Fabien Galthie says France are in the "dream scenario" as they stand on the brink of a Grand Slam but knows the Six Nations leaders face a massive test against England.

Anthony Jelonch scored the only try of an almighty battle with Wales at the Principality Stadium, where Les Bleus won 13-9 on Friday to maintain their 100 per cent record.

France defended magnificently to keep the holders at bay in Cardiff and have a first title since 2010 in their sights.

England will arrive at Stade de France determined to spoil the party and can also be crowned champions with a win in the French capital if they beat Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.

France head coach Galthie sees his side as a work in progress and is prepared for a tense evening in Paris.

"The dream scenario is to win the games, Four wins after four rounds, that was our ambition. We have learned from the past, this is still a team in progress," said Galthie.

"We have managed to balance things in this competition in terms of our efforts. Four wins, that is what you dream of. Now we will turn our attention to the final match against England.

“It’s England, the finalists from the last World Cup, a huge rugby nation. We can't make a mistake about our opponent.

"We have to start the preparation in a pleasant way, while enjoying this [win over Wales] and this weekend. We will flip on Monday and prepare with our method and our conviction. There will be a match to play, as always."

It was not pretty as France dug in to defeat Wales and Galthie was delighted with the way they went about their business.

He added: "The key is to win, differently, agreed, but it's good to win. The winning streak is the hardest thing to do, especially here against a very good tactical side.

"We had a week with the players suffering from the flu and we were hit by Covid. Despite a number of players missing time, the team came and got the win and that is important.

"We won five turnovers at the breakdown, while being disciplined and conceding just eight penalties. The know-how of our defensive line, with big tackles, good entries into the rucks and playing the ball, that's a box that is ticked by the players collectively and individually."

France captain Antoine Dupont said his side are embracing the spotlight surrounding next Saturday's fixture against England to complete the Six Nations Grand Slam.

Les Blues have only completed the Grand Slam once since 2004 – in 2010 – while more recently Ireland achieved the feat in 2018, followed by Wales in 2019.
 
After beating Wales 13-9, Dupont spoke about the strength of the French defence and its ability to win tough contests, before looking forward to the big clash against England.
 
"We felt that we could count on our defense," he said. "They often came to our camp with our faults and their long kicking game. 
 
"We were able to cope, and it's something that has carried us for several matches – we have to continue on that. 

"It wasn't the most beautiful match we've had to watch, but you have to know how to win like that too. 
 
"We try to turn this pressure into motivation – we said we wanted to have the cards in hand for the last match, it's done. 
 
"We will be able to devote ourselves fully to it and we hope that it will work. The party tonight is going to be very light. We're going to wait a week and hope to be able to party.
 
"In the dressing room, there was a mix of emotions, joy and pride intertwined, but with the England game in the back of my mind. 
 
"We're going to enjoy tonight, but we're all looking forward to Saturday night [against England]. 
 
"The Grand Slam? From now on, we can talk about it. 
 
"It's going to be on everyone's lips and in the media this week. It's up to us to make sure we win this match, and we know what will come of it."

England are still in contention to win the Six Nations, but they must beat Ireland in Saturday's clash at Twickenham.

England are "really optimistic" Maro Itoje will be fit for Saturday's Six Nations showdown with Ireland.

The British and Irish Lions lock has been struggling with illness ahead of the round four clash at Twickenham.

Red Rose forwards coach Matt Proudfoot provided an encouraging update on Itoje on the eve of the game.

He said: "Maro was a little sick overnight so we're just giving him an opportunity to recover, but we're really optimistic he’ll be alright."

England prop Kyle Sinckler recovered from a back injury and will start against second-placed Ireland.

"Kyle fully trained. He had a great training session and looked really good," Proudfoot said.

England and Ireland have won two and lost one of their three matches ahead of a huge encounter in London.

Proudfoot says Eddie Jones' side are in great shape as they battle to win the title.

"For us it's a great opportunity to go after them. The team has trained really, really well and every week it’s got more and more competitive," he said.

"The preparation has been great and when they walked off the field today (Friday), you could see the confidence in the eyes of the players.

"We know we've got to go after them. Ireland have been together for a big part of the year because of their large Leinster contingent, so we know they have that as an advantage, but we're eager for the opportunity.

"It tends to be the deeper you go into the Six Nations, it gets more and more intense. This is probably going to be the most intense game we've played since the Springboks."

France are rolling towards a possible Grand Slam as they arrive in Cardiff for game four in their Six Nations mission, but Fabien Galthie's team must not switch off now.

The championship may yet see a France versus England title decider at the Stade de France next weekend, but whether 'Le Crunch' proves crucial will hinge on results this time around.

A mighty Welsh effort in Cardiff could knock the French juggernaut off course, while Ireland will believe they can achieve a result at Twickenham.

Scotland and Italy, meanwhile, tussle in Rome. That was once typically a Wooden Spoon decider; this time, the Scots are heavy favourites.

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

WALES V FRANCE

FORM

Wales have lost each of their last two meetings with France in the Six Nations, after winning seven of their previous eight clashes in the championship. France's 27-23 win at the Principality Stadium two years ago was their first success in Cardiff in the competition since 2010, and France have not won back-to-back away games against Wales since reeling off four in a row from 2000 to 2006.

Wayne Pivac's Wales won at home against Scotland last month but have lost on the road to Ireland and England. The Welsh have pulled off 10 wins from their last 11 matches in Cardiff in the Six Nations, with France the only side to beat them during that sequence.

This France team are living up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites and have won their last six Test matches, their best run since also winning six on the bounce in 2006. They have not won more consecutive internationals since a run of eight in 2004, which included a victory in Cardiff.

ONES TO WATCH

Among players to hit 20 or more attacking rucks in this season's Six Nations, Wales' Ross Moriarty has the best ruck effectiveness rate, cleaning out the opposition or securing possession at 96 per cent of the attacking rucks he has hit (27 of 28). Moriarty is not a starter this week, as Pivac rings the changes, but will surely have a role to play off the bench.

France's Damian Penaud would have been a strong contender here, having beaten 10 defenders in this year's Six Nations, the joint most of any player alongside Scotland's Darcy Graham, with Penaud also achieving a championship-best tackle evasion rate of 77 per cent. Penaud is ruled out by a COVID-19 positive test, so can his fellow wings Yoram Moefana and Gabin Villiere prove as elusive?

 

ITALY V SCOTLAND

FORM

There was a time when Scotland dreaded facing Italy, but those days appear long gone. The Scots have won their last six matches against the Azzurri in the Six Nations, last losing at Murrayfield in 2015. Prior to this dominant era, Scotland had won nine and Italy had won seven of their first 16 clashes in the championship. The Scots have won their last four away games against Italy.

Italy's losing run in the competition has now reached a dismal 35 games, and that Murrayfield victory seven years ago was their last success. Kieran Crowley's team have failed to score a try in their last two Six Nations games, the first time this has happened for Italy since they went on a run of three games without a try in the 2009 championship.

Ali Price is set to win his 50th cap for Scotland. The Glasgow Warriors scrum-half has scored just one try in his seven appearances against Italy, although he has four try assists across his last two Tests against the Azzurri.

ONES TO WATCH

Michele Lamaro has made 59 tackles in this year's Six Nations, at least 13 more than any other player. That is the upside. The downside is that he has also missed the most tackles of any player (13); however, only one of those missed tackles led to a break, with the other 12 seeing the opposition player tackled by a team-mate.

By contrast, Scotland's Hamish Watson has made 31 tackles without missing one so far in this year's competition. Only Ireland's Caelan Doris has made more without missing (36/36). Watson has now made 180 tackles in the championship since his last miss, which came back in 2019 against England.

 

ENGLAND V IRELAND

FORM

England have tended to like this fixture of late, having won four of their last five home games against Ireland in the Six Nations. A 24-15 defeat in 2018 was the exception in this run which started in 2012. England have also won 22 of their last 25 home matches – taking all opponents into account – in the Six Nations (D1, L2).

Yet Ireland are the only side that England have a losing record against in the Six Nations era, winning just 45 per cent of their meetings in the championship (W10, L12).

Whoever leads at half-time seems nailed on for the win. None of the previous 22 Six Nations matches between England and Ireland have seen an interval deficit overturned to bring about a victory for the trailing team.

ONES TO WATCH

England's Marcus Smith is the leading points scorer so far in this year's championship. He has 48 points, meaning Smith is two shy of becoming the fifth different England player to notch up 50 points in an edition of the Six Nations (Jonny Wilkinson 7 times, Toby Flood once, Owen Farrell 6 times, George Ford once).

Ireland's Doris has been a 'nuisance' (slowing the opposition ball) at more rucks (7) than any other player in this year's tournament, Opta data shows.

Josh Navidi has been passed fit to start his first Test for almost a year when Wales face leaders France in the Six Nations on Friday.

Navidi last played for his country against Les Bleus in the 2021 Six Nations, but will start at open-side flanker at the Principality Stadium after recovering from a shoulder injury.

Seb Davies comes in at blindside flanker, as Ross Moriarty and Taine Basham drop out of the side following a defeat to England at Twickenham that leaves the holders in fifth place.

Prop Gareth Thomas and centre Jonathan Davies also get the nod for the round-four showdown in Cardiff.

Tomas Francis and Josh Adams have been given the green light to start after coming through the return to play protocols.

Nick Tompkins will not feature after suffering a concussion in Saracens' win over Leicester Tigers last weekend. Wing Louis Rees-Zammit returns, but will be among the replacements.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said: "Josh is a fantastic player and has played well for us in the past.

"He’s come back before straight back into the side so having 80 minutes under his belt for Cardiff we think that’s enough for him and we look forward to him being back out there bringing that experience.

"He’s a very good player and has played at this level on many occasions so that’s going to be great for us.

"Seb at six just gives us a little bit more size. It helps the lineout, but also in the wider channels where he often runs he’s got the skill set to trouble a few defenders out wide.

"I think Gareth made a really big impact for us last week as did a number of players and so he gets to start."

 

Wales team: Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Owen Watkin, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar (captain), Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Seb Davies, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Dewi Lake, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Ross Moriarty, Jac Morgan, Kieran Hardy, Gareth Anscombe, Louis Rees-Zammit.

Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton will retire after the 2023 World Cup despite signing a new deal with Irish Rugby.

The 36-year-old, who earned his 100th cap in November and won the 2018 World Player of the Year, wants to go out on a high at next year's World Cup in France.

Irish Rugby confirmed on Tuesday that Sexton had signed a new contract up until the 2023 event but the 103-cap veteran said he would finish up after that.

“Yeah, finished, 2023 World Cup – it’s up to me to work hard, get the body and mind in the best shape possible and attack the last 18 months,” he said.

“I’m still very driven to get there and perform at the World Cup. I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract.

“There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then.”

Sexton has played 103 times for Ireland in his storied career and reached the milestone of 500 points in the Six Nations in the 29-7 win over the defending champions last month.

A four-time European Champions Cup winner with Leinster, Sexton is now looking ahead to the prospect of a fourth World Cup finals appearance in France next year.

Ireland and Leinster star Johnny Sexton has signed a new contract that will run until after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The 36-year-old has captained his country since January 2020, leading them to 10 wins in 13 matches in that time.

Sexton has played 103 times for Ireland in his storied career and reached the milestone of 500 points in the Six Nations in the 29-7 win over the defending champions last month.

A four-time European Champions Cup winner with Leinster, Sexton is now looking ahead to the prospect of a fourth World Cup finals appearance in France next year.

"I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract," the fly-half said.

 

"There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then."

David Nucifora, performance director for Irish Rugby, said: "Johnny's performances continue to be of the highest standard and he remains an integral member of the Ireland and Leinster squads.

"He has always been a leader on the field and in the past two years since taking on the Ireland captaincy his leadership off it has been top class. Johnny is a generational player and we are delighted that he has extended to 2023."

Ireland cruised to a bonus-point 57-6 win over Italy in the Six Nations after a contentious red card left the Azzurri with 13 men.

Italy were always expected to slump to a heavy defeat in Dublin, having done so against both France and England, and their hopes of an upset were essentially ended in the 19th minute when Hame Faiva, on as a replacement hooker for Gianmarco Lucchesi, was sent off.

Faiva was deemed to have made dangerous shoulder-to-chin contact in a tackle on Dan Sheehan, his subsequent dismissal and the World Rugby requirement for hooker-less Italy to be a man down in an uncontested scrum in such circumstances reducing them to 13 men.

From that point, the game was over as a contest, Ireland running in nine tries to make it two wins from three and keep their hopes of Six Nations glory firmly intact as they leapfrogged England into second behind unbeaten France.

Joey Carbery crawled over the line to open the scoring after an Ireland break in the third minute.

Italy answered through Edoardo Padovani's long-range penalty, but the game was settled for all intents and purposes when the officials decided to dismiss Faiva after a long discussion with the TMO despite a seemingly innocuous tackle appearing to have done no damage to Sheehan.

It prompted another prolonged discussion at the scrum as referee Nika Amashukeli explained Italy's secondary punishment, which was soon followed by Jamison Gibson-Park going over for Ireland's second try.

A predictable Ireland overlap saw Michael Lowry cross, the bonus-point try then coming from Peter O'Mahony before Padovani gave Italy some cheer with another penalty before the break.

The rout continued thereafter, though, James Lowe strolling over out wide before Lowry added his second and Ryan Baird charged down an Italy kick to scoop up and dot down.

Italy were then reduced to 12 men as the game finished in farce with Braam Steyn shown a yellow card for batting the ball out of play. Lowe's easy second try took Ireland to the half-century mark and Kieran Treadwell had the final say against a shattered Italy defence.

 

Unwanted century comes in ruined spectacle

Italy's defeat marked their 100th in the Six Nations, but that unwanted milestone will be overshadowed by the officiating controversy in the first half.

In the circumstances of both the red card and reducing Italy to 13 men, Amashukeli was bound by the rules, but Italy being punished twice for a decision that was marginal at best was extremely harsh and ruined the game as a spectacle.

Ireland home comforts continue

Ireland have now lost just two of their past 23 home matches in the Six Nations, and few have come easier than this victory against an outnumbered Italy side.

What's next?

Italy host Scotland in Rome on March 12, when Ireland face a pivotal blockbuster clash with England at Twickenham.

Scotland denied France glory in last year's Six Nations, with their dramatic victory in Paris meaning Les Bleus missed out on the title.

Now, France will be out for vengeance as they head to Edinburgh at the top of the standings with two victories from their opening two matches.

England, meanwhile, bounced back from their defeat to Scotland in round one with a hammering of Italy, and Eddie Jones' second-placed team host Wales at Twickenham. 

Wales lost convincingly to Ireland in their first game, yet defeated Scotland 20-17 last time out, though the defending champions are down in fifth place as it stands.

The final match of the weekend sees Ireland take on Italy in Dublin. The Azzurri are staring down the barrel of a 100th Six Nations defeat.

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

SCOTLAND V FRANCE

FORM

Scotland have won four of their last six games against France in the Championship, including the last two in a row and a first win in Paris since 1999. They have not won three in a row against Les Bleus in the tournament since 1956-1958.

This will be the 99th meeting between Scotland and France in all competitions, with Les Bleus leading the head to head with 56 wins (L39, D3). However, honours are even across the last 10 clashes, with both sides picking up five wins each.

France opened their campaign with a pair of wins, something they also managed in 2021. The only time since 2011 when they have won their opening three games was in 2020, when they missed out on the title and a Grand Slam after a fourth-round defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Darcy Graham has beaten a Championship-high nine defenders so far. He is just ahead of French duo Gabin Villiere, Damian Penaud, and Marcus Smith.

France's Gregory Alldritt has made more carries (30) than any other player, while he has also gained 83 post-contact metres, the most of any forward and fourth most of any player, after Ireland's Mack Hansen (107), Scotland's Graham (86) and team-mate Penaud (84), as well as hitting 10 more defensive rucks (36) than anyone else.

ENGLAND V WALES

FORM

The last four Six Nations matches between these sides have been won by the home side on the day. Indeed, England have won their last four home games against Wales in the Championship, only once since 1930 have they enjoyed a longer such streak, a nine-game run between 1990 and 2006.

England have lost just two of their last 24 home games in the Six Nations (W21, D1), defeats to Ireland in 2018 and Scotland in 2021. Wales' last win at Twickenham in the Championship was in 2012. Since the start of the 2016 tournament, Wales have picked up just one away victory outside of Scotland or Italy, a 24-19 win in Paris in 2019.

England (49) and Wales (34) have made more maul metres than any other sides so far in this edition of the Six Nations.

ONES TO WATCH

Jones has named Ben Youngs on England's bench. If he comes on, Youngs will win his 115th Test cap, overtaking Jason Leonard as the country's most capped men's player. The scrum-half has been involved in five tries in his last six starts against Wales (three tries, two assists).

Alex Cuthbert is set to play for Wales for a 50th time.  He is looking to score his first try in the Six Nations since crossing against Italy in 2014.

 

IRELAND V ITALY

FORM

Ireland have won 21 of their 22 previous Six Nations matches against Italy, their sole defeat coming in 2013 (15-22), in what was the Azzurri's last home victory in the Championship.

Italy's next defeat will be their 100th in the Championship, they are currently on a record 34 match losing run, almost seven years since last claiming a victory (22-19 v Scotland, 28 Feb 2015).

Ireland hold a 100 per cent win rate against Italy at home in the Six Nations (W11), with the Azzurri the only side that has never won at the Aviva Stadium or Croke Park. Indeed, Ireland have scored 50 or more points in each of their last three home games against the tournament's whipping boys.

ONES TO WATCH

Hansen, Jamison Gibson-Park and Bundee Aki are three of just six players to both score and assist a try, the trio all scoring once and assisting one try after two rounds.

Italy's Federico Ruzza has won more lineouts (16) than any other player, including one steal, and team-mate Michele Lamaro has made the most tackles (41) in the tournament.

Rory Darge will make his first start for Scotland in their Six Nations clash with France on Saturday after Gregor Townsend was forced to reshuffle his pack.

The Glasgow Warriors flanker is named alongside Hamish Watson and Magnus Bradbury in an all-new back row, with the latter making his first Scotland start since 2020.

A slew of injuries have forced a clutch of players – including Cam Redpath, Rory Sutherland, Javan Sebastian, Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings – to drop out of contention.

Six more faces have been called up to the wider squad, though only prop Oli Kebble makes the matchday party from those added following Scotland's 20-17 defeat to Wales last time out.

Sam Skinner moves up to partner Grant Gilchrist at lock while WP Nel drops to the replacement bench in what is ultimately two direct changes to the starting line-up.

France meanwhile make just the one change to their starting XV, after Gabin Villiere was ruled out with a sinus fracture sustained against Ireland.

Jonathan Danty comes back into the side after dropping out for the 30-24 win over Andy Farrell's side, while Yoram Moefana moves over to the wing to cover the Toulon star Villiere's absence.

Les Bleus remain the only side unbeaten in this year's Championship, but now face consecutive matches on the road after enjoying home advantage in their first two games.

Both teams will be out to make metres, with Scotland duo Stuart Hogg (843) and Finn Russell (747) having accrued more kicking metres than any other players in the 2022 Six Nations so far.

However, it is France (2,261) who have made the most as a team, with three different players having made 500+ metres with the boot for them in Antoine Dupont (682), Melvyn Jaminet (564) and Romain Ntamack (501).

This will be the 99th clash between the two nations in all competitions, with France claiming victory on 56 occasions and Scotland winning 39 times.

However, the honours are evenly split across their last 10 meetings with both sides picking up five wins apiece during that period.

Scotland team:  Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Rory Darge, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury.

Replacements:  George Turner, Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Jamie Hodgson, Nick Haining, Ben White, Blair Kinghorn, Mark Bennett.

France team:  Melvyn Jaminet, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Yoram Moefana, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio, Cameron Woki, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements:  Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos.

Ireland will be without Iain Henderson for their home clash with Italy in the Six Nations after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Andy Farrell's side sit third in the table after a 29-7 triumph over Wales preceded a 30-24 loss to leaders France in the second round.

Ireland host winless Italy at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday, but they will not have second rower Henderson to call upon after confirming the 30-year-old has contracted the virus.

Another spell on the sidelines will frustrate the Ulster captain, given he only returned from injury off the bench in the loss against France.

Henderson, who captained his country for the first time in February 2021, will now serve a period of self-isolation at home and will likely return for meetings with England and Scotland in March.

Ireland confirmed there were no other positive results within the squad and the group will continue to complete routine tests across the week.

Farrell will still have Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Kieran Treadwell and Ryan Baird as second-row options and has not yet called up a replacement for Henderson.

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.

Taulupe Faletau has been called up to the Wales squad for the remainder of the Six Nations ahead of their clash with England on Saturday.

The Bath forward suffered a leg injury in the second Test between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa in July, leading to a seven-month injury lay-off.

Faletau returned to action with a brief stint against Wasps earlier in February before playing the whole game against Leicester Tigers last Saturday.

Christ Tshiunza has been sent back to Exeter Chiefs with a hamstring problem, opening the door for Faletau – who has 86 international caps to his name – to come into Wayne Pivac's squad for the visit to Twickenham.

"It was a rolled ankle, and I probably ran back too early and just had issues with my calves for a rolling two weeks that ended up being seven months," Faletau said of his previous leg injury.

"It was a rolling two weeks for a long time, then I would get to the end of that two weeks, I would run again and it would ping again. It was basically that for the whole time.

"I am just enjoying getting out there, whether it's Bath or Wales. Whatever it is, I just want to enjoy the games because seven months out wasn't fun."

The 31-year-old will leave Bath to join Cardiff Rugby at the end of the season.

Current coach Neal Hatley reserved special praise for the back rower, who he feels will be an undoubted success on the international stage again.

"He is like a chameleon," Hatley said. "You put him in a level up and he just blends in.

"He has that innate ability that, whatever the quality of the players he is playing with, he is the best player on the pitch and he has done that for ages."

Pivac's next decision will be whether to include Faletau in his matchday squad against Eddie Jones' England, after Taine Basham, Jac Morgan and Ross Moriarty all performed strongly against Scotland.

Wales sit fifth in the Six Nations table after bouncing back from a 29-7 loss against Ireland with a 20-17 victory over Scotland in round two as they look to defend their title.

Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi could make a welcome return for England in their Six Nations showdown with Wales at Twickenham.

Lawes may have been installed as England skipper for the tournament if he had not been sidelined due to concussion.

The towering lock missed the loss to Scotland and a win over Italy, but head coach Eddie Jones is hopeful he can face defending champions Wales a week on Saturday.

Centre Tuilagi could also be unleashed on Wayne Pivac's side, having been back in action for Sale Sharks after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Lock Joe Launchbury (knee) and flanker Lewis Ludlam (ribs) could also be back in contention. 

"Potentially we'll have Launchbury, Tuilagi, Lawes and Ludlam," Jones said.

Tom Curry has captained England in the absence of the injured Owen Farrell and Lawes.

But Lawes could have the honour of leading the Red Rose out once again in a battle between two sides who have won one and lost one of their matches heading into a weekend off.

The Australian added: "We'd be hopeful that by the end of next week Courtney will be training fully.

"He's making some great progress and the medical staff have done some terrific work with him. He's not far away now and we're really hopeful he'll be back in full training and able to play against Wales."

Jones said of Tuilagi: "Just having a power running centre would give us a different option.

"Everything we're doing now is about trying to create opportunities through finesse and that's through good running lines and passing.

"But to have someone who can take you forward quickly and engage two or three defenders then allows you to try and finesse extra space, which would be really useful to us.

"We've had three centres play and I think Sladey [Henry Slade] has been very good. Joe Marchant and Elliot Daly have had their moments, but we need to get more out of that and we understand that."

England are still a work in progress and can improve on the back of their morale-boosting 33-0 win over Italy, according to star performer Marcus Smith.

Following last week's 20-17 loss to Scotland, England got off the mark with their first win of the 2022 Six Nations, achieved in emphatic style in Rome.

Smith scored the first of England's five tries at Stadio Olimpico and assisted another in a standout display from the fly-half.

It is the third time Smith has both scored and assisted a try in a Test match for England, while overall he now has eight try involvements in seven Tests.

The 22-year-old beat six defenders against Italy, which is the most by an England fly-half in the Six Nations since Jonny Wilkinson's eight against Ireland in 2002.

Despite impressing in a much better all-round performance from coach Eddie Jones' team, Smith believes there is more to come ahead of hosting Wales in two weeks' time.

"We have loads to work on. We are still learning on our journey, but we will enjoy tonight and get back on the horse tomorrow," he told ITV Sport.

"We put a big emphasis on today – we were very disappointed after Murrayfield. Eddie [Jones] spoke about the next job and we have put ourselves back in it with that win.

"I've never played here before. There was a special atmosphere, with loads of England fans having come out. We had to put a show on for them.

"We were a bit scrappy and credit to Italy, but to score 33 points is always nice."

 

Jamie George crossed twice after Smith had opened the scoring, to give England a 21-0 lead at half-time – their joint-biggest ever in an away game in the Six Nations.

Elliot Daly and Kyle Sinckler extended England's lead in the second half as they achieved just a second nilling of the opposition in the competition, the other coming against Scotland in 2014.

Reflecting on a job well done by his side, head coach Jones said: "It was a good performance from us. We started the game well, got a bit of a flow, started the second half well, and defended well at the end.

"Italy are a tough team and they keep coming. If we were a bit tidier with some of our work, some running lines, it could have been a big score.

"[Italy] have played New Zealand and France and in the first halves been in the game – and they were not in the game today.

"Marcus did well, Harry Randall did some good things at the start and [Alex[ Dombrandt had a really solid game."

England have now won all 23 of their Six Nations matches against Italy and are the only side the Azzurri have never beaten in the championship.

Indeed, Italy have lost 34 matches in a row in the Six Nations in an unwanted record streak stretching back to 2015.

The Azzurri's ill-discipline, as well as some individual errors, once again cost them against England in a match in which they conceded 12 penalties.

Home skipper Michele Lamaro was left to bemoan some sloppy play from his side in their latest loss.

"We're obviously disappointed again," he said. "Discipline was a big point for us last week [when losing to France]. We had to improve this week, and we didn't really perform in that scenario.

"We have to get better in discipline, especially in the first half when we conceded too many penalties. Obviously if you concede them to 30-40 metres each time, it becomes difficult to defend.

"Last week our exits were not that good, this week our discipline wasn't pretty good. Obviously in defence we have to put something on, and I think we can improve a lot."

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