costly yellow cards – including one for Biggar.

After playing a brief period with 12 men, Wales had 13 on the pitch when an unlikely try gave Biggar a conversion that would have secured an improbable late lead.

Instead, he missed the posts and was then punished for a knock-on at the other end, allowing Damian Willemse to settle the match from the tee.

There would have undoubtedly been some relief in the Springboks camp as they were ultimately able to celebrate following their first home game in front of a crowd since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Trailing 18-3 at half-time, South Africa captain Siya Kolisi acknowledged afterwards: "They [Wales] got under our skin."

There were multiple confrontations between the two sets of players off the ball, and Kolisi added his team "did a couple of things out of character".

When Biggar subsequently faced the media, he could not understand why Wales were expected to shoulder the blame for incidents of this nature.

"I don't know what the referee expected us to do," he said. "Just come here, lie down and give South Africa everything their own way?

"From our point of view, we wanted to try to get in their faces, get in their faces and not take a backwards step. That's part of the game.

"We were coming here, and if you stand off South Africa out here, then you'll get steam-rolled pretty quickly. You need some aggression and competitiveness and get into it.

"I didn't see any issue. They were just as niggly, competitive and as abrasive as we were. From our point of view, that was perfect for us.

"The decisions will be analysed. But from our point of view, I don't understand why people are bothered about it.

"It's a Test match, and we're away from home against the world champions. I'm not quite sure what people expected from us, just roll the carpet out and applaud them off the pitch?

"I don't know what the issue is. It's a Test match and we were more than happy to get stuck into them. That's what Test matches are about.

"I really don't understand. I see it as a non-event. That's exactly what you want from a Test match; you want it confrontational, you want it aggressive.

"There was no dirty play or anything. We just went at it and got confrontational. It worked for us, certainly in the first half.

"I've got no issue whatsoever. Whatever happens on the field, you shake hands afterwards, and there is absolutely zero issue."

Dan Biggar could not hide his bitter disappointment following Wales’ shock 22-21 defeat by Italy in the Six Nations.

The skipper was earning his 100th cap, becoming only the seventh Welshman to achieve the feat, while Alun Wyn Jones became the first player to reach 150 Test appearances for a single nation, but their big days were marred in Cardiff.

Edoardo Padovani barged over late on to hand Italy a first victory in 37 attempts in the Six Nations.

Meanwhile, Wales suffered consecutive home defeats in the competition for the first time in 15 years, and Biggar pulled no punches when assessing his side's performance.

"It's probably the toughest interview I've had to do, simply not good enough," he said.

"We've said in the huddle now that's probably the last chance for a lot of players.

"We were chasing as high as we could get and from the get go, we weren't quite at it and you get punished.

"Too many boys not quite up to speed, we were second to loose balls and balls in the air.

"It's really disappointing that something that we pride ourselves on that requires no talent is work ethic."

By contrast, counterpart Michele Lamaro lauded his team-mates after their long-awaited win, their first Six Nations success since 2015.

"It's just unreal. I couldn't believe it," he smiled. "I want to stay with my family and team-mates and celebrate with them because we deserve it and we worked so hard to get here.

"It's the first step of our long process that we just started. I think just being in the moment until the end took us to the win."

All eyes will be on the Stade de France on Saturday as the 2022 Six Nations comes to a conclusion when leaders France take on England.

While the visitors can finish no higher than third place, Eddie Jones' men will revel in being the ultimate party poopers in Paris.

Victory for France in 'Le Crunch' will seal a first Grand Slam since 2010, though Les Blues could still finish top and land a first title since then should Ireland fail to beat Scotland.

Saturday's other fixture sees Wales take on pointless Italy in Cardiff and, while there may be little riding on that game, it will be a milestone occasion for a couple of players.

Ahead of the final round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.


FRANCE V ENGLAND

FORM

The omens are good for France as two of their previous three Six Nations Grand Slams have been completed with victory over England in the final round, in 2004 and again six years later, while just one of the past nine games between these sides in the competition has been won by the visitors – England prevailing 31-21 in 2016.

Fabien Galthie's charges have lost just one of their past eight home games in the competition, with that solitary defeat coming at the hands of Scotland last year as they chased a big winning margin to pip Wales to the title.

England are aiming to avoid losing three matches in a single edition of the Six Nations for the third time in seven years playing under Eddie Jones, having also done so in 2018 and 2021, and for a fifth time overall. 


ONES TO WATCH

Damian Penaud, who has a joint-high three tries in this year's tournament, is back in France's starting XV after recovering from coronavirus, replacing the injured Yoram Moefana. France have scored seven tries from counter-attacks this year, which is at least three more than any other team, so pacey Penaud could cause some damage this weekend.

England will need to work incredibly hard if they are to stop arguably the world's top side right now and hope that their key players turn up. In Marcus Smith they boast a player who leads the way for points in 2022 with 63, 19 more than next-best Melvyn Jaminet.

 

IRELAND V SCOTLAND

FORM

Ireland must beat Scotland earlier on Saturday if they are to remain in title contention and they have a great recent record in this fixture, winning seven of their last eight Six Nations meetings.

That record is even better on home soil, meanwhile, having been victorious in 10 of the last 11 encounters in the competition, including each of the last five in a row. Scotland's only win in that run came at Croke Park in 2010.

Fourth-placed Scotland have won five of their last six away games in the tournament, however, which is as many as they had managed in their previous 43.


ONES TO WATCH

Ireland were made to work hard for their victory against an England side that played almost the entire 80 minutes with 14 men last week, but they did ultimately get the job done. Jamison Gibson-Park led the way for passes in that match with 59 – more than double any opposition player – and he has a joint-high three assists in this edition.

Finn Russell is level with Gibson-Park on three assists, but he has been surprisingly omitted from Scotland's squad for the match at the Aviva Stadium due to his growing indiscipline and poor form. Ali Price is next for Scotland on the assists list with two, and there will now be more focus on him on what is his 51st cap.



WALES V ITALY

FORM

Wales are aiming to climb two places and finish third and will be confident of fulfilling their half of the bargain by claiming a bonus-point win against bottom side Italy. The Dragons have won each of their last 14 in this fixture, last tasting defeat in 2007.

After losing at home to France in their most recent home match, Wales are aiming to avoid successive losses at the Principality Stadium in the competition for the first time in 15 years, when losing their final such game in 2006 and first in 2007.

Italy will claim the Wooden Spoon once again having lost all five games this year, stretching their record losing run in the tournament to 36 matches. The Azzurri's most recent win away from home came against Scotland in 2015.

ONES TO WATCH

This will be a special occasion for Dan Biggar, who is in line for his 100th cap, and Alun Wyn Jones, who returns for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand in October for his 150th appearance. That makes the Wales skipper the first player to win 150 or more caps for a single nation in history.

Ange Capuozzo has been handed a first Test start after making a big impression in an otherwise disappointing campaign for Italy. The Grenoble full-back has scored two tries in this year's Six Nations, accounting for half of Italy's total, with both of those coming in a 34-minute appearance against Scotland in round four.

Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones are in line to claim their 100th and 150th Wales caps when Wayne Pivac's side host Italy in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Wales sit fifth in the table after falling to a third defeat in four outings following a 13-9 loss to France last Friday, with their only win coming against Scotland on February 12.

However, Pivac's team will be boosted by the return of Jones, who comes back into the starting side for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand at the end of October.

Biggar retains the captaincy despite 36-year-old Jones returning, with the former set to become the seventh Welshman to win 100 caps for his country.

Coach Pivac, who has made seven changes to his team that lost against table-toppers France, believes the pair deserve to share their milestone appearances together.

"We've said with other players reaching 100 appearances what an achievement that is and for Dan I know he's been looking forward to this moment for a long time," Pivac told reporters on Tuesday.

"For him to achieve it with Al, who is also getting the milestone of 150 caps – which no other player has ever done – I think it's fitting for those two to share the day.

"They've played a lot of rugby together and have a healthy respect for each other. They've given so much for the game in Wales."

Gareth Davies is in line for his first start in this year's Six Nations, with Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit and Willis Halaholo all recalled in the backline as well.

Meanwhile, Dewi Lake, Dillon Lewis and last year's Lions captain Jones are the forwards who come in, with Ryan Elias, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Tomas Francis,  Liam Williams, Tomos Williams and Will Rowlands dropping out of the starting side.

On the changes, Pivac added: "We've made a few changes this week. With one game to go there are some players we need to see out there and put them in the matchday 23.

"We've certainly selected a side which we think can get the job done. Clearly that's what we're here for. There's an opportunity to move up that table, so we think this is an exciting team and one we're looking forward to seeing out there.

"Italy are a side that's improving, they've had some bad luck here and there and with a new coach transitioning we know it takes a bit of time.

"But we know they've got some very good rugby players and as you saw against Scotland they troubled them in that second half and for long periods of the first. So we're going to have to be on our game and we're very much looking forward to playing at home again this weekend.

"We had a good result against Scotland, gave the fans something to cheer about and came very close against an in-form France. Obviously disappointed we couldn't get across the line for our fans there and we hope we can do that this weekend and finish on a high."

Wales team: Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Watkin, Uilisi Halaholo, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Seb Davies, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Wyn Jones, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Ross Moriarty, Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Nick Tompkins.

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