Johnny Sexton scored 22 points as 14-man Ireland saw off England 32-18 at the Aviva Stadium to end their Six Nations campaign on a high. 

Both sides were out of contention to win the competition heading into the final round of fixtures, but it was Ireland who claimed a third win in a row thanks to first-half tries from Keith Earls and Jack Conan. 

England were given an opportunity to launch a comeback 17 minutes from time when 26-6 behind, as Bundee Aki was dismissed for a high tackle on Billy Vunipola. 

Yet despite Ben Youngs crossing over almost instantly, plus Jonny May adding a late second after Conor Murray was sin-binned, Ireland comfortably saw things through to earn a first win over England in five Tests. 

England were forced into a late back-line rejig as Ollie Lawrence replaced the injured Max Malins, but they settled quickly and took the lead through an early Owen Farrell penalty. 

Sexton slotted over three points to level things up, with the home side ahead four minutes later thanks to Earls' impressive score. 

Conan outjumped Tom Curry at a lineout and popped the ball to Earls, who found a gap and jinked his way past a couple of opponents for his second try of the tournament. 

It was the seventh Test running where England had conceded the first try and, while Farrell did reply with another penalty, Sexton restored Ireland's seven-point lead with one of his own. 

Andy Farrell's side then tightened their grip on the contest before half-time, the recalled Conan applying the finish to a patient move. 

England were given a lifeline when Earls had a try ruled out for Cian Healy's knock-on in the build-up, though Sexton split the sticks following an earlier infringement.  

The fly-half nailed another kick with an hour played but, just when it looked to be plain sailing for Ireland, referee Mathieu Raynal deemed Aki's challenge on Vunipola to be worthy of dismissal. 

Youngs charged over when played in by Jamie George to potentially set up a tense finale, only for the impressive Sexton to keep the hosts comfortably clear with two more penalties. 

May went outside his man to restore some pride for England in the final stages, at which point Ireland were down to 13 men after Murray was shown a yellow card, but there was to be no late twist.

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.

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.

France will face Scotland in a potentially decisive delayed Six Nations fixture on March 26.

The match was postponed from February 28 following a coronavirus outbreak in the French squad.

But it has found a new date in Paris next Friday, outside of the international window, tournament organisers confirmed.

It is reported the Premiership will allow key Scotland players to feature in the match, with France's Top 14 potentially following suit.

The game could yet decide the destination of this year's Six Nations title.

France are third heading into the final scheduled weekend of the competition and they host unbeaten leaders Wales this Saturday.

Victory for Wales would seal a Grand Slam triumph, but a France win could give them the opportunity to snatch glory against Scotland six days later.

Wayne Pivac has brought lock Adam Beard back into the starting XV for Saturday's crunch clash with France as Wales aim to seal Grand Slam success.

Wales head to Paris to face the only side who can deny them the Six Nations title, with Les Bleus having two matches still to play.

But France, whose match against Scotland was postponed after a spate of coronavirus positives among Fabien Galthie's squad, saw their own hopes of a Grand Slam evaporate after a last-gasp 23-20 loss to England at Twickenham last weekend.

With ultimate glory still in sight for Wales, who also achieved the feat in 2019, Beard has been recalled in place of Cory Hill for the Stade de France showdown against the unchanged hosts. 

"We are all looking forward to Saturday and to the finale of the Six Nations," said Pivac, whose side beat Italy 48-7 last time out.

"We are four from four but know this will be a great challenge against a very good French side.

"We know we need to step up from our previous performances and we want to end the tournament with a performance we know we are capable of.

"We have had great continuity in selection throughout the tournament and that is shown once again with the selection for Saturday."

Featuring alongside Beard in the second-row will be Alun Wyn Jones, who has his sights set on a record fourth Grand Slam on what will be the 35-year-old's 148th appearance for his country.

While France's starting line-up is the same as against England, there are three changes on the bench, where Damien Aldegheri, Cyril Cazeaux and Cameron Woki have been replaced by Uini Atonio, Swan Rebbadj and Arthur Vincent.

France: Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Damian Penaud; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Romain Taofifenua, Paul Willemse, Dylan Cretin, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Uini Antonio, Swan Rebbadj, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Romain Ntamack, Arthur Vincent.

Wales: Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Tomos Williams, Callum Sheedy, Willis Halaholo.

Ireland number eight CJ Stander has dropped a retirement bombshell by declaring he will quit rugby at the end of the season.

Stander said the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and his club, Munster, tried to talk him out of leaving the game.

But 30-year-old Stander, who won his 50th cap in Ireland's 27-24 win over Scotland on Sunday, could not be persuaded to make a U-turn.

The South Africa-born back-rower said: "All professional sports people are told 'you will know when the time is right to hang up your boots'.

"It’s a sentiment one cannot fully comprehend until that day arrives. For me, that time has come, and I hereby publicly announce my retirement from all forms of rugby.

"I will be available to represent Munster until 27 June 2021 when my contract expires, and for international duty, until the end of the mid-year Test window."

Stander, who came to Ireland at the age of 22, said rugby had "started to take an unfair toll on my family".

He qualified to play for Ireland by residency and made his debut in the 2016 Six Nations, going on to play for the British and Irish Lions on their tour of New Zealand a year later.

In 2018, Stander helped Ireland achieve a Six Nations Grand Slam, but now he says rugby must take a back seat.

"I asked myself whether I was still enjoying this enough to earn the continued support of Munster and Ireland, and to justify the sacrifices my family was making. From a performance perspective, the answer was yes," Stander said in a statement.

"But I always had the intent to retire while I was still playing some of my best rugby. I also knew I wanted my daughter Everli to grow up around her family in South Africa.

"When all these intentions and considerations intercepted each other during that training session, I discussed the implications thereof with [Munster] coach Johann van Graan and the Irish Rugby Football Union.

"I deeply appreciate that they tried to persuade me otherwise, but I knew it was time."

Johnny Sexton kicked a late penalty to make sure Ireland once again got the better of Scotland in the Six Nations, the visitors running out 27-24 winners at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Scotland went into the fixture still in with a shot of claiming the title but a 17th loss in the last 20 meetings between the two nations in the competition means Wales and France will fight it out to be crowned champions in 2021.

Hamish Watson's converted try in the 74th minute completed an impressive comeback from Scotland, who had trailed 24-10 at one stage in the second half.

However, having worked so hard to get back level in the contest, Scotland conceded a penalty from the kick-off, allowing Sexton to settle a see-saw contest in favour of Ireland.

The hosts had not played for a month – their round three fixture against France was called off due to a coronavirus outbreak within Les Bleus' squad – and were caught cold in the opening minutes of both halves.

Sexton slotted over an early penalty to start the scoring before putting his right boot to good use in open play, a cross-field kick meant for Keith Earls ending up breaking kindly for the late-arriving Robbie Henshaw to ground.

Finn Russell replied with a penalty and then cashed in on a fortunate break to get Scotland's first try.

Stuart Hogg charged down a clearing kick and twice hacked on before Russell did the same, James Lowe’s attempt to deal with the situation only knocking the ball up in the air to set up an easy finish for the fly-half.

The conversion made it 10-8 to Scotland, but a pair of Sexton penalties before the break was followed up by Tadhg Beirne plunging over in the 49th minute, his try by the posts leaving an easy kick to make it 21-10.

A further Sexton penalty built the lead out to 14, yet substitute Huw Jones gave Scotland hope, bursting through some weak tackling to make an instant impact following his introduction.

Hogg landed the extras having taken over kicking duties, the full-back also on target to bring his team level after Watson's strength close to the line allowed the flanker to force the ball down.

Yet Sexton scuppered Scotland's hopes as he had the last word, drilling over the match-winning kick from close to the touchline.

In France, they still speak joyously of Philippe Saint-Andre's wonder try at Twickenham, that majestic blue wave that swept from one end of the great stadium to the other, resulting in a score under the posts.

What a score that was, voted many years as Twickenham's 'try of the century', Blanco to Sella to Camberabero to Saint-Andre. The punch of the air, the high fives, the hugs. The wanton joie de vivre of it all.

But it came in a losing cause, on the final day of the 1991 Five Nations, in a championship decider. Some consolation, but a consolation nonetheless.

It was Geoff Cooke's team who lifted the trophy, Will Carling the beaming captain, the champagne spraying in England's dressing room.

France were a joy to watch, those great names still resonate, and they were so close to sashaying and side-stepping their way to a glorious Grand Slam.

So close. They finished second. The first losers.

Thirty years on from that March classic and there was nothing at Twickenham on Saturday that will be remembered quite so fondly as that vintage Saint-Andre moment, but there was so nearly an outcome that could have banished many bleak French memories from trips to London. Instead, England added to that long list.

Before Maro Itoje burrowed over in the 76th minute, this was poised to be a tale of a great French win, after a captivating clash. It would have been a third win in three games in this year's championship, talk would have turned to the Grand Slam.

Delightful tries from Antoine Dupont and Damian Penaud, stemming from that great Gallic brand of running rugby, were of the sort Blanc, Sella and co would have been proud.

Suspicions of a Twickenham hex hanging over Les Bleus were about to be banished. England had won nine of their 10 previous home games against France in the Six Nations, including the last seven in a row, but their dominance was about to be halted by a French side with bulldog spirit to match their silky skills.

Fabien Galthie was on the brink of getting one over on Eddie Jones, who was facing the prospect of his Red Rose losing a third match in four.

It would have been an eighth win in their last nine Six Nations games for France.

And then along came Itoje. England were over.

Weren't they?

France clung to the hope Teddy Thomas had held Itoje up. Referee Andrew Brace felt Thomas may have done just that, but the TMO knew better.

After what felt like an age, the try was given and French hearts broke. They lost 23-20.

What an achievement it would have been for Galthie's side to cross La Manche and return to Marcoussis triumphant.

Last month's major COVID-19 outbreak in their camp was worrying from a health perspective but came in tandem with questions about conduct and protocol too, with Galthie eventually exonerated despite leaving the squad bubble to watch his son play a rugby game, and no blame apportioned.

This France side re-emerged and played with verve from the first minute - Dupont crossed after just 65 seconds following lovely work from Thomas - before Anthony Watson replied as England reined in their visitors.

France struck again in the 32nd minute, electric play from the backs in blue ending with Penaud dancing in on the right.

Owen Farrell and Matthieu Jalibert kept the score ticking along from the kicking tee, then with time running out Itoje had the determining say.

"We are playing lovely rugby," France back-rower Gregory Alldritt told ITV after the final whistle. "We are enjoying playing all together on the pitch.

"We will go back to work on Monday and have a big, big game next week and we need to prepare for this game."

France went down in this game, but they are not out. The Six Nations title could yet be heading to Paris, even if the Grand Slam will not.

Wales, now the only team left in contention for a clean sweep of wins, will aim to complete a perfect campaign in Paris next Saturday night.

Given how they took this game to England, and how close they came to a famous victory, expect Galthie's men to rise again for the challenge of the arriving Red Dragons.

This was England's day in the end, but you still got the feeling this might be a French side who in the near future won't have to settle for consolation prizes or being the first losers. That Wales game will be titanic, and revealing.

France boss Fabien Galthie said his team "lost control" against England as Maro Itoje's late try allowed the hosts to snatch a 23-20 victory at Twickenham.

In a sizzling Six Nations match, France went ahead through Antoine Dupont after just 65 seconds and led 20-13 early in the second half.

They were looking like earning a first victory in the championship in London since 2005 until England came back strongly in the closing stages.

Itoje crossed in the 76th minute, with a TMO verdict showing he had just managed to ground the ball.

Galthie told broadcaster France 2: "In the second period, we lost control of the match. We backed off. We held the line until Maro Itoje scored.

"The English ended up stronger, they managed to occupy the field more than we did. The team had a big game. 

"We were ahead until three minutes from the end, but that's not enough."

France had won their opening two matches before a COVID-19 outbreak in the squad caused the clash with Scotland to be postponed.

Talk of a Grand Slam would have abounded had they held on against England, but it was not to be.

Galthie added in a news conference: "The two teams delivered a great match, before a denouement that must be digested.

"It played out once again in the final minutes. But above all, I am proud of my players, of their solidarity.

"It's a game that makes you grow. We didn't win but they felt we could win it. There are two, three key moments that perhaps would have allowed us to finish it more comfortably.

"In the end, the English dispossessed us of the ball because we conceded penalties, lost balls. But that's good. The team learns."

France face Grand Slam-chasing Wales next Saturday in Paris, knowing a victory over the Red Dragons would keep hopes alive of winning the championship.

Galthie added, according to Le Figaro, that France would react "by keeping the positives".

"We will digest this result together and switch to Wales now," he said. "That match starts right away. It depends on our ability to share and experience together the frustration to plan for the match that awaits us next Saturday."

Eddie Jones was left wishing Twickenham had been packed full of fans to see England's gutsy Six Nations win over France.

The hosts ended France's dreams of a first Grand Slam since 2010 as Maro Itoje's late try secured a hard-earned 23-20 victory on Saturday.

It was a fine response from the Red Rose after disappointing losses to Scotland and Wales either side of a routine win over Italy.

But head coach Jones wanted to share in the glory with England's supporters, with coronavirus restrictions depriving them of the opportunity to witness a fine performance first-hand.

"I just wish there were 82,000 fans here," Jones told ITV, having seen his side fight back from Antoine Dupont's try after just 65 seconds.

"It was a good, tough game of rugby with good fight from both teams and a bit of drama at the end.

"Since the Scotland game we have played with a lot of fight and energy.

"We thought France would come out hard early. They haven't had a game for a while and they were fresh. We had to be with them at half-time - that was our big job.

"We thought we would get them in the second half and we did.

"We've felt since the autumn we have to change our game a bit because the laws are moving to make the game faster.

"Our plan is to go to the 2023 World Cup as a good set-piece team and a team that can move."

England conclude their 2021 Six Nations campaign in Dublin next weekend.

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."

Maro Itoje's late try ended France's Six Nations Grand Slam hopes as England secured a hard-fought 23-20 victory at Twickenham.

Fabien Galthie's men still have two games to play in this year's competition after a coronavirus outbreak led to their match with Scotland being postponed.

But next weekend they will host a Wales side seeking to wrap up the Grand Slam – a feat now out of reach for Les Bleus, who have not managed it since 2010, after a painful loss in London.

England, beaten by Scotland and Wales either side of a routine win over Italy, have been reduced to also-rans but refused to play that part on Saturday.

Despite taking the lead through Antoine Dupont's try after just 80 seconds, France were pegged back as Anthony Watson responded in kind and the reliable Owen Farrell added eight first-half points with the boot.

However, Damian Penaud applied the finish to a stunning France try before half-time, with Matthieu Jalibert and Owen Farrell exchanging penalties before Itoje stole the headlines at the death.

With nine wins from 10 previous home meetings with France in the Six Nations, including seven in a row, the history books heavily favoured England, but it did not look that way early on.

The visitors surged into the lead as the ever-alert Dupont touched down at the end of a sweeping move that had left England all at sea.

Eddie Jones' team immediately applied the pressure and got back on level terms as some swift and precise passing found Watson wide on the right, and he marked his 50th cap with a score from which Farrell converted.

Farrell kept his cool to slot two penalties and put England 13-7 up inside 20 minutes, but France cut the arrears with a Jalibert three-pointer before reclaiming the lead ahead of the break.

It was a fine try that secured that half-time advantage, Penaud collecting a brilliant pass from Jalibert following an eye-catching Gael Fickou dummy to squeeze through in the corner after Galthie's men had sprung superbly from a lineout.

The second half was more of a tactical battle, with far fewer instances of flair and creativity; Jalibert and Farrell each splitting the posts before England had the decisive say in the closing minutes.

Itoje bundled over the line, the try awarded after a review as it was determined he had grounded the ball, breaking French hearts in the process.

What's next?

France may be unwanted guests at someone else's Grand Slam party when they host Wales on Saturday, while England face a stern test as they travel to Dublin to take on Ireland.

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.

Iain Balshaw expects "seething" England to unleash their fury on Six Nations title contenders France after the Red Rose were stunned by "calamitous" refereeing errors in the loss to Wales.

The defending champions' hopes of retaining their title were shattered by a 40-24 in Cardiff last month, but it might have been a very different story if French official Pascal Gauzere had not awarded Wales two controversial first-half tries.

Gauzere admitted he should not have allowed scores from Josh Adams and Liam Williams to stand at the Principality Stadium, but that was no consolation to the holders.

France travel to Twickenham on Saturday with two wins out of two, but former England wing Balshaw said they should beware the wounded animal.

The World Cup winner told Stats Perform News: "England's discipline really let them down against Wales, but they did a lot of good things in that match.

"If the referee had not made those two calamitous errors then it is a totally different game, as the pressure would be on Wales to chase the game. That said, it was a big worry to see the way England capitulated from 24-24.

"When England had ball in hand I thought we looked very good and dangerous every time, but it is frustrating when you see them kick so often and obviously discipline has been a problem.

"Clive Woodward always used to tell us we must keep the penalty count under 10, otherwise the likelihood of winning goes down considerably.

"You want to see running rugby, because we looked very dangerous when we had ball in hand. I honestly don't think we are far away. I think France know England will be seething and desperate to right some wrongs at Twickenham."

Balshaw says England fans should remember it is not long since Owen Farrell was lifting two trophies, and underlined that ensuring they peak at the 2023 World Cup in France is paramount.

"People are obviously frustrated with results, but it really isn't doom and gloom. Scotland played the match of their lives in a storming performance and things might have gone differently against Wales. If they beat France then it is a very different story," said the ex-Bath and Gloucester flyer.

"If you look at the last 18 months, we have been in a World Cup final, won the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup. You will get bumps in the road, but the main goal is the next World Cup and I honestly believe we are in good shape."

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