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.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell paid tribute to a "brave" Italy performance in defeat, as his side downed the 13-man Azzurri in a 57-6 rout in the Six Nations.

Two tries apiece for Michael Lowry and James Lowe helped the hosts to a crushing bonus-point victory at Aviva Stadium in Dublin to get their championship hopes firmly back on track.

But they had a numerical advantage for the majority of the game after Hame Faiva was shown a contentious red card for shoulder-to-chin contact on Dan Sheehan midway through the first half, with 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.

A late yellow card for Braam Steyn further compounded issues for Kieran Crowley's side, who finished with 12 players.

Amid such difficulties, Farrell felt the visitors showed superb spirit throughout while his own side fell short of his expectations despite the scoreline.

"It was a strange old game," he told ITV. "I thought we were sloppy at times and with the scoreboard at 57-6, you'd think we'd be happy with that. I suppose we got the points we needed in the end.

"I thought Italy were unbelievably brave, they started the game well and were difficult to play against with 15 men. But, having said that, when they went down to 13, I thought they were so brave."

Italy captain Michele Lamaro refused to criticise the ruling by referee Nika Amashukeli and also focused on his side's commitment.

"It's not from my point of view, it's just the rules," he added. "Our hooker got injured before the red card and then the red card came to our other hooker, so we hadn't any other hookers who can play.

"We couldn't play contested scrums, so we had to take someone off to play uncontested scrums. It was really punishing us, but obviously it's the rule.

"I couldn't ask anything more of the boys, so we showed something, but it's difficult to be happy with such a result."

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.

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.

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."

Jamie George scored two first-half tries as England cruised to a 33-0 bonus-point victory against Italy at Stadio Olimpico for their first win of the 2022 Six Nations.

England fell to a late 20-17 loss to Scotland in their opening match but any risk of back-to-back defeats to begin a campaign for the first time since 2005 never looked likely.

The visitors crossed over three times in the first half, with George at the double after Marcus Smith had opened the scoring inside nine minutes.

Elliot Daly and Kyle Sinckler further punished sloppy Italy, who have now lost each of their past 34 matches in the Six Nations and have still yet to beat England in the competition.

 

Italy took a shock early lead in last week's loss to France, though they were on the wrong end of an early try against England as Smith linked up with Max Malins and dived over.

England did not have to wait long for a second try, with George burying his way over from close range to finish off a move he started from a lineout.

Maro Itoje had a try ruled out for obstruction, but England were out of sight before half-time as George collected Smith's offload and grounded after dodging a couple of tackles.

Daly, brought on for Jack Nowell in the first half after the wing failed a head injury assessment, added a fourth for England when racing in down the left early in the second half.

England introduced Ben Youngs for the scrum-half's 114th cap, equalling Jason Leonard's Test record, while Ollie Chessum was handed his senior debut.

Italy pushed hard for a consolation try without finding one, and it was left to Sinckler to have the final say with a simple finish following a costly Leonardo Marin error.

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.

England have made six changes to their starting line-up for Sunday's Six Nations clash with Italy in Rome.

Joe Marchant moves to outside centre, while Ben Youngs, who is one cap away from equalling Jason Leonard's national record of 114, has been dropped for Harry Randall at scrum-half.

Jack Nowell is on the wing ahead of Elliot Daly for his first England start in 1,065 days, while Alex Dombrandt comes in at eight and Charlie Ewels starts as lock alongside Nick Isiekwe.

Will Stuart and Jamie George start in the front row, the latter replacing Luke Cowan-Dickie, who drops to the bench after a costly mistake in the defeat to Scotland last week.

"We've set ourselves the target of playing really well and lighting up Rome," said coach Eddie Jones. "We've made some changes and this is the best side to face Italy. We want to start fast and take the game to them.

"It's been a difficult week, but the players have bounced back well, trained hard and are ready to put on a good performance on Sunday."

Kieran Crowley makes three changes to the Italy side that lost 37-10 to France.

Federico Mori is in at 14 for Tommaso Menoncello, with Braam Steyn replacing Sebastian Negri at flanker and Pietro Ceccarelli starting in the front row ahead of Tiziano Pasquali.

England are the only side yet to lose to Italy in the Six Nations, having won all of their previous 22 meetings.

The Azzurri are on a championship-record 33-match losing streak and have not won at home since beating Ireland 22-15 at the Stadio Olimpico in 2013.

However, Jones' men are at risk of losing their opening two rounds of the same Six Nations competition since 2005, when they were beaten by Wales and France.


England team: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Marcus Smith, Harry Randall; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Alex Dombrandt, Tom Curry. 

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Ollie Chessum, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Elliot Daly.

Italy team: Edoardo Padovani, Federico Mori, Juan Ignacio Brex, Marco Zanon, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Braam Steyn, Michele Lamaro, Toa Halafihi.

Replacements: Epalahame Faiva, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, David Sisi, Sebastian Negri, Giovanni Pettinelli, Alessandro Fusco, Leonardo Marin.

Gianluigi Donnarumma stands by his decision to leave Milan for Paris Saint-Germain despite having to share goalkeeping duties with Keylor Navas since arriving in France.

Italy's Euro 2020 hero Donnarumma has only made 10 league starts since joining PSG on a free transfer last year, while Costa Rican competitor Keylor Navas has appeared between the sticks in 13 of the side's Ligue 1 outings.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Donnarumma, who made 215 Serie A appearances at Milan after coming through the Rossoneri's youth ranks, thanked his former club for their role in his development, but stressed that he was happy with life at PSG.

"I can only thank the club for what they did for me", the 22-year-old said. "I improved as a man and as a footballer in Milan.

"I think PSG was in my destiny.

"They had been following me for many years and have always made sure I knew about their interest. Everyone at the club makes me feel important, from President Al-Khelaifi to director Leonardo. I am happy and proud to be here.

When asked about his competition with Navas, Donnarumma responded: "I knew that this was the situation when I signed with PSG.

"I don't know what he [Navas] thinks, but I am okay with it because everyone here always makes me feel important.

"It's not true that we are not on good terms, there is an excellent rapport between us, he is a good guy and there are no problems."

Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini is set to miss the first leg of the Bianconeri's Champions League last-16 tie with a Villarreal after sustaining a calf injury that will reportedly sideline him for a month.

Chiellini, 37, suffered the issue in Juve's 2-0 win over Hellas Verona on Sunday and a statement on Tuesday confirmed it was a calf strain.

The statement read: "Giorgio Chiellini underwent radiological scans at J Medical today, which revealed a low-grade lesion of the deep musculature of the left calf."

While Juve have not put a specific timeframe on his recovery, reports across the Italian media suggest he is likely to miss the rest of February.

As such, he is likely to miss five matches, starting with Thursday's Coppa Italia clash with Sassuolo.

Juve are also due to face Atalanta, Torino and Empoli in Serie A before the end of the month, while they go to Villarreal for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on February 22.

However, Chiellini should be able to feature in the return leg on March 16, while Roberto Mancini can still expect to select his captain at the crucial end of their World Cup qualification campaign.

European champions Italy did not secure automatic World Cup qualification, meaning they must face North Macedonia in the play-off semi-finals – Portugal or Turkey await in the play-off finals.

If Italy do not reach Qatar 2022, it will be the first time in history the Azzurri have failed to qualify for successive World Cups.

Gabin Villiere scored a hat-trick as France recovered from a slow start to kick off their 2022 Six Nations campaign with a 37-10 bonus-point win over Italy at the Stade de France.

The pre-tournament favourites trailed to Tommaso Menoncello's try and were again behind with half an hour played after Anthony Jelonch had temporarily put them ahead.

But Villiere crossed over either side of half-time and Damian Penaud added a fourth, before Villiere completed his treble to confirm a 33rd successive loss in the competition for Italy.

Les Blues have now won 15 successive home Tests against Italy and join next opponents Ireland on five points after the first round of fixtures.

Italy responded superbly to falling behind to Melvyn Jaminet's fourth-minute penalty as Menoncello gathered Paolo Garbisi's cross-field kick and raced through for a debut try.

Garbisi added the extras but all of Italy's hard work was undone when Stephen Varney's offload was intercepted by Jelonch, who had a simple task in splashing over.

France did not initially push on, with Garbisi and Jaminet sharing a penalty apiece, though a Villiere try following a well-worked lineout ensured Les Blues led at the break.

Jonathan Danty had a try ruled out by TMO but there was no denying Villiere five minutes later, the Toulon wing darting for the line after France turned the ball over in the maul.

Penaud broke down the right, exchanged passes with Antoine Dupont and sealed a bonus point for France, with star man Villiere adding further gloss with a free run on the back of some sustained pressure.

Menoncello makes his mark

Kieran Crowley was taking charge of his first Six Nations match as Italy boss and his decision to hand Menoncello a debut on the wing paid almost instant dividends.

At 19 years and 170 days, Menoncello is the youngest try-scorer in Six Nations history, surpassing the record previously held by France's Gael Fickou (19y, 317d).

Hat-trick hero Villiere

Penaud tried to steal the limelight by crossing over for the third Test running in France colours, but this day undoubtedly belonged to Villiere.

Not only did he score three times, the 26-year-old also led the way for metres made (121) and was second only to Gregory Alldritt (21) with his 13 carries.

What's next?

France host Ireland in a huge showdown at the Stade de France next Saturday, while Italy are at home to England the following day.

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.

France talisman Antoine Dupont has recovered from coronavirus in time to captain Les Bleus in their Six Nations opener against Italy on Sunday.

World Rugby Player of the Year Dupont had withdrawn from his country's initial squad for the Championship having tested positive, yet he has now been cleared to return for matchday one.

The scrum-half, who is skipper in place of the injured Charles Ollivon, was the 2020 Player of the Championship and starred again in 2021 as France came agonisingly close to the title, leading the tournament with five try assists.

Four of those assists came in last year's meeting with Italy, becoming the first player to achieve that feat in a single game in Six Nations history.

Les Bleus are not quite clear of COVID-19 for this clash, however, as coach Fabien Galthie will be absent following his positive test, meaning general manager Raphael Ibanez is in charge.

He comes up against Kieran Crowley in his first Six Nations match as Italy coach in Saint-Denis.

Crowley has named a youthful Azzurri side, including two debutants in the XV in Tommaso Menoncello and Toa Halafihi.

Italy have only won one of 24 away Tests against France – back in March 1997 – and come into this match on a record 32-game losing run in the Six Nations.

 

France team: Melvyn Jaminet, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio, Cameron Woki, Paul Willemse, Anthony Jelonch, Dylan Cretin, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Francois Cros, Maxime Lucu, Yoram Moefana, Thomas Ramos.

Italy team: Edoardo Padovani, Tommaso Menoncello, Juan Ignacio Brex, Marco Zanon, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Tiziano Pasquali, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (captain), Toa Halafihi.

Replacements: Epalahame Faiva, Ivan Nemer, Giosue Zilocchi, Marco Fuser, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani, Callum Braley, Leonardo Marin.

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.

 

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