France will begin their quest to become the first side in six years to retain the Six Nations when they travel to perennial wooden spoon winners Italy on Sunday.

Les Blues ended a 12-year wait to get their hands back on the trophy last year, doing so in style as they claimed a Grand Slam with a perfect five wins from five.

Italy also ended last year's tournament on a high as they broke a 36-game losing run with victory in Wales and are now out to avoid finishing bottom for the first time since 2015.

While France may be reigning champions and in good form, Ireland are top of the world rankings and are many people's favourites to go one better than last year by finishing top.

Up first for Andy Farrell's Ireland side is a trip to Wales, who are in action for the first time since Warren Gatland replaced Wayne Pivac on the back of some alarming results last year.

England also have a new head coach in Steve Borthwick, who replaced Eddie Jones in December, with his first test a mouth-watering Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.

Ahead of the opening round of action, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.


WALES V IRELAND

FORM

Wales' loss to Italy was their third in a row in the Six Nations – only once since the start of 2008, at the end of their 2020 campaign, have they endured a longer winless run – but Gatland's return has provided fresh hope.

The Dragons won their last seven on the bounce in the championship under Gatland, who landed three Grand Slams in his previous 12-year spell in charge before stepping down in 2019.

Ireland have won seven of their past eight games in the tournament, winning the past three of those by margins of at least 17 points and conceding just one try in total.

However, the away team have not come out on top in any of the past nine Six Nations encounters between these sides, with the nations sharing four wins each over that period and one draw.


ONES TO WATCH

Wales are without the injured Leigh Halfpenny, meaning Liam Williams will start at full-back, but they have plenty of other familiar and experienced faces in their starting line-up – George North among them.

He is one try short of matching Shane Williams' record haul of 23 for Wales in the Six Nations, and behind only Brian O'Driscoll (26) of all players in the tournament's history.

Plenty of eyes will be on Johnny Sexton in what will be his final Six Nations campaign, but Ireland have many other players for Wales to concern themselves with.

James Lowe, returning from a calf injury that ruled him out of the November fixtures, will be looking to push on from last year when he finished level with Damian Penaud and Gabin Villiere as the joint-highest try scorer with three.

 

ENGLAND V SCOTLAND

FORM

Jones may have bowed out with the best win rate of any England head coach (73 per cent), but the Red Rose won just two of their final five home matches under the now-Australia boss – not since November 2008 have they had a longer winless run at Twickenham.

With former skipper Borthwick now at the helm as head coach, England are aiming to avoid losing their opening fixture in the tournament for a fourth year running, following a streak of five successive round-one wins.

Scotland have a far better recent record on the opening weekend than their opponents, having won four of their past six such matches, including the past two in a row – both against England.

Indeed, Scotland have lost just one of their past five Calcutta Cup clashes, having lost each of the previous seven. A victory on enemy territory this weekend will make it three wins in a row for the first time since 1972.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Manu Tuilagi's absence will be felt by England, who have handed a debut to wing Ollie Hassell-Collins, but Joe Marchant will add pace alongside exciting Harlequins team-mate Marcus Smith.

Smith was the top points-scorer in last year's Six Nations (71) and also registered over twice as many running metres as any other fly-half in the tournament (412), as well as beating more defenders than anyone other number 10 (10).

Hamish Watson is not ready for a return to the Scotland side this weekend in a blow for coach Gregor Townsend. The 31-year-old was one of just three players to make 50 or more tackles without missing one in the 2022 edition (70), along with team-mate Grant Gilchrist and Ireland's Caelan Doris (both 53).

Gilchrist is available, though, and he resumes a partnership with Richie Gray in the second row that impressed during Scotland's November internationals.

 

ITALY V FRANCE

FORM

The signs of improvement were clear to see from an Italy perspective in 2022 as they picked up a first win in the tournament since 2015 and then beat Australia for the first time ever in November's Test.

The Azzurri have now won five of their past seven Tests, as many as they had won in their previous 36 combined, but they have not won at home in the Six Nations since 2013 and have won back-to-back games in the championship just twice previously.

France enter the competition boasting a team-record 13-match winning run after winning every game in a calendar year for the first time in 2022. They were not always at their best towards the end of the year, though, with three of their past four wins coming by margins of five points or fewer.

Les Blues have won their opening match in each of their past four campaigns as reigning champions, which does not bode well for an Italy side who have won only two of their 23 Six Nations home matches against this weekend's opponents.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Italy are without the pace and power of Monty Ioane after he returned to Australia and became unavailable for selection in this championship. No player made more line breaks (seven), beat more defenders (21), completed more offloads (eight) and made more dominant tackles (seven) than Ioane in last year's Six Nations.

The Azzurri still have Pierre Bruno and Ange Capuozzo at their disposal, with the latter impressing on his tournament bow in 2022 en route to winning World Rugby's men's Breakthrough Player of the Year award.

Even with the likes of regular starters Jonathan Danty and Cameron Woki ruled out, France still boast a number of top-class talents in their squad.

Gregory Alldritt, who will combine with Charles Ollivon and Anthony Jelonch in the back row, made more carries than any other player in last year's tournament (65) and was one of two players, along with team-mate Julien Marchand (50), to hit 50 or more defensive rucks with 59.

 

Steve Borthwick has left Manu Tuilagi out of his first team as England coach for the Six Nations opener against Scotland on Saturday.

Borthwick has made eight changes to the team from Eddie Jones' final game in charge against South Africa in November.

Joe Marchant has been selected at outside centre, while Marcus Smith and captain Owen Farrell are also named for the game at Twickenham.

Jamie George has come through return to play protocols to be selected at hooker.

Uncapped Ollie Hassell-Collins is one of the more surprising inclusions, while Dan Cole is named on the bench, having not played for England since the 2019 World Cup final.

After announcing the team, Borthwick detailed Tuilagi's reaction to the news, telling reporters: "Manu was the incredible professional that he is.

"We spoke, I told him what I decided selection wise... and we shook hands, and then he went and trained really hard and that reaction is testimony to him and his character and not just him but of several players in that way and ultimately what we want to build here.

"We want to build a team that is not simply about selection. It's a team that is building and going forward to try and get wins for England, which means you've got to train hard every day."

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will hand Luke Crosbie his third cap as the Edinburgh flanker was named alongside Matt Fagerson and captain Jamie Ritchie in the back row.

Ben White will feature at scrum-half, while Kyle Steyn has been given the nod to replace the injured Darcy Graham at right wing.

Stuart Hogg has recovered from a heel injury to start at full-back, while Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones are named in midfield.

England team: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Owen Farrell, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Marcus Smith, Jack van Poortvliet; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt.

Replacements: Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Ben Youngs, Ollie Lawrence, Anthony Watson.

Scotland team: Stuart Hogg, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, WP Nel, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Luke Crosbie, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Jonny Gray, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Blair Kinghorn, Chris Harris.

The 2022 Six Nations may have proved to be a battle between the haves (France and Ireland) and the have-nots (England, Scotland, Wales and Italy), but this year's tournament is expected to be a far tighter affair.

France ended a 12-year wait for the title last time around, while claiming a record-equalling fourth Grand Slam, and they will fancy their chances of coming out on top again this year ahead of hosting the Rugby World Cup in September.

Ireland, who narrowly missed out to Les Blues 11 months ago, will have plenty to say about that as they look to continue building the momentum that saw them record a famous series win over New Zealand and climb to the top of the world rankings.

Both nations, ranked as they are as the world's top two as we edge closer to the World Cup, will very much have a target on their backs as the other contenders look to lay down a marker.

It is a time of change for England and Wales, who have brought in Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland respectively on the back of disappointing campaigns last time out, with this year's Six Nations representing a first opportunity to see their sides in action.

While Italy would often be a side note heading into the competition – justifiably given they have finished bottom in each of the past seven editions – they ended a long-running winless streak with victory over Wales last year, which they followed up with a win against Australia three months ago.

And don't forget Scotland, who themselves came close to a historic win against New Zealand in November and finished level on points with fierce rivals England in last year's Six Nations.

Unfavourable fixtures for France

France are looking to do something not achieved since England in 2017 in retaining the Six Nations title, while not since 1998 – prior to Italy joining to make it a six-team tournament – has a nation won successive Grand Slam crowns, with Les Blues themselves the last to do so.

Despite being reigning champions and in great form with 13 wins in a row, even those with strong French ties are wary of the threat a strong Ireland side pose.

"I don't want to downplay it at all, but we're not the best team in the world – Ireland are, and that's just a fact," 47-cap former France international Ben Keyser told Stats Perform.

"We are title holders, but we've fallen on our faces previously when we've entered the tournament as favourites. This year we've got to go to Ireland and England, so it's going to be a really tough year for France."

 

That trip to Irish capital Dublin in the second round may yet prove to be a showdown for the championship, as it was last year when the only blemish for Andy Farrell's men was a defeat in Paris.

It must be remembered, however, that Ireland were also top of the world rankings heading into the 2019 World Cup, when they suffered defeat to Japan in the pool phase before being knocked out by New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

 

'Wales way behind'

Before thoughts can turn to that huge match with France, and indeed the World Cup even further down the line, Ireland first have an away trip to Wales in what will present a chance to lay down a marker in their bid to land a first Six Nations title since 2018.

On the back of Gatland's shock return as Wales boss following the sacking of Wayne Pivac, though, all of a sudden Saturday's curtain-raising clash at the Principality Stadium looks nowhere near as clear-cut to predict.

"A month or two ago I'd have said that's going to be a tough one because it's Cardiff, but Wales are in a bit of disarray and it's hard to see how they're going to beat this Ireland," former Ireland and British and Irish Lions hooker Rory Best told Stats Perform.

"But all of a sudden there's a change at the helm and all of a sudden you're a lot more worried about this game in Cardiff. You know their style of play and you know Gatland will make them hard to beat. That makes this a potential banana skin for Ireland."

Former Ireland boss Gatland needs no introducing, having won the Six Nations four times during his previous 12-year stint in charge of Wales, three of those as Grand Slam winners.

Indeed, he has been involved in 60 Six Nations games during his time with Ireland and Wales, which is the same tally as the other five head coaches in this year's championship combined.

 

That experience and ability to get the best out of a squad will come in handy for Wales as they attempt to recover from a terrible 2022 that saw them lose at home to Italy and Georgia.

Making the leap from fifth to first is likely to be out of the question, but exactly what would represent a positive campaign for Wales with one eye on the upcoming World Cup?

"Third. Coming third would be good," Wales great and former skipper Sam Warburton told Stats Perform. "That sounds really defeatist because normally you'd always aim to win it, or finish second, but I'm being realistic.

"Ireland and France are putting on displays which have had four or five years of groundwork. Wales are coming into the tournament not entirely fresh, but pretty close to that. So naturally they're way behind where those teams are in their cycle."

 

Borthwick to get the best out of England?

Finishing third would be a case of 'best of the rest' when up against the world's top two sides, but recently appointed England head coach Borthwick will quietly be hoping to challenge for the title.

Unlike Gatland, this will be Borthwick's first taste of Six Nations action as a head coach, though he did play 25 times in the championship as a player, 10 of those as captain of his country.

While Eddie Jones' tenure turned sour, his sacking on the back of a tough autumn campaign still came as somewhat of a surprise, but the now-Australia boss still departed with the best record of any England head coach.

 

Indeed, Jones won the Grand Slam in his first Six Nations campaign in charge in 2016, so there is recent precedent there for Borthwick – who previously worked as Jones' right-hand man – to follow.

In the view of former captain Chris Robshaw, the Red Rose have plenty to be optimistic about with Borthwick at the helm.

"Steve coming in is a brilliant appointment," Robshaw told Stats Perform. "You just look at the team he's created around him, such as Kevin Sinfield in defence, and the change in mindset. 

"I think they've got a fantastic team and a group that's in a nice age bracket, with a couple of younger players who can add some spark and bring some life back into the side. What I'm seeing and hearing are good messages with a lot of excitement."

 

'Toughest Six Nations yet'

Not for the first time, Scotland head into the Six Nations with a rather big question mark over their head. As ever, consistency will be the key if they are to better last year's fourth-place finish.

The additions of Ben Healy and Ruaridh McConnochie, who previously represented Ireland and England respectively, will provide some welcome depth for Gregor Townsend to choose from in possibly his final campaign in charge.

Both men may feature in a blockbuster opener for Scotland at Twickenham, where they picked up a first win since 1983 on their most recent visit, albeit with that game held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Saturday's Calcutta Cup contest may well provide a better indication of exactly what the aim is for Scotland this time around.

 

"You never really know what to expect from them and that's exciting," Robshaw added. "That's why the Six Nations is brilliant, because anyone can beat anyone. It's why every day you have to be on it; if you're not you lose a game by the bounce of a ball and all of a sudden you're playing catch up.

"I think this year is going to be the toughest Six Nations yet. I don't think it'll be a Grand Slam year."

Robshaw will certainly not be alone in predicting a non-Grand Slam year, with teams expected to take points off each other, but what about at the other end of the table?

Perennial Wooden Spoon 'winners' Italy have finished bottom in every edition since 2016, but their aforementioned wins over Wales – ending a 36-game losing run in the competition – and Australia last year sent out quite the message.

Having avoided losing all five games for the first time in seven years last time around, the aim for the Azzurri now is to finish above one of the other five nations.

It all paves the way for what could be the best Six Nations in a number of years – certainly since the most recent World Cup – as new eras begin and some perhaps edge towards their pinnacle ahead of the Rugby World Cup in seven months' time.

Jofra Archer reflected on a "surreal" feeling after a "long road" back from injury following his six-wicket haul for England in Wednesday's ODI victory over South Africa.

The fast bowler has endured a torrid time with injuries across the last three years and had not featured for England in any format since March 2021, before the white-ball series against the Proteas.

Archer managed just one wicket for 81 runs on his long-awaited return as England succumbed to a 27-run opening defeat on Friday in Bloemfontein.

The 27-year-old was rested as South Africa wrapped up the ODI series with a five-wicket win in the second encounter, but helped England avoid a 3-0 whitewash in the last clash.

He took 6-40, the third-best bowling figures for England in an ODI, as England cruised to a 59-run victory after Jos Buttler paved the way with a dominant 131 in the first innings.

"It is good being back. It has been a long road," Archer said after his maiden five-wicket haul in 50-over international cricket.

"This is a small tick but I want to see how I am in April, June, July and September.

"Being back after however many weeks, months it is kind of surreal. This is just the first series, there is loads of time to get the fine-tuning done."

A fearsome pace-bowling display reinvigorated memories of the 2019 Cricket World Cup victory and the Ashes series in the same year when Archer caused Australia problems with his aggressive style.

"He is like gold dust," former England captain Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports. "He is so valuable for English cricket and world cricket.

"What I took today, was not just his class and wicket-taking potential, but what I've missed is just the effortless grace he has."

Archer will head to the Indian Premier League to test his T20 credentials before returning to train for the upcoming Ashes series with Australia, which starts on June 16.

Former England captain Michael Atherton wants the star bowler to be managed carefully, though, with his previous injuries remaining a concern.

"Back and elbow are absolutely critical so there would have been some doubt there about whether he would get back," Atherton told Sky Sports.

"He's got some way to go yet to show he can do it across formats and then cope with an ever-demanding schedule but it was a wonderful day for him."

A good Six Nations run is not imperative for England and Steve Borthwick, with Chris Robshaw suggesting it will have no bearing on their World Cup fortunes.

Former Leicester boss Borthwick will take charge of the national team for the first time since succeeding Eddie Jones in this weekend's opener with Scotland.

It marks the start of a five-match run that will serve as England's only competitive preparation ahead of September's showpiece tournament in France.

But former captain Robshaw does not feel the team need to ace their Six Nations campaign in order to bolster their prospects later this year.

"It is important, but it is not the be all and end all," Robshaw told Stats Perform. "The World Cup is a separate tournament.

"Of course you want to win, and you want to play well now, but you've still got another four or five months before that.

"I think when South Africa won it back in 2007, they were pretty awful in their build-up.

"You want to be confident going in, but it's not everything."

England head into the Six Nations as underdogs, with France and Ireland the leading favourites to take the title in March.

Robshaw feels there is still a successful campaign to be had, however, pointing to the growth and experience they will develop alongside Borthwick.

"They need to hit the ground running against Scotland," he added. "First and foremost, they need to do that.

"From an output point of view, if they could win [against] Scotland and Italy, and then nick one of the Ireland or France games, I think that will be viewed as a very successful campaign.

"This is a growing squad. It is a new group, but I think it's a great combination of a team [with] huge excitement, experience and a well-balanced coaching staff."

South Africa wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock was not considered for selection for the Proteas' final ODI against England on Wednesday following an injury to his right thumb.

De Kock suffered the injury in the 2nd ODI on Sunday while attempting to catch a ball off of an edge from England batsman Harry Brook.

The Proteas' wicketkeeper was cleared to bat in the second innings after a scan revealed no fracture and made 31 as a superb Temba Bavuma century saw his side chase down 342 to win by five wickets.

However, Cricket South Africa (CSA) decided De Kock will not be risked in the third ODI with Heinrich Klaasen his replacement.

South Africa are aiming for a series sweep after winning the first two matches in Bloemfontein and made three changes for the final ODI, with Anrich Nortje and Keshav Maharaj also missing out. 

Should they win the final game today, South Africa would boost their chances of automatically qualifying for the World Cup in India later this year with a defeat meaning they may have to go through the qualifiers in Zimbabwe.

Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas joined Nottingham Forest on loan as Steve Cooper's side completed a remarkable deadline-beating signing on Tuesday.

Navas, a three-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, fell out of favour in the French capital with Gianluigi Donnarumma the preferred goalkeeper for Christophe Galtier's side.

The 110-cap Costa Rica international will add a wealth of experience as Cooper's side attempt to stave off Premier League relegation.

Navas, who won two Ligue 1 titles with PSG after leaving Madrid in 2019, could be in line for his Forest debut in a crucial relegation clash at home to Leeds United on Sunday.

The arrival of Navas, whom Forest have the option to sign permanently at the end of the season, was announced shortly after confirmation of Jonjo Shelvey's signing from fellow Premier League side Newcastle United.

Shelvey has penned a two-and-a-half-year contract with Forest, with the fee undisclosed but expected to be insignificant as the midfielder's Newcastle deal was set to expire in June.

Former Liverpool man Shelvey suggested Cooper was a big draw after discussing the move with Newcastle head coach Eddie Howe.

"It's a fantastic football club that has so much history and I'm really looking forward to getting started," he told the club's website.

"My main goal straight away is to fight for my place in the team and stay there.

"It's not going to be easy because there's a lot of competition for places, but it's a challenge I'm really looking forward to and the competitiveness can only help the team going forward.

"I spoke to Eddie Howe and he had such good words to say about Steve Cooper. I previously knew of him from my time at Liverpool, so I knew what a fantastic coach he was, but meeting him for the first time has been a breath of fresh air.

"He's told me what he expects and the high standards he sets, so I can hope I can come and help the team push to stay in the Premier League.

"I've been in this league a long time, I know what it takes to stay up and what it takes to get a good team to gel, so I'm looking forward to getting started and working with the players that are here."

Atletico Madrid completed the signing of Matt Doherty after his Tottenham contract was terminated to facilitate the transfer.

With Spurs set to bring in Pedro Porro from Sporting CP, Djed Spence was sent on loan to Ligue 1 side Rennes and fellow wing-back Doherty also left north London on Tuesday.

The Republic of Ireland defender was reportedly set to join Diego Simeone's side on loan but has signed a contract until the end of the season.

Spurs released a statement to confirm Doherty's contract had been terminated to "enable him to join another club".

The 31-year-old former Wolves defender follows in the footsteps of Kieran Trippier, who swapped Spurs for Atletico in 2019 and lifted the LaLiga title with the Rojiblancos in the 2020-21 season.

As Doherty heads to Madrid, Atletico defender Felipe goes the other way to England after completing a move to Nottingham Forest.

The 33-year-old started just two LaLiga games for Simeone's side this season, seemingly falling out of favour behind Mario Hermoso and Jose Gimenez.

Felipe's Atletico contract was due to expire in June before he signed a deal running until 2024 for Forest, where he looks forward to a new challenge in the Premier League.

"It was a dream of mine to play in the Premier League and I'm really excited to be part of this wonderful, fast-growing club," he told the club's official website.

"You can see it's a club looking to really grow. It's a big challenge for me and I made a clear decision to be part of the history here and grow with the club."

Henry Slade has withdrawn from the England squad for their Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 4.

New head coach Steve Borthwick confirmed his 36-man selection for the Calcutta Cup on Sunday, with Slade left out after suffering a hip injury in Exeter Chief's European Champions Cup game against Castres last week.

Jamie George has overcome a head injury to make the squad, as has Anthony Watson (leg) after he featured for Leicester Tigers against Northampton Saints on Saturday.

After confirming the squad, Borthwick said: "This is a very important week for us as we prepare for our first game against Scotland.

"We know that Scotland are an excellent side with a great coaching team led by Gregor Townsend. They're a settled squad who have been together a long time and have dominated this fixture in recent seasons.

"They will be coming to Twickenham full of confidence.

"We know we have a lot of work to do. The team trained very hard last week and are ready to go again this week. We can't wait to run out at Twickenham again in front of our incredible supporters."

It was also confirmed that Slade and vice-captain Courtney Lawes will continue rehab work within the camp during the week.

England squad to face Scotland

Forwards: Ollie Chessum, Dan Cole, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Tom Dunn, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Joe Heyes, Jonny Hill, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Lewis Ludlam, David Ribbans, Bevan Rodd, Sam Simmonds, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Jack Walker, Jack Willis

Backs: Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Dan Kelly, Ollie Lawrence, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Alex Mitchell, Cadan Murley, Fin Smith, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Manu Tuilagi, Jack van Poortvliet, Anthony Watson, Ben Youngs

Temba Bavuma made a magnificent century as South Africa produced a record run chase to beat England by five wickets and seal an ODI series victory.

Jos Buttler top scored with an unbeaten 94 from 82 balls, while Harry Brook (84) and Moeen Ali (51) struck quickfire half-centuries to get the tourists up to an imposing 342-7 at Mangaung Oval on Sunday.

That was not enough to set up a series decider, though, as captain Bavuma (109 off 102) crafted his first international century for a year as the Proteas pulled off the highest successful ODI run chase in Bloemfontein.

David Miller finished off the job with 58 not out from 37 balls as South Africa boosted their chances of securing direct qualification for the World Cup in India this year, consigning England to a fifth consecutive loss in this format.

Jason Roy fell for only nine after scoring a century in the first ODI on Friday and Dawid Malan (12) also failed, but Brook and Buttler put on 73 for the fourth wicket.

Brook raced to a half-century before falling to Aiden Markram and Moeen kept England ticking along nicely with his skipper until he played on to a delivery from Anrich Nortje (2-64).

Buttler and Sam Curran (28 off 17) cut loose as the world champions took 60 off the last four overs to seemingly take the upper hand.

Bavuma led by example to get his side off to a blistering start, combining with Quinton de Kock – who took a blow on the wrist while keeping but did not appear to be hampered – for 77.

Olly Stone (2-48) got rid of De Kock but Bavuma was in great touch with support from Rassie van der Dussen (38) as England – who left Jofra Archer out the paceman's long-awaited return in the opening match – were unable to halt the flow of runs.

Bavuma fell scooping Curran into his stumps soon after bringing up a sublime third ODI hundred to end a stand of 97 with Van der Dussen, who then became Adil Rashid's (2-72) second victim.

Heinrich Klaasen (27) failed to build on a start, but Miller and Marco Jansen (32no off 29) got South Africa home with five balls to spare – the left-hander fittingly winning it by clattering Chris Woakes for six.

 

Brook and Buttler pummel Proteas attack

Brook has made a great start to his international career and showed his class in only his second ODI after being dismissed for a duck on debut two days earlier.

He struck four sixes and seven fours before Buttler provided a late onslaught, getting his side up to a big total with support from Moeen and Curran.

The skipper cleared the rope on three occasions and struck eight boundaries, shifting through the gears in explosive fashion.

Brilliant Bavuma sets up record chase, Miller delivers again

Bavuma had not reached three figures for his country since his hundred against India last January, but he ended that wait in style.

With South Africa battling to seal their World Cup spot for the tournament in India, Bavuma batted beautifully to lay the platform at the top of the order.

Miller thrives on the responsibility of being the finisher and he delivered once again, hitting three sixes as South Africa bettered their previous best ODI run chase on this ground of 274-4 against Australia in 2020.

Jason Roy's magnificent century was in vain as a hostile spell from Anrich Nortje inspired South Africa to a dramatic 27-run win over England in the first match of the ODI series.

With little margin for error as the Proteas battle to qualify for this year's World Cup in India, Rassie van der Dussen made a brilliant 111 and David Miller 53 as the hosts posted 298-7 at Mangaung Oval on Friday.

Jofra Archer (1-81) was expensive on his long-awaited international return in Bloemfontein, where Sam Curran (3-35) was the pick of the England bowlers.

Roy struck a sublime 113 from 91 balls, combining with Dawid Malan (59) for an opening stand of 146, but the world champions collapsed to 271 all out to go 1-0 down.

Paceman Nortje claimed 4-62, while Sisanda Magala (3-46) and Kagiso Rabada (2-46) also played a big hand as the tourists capitulated and South Africa made a great start to the three-match series with so much at stake.

Captain Temba Bavuma (36 off 28 balls) and Quinton De Kock (37 off 41) put on 61 for the first wicket before both were both sent packing by Curran.

Van der Dussen and Miller added 110 for the fifth wicket, the number three pacing his knock superbly, with Archer given the treatment in his first England match for almost two years.

It had looked like being a procession for England when South Africa-born Roy and Malan got them off to a flyer, only for the latter to strike a Magala bouncer high in the air for Bavuma to take.

Magala also removed ODI debutant Harry Brook after Nortje saw the back of Ben Duckett, but Roy raced to his hundred in only 79 balls as the boundaries flowed. 

England were 196-4 in the 30th over when Rabada dismissed Roy and Jos Buttler kept them ticking along with a patient 36, but they crumbled after Nortje had the skipper caught behind in a brilliant spell.

Tabraiz Shamsi sealed a stunning win by getting Olly Stone caught and bowled in the 45th over.

 

Roy returns to form in spectacular fashion

Opener Roy was left out of England's T20 World Cup-winning squad last year, but he showed what he is capable with a powerful knock that included 11 fours and four sixes.

He has now passed the 4,000-run milestone for England in ODIs with 4,106 in total. Among England batters, only Joe Root (91 innings) reached that mark in quicker time than Roy's 105 innings.

Rapid Nortje burst decisive

Van der Dussen was outstanding with the bat as he ensured South Africa posted an imposing total, but it did not look like being enough as England appeared to be cruising to victory.

That was until the rapid Nortje came to the fore with a brilliant spell, taking 3-14 in four overs to turn the tide and rock England. Buttler, David Willey and Archer – out for a duck on his return – all fell to the fired-up fast bowler, who totally changed the game.

Elliot Daly has been ruled out of England's Six Nations campaign with a hamstring injury, his club Saracens have confirmed.

Versatile back Daly withdrew from England's squad on Tuesday ahead of their opening match against Scotland at Twickenham a week on Saturday.

The 30-year-old, who sustained the injury ahead of Saracens' 20-14 Champions Cup loss to Edinburgh last week, is expected to miss around 12 weeks.

Saracens confirmed the news in a short statement on their official website on Friday, ending Daly's hopes of recovering in time to play a part.

England conclude their Six Nations campaign against Ireland on March 18 – seven weeks' time – as they begin a new era under head coach Steve Borthwick.

Jamie George also pulled out of England's training squad earlier this week, with Jamie Blamire and Ollie Lawrence called up as replacements.

Borthwick is also set to be without Courtney Lawes for his first match in charge at Twickenham next week, as the towering lock is struggling with a calf injury.

Hooker George McGuigan (knee) is also in the treatment room along with Luke Cowan-Dickie (ankle).

Blamire, Tom Dunn and the uncapped Jack Walker are the remaining hooker options for Borthwick. 

Gareth Southgate described the England manager job as "the greatest privilege" of his life and said he wanted to make sure he was "fresh and hungry" before committing to remain in the role after the Three Lions' World Cup exit.

A year-and-a-half on from reaching the Euro 2020 final on home turf, England were edged out 2-1 in the quarter-finals of Qatar 2022 by France.

The tournament nevertheless marked a turnaround in form for the Three Lions after a dismal Nations League campaign, underlining Southgate's record in his role.

But the former Middlesbrough boss acknowledged he needed time to ensure he made the right call in choosing to remain on board.

"I never want to be in a position where my presence is affecting the team in a negative way," he told BBC Sport.

"I didn't believe that was the case, but I just wanted a period after the World Cup to reflect and make sure that was still how it felt."

"Is it the right thing to keep taking this project on? I wanted to make sure I'm still fresh and hungry for that challenge. [It is] the greatest privilege of my life.

"The quality of performances and the progress that we're making [shows] the team [is] still improving. We're all gaining belief in what we're doing."

England face a banana-skin qualification pathway for Euro 2024, with defending champions Italy, Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta in their group.

The Three Lions will play the former two sides in March as they begin their campaign working towards next year's tournament in Germany.

Jofra Archer is poised to return to international cricket with England on Friday as Jos Buttler's team tackle South Africa in the first of three ODIs.

The 27-year-old fast bowler has been building up form and fitness by playing for MI Cape Town in the SA20 series, having played no international cricket since March 2021 due to injury.

Major elbow and back problems put Archer's blossoming career on hold, but he is back now.

Although Archer is only around 80 per cent of the way through his recovery, by his own estimation, all that is lacking is "fine-tuning", he said this week.

This is music to the ears of captain Jos Buttler, who said on Thursday: "It's great to have Jofra back, fit and playing cricket again. He's such an exciting guy to have back on the field. As an England captain, to have him back in your squad and in your team is brilliant.

"He's only just coming back to competitive cricket, this will be his first international game for a long time, so there's always going to be a level of expectation on Jofra because we all know what he's capable of. But I'm sure he's just going to get better and better as he comes back and gets back to performing at such a high level."

Buttler says Archer may need "a little bit of time" to fully return to where he was before injuries began to take their toll.

But at the start of a World Cup year, with England preparing to defend their 50-over title in India in October and November, Buttler said: "It's just fantastic to see him fit and back playing again."

Ahead of the opening match in Bloemfontein, England know a 3-0 series win would see them jump back above India to the top of the ODI rankings.

Former skipper Kevin Pietersen made an appearance at the team's training session on Thursday, with England looking to get back to winning ways after failing to win any of their last three ODI series, losing to Australia and India and drawing at home against South Africa.

The Proteas continue to be led by Temba Bavuma, and this series could be a key one in terms of his future as white-ball captain.

A shock defeat to the Netherlands knocked South Africa out of the T20 World Cup in November, with Bavuma signalling he will concur with whatever decision is made about the team's future leadership.

Rob Walter is due to take over as coach of the ODI side from the start of February, with Shukri Conrad overseeing this series.

"If the team wants to go in a different direction with a different leader, I am happy to step away," Bavuma said. "Ultimately it's up to the coach. We have got a new coach now and might be a new coaching staff.

"The coach will have his vision and he will need someone to drive that vision. At the moment the coach has entrusted me with that role, so I will continue doing my best. I'm fortunate I have got a bunch of guys that support me. For me, it's business as usual for now."

Milestone in sight for Roy

England batter Jason Roy is seven away from reaching 4,000 runs in ODIs. If he reaches the milestone in his first match of this series, his 105th innings, it would make him the second-fastest player to achieve it for England, Joe Root got there quicker than anyone, in just 91 innings.

Parnell on brink of century

Wayne Parnell, set to win a 70th ODI cap, will be hoping to complete 100 scalps in the 50-over international game during this series. He is on 97 at present and can become the 13th player to reach 100 wickets in the format for the Proteas. He has taken three or more wickets in three ODIs against England, including his career-best figures of 3-48, all the way back in November 2009.

England scrum-half Ben Youngs believes rugby union's rewards are a counterpoint to the risks and has called for clarity amid revisions to the game's tackling laws.

A backlash has grown through the domestic sport following the Rugby Football Union's decision to limit players to tackles below the waist.

The rule change is set to come into force from July, and will affect the lower tiers of the English rugby pyramid.

Amid calls for an RFU special general meeting from the community game, Youngs has laid out the pros and cons for the change while urging patience.

"Rugby does have its risks, but it also has its huge rewards," Youngs told BBC Sport. "A bit of clarity and help will go a long way, I'm sure.

"I know all the local coaches, everyone at grassroots level, the referees, everyone who gives up their time for the community game, I think clarity for them as well [is needed].

"From the chest down is probably safe enough; that's what I believe."

The 33-year-old, the most-capped England men's international in history with 121 games under his belt, suggested the safety debate should not neuter the principles of the sport.

"I think for rugby union the camaraderie the game gives you, the values, the respect, working together as a team, leadership, being part of something; that all outweighs [the risks]," he added.

"We want safety, but we also want rugby. We don't want that to go."

Youngs will hope to add to his collection of caps when England kick off their Six Nations campaign under his former Leicester Tigers coach Steve Borthwick against Scotland next month.

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