Ireland's comeback efforts proved fruitless as France held their own to claim a 30-24 win in an enthralling Six Nations tussle on Saturday.

Heading to the Stade de France without injured captain Jonny Sexton, Ireland endured a tough start – including Antoine Dupont scoring the fastest try they have conceded in the Six Nations – and Melvyn Jaminet's kicking kept them at arm's length in the first half.

Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park led an Ireland rally early in the second, but Cyril Baille's try saw France regain their composure.

Although that might have been followed by another score in a frantic finish, when TMO intervened, Les Bleus did just enough to hold on to their lead.

Ireland had been swiftly into the lead against Wales last time out but were on the wrong end of a fast start in Paris, as Dupont latched onto an offload with just over a minute played.

Jaminet added the extras and then another three French points from the tee soon after, but Ireland hit back when Sexton's replacement Joey Carbery hung the restart kick up for Mack Hansen to pounce and go over.

Another Jaminet penalty nosed France into a six-point lead, before two more pieces of Dupont brilliance resulted in two more successfully converted kicks before half-time.

Jaminet's penalty proficiency continued with a long-range effort early in the second half, yet the momentum quickly swung Ireland's way when Van der Flier forced his way over in the corner following a successful line-out.

The gap was down to a point by the 49th minute, Gibson-Park grounding underneath the sticks, but Ireland were their own worst enemies four minutes later – an error in the ruck allowing France to capitalise through Baille.

Although Ireland were handed more hope when Carbery chipped through a 30-yard penalty, France pushed back and Jaminet sent a penalty through the sticks to seal victory having failed to ground what seemed set to be a decisive try.

France and Ireland face off at the Stade de France on Saturday in a contest that may well determine exactly where the Six Nations title ends up next month.

Pre-tournament favourites France kicked off their campaign with a routine victory over Italy, while a much-fancied Ireland proved far too strong for reigning champions Wales.

Both sides picked up bonus points to lead the way at the top, setting up a mouth-watering encounter in the French capital as Ireland aim to stretch their nine-match winning run.

Wales have a chance to respond to last week's disappointment when they host a Scotland side who should be full of confidence following their Calcutta Cup win over England last time out.

The final match of the weekend takes place in Rome as perennial whipping boys Italy take on England with the aim of ending their long-running losing streak in the competition.

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

WALES v SCOTLAND

FORM

Wales have lost just two of their 11 home matches against Scotland in the Six Nations, though one of those losses did come in the last such meeting two years ago at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.

The last three encounters between the sides in the competition have been decided by a margin of seven points or fewer. Indeed, four of the last six clashes have seen the side losing at half-time come back to win the match.

Scotland are on their longest away winning streak in the championship, having won four on the spin – not since between 1925 and 1927 have they won five in a row on their travels. However, Wales have won nine of their last 11 Six Nations home matches.

ONES TO WATCH

Taine Basham was a rare shining light for Wales in their heavy loss to Ireland, the tournament debutant crossing over late on to prevent his side from losing to nil on a day to forget in Dublin. Basham also made 22 tackles, which is the most of any player on the opening weekend, missing none in the process.

A number of Scotland players impressed in the late win over England, not least Darcy Graham. The diminutive wing set up Ben White for the opening try, won the crucial turnover in injury time and beat six defenders – the most of any player in round one.

 


FRANCE v IRELAND

FORM

France and Ireland have played each other 100 times previously, with France victorious on 58 occasions, Ireland prevailing 35 times and seven games drawn. In the Six Nations, Les Blues edge the win record 11 to nine from their 22 previous encounters, the other two matches finishing level.

Ireland have lost their last two meetings with France in the competition, having been beaten in just one of the previous eight. Ireland's win rate of 41 per cent against Les Blues in the Six Nations is their lowest against any side.

After recovering to see off Italy last week, France are aiming to win their opening two Six Nations games for the third year in a row, this after managing it just twice in their previous eight campaigns.


ONES TO WATCH

France head coach Fabien Galthie, back involved after missing the Italy match with coronavirus, has put his faith in youth by handing Yoram Moefana his first Six Nations start. The 21-year-old impressed in his cameo role against Italy by playing a part in his side's last two tries.

Ireland will have to make do without injured skipper Johnny Sexton, who passed the 500-point mark in the Six Nations last week, so all eyes will be on Joey Carbery – the only change from the Wales game – at fly-half. The Munster number 10 is tasked with pulling the strings on his first tournament start.

 

ITALY v ENGLAND

FORM

England are the only side Italy have never managed to beat in the Six Nations, losing all 22 of their previous showdowns. England's 80-23 win in this fixture 21 years ago remains the most points scored and biggest winning margin in any fixture in the competition's history.

Italy have lost their last 33 matches in the competition – the longest losing streak by any team in the Five or Six Nations – in an unwanted run that stretches back to a win over Scotland in 2015.

Eddie Jones' visitors have lost their last two Six Nations matches, but only once over the last 15 editions have they lost three in a row, while not since 2005 have they lost their opening two games to a campaign.


ONES TO WATCH

Italy's Michele Lamaro (21 tackles) was one of just three players to make 20 or more tackles during the opening weekend, along with Basham (22) and Nick Tompkins (21). However, he also missed four tackles, which was the joint-most of any player, level with Dan Biggar.

Ben Youngs, who made the most kicks in play of any player in round one (17), is one of six players to make way for England. Should the experienced scrum-half make it off the bench, he will become England's joint-most capped player of all time alongside Jason Leonard with 114.

Johnny Sexton will miss Ireland's Six Nations clash with France on Saturday due to a hamstring problem.

Ireland captain Sexton surpassed 500 points in the competition last week, as he helped Andy Farrell's team to a 29-7 defeat of reigning champions Wales in Dublin.

However, the 36-year-old will not feature in Paris after sustaining an injury in training on Wednesday, and James Ryan will captain Ireland instead.

Joey Carbery will replace Sexton in Farrell's line-up, which was announced on Thursday. It is the only change Ireland have made.

Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Jack Carty have come into the squad and will be on the bench, with Ryan Baird and James Hume dropping out.

France, meanwhile, have made two alterations to their side, with Francois Cros and Yoram Moefana replacing Dylan Cretin and Jonathan Danty respectively.

Antoine Dupont was one of 11 players to assist a try across the opening weekend and now has 12 assists to his name in the Six Nations, the most of any France player.

The scrum-half will again look to dictate the play as Les Bleus aim to win their opening two games in an edition of the Six Nations for the third year in a row, this after managing it just twice in their previous eight campaigns in the Championship.

This will be the 101st meeting between the nations, with France winning 58 times and Ireland triumphing on 35 occasions.

Les Bleus have the edge in the Six Nations, winning half of their 22 encounters, including the two most recent games.

They thrashed Italy 37-10 in their opening fixture to go top of the standings after round one.

 

Ireland team:  Hugo Keenan, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements:  Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray, Jack Carty, Robbie Henshaw.

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

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

Andrew Conway helped himself to a double as Ireland eased to a 29-7 bonus-point victory over Wales in the opening game of the 2022 Six Nations to make it nine wins in a row.

Wales defied the odds to win the title last year but the injury hit visitors, without captain Alun Wyn Jones and a number of other experienced players, were outclassed in Dublin.

Ireland led 10-0 at half-time, with Bundee Aki crossing over for the only try, but their dominance truly told in the second half at the Aviva Stadium.

Conway added two more and Garry Ringrose joined the scoring, rendering Taine Basham's late try nothing more than a consolation as Ireland recorded a fifth home Test win in a row against Wales for the first time.

Ireland needed just two minutes to score the first try of the tournament through Aki, who had the simplest of run-ins after being picked out by debutant Mack Hansen.

Johnny Sexton added the extras and, after missing a couple of penalties in quick succession, the Irish skipper kicked over again to pass the 500-points mark in the Six Nations.

Conway collected an offload from Sexton early in the second half, jinked past a couple of opponents and squeezed over at full stretch, the try allowed to stand after a TMO check.

Josh Adams was sin-binned for a reckless challenge on Sexton and more misery was to follow for Wales as Conway profited from Josh van de Flier's work to double his try tally.

Ringrose breezed through to add a fourth try for Ireland, who were undone late on when Basham intercepted from Tadhg Beirne and dived down under the posts.

The Six Nations is upon us for 2022, as Wales bid to defend their crown.

Wales won in 2021 without completing the Grand Slam, just the second time they have tasted victory without beating all five opponents, as their success came at the expense of France, who were frustrated by Scotland at the last.

Wayne Pivac's men are by no means favourites this time, however. They come into this Championship without Alun Wyn Jones, their captain and a great of the game, while George North leads a glut of star names also absent through injury.

Should Wales triumph, they would match a feat previously achieved only by England, while France are looking to end a long drought of success in the tournament.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform digs into some of the most intriguing facts ahead of the Six Nations.

Wales set England's record in their sights

The past 11 editions of the Six Nations have been won by either England, Ireland or Wales.

England and Wales have won the Championship four times each during that period.

If Wales defend their title successively, they would become the second team, after England, to win the competition seven times since the turn of the century, when it became the Six Nations.

But Pivac has some big names missing – none more so than Jones. Saturday's match against Ireland will be first time since 2006 that Wales have played in the Six Nations without him, while only Sergio Parisse (also 15) has appeared in as many editions of the Championship as Jones.

Can France finally strike gold?

In total, 86 tries were scored in the 2021 edition, the most in a single edition of the tournament. However, despite the free-scoring nature of the games, eight matches were decided by margins of five points or fewer, more than in any other previous Championship.

 

France were on the wrong end of one such fine margin, as they saw their hopes of winning the tournament for the first time since 2010 dashed in a postponed meeting with Scotland, which was played after the rest of the schedule had been completed.

Les Bleus' 11-year wait to win the Six Nations is the longest such stretch in their history, having joined the tournament in 1947.

France's squad is stacked full of talent, though. After recovering from COVID-19, Antoine Dupont is in line to play against Italy this weekend – only Wales' Louis Rees-Zammit (nine) made more clean breaks than the scrum-half last year (eight), with three other French players in the top 12 by that metric.

Dupont beat a defender on 13 occasions and topped the charts for offloads (nine) and try assists (five), ranking second for kicks in play (41) after Scotland's Finn Russell (47).

Romain Ntamack missed much of last year's tournament due to a jaw injury but is also set to feature.

Time for Scotland to step out of the shadows?

Scotland have never won the Six Nations, but they impressed in 2021. They enjoyed more possession (58 per cent) and territory (55 per cent) than any other side, as well as managing the best tackle success rate (91 per cent), and their tally of 9.8 entries into the opposition 22 per game was also the highest.

Duhan van der Merwe beat 31 defenders, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's record for the most in a single edition of the Six Nations (30 in 2000) – it was also the first time that a Scotland player has ended a campaign as the outright top try scorer (five tries; excluding years with joint top-scorers).

 

Van der Merwe also tallied both the most metres carried (482) and the most post-contact metres (208) of any player. Hamish Watson, meanwhile, has now completed 149 tackles in a row in the Six Nations, having not missed one since 2019. Only Lionel Nallet (154) has made more consecutive tackles without missing in the history of the tournament.

England and Ireland out to prove their quality

England have won three of the six editions of the Six Nations since Eddie Jones took charge at the beginning of 2016, with only Bernard Laporte (four) having coached his team to more Championship wins this century.

Jones' team had the best lineout success rate (95 per cent) in the 2021 tournament, losing just three of 58 throws. Luke Cowan-Dickie landed 32 of 32 throws, the most ever by a player in an edition of the tournament not to miss a throw.

Yet that proficiency in the lineout was not enough to propel England to success, as they won only twice to finish a disappointing fifth. 

Ireland finished third, on the other hand, despite losing their first two games.

Andy Farrell's team converted 94 per cent of their kicks last year, the best rate of any nation, missing just one penalty goal attempt and one conversion (29 of 31). In fact, it was the best ever success rate by a team to attempt 25 or more kicks at goal in an edition of the tournament, with captain Johnny Sexton the top points scorer (65).

 

Italy just making up the numbers?

Italy lost all five games again last year, picking up a 16th wooden spoon. They have lost 32 successive Tests in the competition, the longest run in Five/Six Nations history.

The wooden spoon has been theirs in each of the past six years, this after finishing bottom of the Championship just once in the four campaigns before that.

The 2022 Six Nations campaign begins with a mouth-watering contest between defending champions Wales and a well fancied Ireland side at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. 

Wales won the championship for a sixth time last March, narrowly missing out on a Grand Slam with defeat to France in their final game, but they enter this year's tournament as outsiders in the eyes of many.

Much like Ireland, France will be eyeing top spot after going 12 years since their most recent triumph – Les Bleus' longest-such run since joining the Five Nations in 1947 – with their campaign beginning at home to an Italy side without a win in 32 games in the competition.

A relatively inexperienced England side do battle with perennial dark horses Scotland at Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup, meanwhile, with the hosts looking to record back-to-back wins in this fixture for the first time since 1984.

Ahead of the opening round, Stats Perform previews the upcoming matches with help from Opta.


IRELAND v WALES

FORM

Ireland have won four of their last five meetings with Wales, though their solitary defeat in that run came in the most recent match between the sides in last year's Six Nations when going down 21-16.

Wales have lost their last four away games against Ireland, their worst-such run since losing four in a row between 2002 and 2006, but never before have they lost five in a row away to Ireland.

Ireland have won 27 of their last 29 Tests at the Aviva Stadium, including their last six in a row, with their only defeats coming against England in 2019 and France in 2021 – both in the Six Nations.


ONES TO WATCH

Johnny Sexton will win his 102nd international cap for Ireland this weekend and remains a key player for his country. The 36-year-old recorded the best goal kicking success rate of any player (minimum of three kicks) in last year's Six Nations, finding the target from 25 out of 26 (96 per cent).

Wales are without a long list of players due to injury, most notably skipper Alun Wyn Jones. It's set to be the first Six Nations the Dragons have played without Jones since 2006, with fly-half Dan Biggar being left with big shoes to fill in his first game as captain.

 

SCOTLAND v ENGLAND

FORM

Scotland have won five of their last six Test matches, with their solitary defeat in that run coming against the world champions South Africa in November.

England have won 15 of their last 18 Tests, including their last five in a row, although their three defeats in that spell all came in last year's Six Nations – just the fourth time they had lost more than twice in an edition of the tournament since 2000 (also lost three in 2005, 2006 and 2018).

This will be the 140th Test between the rival nations in a fixture that dates back to the first ever rugby international back in 1871. Scotland have won on 44 occasions, compared to 76 victories for England, with the other 19 ending all square.


ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have named a near-identical XV to the one that ended last year's Six Nations, Duhan van der Merwe among them. The British and Irish Lions wing beat 31 defenders in the 2021 edition, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's record for the most in a single Six Nations (30 in 2000).

In the absence of Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry will captain England at the age of just 23, making him the youngest player to do so since Will Carling in 1988.

 

FRANCE v ITALY

FORM

France and Italy have met on 45 occasions, with Les Bleus winning 42 of those matches. That 93 per cent win rate is their highest against any nation they have faced more than five times.

Italy have lost 23 of their last 24 away games with France in Test rugby, including their last 14 in a row. The Azzurri's only victory in France came in Grenoble in 1997.

France have won 12 of their last 13 Test matches at home, although their solitary defeat in that run came in their most recent Six Nations game against Scotland. They have not trailed at half-time in a home game since February 2018, going into the break ahead (17 times) or level (twice) in each of their last 19 such games.

ONES TO WATCH

Captain and recently crowned World Rugby Player of the Year Antoine Dupont will be looking to pick up from where he left off in 2021. He was directly involved in eight tries during the last Six Nations, more than any other player, scoring three and assisting a Championship-high five.

Sebastian Negri made 64 carries and 68 tackles during the 2021 tournament, his combined tally of 132 carries and tackles being the second most of any player in the Championship, behind only Taulupe Faletau (140). Italy could do with more of the same here to help avoid another loss.

 

Eleven months on from playing the roles of party poopers against the same opponents, France will this weekend set out on a journey that Fabien Galthie and his men will hope ends with the Six Nations trophy being held aloft at the Stade de France on March 19.

Les Blues denied Wales Grand Slam glory with an enthralling 32-30 victory in Paris in the Dragons' final match of an otherwise perfect 2021 campaign, snatching the win through an injury-time Brice Dulin try, but they ultimately fell short by finishing four points adrift in second.

Now on their longest run without winning the championship since joining the Five Nations in 1947, with their most recent triumph coming in 2010, France will consider anything other than first place this time around a real disappointment.

But if that is to happen, then Galthie's side have a number of obstacles to navigate, not least beating defending champions Wales – now one shy of England's record of seven Six Nations crowns – in Cardiff in the fourth round of fixtures.

Wales have been Six Nations champions four times in the last 10 years, yet few are giving them much of a chance this time around after failing to push on in the second half of 2021.

Wayne Pivac's side are without inspirational skipper Alun Wyn Jones and do not exactly have history on their side, having won back-to-back championships just once – doing so in 2012 and 2013 – but the Dragons do at least play three of their five matches on home soil.

 

A fast start is imperative but a first-round trip to in-form Ireland presents the reigning champions with arguably their toughest assignment of the tournament. Champions in 2018, four barren years would feel like a lifetime should Ireland miss out again.

Andy Farrell's charges are certainly not lacking momentum thanks to a strong end to the last campaign. Eight wins in a row, including a famous triumph over New Zealand in November – only their third win in that fixture in 33 meetings – has them riding the crest of a wave.

A lack of playing time at club level for certain players could hamper Ireland in their opener, however, setting up an intriguing game to kick things off on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.

While it is clear what can be expected from France, Ireland and Wales, fellow heavyweights England enter this latest edition as something of an unknown quantity due to injury absentees, skipper Owen Farrell among them.

Tom Curry will have to step up and lead an inexperienced England side that contains seven players with 10 caps or fewer in their starting XV to face Scotland. It will make for a challenging six weeks from Eddie Jones' perspective, but one he will be relishing in his seventh Six Nations with the Red Rose.

 

England are one of two sides, along with Ireland, yet to collect the Wooden Spoon. That cannot be said of Italy, who have propped up the table in each of the last six years, that after finishing bottom only once in the previous four campaigns.

Another disappointing 2021 saw Italy lose all five matches as their losing run in the tournament stretched to 32 games, the longest such streak in either Five or Six Nations history.

Italy's place in future competitions continues to be debated, with a possible promotion and relegation system being touted by some, but for now the Azzurri will simply be focused on proving their doubters wrong by ending a long-running losing streak that stretches back to 2015.

While there are some promising signs at age-group level, it is hard to see past Italy claiming an unwanted 17th Wooden Spoon this time around, particularly with trips to Paris, Dublin and Cardiff to prepare for.

Exactly who Italy will battle it out for to avoid bottom spot is a tougher question to answer than predicting an overall winner, with Scotland one of those whose campaign could go either way.

Experienced but too inconsistent, Gregor Townsend's perennial dark horses need to find a way to string together a run of victories to remain in contention right until the end. 

The hallmarks of a great team were there 12 months ago when enjoying more possession (58 per cent) and territory (55 per cent) than any other side, as well as managing the best tackle success rate (91 per cent), but there are still a number of issues that need to be ironed out.

That is a running theme throughout, though, and all adds to the unpredictability and excitement.

With fans back inside grounds, scores to be settled and no shortage of subplots, it is easy to see why this year's Six Nations is the most anticipated in several years.

Wales will give Josh Adams his first international start at centre when they take on Ireland in their opening game of their Six Nations title defence at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The Cardiff Blues star, who has scored 17 tries in 35 Tests for Wales, will be given the number 13 jersey for the first time as head coach Wayne Pivac attempts to rediscover the magic achieved in last year's tournament when he moved George North to the role.

Adams will play in the midfield alongside Nick Tompkins, while Will Rowlands is back in the starting line up alongside vice-captain Adam Beard.

Taine Basham will be making his debut in the Six Nations in the back row with Aaron Wainwright and Ellis Jenkins.

George North is looking forward to the day his children face the big choice: cycling or rugby.

North is also looking forward to the Six Nations Championship, starting this weekend, when Wales begin their title defence against Ireland in Dublin.

There is an awful lot for this 29-year-old to be looking forward to, now that his injury hell has passed.

For now, North is enjoying the freedom of being able to run again, after suffering an anterior crucial ligament (ACL) injury in his right knee last April, playing for the Ospreys.

It ended his year on the rugby pitch, ruining hopes of a starring role for the British and Irish Lions in South Africa and denying him a shot at the Springboks, Australia and New Zealand in the autumn internationals.

North would sooner have been healthy and active of course, but being sidelined has had its upsides. He and his wife, double Olympic cyclist silver medallist Becky James, welcomed their second son, Tomi, a brother for Jac, in October.

Rather than dividing his time between the family and Wales camps, North has been essentially a stay-at-home dad for months on end.

"It's been brilliant. Normally I'm away playing or touring or something," says North, who is a Land Rover ambassador.

"To have this time at home, it's priceless. But Becky's been a superstar. When I had my surgery to start with, I couldn't do much on crutches with Jac, and obviously Tomi's joined us now and he's class.

"I'm in that stage now where effectively I'm in pre-season again, and I'm absolutely battered when I come home from training. And I'm not much use to anyone, but she's been amazing through this whole process.

"It has been tough, but it's been amazing you know, the two boys are amazing. Thank goodness for Becky, because it'd have been a lot harder at one point, with one leg up and hopping around the place. Especially my surgery, it was very tough. But yeah, she's a superhero."

Wales have been Six Nations champions four times in the last 10 years. Despite being holders, however, few are giving them much of a chance this time around.

After all, Wales have been up and down with results in the tournament. Across the last five years, they have trailed in fifth twice, as well as clinching a couple of championships, including the 2019 grand slam.

This time, they head into the tournament without a clutch of key players: North is absent, but so too is captain Alun Wyn Jones, with Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Navidi, Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric also sidelined.

 

Head coach Wayne Pivac said his squad has lost around 680 caps' worth of experience, but Wales should still be no mugs.

The players Pivac has chosen for the tournament come with an average of 27.1 Test caps of experience, only topped by Ireland's 30.9 among the six teams.

Those that are missing are proven class, however. In last year's championship, Faletau had 66 carries, putting him in third place among all players, while Tipuric made the most tackles (82). Faletau was fourth on that list (74), and skipper Jones was sixth (72).

On the Six Nations all-time list, North, who has featured on the wing and at outside centre, ranks fourth for metres gained (2,548), third for defenders beaten (126), and third for most clean breaks (48).

Jones is top of the all-time tackles chart (719), with fly-half Dan  Biggar a different animal to the absent lock. Biggar sits second on the Six Nations' all-time try assists list, after setting up 17 five-pointers in the competition.

To lose a raft of proven top-level talent would hurt any team, and North is not blind to that. He has been in and around the Wales squad since his late teens, however, so is certain there will be no defeatist attitude in Pivac's camp.

"Obviously there are a number of players out missing, and I think Wayne's come out with a stat of something like 680 caps that he's lost," says North. "That's a tough place to be."

 

But can Wales kick on regardless? North says so.

"Well, that that's the only way you get better, isn't it? By pushing the standards up every time," North tells Stats Perform News.

"I think for us, as Wales, we're used to being the underdogs, and we're always used to being kind of like always wanting more, and I think that shows in the performances that we have and the results we have had of late.

"From the lads' point of view, that's something they will certainly be looking at: how they push on from last year. Obviously winning the championship [is one thing], but you know the next step is backing it up again and as we said, it's going to be incredibly tough for the boys."

In the 2021 Six Nations, Wales made the most tackles of all teams (871), were third for tackle success with a healthy 88.2 per cent record, ranked second for lineout success with 90.8 per cent, and matched France for the most scrum success with 96.2 per cent.

Pivac's side averaged 3.7 points per entry into the opposition 22, making them the only side to average over three points per entry. It is a hard act to follow.

The loss of veteran skipper Jones gives 32-year-old playmaker Biggar the opportunity to lead the team into the championship.

"Yeah, it's not easy following the most capped player in the world is it!" North says. "I wouldn't like to follow Alun Wyn, put it that way.

"But what you're getting with Dan is a fierce competitor who drives the squad from the front row, right the way back all the way through to the full-back.

"He expects high standards of everyone, and he expects those standards of himself. I'm excited to see Dan as captain because what you see on the field is a fierce competitor. And that's not just on the field, that's Monday to Friday, and that's in whatever jersey he is.

"He expects the best for himself, and also the best from others because you know he is a competitor and wants to win."

North has the most international tries of all current players in the world game, and he has spoken of hoping to be available to Pivac at the back end of the championship.  Wales have home games against France and Italy on March 11 and 19 to finish the campaign.

He longs to make his children proud, even though both are much too young to understand his day job, or to understand their mother was a world champion.

From the routines of parenthood to the cauldron of the Principality Stadium, North is focused on pulling out all the stops. Jac and Tomi are keeping him grounded but also fuelling his ambitions.

"Obviously they don't know what Dad does. They don't know what Mum used to do," he says. "And I think that's something that's special.

"I am looking forward to the day that I'd be able to play and Becky can bring the boys to watch. I'm incredibly proud and honoured to be able to play rugby, but to be able to share that with the boys and, you know, show them more. Whatever they want to do in the future, there's always that conversation, is it a bike or a rugby ball?"

North, who during last year's Six Nations became the youngest player to reach 100 caps for any country, is targeting the 2023 Rugby World Cup as a long-range goal.

That could add up to over two months away from home, and given he will be 31 by the time that tournament comes around, it might be a last shot at global glory.

"I've got a fair few steps to cross off before we get back in any jersey. Certainly it's something I want to be able to put my hand up and be fighting for my selection there," he says.

"I've been very fortunate to go to a few now, and you know that's a big push. It's not too far away, and it's something that is certainly exciting."

There he goes again, always looking forward.


:: George North is a Land Rover ambassador. Visit landrover.co.uk

Former Ireland batsman turned commentator, Nyle O’Brien, believes the West Indies batsmen have become caught-up playing an old fashion type of cricket, which has little chance of success in the modern game.

The Caribbean side was beaten by Ireland, in a One Day International series, for the first time in their history earlier this week.  The team had a poor showing all-around but as has become custom in recent times their substandard display at the crease was noticeable.

The team struggled to come to grips with not just the surface, but also the Irish bowlers, particularly Andy McBrine who took 10 wickets over the three games. O’Brien believes a major part of the issues at the crease stems from the batting unit’s outdated philosophy of run-scoring.

“The West Indies, they’re playing a very old school type of cricket.  They just stand around in the crease and either block or try to hit the ball for four or six.  Unfortunately, when you are playing international cricket that doesn’t happen very often.  Very rarely do you see a West Indies batter come down the pitch, using their feet, knock it to long-on, or long-off for singles, rotate the strike, or manipulate the field.  We saw very few sweeps, when Shamarh Brooks did play a sweep he was out lbw,” O'Brien told the Mason and Guest radio show.

“When you’re a batter if you’re going to stand in the crease waiting for a bad ball, this is international cricket, the bad balls don’t come very often…It’s a technical thing, it’s a tactical thing…it’s something for West Indies cricket, it’s been a pattern for many, many years they don’t play spin very well.  They really on their brute force and teams are getting more clever with how to go about that.”

 

 

Legendary West Indies batsman, Viv Richards, has once again decried what he believes to be the role of poorly prepared playing surfaces in the underdevelopment of both the region’s batsman and bowlers.

The regional team is in the grips of a particularly bad spell, after suffering a 2-1 defeat to Ireland in the most recent One Day International series.  The series was the first the Irish have won again them and sent shockwaves around the region.

The team’s batsmen were in particularly woeful form with only Sharmarh Brooks, Shai Hope, and Odean Smith managing to average over 30.  Albeit on a pitch that held moisture early on, and losing the toss three times, the West Indies only managed to make over 250 runs in the first match, well short of the total typically required for a good innings in modern ODI cricket.

With many of the batsmen continuing to look out of sorts, despite often putting in strong spells in regional cricket, Richards believes substandard pitches are partially to blame for the situation.

“I don’t think there is enough preparation being put into wickets, and wickets play a huge part because sometimes you get some individuals who would be selected because of some good performances on some dodgy tracks,” Richards told Antigua’s Good Morning Jojo Radio program.

“So, when you get to the bigger picture or they take a step up, then you find individuals are found wanting because these wickets are rather inferior on either sides of the coin, whether it’s batting or bowling. We need to pay a little more attention to having proper wickets that can be quite competitive for bat and ball,” he added.

Uncapped duo Michael Lowry and Mack Hansen have been named in Ireland's Six Nations squad, but James Lowe misses out due to injury.

Versatile back Lowry and wing Hansen were on Wednesday included in Andy Farrell's 37-man squad.

Flyer Lowe has been ruled out of the tournament due to a muscle injury, but fly-half Joey Carbery is included despite suffering a fractured elbow last month.

Cian Prendergast will take part in a pre-Six Nations training camp in Portugal as a development player.

Ireland face defending champions Wales in their first match of the tournament at the Aviva Stadium on February 5.

Head coach Farrell said: "In November we challenged the group to get up to speed quickly so that the team could perform at international level.

"The same will apply for this Six Nations campaign, we need to be at our best against Wales on the opening weekend.

"We have a strong squad with competition for places across the board, there is a nice blend of experienced internationals and guys who have had their first taste of this level in the past 12 months.

"The games in November gave us a good foundation to build on and areas where we know we will have to improve. It will be an exciting Championship with so many strong squads and impressive performances across the board during the autumn."

 

Ireland squad:

Backs: Bundee Aki, Robert Baloucoune, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Craig Casey, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Jamison Gibson Park, Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, James Hume, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, Michael Lowry, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Johnny Sexton (captain).

Forwards: Ryan Baird, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Gavin Coombes, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Peter O’Mahony, Tom O’Toole, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Dan Sheehan, Nick Timoney, Kieran Treadwell, Josh van der Flier.

The West Indies suffered a historic loss at the hands of Ireland after the visitors secured a two-wicket win to claim a 2-1 series win at Sabina Park on Sunday.

The win was not just the Irish team’s first triumph over the West Indies in an ODI series, but the come-from-behind victory was only the second over a full member team. Prior to that, the team defeated Zimbabwe at home in 2019.

After dismissing the West Indies for just 212, the Irish survived a late-game wobble but still had enough to get over the line after getting to 214-8 in the 45th over.

The effort was anchored by half-centuries from Andy McBrine and Harry Tector.

Earlier, the West Indies were off to a fast with Shai Hope cracking 53 from just 39 balls at the top of the innings, as he did the majority of the scoring in an opening stand of 72 in 11 overs with Justin Greaves.  However, things fell apart when he and Greaves were caught off the bowling of Craig Young in quick succession.  The hosts went on to lose the next three wickets for just four runs as the middle order collapsed when Nicholas Pooran, Shamarh Brooks, and skipper Kieron Pollard all spent very little time at the crease.

Jason Holder ensured at least a competitive score with an impressive 44 but was run out, with West Indies all out for 212.  Odean Smith remained unbeaten on 20 from 10 balls.

 

The key to the West Indies winning their CG Insurance One-Day International series against Ireland will be the ability to maintain wickets in hand in order to launch at the back-end of the innings, according to opening batsman and vice-captain Shai Hope.

The West Indies top-order batsmen have experienced difficulties with the moisture on the Sabina Park pitch, in the first two games of the series, after losing the toss and being asked to bat by Ireland on both occasions.

“We all know that in the morning time, there’s a lot of moisture in the pitch and it’s just unfortunate that we didn’t get to win the toss in the first two games,” he said.

Still, Hope emphasized the importance of trying to battle through the conditions, regardless of the result of the toss.

“Whether we win the toss or not, we have to do whatever we do, first, to the best of our ability. The key is to make sure we do it better this game because we know it is a series decider,” Hope added.

When asked about the average batting performance in the series so far, Hope once again pointed to difficult conditions.

“I think anyone who understands cricket can see that conditions aren’t conducive to stroke-play. It’s not a free-flowing wicket, especially in the morning at Sabina Park. It’s just important for us as batters to adapt to that as fast as we can. It’s not easy but we still have to find a way,” Hope added.

Finally, he offered possible solutions for the West Indies' batting woes.

“It’s just important for us to find a way, whether it’s putting the bowlers under more pressure or trying to run more singles in the middle period. I also think it’s important for us to maintain wickets in the middle so we can launch at the back-end because, at the end of the innings, the wicket tends to get a lot better,” Hope said.

The third and final CG Insurance ODI between The West Indies and Ireland takes place on Sunday at Sabina Park at 9:15 am Jamaica Time.

The series is currently locked at 1-1.

 

Ireland secured a five-wicket win via the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method to tie their 3-match One-Day International series with the West Indies 1-1 at Sabina Park on Thursday.

Ireland’s opening pair of William Porterfield and Paul Stirling got off to a strong start reaching 37 off 4.5 overs before Stirling was dismissed for 21 by Akeal Hosein.

Ireland brought up their 50 in the eighth over with Porterfield on 22 and Andy McBrine yet to score.

Roston Chase removed Porterfield with the final ball of the 10th over for 26 to leave the Irish on 60-2.

McBrine and Harry Tector formed a decent partnership and brought Ireland’s score past 100 before McBrine was dismissed by Romario Shepherd to become the third wicket to fall for a well-played 35, in the 20th over, to leave Ireland at 104-3.

Tector (46) and Curtis Campher (11) were the batsmen at the crease when Ireland brought up their 150 in the 29th over.

Tector brought up his sixth ODI 50 and second in the series off 69 balls in the 31st over but in the same over was bowled by Hosein.  Curtis Campher was dismissed for 12 to leave the score on 157-4 with Ireland needing 73 more runs to win from 115 balls.

A long rain delay during the 32nd over meant that upon the resumption of the game, Ireland only needed 11 more runs to win off 28 balls after the overs were reduced from 50 to 36 by the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method.

Kieron Pollard removed George Dockrell in the 33rd over for five, with the Irish needing just three more runs to win before Gareth Delaney hit the winning runs off Pollard to close the innings at 168-5.

Harry Tector finished 54 not out for the Irish against Akeal Hosein’s 2-51 off eight overs.

Earlier, the West Indies recovered from being 111-7 to be bowled out for 229 in 48 overs thanks to a well-made 50 from Romario Shepherd and an aggressive 46 off 19 balls from Odean Smith against a four-wicket haul from Andy McBrine, who was voted man of the match, and a three-wicket haul from Craig Young.

The third and final ODI will take place on Sunday at 9:15 AM Jamaica time at the same venue.

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