Scotland captain Stuart Hogg hailed "a hell of a performance" but still felt his team could have bagged more points after they pummelled Italy 52-10 at Murrayfield.

The rampant Scots topped 50 points for the first time against the Azzurri and also clinched their biggest margin of victory in the rivalry between the teams.

They ran in eight tries and Hogg overcame early misfiring to finish with six conversions, having been pressed into action at fly-half in the absence of Finn Russell.

Defeats in Edinburgh earlier in the championship had knocked Scotland out of contention, with a 25-24 loss to Wales followed by a 27-24 setback against Ireland.

The Scots showed their capabilities by beating England at Twickenham, however, and they will finish their campaign against France in Paris on Friday.

Hogg told the BBC: "I think all week we talked about having a big reaction and showing a performance that represented us.

"At times we probably lacked that clinical edge and we didn't score as many as we'd like to, but I am chuffed to bits with that. The boys put in a hell of a performance and that's where we want to be.

"We've had a huge amount of confidence from the very beginning of this Six Nations. It's just the little things that have killed us and that's the things that have annoyed us.

"We've been in every single game and we've scored 24 points in the last two games and managed to come away with defeats, so that's been bitterly disappointing.

"Today, that was more like us. We know we can throw the ball around and have some fun and hopefully that gives us a big boost ahead of next week as well."

Flanker Hamish Watson made 21 carries and was named man of the match.

Because Italy scored the game's first try, Watson admitted there had been early jitters in the Scotland ranks. But three yellow cards for Italy players made Scotland's task all the more comfortable.

"We were a bit worried at the start," Watson said. "We probably took our time to get into it a bit, but when we did I thought we did really well and we were clinical when we got the ball. I thought it was a good performance by us overall.

"We said earlier in the week that we were pretty gutted after the last two home defeats and we needed to put it right today and I think we did that.

"Italy always come here with a lot of ambition and they're a very aggressive team. We knew it was going to be tough for the first 10 or 20 minutes, then we had to build into the game. It's nice to get a good scoreline as well."

Italy captain Luca Bigi, who scored that early try, saw his team complete another championship of five consecutive defeats.

They have now lost 32 matches in a row in the Six Nations, and Bigi said: "It was a tough championship. We are so far from where we want to be.

"Obviously we cannot compete with three yellow cards so discipline was a key of this game. Scotland played an outstanding game.

"We will keep working. We have to be focused on what we can control and discipline is one of those things. It's a tough moment for us, but we never give up."

Scotland crushed Six Nations whipping boys Italy with an eight-try demolition in Edinburgh as the ill-disciplined Azzurri suffered a 52-10 defeat.

Two tries from hooker David Cherry on his first start, plus a double from Duhan van der Merwe, helped the home side steam to an emphatic win, and Scotland should head to France in good spirits for the finale to their campaign on Friday.

After home defeats to Ireland and Wales earlier in the campaign, either side of a Calcutta Cup triumph at Twickenham, this was a match that coach Gregor Townsend and Scotland knew they must win.

The Italians' last victory in the championship came against the Scots at Murrayfield in 2015, and although a sketchy start from the home team may have had a Scottish crowd worried, in front of empty stands the home side were able to rapidly regroup and overwhelm their visitors.

In 2007, a hapless Scotland team trailed the Italians 21-0 after six minutes at Murrayfield following three tries, on their way to a 37-17 defeat. This time it was 7-0 to the Azzurri at that early stage after hooker Luca Bigi drove over in the left corner and Paolo Garbisi added a magnificent touchline kick.

Cherry burrowed over for a swift response, before Van der Merwe ran in a second Scots try, dashing down the left and taking his time before dotting down under the posts.

Italy lost Federico Mori to a yellow card for a dangerous dash at Sam Johnson, and the Scots took advantage, moving the ball well through hands to allow Darcy Graham and Huw Jones to plunder further tries.

Cherry powered through Italian blue shirts as the Scots drove a maul at the Italian line in the 45th minute, bagging his second try of the game. Stuart Hogg, having missed two of his four conversion attempts in the first half, nailed an excellent kick from just inside the right touchline to give Scotland a 31-10 cushion.

Sebastian Negri was the next Italian to be yellow-carded, and scrum-half Scott Steele boosted the Scotland lead from close range moments later. Monty Ioane followed Negri to the sin bin after picking up Hogg and dumping him to the ground.

Johnson dived in for a try and Van der Merwe streaked away for another to add to the misery of the disorientated Italians, who have now lost on 32 consecutive outings in the championship.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini handed first call-ups to Atalanta captain Rafael Toloi and Spezia midfielder Matteo Ricci as he selected a 38-man squad for the three upcoming World Cup qualifiers. 

Brazilian-born Toloi has been residing in Italy since leaving Sao Paulo to join Atalanta in 2015 and has received the citizenship that makes him eligible to represent the Azzurri. 

The 30-year-old has been summoned at the first opportunity by head coach Mancini, who has observed the centre-back as a prominent member of the Atalanta team that has caught the eye in Serie A and the Champions League. 

Ricci, 26, joined Spezia from Roma in July 2018 and helped the team win promotion to Serie A last season. 

He has yet to score in the top flight for Spezia this term but has had two assists and created 16 chances, while winning possession 139 times, a team-high mark. 

Italy face Northern Ireland in Parma in their Group C qualifying opener next Thursday, then tackle Bulgaria in Sofia on March 28 before playing Lithuania three days later in Vilnius. 

The Inter trio of Alessandro Bastoni, Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi will only be involved if they have the all-clear from health authorities, given they are currently subject to COVID-19 restrictions after positive tests at the club. 

Inter's Stefan de Vrij and Matias Vecino tested positive for coronavirus, and the Nerazzurri said on Thursday all players would be prevented from joining up with their international teams, although that may change if they return negative test results on Monday. 

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said Ricci must also be similarly cleared to join up. 

Italy are unbeaten in 22 games and have qualified for both Euro 2020, which takes place in June and July, and the Nations League Finals in October. 

Italy squad: Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Gian Marco Ferrari (Sassuolo), Alessandro Florenzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Manuel Lazzari (Lazio), Gianluca Mancini (Roma), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Gaetano Castrovilli (Fiorentina), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Rolando Mandragora (Torino), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Matteo Ricci (Spezia), Stefano Sensi (Inter), Roberto Soriano (Bologna), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Francesco Caputo (Sassuolo), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Vincenzo Grifo (Friburgo), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Moise Kean (Paris Saint-Germain).

Wales need a victory against France in Paris to reclaim the Six Nations crown, and complete a Grand Slam in the process.

Wayne Pivac's team have enjoyed a sensational turnaround in fortunes this year and last week's 48-7 thrashing of lowly Italy made it four wins from four.

With France subsequently losing to England at Twickenham, Wales will wrap up the title with a win on Saturday, while even a losing bonus point could be enough, though that may still leave the door open for Les Bleus to snatch glory should they win their postponed fixture against Scotland.

England are well out of the race, but their captain Owen Farrell is eyeing up a points landmark when the 2020 champions take on Ireland in Dublin.

Scotland, meanwhile, round off what will ultimately go down as a frustrating campaign against Italy.

We use Opta data to preview the round-five, Super Saturday encounters.

 

SCOTLAND V ITALY

FORM

Scotland have won their last five Six Nations games against Italy – the previous 10 clashes between the sides had seen them share five wins each.

Italy have lost 52 of 54 away games in the Six Nations, with their only two victories on the road coming in Scotland in 2007 and 2015.

That victory at Murrayfield in 2015 was Italy's last in the competition. Their losing streak now stands at 31 games, and they will pick up the wooden spoon for the 16th time in Six Nations history.

ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have the best tackle success rate (92 per cent) of any side in this year's competition. Hamish Watson leads the way in that regard, completing all 44 of his attempted tackles – he has made 133 consecutive tackles in the tournament without missing one, the second-longest such run in Six Nations history, behind Lionel Nallet's 154 for France.

Italy's Sebastian Negri has made 127 post-contact metres in the 2021 Six Nations, the most of any forward in the championship.

IRELAND V ENGLAND

FORM

England have won their last two meetings with Ireland in the Six Nations and could win three in a row against them for only the second time, after doing so between 2012 and 2014.

Ireland lost to France in their last home game, only once before have they suffered defeat in back-to-back home games in the Six Nations – in 2010 versus Scotland at Croke Park and 2011 versus France at the Aviva Stadium.

Jones' England have won their last four Tests against Ireland, preventing them from scoring any first-half points in their last two meetings and scoring an average of 4.3 tries per game in that run.

ONES TO WATCH

CJ Stander announced his retirement this week, with the 31-year-old set to hang up his boots at the end of the season. This will be his final appearance for Ireland, having won his 50th cap in the 27-24 win over Scotland in round four.

Owen Farrell, son of Ireland coach Andy, is the top scorer in the Six Nations this year (44) and is just six points away from 500 in the championship. Only Ronan O'Gara (557) has reached that milestone exclusively in the Six Nations (since 2000).

FRANCE V WALES

FORM

Wales are bidding to win a sixth Six Nations title (since 2000), only England (seven) have won the championship more often. If they win this match it would be their fifth
Grand Slam – no other side has more than three.

Recent history is on Wales' side heading to the Stade de France. They have won three of their last four away games against Les Bleus in the Six Nations (L1), triumphing in their last trip to Paris (24-19 in 2019) despite trailing by 16 points at half-time – the biggest comeback for a team in the competition. 

Indeed, pre-tournament favourites France have won only two of their last nine Six Nations games against Wales (L7) after winning nine of the previous 12 (L3).

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont already has four try assists in this Six Nations, only five players have ever recorded more in an edition of the championship, with Frederic Michalak
(seven in 2006) the only Frenchman to do so.

Louis Rees-Zammit is the joint top try scorer in the 2021 Six Nations (four, level with England's Anthony Watson). Shane Williams (six in 2008) is the only Welsh player to score more than four in an edition of the tournament.

Wayne Pivac says Wales have used the "pain" of their results in 2020 to inspire them on to being on the brink of a Six Nations Grand Slam.

Wales thrashed Italy 48-7 on Saturday to make it four wins from four in this Six Nations campaign, and they face France next week looking to complete a clean sweep.

It represents a huge turnaround in fortunes for Wales boss Pivac, who struggled in his first year with the team after replacing Warren Gatland.

"It's chalk and cheese," Pivac told reporters when asked to compare Wales' form from last year with their recent upturn.

"We know the pain we went through in the autumn with the results. But we're seeing the players coming through from the autumn now and doing well.

"We’re pleased to be four from four and able to talk about the opportunity of a Grand Slam."

Along with Wales, France have been the standout performers so far in the tournament, and Pivac is anticipating a stern test, albeit one which may be helped by a lack of fans in Paris.

"We'll review the performance and we know we'll be in for a massive game," he added.

"We've been on the receiving end of the result both times against France. No fans neutralises it a bit.

"We've been to Paris in the autumn so that's a good thing. If you asked the side if we'd take four from four and travelling to France for the Grand Slam, I think you'd know the answer."

Wales' victory was their 16th successive win against Italy, which marks their longest such run against any opponent in Test rugby.

Pivac's side had a bonus point wrapped up by half-time, though captain Alun Wyn Jones saw room for improvement.

"We were pretty clinical, particularly in the first half. We're a tad frustrated with the second half but it's a case of job done and plenty to work on," he told SC4.

"The excitement I feel every time I pull on this red jersey is insurmountable, so I'm looking forward to getting back to it on Monday and preparing for next weekend."

Wales are a win away from clinching a Six Nations Grand Slam after easing to a 48-7 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico. 

In control from the opening minutes, Saturday's clash was over as a contest inside a quarter of an hour. The scoring deluge continued throughout, Wales running riot as they crossed for seven tries in an emphatic bonus-point triumph. 

It means they are 10 points clear of France, who face England later on Saturday and have a postponed game with Scotland in hand, with the two unbeaten sides set to meet at the Stade de France next week.  

Dan Biggar booted Wales into a third-minute lead following an Italy infringement at the breakdown. 

Luca Bigi was then sin-binned for offside and Wales took immediate advantage from the scrum, Biggar's long pass finding Josh Adams, who surged over in the left-hand corner. 

Biggar converted from the sideline but was errant from the tee after Taulupe Faletau strolled over on the opposite wing with the Italy defence stretched, making it 15-0. 

Ken Owens drove over from a rolling maul, Biggar rediscovering his form with the boot in converting, and the hooker crossed again from close range for his second, in the process clinching the try-scoring bonus after 30 minutes.

Louis Rees-Zammit saw a try chalked off for a forward pass, but there was no denying George North as he sprinted in under the sticks after a neat offload from Jonathan Davies. 

Monty Ioane provided something for Italy to cheer, collecting his own chip down the left wing and dotting down for a try that Paolo Garbisi converted. 

Adams missed out on a double as he failed to ground the ball properly but, after Marco Riccioni was yellow carded for foul play, Callum Sheedy crossed for his first Wales try. 

Rees-Zammit's interception try added further gloss to the final scoreline, and Wales will hope to display the same kind of ruthlessness in their decisive encounter in Saint-Denis.

Sweet 16 for Wales

Wales' victory was their 16th successive win against Italy, which marks their longest such run against any opponent in Test rugby, surpassing a 15-match streak against France from 1908 to 1927.

Franco forlorn as Italy streak continues

Shots of Italy coach Franco Smith with his head in his hands were frequent as Wales scored at will in the first half. The Azzurri's winless run in the competition now stands at 31 games, the longest in the history of the Five or Six Nations. They have not won a home match in the competition since beating Ireland in 2013.

France resume their bid to win a first Six Nations title since 2010 with a trip to face wounded England at Twickenham, and Wales should made it four wins out of four this weekend.

A coronavirus outbreak in the French camp led to their clash with Scotland being postponed, but they will be back in action against the Red Rose on Saturday a month after beating Ireland.

Wales shattered England's hopes of retaining the title with a 40-24 win at the Principality Stadium and will be expected to stay perfect when they face Italy in Rome, also on Saturday.

Scotland will look to reignite their title challenge when they face Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

We use Opta data to preview the round-four encounters.

 

ITALY v WALES

FORM

Wales have won their last 15 Tests against Italy, and a 16th would represent their longest ever winning run against a single opponent in Test rugby (they won 15 in a row against France from 1908 to 1927).

A win over England secured Wales' fifth Triple Crown of the Six Nations era, They completed the Grand Slam in each of their previous four Triple Crown-winning campaigns since 2000 (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019).

Italy's losing run in the competition stands at 30 games and they have lost 19 in a row at home, stretching back to a defeat of Ireland eight years ago.

ONES TO WATCH

Azzurri fly-half Paolo Garbisi has made more kicks in play (29) and recorded more kicking metres (1,142m) than any other player in this year's Six Nations.

Josh Adams marked his first match of the tournament by scoring a controversial try against England and the Wales wing will fancy his chances of touching down again in Rome.

 

ENGLAND v FRANCE

FORM

England have won nine of their 10 home games against France in the Six Nations, including the last seven in a row. Their only defeat came in February 2005, going down 18-17.

France have won seven of their last eight games in the Six Nations and will look for a fourth consecutive victory in the competition this weekend.

Les Bleus have scored the opening try of the game in 15 of their most previous 18 matches in this tournament, including their last eight in a row.

ONES TO WATCH

Wing Anthony Watson will win his 50th cap for England. He has the best average gain per carry rate (10.1 metres) of anyone to make 10 or more carries in the 2021 Six Nations and has also made the most post-contact metres (141).

France lock Paul Willemse has not missed any of his 34 tackles in the Six Nations this year and has made the joint-second most dominant tackles with four, England's Tom Curry (5) the only player to have made more.

SCOTLAND v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have lost just three of their last 19 games against Scotland in the Six Nations, winning all the rest. Each of the men in green's defeats came by a margin of five points or fewer.

Scotland have lost their last two Test matches at Murrayfield. They have not been beaten in more consecutive games at their traditional home venue since losing four on the bounce between November 2014 and March 2015.

Gregor Townsend's side are the only team to average fewer than 10 missed tackles (8.5) per game in the Six Nations in 2021 and as a result boast the best tackle success rate of 92 per cent.

ONES TO WATCH

Hamish Watson has been an influential performer for Scotland, winning three turnovers and getting through a huge amount of work in the back row.

Ireland back-row Tadhg Beirne has recorded the most ruck arrivals (117) in the tournament, hitting the most rucks of anyone in both attack (87) and defence (30).

Johnny Sexton says Ireland are "on a journey" and praised the team's character to bounce back from consecutive Six Nations defeats to hammer Italy in Rome.

Andy Farrell's side had started the tournament with defeats to Wales and France, the first by five points and the second by only two.

Ireland outclassed a poor Italy side on Saturday, though, with the Azzurri now having lost 30 straight Six Nations matches following the 48-10 reverse – the longest losing streak in the competition's history. 

The visitors ran in six tries while Sexton, returning to the side from a head injury, was eight from eight from the tee. That represents the most by any Ireland player while maintaining a 100 per cent success rate from the tee since Paddy Jackson kicked nine of nine against Italy in 2017.

With games against Scotland and England to come, Sexton is keen to ensure Ireland build on a promising display.

"We need to keep our performance levels like that against two very good sides," Sexton told ITV Sport after his 50th Six Nations appearance.

"Scotland have been very impressive in the first two rounds and if not for a red card would have been top of the table, probably. 

"This group is on a journey together, we're a year into it and we'd have liked to have had that performance earlier. 

"It's not for the want of trying, it's just little mix-ups along the way. Thankfully we put them right.

"We played very well, all of our forwards did – they've been very impressive over the first two rounds. 

"We've felt as a team that us backs have let them down at times. We improved on a lot of those areas today and thankfully got the victory we were desperate for. 

"We spoke about how close we were in the first two – both very different games but just very proud of the boys, the way we bounced back, it's a real sign of character when things have been going the way they have in the last few weeks, just to stick together and to show the work we've been doing behind the scenes."

Ireland have now won 21 of their 22 games against Italy in the Six Nations, while the 38-point margin of victory was their biggest in any Test match since beating the same opposition 63-10 in February 2017.

Ireland kick-started their Six Nations campaign as they beat Italy for an eighth successive time in the competition, claiming a 48-10 bonus-point victory in Rome.

Having gone down to Wales and France in their opening matches – the first time Ireland had lost their first two games of a Six Nations campaign – Andy Farrell's men got their first win of the 2021 campaign on Saturday.

The returning Johnny Sexton was typically influential, on point with his kicking and integral to slick attacks as Ireland made it 21 wins from their last 22 Six Nations meetings with Italy.

Garry Ringrose, Hugo Keenan and Will Connors propelled Ireland to a 27-point haul in the first half, Ireland's best first-half total in a Test since February 2018, with CJ Stander and Keith Earls also getting in on the act to seal a routine triumph.

Welcomed back into Ireland's line-up after missing the defeat to France due to a head injury, Sexton marked his 50th Six Nations appearance with a simple three-pointer five minutes in, moments after Paolo Garbisi nosed Italy ahead.

Sexton was adding two more points to his tally five minutes later, with Ringrose having picked a gap in Italy's defence to score the game's first try.

Another Sexton penalty edged Ireland further in front and despite some spirited Italy attacking, the visitors struck again as Ringrose turned provider for Keenan.

Ireland had a third try before half-time, Sexton combining with Jordan Larmour to feed Connors in the corner, though Italy managed to strike back through Johan Meyer.

Yet Italy's work was undone by sloppy defending immediately after the restart – Stander bundling his way over.

Italy's issues were compounded before the hour, substitute Giosue Zilocchi sent to the bin for an attempted ball steal.

Ireland appeared to have made their advantage count when Stander found the line again, only for the try to be disallowed for a knock-on.

Luca Bigi's booking handed Ireland a further boost, though, and Connors hauled himself over from a maul before Earls piled further misery on sorry Italy.

 

Perfect comeback for Sexton

Since his Six Nations debut, Sexton has missed just seven of a possible 57 matches in the championship, including Ireland's defeat to Italy in 2013.

Sexton successfully converted all eight of his kicks on Saturday, tallying up 18 points in total to give him a pristine record. The pace of the game was ideal for the 35-year-old, who also made eight tackles and 20 passes – the last of which played in Earls late on.

More misery for whipping boys Italy

Italy's losing run in the Six Nations now sits at 30 games, the longest of any side in the competition's history. Their last win at home was back in 2013, against Ireland (22-15).

They have now conceded a try-scoring bonus point in 18 of their 22 matches since such add-ons were introduced to the Six Nations in 2017.

What's next?

Italy welcome Wales to the Stadio Olimpico on March 13, with Ireland facing Scotland in Edinburgh a day later.

Antonio Conte acknowledges he has become a "pain in the a**" as he attempts to guide Inter to their first trophy in a decade.

Ahead of hosting Genoa on Sunday, Inter top Serie A after 23 games – their derby victory over Milan last week moving them four points clear of their city and title rivals.

Inter – who finished second in Serie A behind Juventus in Conte's debut season – last won a trophy in 2010-11, clinching their seventh Coppa Italia trophy.

The Nerazzurri have already seen two opportunities for silverware slip from their grasp this campaign, finishing bottom of their Champions League group and exiting the Coppa Italia in the semi-finals.

With Milan facing a tough trip to Roma and Juve further off the pace, Inter have the chance to consolidate their lead at the top when they hunt a ninth straight home win in Serie A.

It is a feat that only Juve and Roma have managed in the last 10 seasons.

Conte has not shied away from questioning not only his own players but also Inter's hierarchy, yet the former Italy coach believes his rather decisive style is what has helped transform Inter back into title contenders.

"When people talk about me, there is always a 'but'. They say: 'He is a good coach, but…', that 'but' stimulates me," Conte told Il Corriere Della Sera.

"Football is my passion. When I ended my career as a footballer, I started from the beginning with Arezzo. I had won everything as a footballer. Coach Conte had started from zero. Those who played in big clubs think they can be coaches, but it's different.

"An opponent would have pushed for Conte to be kicked out of Inter. As an opponent, I would want to kill my enemy, in a sporting [sense]. 

"I'm more prepared thanks to my experiences. I was advised not to join Inter, but I like challenges, and this one is the most difficult in my career.

"It's hard to change that mental chip. If you don't win for 10 years, you subconsciously get used to the situation, look for excuses or blame someone else, you don't see your limitations or flaws.

"The environment is imbued with this, it is important to work not only on the players but on every sector. So you raise the pressure and become a pain in the a**.

"This is the difference between winning and living peacefully. When I go to a club, I enter into it body and soul. I am passionate and passion makes the difference, it is contagious. If you feel the sense of belonging you give more. I don't know if we will win, but we will do everything to succeed.

“A coach is happy when a project lasts long. If you must leave after a short while, it leaves bitterness. Making your mark and staying for many years is the most beautiful thing. I wish there were continuity in everything."

While his determination to end Inter's barren run is clear, Conte conceded there is one job away from club football which still entices him.

Conte managed Italy from 2014 to 2016 before leaving the role to join Chelsea, who he led to the Premier League title in 2017, and the 51-year-old is open to an Azzurri return should the possibility arise.

"Absolutely no, it gives me goosebumps to think about the national team," Conte replied when asked if his time with Italy was over for good.

"My door will always be open to Italy."

Wales go in search of a Triple Crown in a blockbuster battle against England, but France will not have an opportunity to make it three Six Nations wins out of three this weekend.

Wayne Pivac's Wales side are level on nine points with Les Bleus following victories over Ireland and Scotland, both of whom had a man sent off.

George North will become the youngest player in history to win 100 caps, but defending champions England will be determined to spoil the Wales centre's big occasion at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

The Red Rose beat Italy 41-18 last time out, following a loss to Scotland at Twickenham.

Winless Ireland will be expected to defeat the Azzurri to get up and running in the opening match of round three at Stadio Olimpico.

Sunday's planned showdown between France and Scotland was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the French squad.

We preview the matches in Rome and Cardiff with help from Opta.

ITALY v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have scored 45 tries across their last seven games against Italy in the Six Nations (6.4 per game), scoring eight or more tries in three of their last five clashes.

Italy have conceded a try-scoring bonus point in 17 of their 22 matches since those incentives were introduced to the Six Nations in 2017; only England (9) have picked up more bonus points in the championship than Ireland (8). The Azzurri are the only side yet to register one.

Ireland have lost their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign for the first time. The last time they lost their opening three matches was in 1998, when they were beaten in all four Five Nations clashes.

ONES TO WATCH

Sebastian Negri has made 96 metres and made 21 tackles combined in Italy's losses to France and England. Franco Smith will need another strong showing from the flanker.

Ireland back-row CJ Stander has made more carries (36) than any other player in the 2021 Six Nations. He has topped the final rankings for this category in three of the last four editions of the championship.

WALES v ENGLAND

FORM

England have won six of their last seven Six Nations matches against Wales, with the last six of those fixtures all decided by a single-figure margin.

Wales have won their opening two games of the tournament for a sixth time. On four of the previous five occasions when they have started with back-to-back victories, they have gone on to win a Grand Slam (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019, not in 2009).

This weekend's visitors are the only team to have never conceded more than two tries in a Six Nations game played in Wales. They have scored 19 tries in Wales during the Six Nations, no visiting team have scored more (Ireland also 19).

ONES TO WATCH

North will become only the sixth Wales player to win a century of caps. The 28-year-old will form a new pairing with Jonathan Davies and will be looking to bring up his hundred with an all-action display.

Elliot Daly will win his 50th cap for England and coach Eddie Jones will expect the full-back to repay the faith he has shown in him after a slow start to the tournament.

Johnny Sexton is still "loving every moment" of playing rugby and has no intention of announcing his retirement, despite speculation over his future.

Ireland's captain missed the narrow home defeat to France in the second round of the Six Nations having suffered a head injury during his team's opening loss to Wales. 

However, Sexton is fit to return to action as Andy Farrell's side aim to finally get off the mark in this year's tournament when they take on Italy on Saturday at the Stadio Olimpico.

The 35-year-old raised questions over his career plans when he recently suggested he "might not" be around for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, though later clarified that was a "throwaway comment".

While already contemplating what may come in the next chapter of his life, Sexton remains as committed as ever to the game he loves.

"You never tell anyone your plans because they can change, can't they?" Sexton said.

"I've some things to work towards, whether it's over the next year or two years, I don't know. I'll work towards getting into the real world and starting another life.  

"There are some parts of this game that are amazing and you love – you'd love to be part of it forever. There are other parts, though, that you just can't wait to get a million miles away from. 

"I love it at the moment, I'm loving every moment of playing and I just want to focus on this campaign.

"If I stay on next year, I will try to make the most of that, just try to make the most of whatever is left." 

Sexton is under contract until the end of the campaign but has held negotiations about an extension for 2022, which will be a year out from the next World Cup on French soil. 

Asked if a new deal was close, he replied: "Nearly, nearly. I'm waiting on Leinster to see if they want to keep me or not. They have got a few good number 10s coming through!"

Ireland lost 21-16 to Wales after playing the majority of the match a man down following the red card for Peter O’Mahoney, while they were squeezed out 15-13 by Les Bleus last time out. 

"I don't think we've lost our confidence as a group. The start of the campaign has been a million miles off what we wanted, which was two wins from two," Sexton said on morale within the squad.

"But we took a lot of confidence from the Wales game with 14 men, in terms of the chances we created. The hard part in international rugby is creating chances – we've done plenty of that, we need to now go and take the next step and finish them off.  

"I don't think this group is low on confidence, we are all looking forward to finishing this campaign on a high."

England are back to being themselves after recovering from last week's defeat to Scotland with a 41-18 victory over Italy on Saturday, according to captain Owen Farrell.

The reigning champions ran in six tries to claim a bonus-point victory at Twickenham, a week on from losing 11-6 to Calcutta Cup rivals Scotland.

Monty Ioane put Italy ahead early on but Jonny Hill gave England lift-off with their opening try and Anthony Watson crossed over either side of Jonny May's 32nd Test try.

Jack Willis touched down on his debut and, though Tommaso Allan added a second for Italy, it was plain sailing for the home side as Elliot Daly ran through down the left.

And while accepting England were far from their best against Italy, Farrell was pleased with the way they responded to their opening loss.

"We're back to being 'us' there," he told ITV. "It wasn't a perfect performance, not the best we've ever had, but in terms of the feeling, the energy and the intent, that felt back to 'us'..

"We had some honest conversations with ourselves during the week... there was excitement to get on the training field and put things right. 

"And the way that we built up showed in the way that we played. I thought we attacked the game. 

"Obviously they had an advantage to move the ball and they ended up scoring a try, which was probably a bit over over-eagerness from us

"But after that I thought our intent was brilliant. We got in behind them, probably not everything went our way, but we stuck at it and the game ended up going our way."

England have now won each of their 22 Six Nations fixtures against Italy, who have lost their last 29 matches in the competition in a run stretching back to February 2015.

The Azzurri offered promising glimpses, not least with their second-quickest ever Six Nations try through Ioane, but England ultimately proved too strong on home soil.

"Credit to Italy, they were tough, they never gave up, and we knew they were going to do that," said England prop Kyle Sinckler. 

"Up front they were strong, their forwards carried hard, their backs had good energy... it was a tough, tough test match but our boys got stuck in there and got the win."

Echoing the thoughts of skipper Farrell, Sinckler hailed England's response to last week's rare home loss.

"I think it was a step in right direction. I think our intent was a lot better today, especially up front," he said. 

"We probably didn't get the rewards we wanted, but in terms of the intent, and showing how much it means to us to play for our country, I think it was a step in the right direction.

"We were obviously very frustrated with the performance last week, and we knew we had to step up and play the England way, and the way we want to dominate up front. 

"We did that at times today, but we know there's so much more to give. But like I said, it was a step in the right direction. The game's done, we move on to the next one."

Next up for England is a showdown with Wales at the Principality Stadium on February 27.

Buoyant Scotland will go in search of back-to-back wins over Wales for the first time in 18 years and France travel to Ireland for a mouthwatering Six Nations showdown this weekend.

Scotland ended a 38-year wait for a win at Twickenham on the opening weekend with a dominant 11-6 defeat of the defending champions.

Gregor Townsend's side need to follow that up on Saturday with a victory over a Wales side that got the better of 14-man Ireland at the Principality Stadium following Peter O'Mahony's first-half red card.

France started the tournament by hammering Italy 50-10, but will face a bigger test in Dublin, while England should respond to their Calcutta Cup defeat by beating Italy at home on Saturday.

Ahead of the second round, we preview the upcoming matches with help from Opta.

 

ENGLAND v ITALY

FORM

The Red Rose have won each of their 21 fixtures against Italy in the Six Nations, and they are the only team yet to suffer defeat against the Azzurri in the championship.

England have hosted Italy on 10 occasions in the Six Nations, winning each of those 10 fixtures by an average margin of 31 points and scoring 5.6 tries per game.

Italy have won just twice away from home in the Six Nations (losing 50 and drawing one), with both victories coming against Scotland at Murrayfield (2007 and 2015).

 

ONES TO WATCH

George Ford comes into the England side, with captain Owen Farrell moving to outside centre, in one of five changes to the side, and the fly-half will be ready to make a statement after being named on the bench for the loss to Scotland.

Italy endured a torrid start to the competition, but Luca Sperandio scored a fine try. The wing had seven carries and made 52 metres. The Azzurri will need to get Sperandio flying down the flank again in London.

 

SCOTLAND v WALES

FORM

Scotland were superb against England and will be aiming for consecutive wins over Wales in the Six Nations for the first time since 2002-2003.

Wales had an extra man, but Ireland could consider themselves unfortunate to go down 21-16 in Cardiff. The Welsh have lost their last six Tests away from home and will be in for another huge battle at Murrayfield.

They have conceded 30 points per game in that miserable sequence of matches on their travels.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Captain Stuart Hogg was man of the match in a rousing performance from Scotland against Eddie Jones' men. The full-back made 112 metres and had 13 carries. He was also brilliant with the boot, kicking for 367 metres.

Louis Rees-Zammit showed why he is so highly rated in Wales' win over Ireland. He dived to finish magnificently in the corner as Wayne Pivac's side made a winning start at home last Sunday.

 

IRELAND v FRANCE

FORM

Flanker O'Mahony's reckless dismissal proved to be costly for Andy Farrell's Ireland side in Cardiff. They will be looking to avoid suffer back-to-back losses to Les Bleus in the Six Nations, having not endured such a fate since 2010-11.

Ireland have won five of their last seven clashes with France in the Six Nations (L2) after winning only four of their 30 previous meetings with them in the Five/Six Nations (D3 L23).

 

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont was the player of the opening round of the tournament. The mercurial scrum-half assisted four tries, the joint-most by any player in a Six Nations match, equalling the record set by Frederic Michalak against Italy in 2006. He also scored a try of his own in a sublime performance.

Ireland lock Tadhg Beirne made the most carries (21) of any player in the opening round. He also hit the most rucks of any player (48) and was Ireland’s joint-highest tackler (10, level with CJ Stander).

England head coach Eddie Jones has named a new-look front row and recalled George Ford for the Six Nations game against Italy on Saturday.

The reigning champions went down 11-6 to Scotland on the opening weekend of the 2021 tournament, their first defeat to their Calcutta Cup rivals at Twickenham in 38 years. 

As he looks for a response following that setback, Jones has selected Ford at fly-half in his starting XV, meaning captain Owen Farrell switches to inside centre for the clash with the Azzurri. 

In the pack, the fit-again Mako Vunipola comes in to play opposite fellow prop Kyle Sinckler, while Luke Cowan-Dickie gets the nod at hooker ahead of Jamie George, who is on the bench. 

Courtney Lawes also gets a start at flanker, joining Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola in the back row.  

Ollie Lawrence – who was handed his first Six Nations start against Scotland – is absent from the 23-man squad entirely, with Henry Slade picked to play next to Farrell in midfield.  

"As always, we've picked what we think is our strongest 23 to try and win the game," Jones said.

"We're pleased to have Mako and Kyle back into the team and we've made some changes to our starting XV, but our finishers are just as important to our gameplan. We look at the whole 80 minutes.  

"We've trained very well this week, I've been very pleased with the players' attitudes and work-rate. We're hoping to put on a good performance on Saturday and kick on with our Six Nations campaign." 


England team to face Italy at Twickenham:

Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola

Replacements: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Ben Earl, Jack Willi, Dan Robson, Max Malins.

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