Nick Tompkins says that Wales are excited and not daunted by the challenge that awaits them against Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland on Saturday.

The odds are stacked against Wales, having not won a Six Nations game in Dublin since 2012 and facing a team marching ominously towards achieving back-to-back Grand Slams.

More than a third of Wales’ match-day 23 have cap totals in single figures, while a vastly-experienced Ireland team last suffered a Six Nations defeat two years ago.

Asked if there was a more daunting test in world rugby than tackling Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Wales centre Tompkins said: “I don’t know about daunting.

“Daunting makes it sounds like we are scared. We are not. We are excited.

“Realistically, we have got nothing to lose. It is a big challenge, but you need those big ones.

“There is no point in playing a mediocre side, and it is going to be good to see where we are at.”

Wales lost their opening two Six Nations encounters against Scotland and England by a combined margin of three points and could easily have arrived in Dublin with an unbeaten record.

Scotland held on for a 27-26 victory in Cardiff after Wales scored 26 unanswered points, while it took a late George Ford penalty to overhaul Wales’ nine-point interval advantage at Twickenham.

Ireland, though, have proved themselves time and time again as northern hemisphere rugby’s current dominant force, with Wales facing easily their sternest test since Warren Gatland returned for a second stint as head coach prior to last season’s Six Nations.

Tompkins added: “If we are off on any one thing, any one aspect of play, they are going to pounce on it.

“We have been talking this week about the need to give everything, in every area of the game, all the time. It needs to be (for) 80 minutes as well.

“We have bigged this up enough for ourselves, we are focusing on ourselves, but the boys know what lies ahead.

“I am not saying you can’t make any mistakes, but in those moments when you have got them under pressure, you cannot let them off.

“It is nice when you have got some of those younger lads. They don’t have that fear, that naivety.

“It’s quite nice, so you try and install that and go out and play and have a bit of enjoyment about it. When you do that against Scotland and you come back and you should have won it, or nearly won it, it just shows where we can take it.

“I don’t want them to go there and worry about outside aspects or we can’t beat them or we can’t do this, I want them to go and just be them and be confident with it and enjoy it.”

Courtney Lawes has accepted a lucrative deal to join French second-division club Brive that will see him depart Northampton at the end the season.

Lawes will bring down the curtain on his illustrious career overseas after accepting a “transformational” offer that Saints – his only club in 17 years as a professional – were unable to match.

The 35-year-old flanker has followed up an impressive 2023 World Cup with his outstanding form in this season’s Gallagher Premiership and Northampton were keen to keep him at Franklin’s Gardens.

But former England captain Lawes, who announced his Test retirement in October, has reluctantly made the decision to join the growing number of English players heading across the Channel.

“I want to make it clear that I really would have liked to end my career as a one-club man and Saints did absolutely everything they possibly could to make that happen – our conversations were all very positive,” Lawes said.

“But first and foremost I have to make sure that my family and I are in the best position possible for my retirement, which will be in the next couple of years.

“This is likely to be the last contract I’ll ever sign and the offer I have received to play overseas will be transformational for my family, so there was no way I could turn it down and I took the decision to move away from Northampton.

“I’ve been through it all with Saints and I just hope that my efforts on the pitch have reflected my appreciation for the club.”

Lawes, a physical and athletic back five forward who has played in four World Cups, has made 274 appearances for Northampton so far, on top of winning 105 caps for England and a further five for the British and Irish Lions.

Saints have suffered more than most clubs from the exodus of players to France, with Lewis Ludlam also leaving at the end of the season, while David Ribbans and Dan Biggar have already departed.

“Clearly it’s very disappointing that Courtney has decided to leave, but it’s a decision he has made with the long-term future of his family in mind, which we fully understand and respect,” chief executive Mark Darbon said.

“We obviously wanted Courtney to stay and we made him a significantly increased offer to remain part of our squad.

“But given this will probably be his last ever contract and the incredible service he has already given to the club over the last 17 seasons, no-one can begrudge him accepting a very substantial alternative offer to finish his career overseas.

“Given the financial challenges that we, like all Premiership clubs, are still navigating, ultimately we just could not compete with the transformational scale of the offer Courtney has received.”

Joe Marler is desperate to help England wrestle back the Calcutta Cup on Saturday after growing exasperated with Scotland’s recent dominance of the fixture.

The 33-year-old prop grew up in an era when the Red Rose firmly held the upper hand over the Scots and he was on the winning side four times in a row after first playing in the highly-charged showdown in 2014.

The tables have turned since 2018, however. Scotland have lost only one of their last six matches against the Auld Enemy under Gregor Townsend and go into this weekend’s match buoyed by having won each of the last three.

That situation rankles with Marler, who is intent on ensuring England are celebrating on enemy territory come Saturday evening.

“It would just be nice to be on the winning end of it for once because it has been so long since we have,” he said at Murrayfield on the eve of the match.

“Obviously we had 2020, but the continued dominance from Scotland over us – it has been a long time now.

“From the start, we hadn’t lost to Scotland. Then the 2018 game the tide started to turn, the players that have come through in the Scottish side, you go, ‘Hang on, they have got some world-class operators now’.

“And it does shift the mindset slightly coming in as underdogs.

“The last few years without that cup, seeing Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, that video of them with their shirts off and singing with the cup.

“I wish I could be doing that rather than watching it. Or that famous Finn Russell photo where he’s got his Spiderman hands up and he’s loving it.

“That stirs passion in me to go, ‘I want that cup’, and I know a number of the other boys in the team want that cup back as well.”

Marler is pleased to still be in a position to help improve England’s record against Scotland after wondering if the World Cup last autumn might signal the end of his international career before Steve Borthwick assured him he still had a part to play.

“It’s almost like an addiction,” he said of his ongoing involvement with the national team. “I want to be part of a winning England team, creating new stories, creating new memories.

“I thought the World Cup was going to be my last opportunity at that, but Steve rang to ask if I’m still hungry.

“He asked if I had the desire to still crack on because he needed to blood some new players and move into the next cycle, but he also needed guys around to help with that.

“I asked my wife first but for me, yeah, it’s that addiction to be part of a winning England team and helping those young guys come through. That’s why I keep coming back.”

England will be led out at Murrayfield on Saturday by captain Jamie George, who lost his mother, Jane, a week last Wednesday following a short battle with lung cancer.

Marler, who will start on the bench, has been hugely impressed with the way his friend and fellow 33-year-old front-rower has dealt with the situation.

“Jamie has been incredible,” said the Harlequins prop. “I remember talking to him a few weeks before coming into camp, and he was talking about the captaincy being offered to him and he wasn’t sure whether he was going to take it up with things going on with his mum.

“Having known Jane since I was 16, 17, coming through the age groups with Jamie, I said, ‘Mate, just flip it and tell her you’re not doing it and see how upset, disappointed and gutted she’d be if you didn’t do it. You’ve got enough support around you in terms of the senior group to help you with it and you’re the best bloke for it, so let’s crack on and do it.’

“I’m pleased that he did. It has been tough since we found out about Jane, but he’s shown huge strength, and vulnerability which is great for the whole group, especially the youngsters to see that.

“He’s very much thinking, ‘I want to come up here, get the job done’. He’s dealt with it incredibly well.”

Scotland talisman Finn Russell is unfazed by the prospect of being targeted by England’s new blitz defence in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown at Murrayfield.

The Red Rose have adopted a more aggressive approach for this year’s Guinness Six Nations after highly-regarded defence coach Felix Jones joined Steve Borthwick’s backroom team in the wake of helping South Africa win the World Cup. 

England are expected to try to swarm stand-off Russell and his midfield colleagues in an effort to neutralise Scotland, but the 31-year-old has no issue with the possibility of being singled out.

“It’s probably similar to a lot of teams in that the 10s are the key players in attack,” said co-captain Russell. “I’m not sure what England are going to do – if they are going to fire out the line and try to take me out or shut me down from the outside.

“That is something we will have to figure out in the game. We will have to be able to adapt, with myself and Sione (Tuipulotu) and Huw (Jones) being on the same page and having Blair (Kinghorn) out wide as another option.

“Although the 10 controls a lot of the attack, it is not just down to me to create things. We will be looking to other boys to get away from them.”

Scotland were tamed the last time they came up against a Jones-inspired blitz defence when they lost 18-3 to South Africa at the World Cup in September, but Russell insists they have learned from that encounter.

“We have looked back and talked about that game, and obviously looked at England’s first two games of this campaign,” said Russell. “I think our learnings from the World Cup were not to go into our shells if we do feel the pressure.

“There were chances in that game against South Africa that we probably never saw on the pitch. Under pressure we probably went into our shell a little bit.

“Tomorrow we just need to have belief in ourselves and trust the work we have put in over the last six months to a year.

“At times we will be under pressure and it will be tough, but we can fall back to what we have done building up to this game.

“We can have belief and confidence in ourselves and hopefully we can take the chances that will be out there.”

After Russell lost his first three Calcutta Cup matches, including a 61-21 defeat at Twickenham in 2017, the Scots have won each of the last three meetings and have lost only one of the last six.

“With us and England, we have been progressing and over the last few years they have potentially not been as good as they can be,” said Russell. “But the World Cup showed how good they can be, getting to the semi-finals.

“Obviously they have won their first two games of this campaign so they are getting back to where they should be. They are one of the best teams in the world.

“We can’t look back at the last few games and think it has turned in our favour. Every time we play England, it is always a huge challenge and we have got to be at our best to be able to beat them.”

Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony says it would be disrespectful to regard rivals Wales as a “banana skin” ahead of Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash in Dublin.

Warren Gatland’s winless visitors arrive at the Aviva Stadium as major underdogs on the back of narrow championship defeats to Scotland and England amid a transitional period.

Reigning champions Ireland have not lost at home in three years and are in pole position to retain their crown following thumping bonus-point victories over France and Italy.

Munster flanker O’Mahony, who returns as one of seven personnel changes from the 36-0 victory over the Azzurri in round two, believes Wales’ players are a “different animal” when representing their country.

“I think a banana skin is a disrespectful term for this Welsh team,” said the 34-year-old.

“I’ve learnt the hard way a good few times; these people are very, very proud and they grow massively when they pull on that red shirt.

“They’re a different animal, a different team and I’ve been on the receiving end of some heavy losses to these guys a few times.

“There is transition but it’s the Welsh 15 coming tomorrow, it’s no one else and I know from experience they’re an unbelievably proud nation and they play big and earn the jersey.

“That’s what we’ll 100 per cent be expecting tomorrow.”

Ireland are chasing an 18th successive home win to equal England’s record, set in 2017, of 11 consecutive Six Nations victories.

Comments from the Wales camp suggest they will attempt to cause “chaos” in a bid to knock the hosts off their perch and register a first championship win on Irish soil since 2012.

O’Mahony accepts Ireland’s sustained form during the past three years has put a target on their back.

“Look, that’s the game, isn’t it? We’ve a good record, we’re playing well,” he said.

“We have spoken about it and we have a target on us but that comes with the territory and you have to be cool with that and that you are going to get the best of every team.

“We know when we’re good that we’re going to put teams under pressure and other teams know that now as well.

“As a result, we expect to get the best of every team and we have no doubt but that we’re going to get the best of Wales tomorrow.”

Ireland are on course to become the first side to claim back-to-back Grand Slam titles in the Six Nations era.

Yet O’Mahony, who replaced the retired Johnny Sexton as skipper after the World Cup, is not getting carried away.

“Oh Jaysus,” he replied when asked about the prospect of lifting silverware.

“Look, it would mean a huge amount for me tomorrow to win tomorrow, that’s what I’m focusing on.

“People can, I suppose, predict all they want but you can’t drop the ball of what’s in front of you.

“You’ve probably heard that before but as soon as you look past that, you know teams can trip you up and catch you out.”

Warren Gatland wants Wales to show no fear and embrace the challenge when they tackle “world-class” Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

Wales have been largely written off – they are a 14-1 chance with some bookmakers – on the back of successive defeats against Scotland and England, while their last Six Nations win in Ireland was 12 years ago.

Ireland have lost just twice in their last 40 home Tests, need one more victory to equal England’s Six Nations record of 11 successive wins and are on a seemingly unstoppable march towards achieving historic back-to-back Grand Slams.

“We know how good a side they are,” Wales head coach Gatland said. “They are a settled team. They are world-class.

“We have got to be smart and not allow them to play the game on their terms. That is when they are incredibly dangerous.

“Just one moment from them can change the momentum of the game. They have got some key individuals, but we’ve got to try and put them under pressure to unsettle them.

“There has been a lot said about us being underdogs, but that is not a motivation for us. The motivation is the pressure we are putting on ourselves to get better from game one and two.

“We have spoken all week about having no fear.

“We have reflected, and (Wales captain) Dafydd Jenkins has spoken about it, we probably went into that first game with a little bit too much respect for Scotland in that first half, and that was the message at half-time. I think we saw an improvement at Twickenham.

“It is going to be a huge challenge for us but you have got to embrace that, you have got to be excited about that.

“I have spoken to the players about stepping up in big moments and being the one who wants to be part of a big moment and not having any fear about that, not going into your shell.”

Gatland has made a solitary change from the England loss, with fit-again Sam Costelow returning at fly-half instead of Ioan Lloyd.

There are further opportunities for newcomers Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann, while Cardiff back-row forward Mackenzie Martin is set for his Test debut off the bench.

The 20-year-old has played only nine games of professional rugby, and he will become the 1,200th Wales men’s senior international if he features against Ireland.

Gatland added: “We feel we are building for the future, and we have got some really talented young players at the moment who need time.

“I think the players are aware we have a huge amount of growth in us and where we can be in the next 12 months or so.

“We can’t hide away from that fact of how important it is to win (in) international rugby, because that is the expectation.

“When you put that jersey on, everyone expects you to go out there to perform and win.”

And Wales skipper Jenkins said: “We just need to go out there, leave everything out there and see what can happen.

“If we didn’t think that (Wales can win) there would be no point in going there in the first place. We have full confidence we can win and do a job, although it is going to be tough.”

Scotland and England renew hostilities when they meet in rugby’s oldest international fixture at Murrayfield on Saturday.

For both sides it is win or bust in a critical Guinness Six Nations round-three clash that will shape their respective Championships.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points heading into the Edinburgh showdown.

Furbank’s second coming

 

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Steve Borthwick is capable of throwing curve balls in selection – think Marcus Smith at full-back, Alex Mitchell starting at scrum-half at the World Cup – and the latest example is George Furbank’s return at full-back. Freddie Steward controls the air against any opposition but Borthwick has cast aside England’s safety blanket in favour of a more natural ball player who will provide a counter-attacking threat and greater mobility in defence. Promoting Furbank is a bold call and even if the six caps won between 2020 to 2022 failed to provide compelling evidence of his Test pedigree, he is an exciting pick who has been on fire for Northampton this season.

Heavyweights collide

England take a more balanced backline to Edinburgh after recalling Ollie Lawrence at inside centre. For the first time in this Six Nations there will be genuine ball-carrying clout in midfield after Lawrence recovered from the hip injury that ruled him out of the wins against Italy and Wales. In the words of assistant coach Kevin Sinfield, the powerful Bath runner is “ready to kick the door down” and it will be hoped he can provide a counter weight to the similarly physical Sione Tuipulotu. It is a heavyweight collision that will influence the outcome of the match.

Lopsided rivalry

Scotland are odds-on favourites to retain the Calcutta Cup – and rightly so. They have won their last three Tests against the ‘Auld Enemy’, whose victory in 2020 is their only triumph in the last six meetings. The games have been ferociously competitive but Scotland are simply a better team, having turned a one-sided rivalry on its head. Defined by this fixture, these are the glory days for Scottish rugby and for a measure of England’s decline in recent years – finishing third at the 2023 World Cup aside – look no further than their recent struggles against their oldest foes.

Moment of truth

Gregor Townsend admitted that the history and emotion of a clash with England made it Scotland’s “most important game of the season”, but the head coach also knows that settling old scores is only part of the bigger picture. A golden generation in the nation’s rugby history, epitomised by their fly-half genius Finn Russell, is in danger of passing without winning any silverware and after the injustice of seeing a late match-winning try disallowed against France in round two, they can not afford any more slip ups. Time is running out for Russell’s Scotland to prove they are a serious team.

Cautious optimism

England arrive at Murrayfield with two wins in the bank and alongside Ireland they are the only unbeaten team left in the tournament. Coupled with their bronze medal finish at the World Cup and that should be cause for optimism when they face Scotland for the 142nd time. But a side in transition that is attempting to evolve its attack and get to grips with a new blitz defence has so far faced the Six Nations’ two weakest sides. The level of competition cranks up significantly on Saturday and while there is no danger of Borthwick’s resilient side being blown away, defeat would signpost another Championship of underachievement.

Andy Farrell is braced for a “war of attrition” against winless Wales and knows any hint of complacency could wreck Ireland’s pursuit of successive Grand Slam titles.

The reigning Guinness Six Nations champions are overwhelming favourites to back up dominant bonus-point wins over France and Italy with another victory on Saturday afternoon in Dublin.

Warren Gatland’s side arrive at a sold-out Aviva Stadium seeking to stave off the threat of the wooden spoon following narrow losses to Scotland and England.

Ireland head coach Farrell acknowledges Wales could very easily have been in contention for a championship clean sweep of their own at this stage and is taking nothing for granted.

“It’s certainly not how we view it,” he replied when asked about the visitors being written off. “We view them in the highest regard.

“It’s a Test match. It’s a war of attrition and they’re going to give it absolutely everything they’ve got.

“We’ve got to manage ourselves from the start of the game to the end in the best way possible because if we don’t we’ll come unstuck, there’s no doubt about that.”

Wales have not won a Six Nations match in Dublin since 2012.

Members of Gatland’s squad have spoken about a fast start being crucial to their chances of pulling off a shock success to snap that statistic.

“We obviously know what they’ve been talking about, coming out of the blocks and causing chaos and we know it’s going to be a fight, we know they’re going to make it as tough as possible for us,” said Farrell.

“But what we always concentrate on is ourselves and making sure that we put our game to the match, whoever it is that we’re playing.

“We have full respect in regard to what Wales are going to bring because they’re always unbelievably hard to beat and we expect them to be chomping at the bit.

“The two performances that they had (against Scotland and England), they could be coming here with two wins and no losses so we know exactly what we’re up against.”

Ireland are bidding to extend their three-year winning run at home to 18 Tests and equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations victories.

Farrell has triumphed in 23 of 24 matches on Irish soil during his reign, with a 15-13 loss to France in 2021 the only blemish.

Speaking of the record, the Englishman said: “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s not something that I keep track of, all these bits.

“’Breener’ (Peter Breen, IRFU communications manager) tells me them every week but they just roll over my head because it’s always just about the performance and getting the best out of ourselves and trying to be better the whole time.

“That’s what drives us more than anything.

“I suppose if you have that type of mentality hopefully things will chug along in the right direction but it’s nice to be told these things on the periphery, so that you’re aware of the progress that you’re making.”

Jamie George will draw inspiration from the heartwarming thought that his late mother will be watching down on him as he prepares to lead England into Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown with Scotland just over a week after her death.

The 33-year-old Saracens hooker found out on the same day that he was appointed captain of the Red Rose last month that his mum Jane had been diagnosed with cancer. Her situation deteriorated quickly and she died last Wednesday.

George takes some solace from the fact a woman he described as “the biggest rugby fan on earth” was able to see her boy skipper his country for two matches, the Guinness Six Nations victories over Wales and Italy.

“We’ve been going through a lot as a family for a long period,” he said, speaking with remarkable composure about his ordeal from England’s team hotel in Edinburgh city centre on Thursday evening.

“The deterioration she had was really fast. I found out on Sunday about the fact that she was terminal, and she passed away on Wednesday [last week].

“My mum was the biggest rugby fan on earth, she loved this team, loved watching me play, she never missed a game.

“The text I’ve got from her before my first game as captain is something I will treasure forever. She said it was the proudest day of her life so given what she was going through, to still be able to put a smile on her face was huge.”

George was adamant he did not want to excuse himself from England duty. He turned up on the Friday after his mum’s death to participate in an open training session at Twickenham and had no doubt in his mind that he wanted to lead his team into battle with Scotland.

George’s father, his brothers, his uncle and his cousin will be at Murrayfield for what he hopes will be a cathartic experience for the family amid the trauma.

“Taking time off is the last thing she would have wanted me to do,” said George. “It’s not what I wanted to do.

“I feel very privileged to do what I do and hopefully the boys will agree that I’ve been able to fulfil my role as captain and fulfil my role as a player in this team.

“It’s not an ideal situation to be in, but there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to be involved in this game.

“Wherever she is now, she will be looking down telling everyone that is there that her son is the England captain. I know for a fact that meant a huge amount to her.

“Whenever I’ve played, I’ve always wanted to make my family proud. It’s been a huge driver for me. That won’t change this weekend – it will probably be enhanced this weekend.

“It will be emotional for me coming out. It will be the first game that she won’t be there. She wasn’t able to come to the first two games to watch, which has been tough in itself, but before that she was always there, she never missed it.

“My dad, my uncle, my cousin and both brothers are coming up this weekend. It’s going to be great for them to be able to be there. It’s amazing what rugby can do in situations like this.

“When I first became captain, I spoke a lot about showing how much it means to play for England and what an amazing impact you can have on people’s lives.

“I have seen it first-hand because my mum was on her death bed talking about the England rugby team and how proud she was of me being able to do what I do.

“That’s absolutely incredible. She will be with me in some capacity on Saturday and that means a huge amount to me.”

Andy Farrell has challenged Test rookie Ciaran Frawley to “prove a point” after handing him a long-awaited full Ireland debut in place of the injured Hugo Keenan.

Versatile Leinster back Frawley received his first call-up in the autumn of 2021 but has so far been restricted to 44 minutes of international action across two appearances from the bench.

The 26-year-old will start Saturday afternoon’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales at full-back after Keenan sustained a knee issue in the 36-0 round-two win over Italy.

Head coach Farrell is hopeful his first-choice number 15 will be fit to face England on March 9 but backed Frawley to deputise with distinction against Warren Gatland’s side in Dublin.

“The versatility that Frawls has got has always probably earmarked him for a bench spot but he’s always been waiting for this chance,” said Farrell.

“Hugo doesn’t get injured too much, does he?

“His skillset is fantastic and it’s a big week for him so it will be a test of his temperament but he’s playing in a good side and I’m sure he’ll take his chance.

“He’s trained there (at full-back) for us a lot. It’s very natural for him to fill that position and he deserves his chance.

“He’s had an appetite to want to get to this type of position so now it’s come around I’m sure it’s a big moment for him and his family.

“But it’s all about performing. It’s all about taking your chance. All your need is a chance. It’s up to the individuals to go and take that and prove a point.”

Frawley aside, Farrell has reverted to the starting XV which began the impressive 38-17 victory over France on the opening night of the tournament.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong and centre Bundee Aki return from injuries, while lock Tadhg Beirne, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and flanker Josh Van Der Flier are also recalled following the routine success over the Azzurri on February 11.

Uncapped prop Oli Jager has been included on a bench which has a six-two split of forwards and backs.

The 28-year-old’s opportunity at Test level comes after he left New Zealand club Crusaders to join Munster late last year.

“It’s always a pleasure to give someone their debut,” said Farrell. “I think this is a special one because it’s a special story in Oli.

“When we was over in New Zealand (in the summer of 2022), I met him about his plans and where that sat but he was content enough because he was building a really nice life for himself over there and doing unbelievably well for the Crusaders.

“But he showed his ambition to come back to Ireland and make a claim for a spot playing for his country.

“We’ve had him earmarked for a while but watching him start his career in Ireland at Munster, we’ve been nothing but impressed.”

Ireland are seeking an 18th successive home win to keep themselves on course for back-to-back Grand Slam titles.

Opponents Wales have not won a Six Nations fixture in Dublin since 2012.

“Playing against Wales, well you know it’s always going to be a scrap,” said Farrell.

“Wales against Ireland, it probably means a little bit more to them, I’ve been told (that) over the years. We’re aware of that.”

Gregor Townsend says Scotland’s sole focus is on winning their “biggest game of the season” against England this weekend and maintaining their recent dominance of the Calcutta Cup.

The Scots go into Saturday’s showdown with their bitter rivals knowing they will almost certainly require a victory to stay in contention for the Guinness Six Nations title after their controversial defeat by France last time out.

Townsend is adamant that any lingering injustice from ‘trygate’ a fortnight ago has been parked and that any talk of contending for the title can remain firmly on the backburner until after their high-stakes encounter with Steve Borthwick’s side.

“When you’re coming in off the back of a defeat, you have to bounce back with a victory,” said Townsend, when asked on Thursday how the France defeat has left his side’s title prospects.

“You’re not really thinking about the championship. We’ll see where we are on Saturday.

“The full focus is on this game because it’s our most important game of the season.

“It’s the most important game for our supporters and we also play for a trophy, in amongst the Triple Crown and other trophies.

“But this is one that we’re focused on more than the others. That probably shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

“It’s history. It’s emotion. We’ve seen the impact this game has on Scottish supporters when we do manage to get a victory in this fixture. That’ll drive us on Saturday.”

Having beaten England only three times in 27 attempts between 1990 and 2018, the Scots now find themselves going into this weekend’s fixture on the back of a three-game winning run and having lost only one of their last six meetings with their old foes.

Townsend, who was accustomed to regular defeats against England in his time as a player, admits his team’s recent burst of Calcutta Cup success has given them increased belief going into Saturday’s match.

“Yes, for sure,” he said. “The game in 2018 (Scotland’s first win over England in a decade) has certainly given the players confidence when they’ve taken on England in the last few games.

“But what’s most relevant is the game you’ve just played, the things you have to work on to be a better team, and the threats that England bring.

“This England team is different to the one we faced 12 months ago but ultimately it’s just about delivering in the 80 minutes on the day.”

Townsend has made three changes to the side that started the 20-16 defeat by France, with Glasgow wing Kyle Steyn returning after missing Les Bleus game when his wife went into labour and Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn back after sitting out the first two matches with a knee injury.

Kyle Rowe and Harry Paterson, who deputised in the absence of the two experienced backs, drop out of the squad altogether.

The most notable change is in the back row where Edinburgh flanker Jamie Ritchie, who recently lost the captaincy and then was then left out of the 23 for the France game, returns to the number six jersey in place of Matt Fagerson, who is dropped from the squad.

“Jamie has really accepted the challenge that was there about a month ago that there’s increased competition in the back-row and for that reason he was no longer going to be captain,” explained Townsend.

“But since that conversation he’s played two games for Edinburgh and one for Scotland in Cardiff and he’s played well.

“We believe this game will suit his strengths and his experience he can bring to the team as well will be a boost.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland says he is “not 100 per cent convinced” that Welsh regional rugby will undergo the proper reset he feels it requires.

Wales face runaway Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland in Dublin on Saturday – and the contrast between two long-standing rivals could hardly be greater.

On the field, Ireland have lost just two of their last 40 home Tests, while victory over Wales would see them equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations wins.

Wales, meanwhile, have lost nine of their last 10 Six Nations fixtures, and off the field it is a similar case of chalk and cheese.

Ireland are thriving from a system of centrally-contracted players that underpins vibrant, successful provincial teams, while Wales’ four professional regions are each preparing for significant budget cuts that will take effect from next season.

Asked to assess the key difference between Irish and Welsh rugby, Gatland said: “I think they (Ireland) have just got the right structures in place.

“Probably, if I look at the previous time I was here (between 2008 and 2019), we were kind of papering over the cracks of the things that were happening in Welsh rugby.

“We have got an opportunity for a reset, which unfortunately I am not 100 per cent convinced we will have a proper reset within our regions.

“It has probably felt sometimes like you are in a sinking ship and you are trying to plug the holes a little bit. So there is still lots of work for us to do.

“It took a long time (in Ireland), but that has benefited from the performances of their provincial teams, which has transferred into their international team.

“We were probably the other way around. We were the reverse. Right now, we are probably reflective of where our regions are. We have got to look at closing that gap.”

Gatland believes having the correct infrastructure at Wales’ four professional regions – Cardiff, Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons – is key.

“I continue to speak about infrastructure, getting the right infrastructure, the right environment, the right S&C (strength and conditioning) coaches, medical staff, quality coaches. training facilities, grounds and stuff,” he added.

“Forget about the players. Get that (infrastructure) right, and then you start building your squad.

“We have tended to do it the other way around – or a bit of 50/50 – and then it just feels like you are plugging up the holes of a sinking ship.

“The only way we are going to do it as a group is if we work together and we support each other.

“Everyone talks about the finances, and I understand that, but it is (about) making the right decisions.

“The short-term fix is to go and buy two or three players that might plug a couple of holes.

“But if we don’t think about the long-term benefit of the game and the infrastructure we’ve got, we are just going to be behind the eight-ball continuously.

“My advice to all the regions is don’t worry about players. If it means picking young players to your squad, make sure you spend the money on your facilities, make sure you spend the money on the right people within your environment.”

On Saturday’s Aviva Stadium encounter, Gatland said: “There has been a lot said about us being underdogs, but that is not a motivation for us.

“The motivation is the pressure we are putting on ourselves to get better from game one and two.

“We have spoken all week about having no fear to go there. It is going to be a huge challenge for us, but you have got to embrace that, you have got to be excited about that.”

England have rolled the dice in their bid to reclaim the Calcutta Cup from Scotland by dropping Freddie Steward in favour of George Furbank at full-back.

Steward has been an ever-present under successive England regimes because of his unrivalled ability under the high ball, but having started the opening two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations he is jettisoned from the 23 completely.

The inclusion of Furbank could pay dividends as the Northampton playmaker will provide more of a cutting edge in attack than Steward, but even in the dry conditions expected at Murrayfield on Saturday the selection is gamble.

Furbank has yet to convince in his six caps dating back to 2020 but the 27-year-old, who can also operate at fly-half, is a classy ball player whose skills have helped Saints take the Gallagher Premiership by storm this season.

The decision at full-back is influenced by Ollie Lawrence’s return at inside centre in an injection of ball-carrying clout into the backline.

England have lacked a runner capable of breaking tackles and drawing in defenders as a decoy but Lawrence will perform that role in the pivotal round-three clash in Edinburgh.

He missed the victories over Italy and Wales because of a hip injury but has been preferred ahead of Manu Tuilagi to provide physical presence in the number 12, resulting in Fraser Dingwall being axed from the midfield.

Dingwall’s strength is as a link player and in a nod to the ball skills and game management he provided in the opening two rounds, England feel the all-round game of Furbank is needed at full-back.

England have rolled the dice in their bid to reclaim the Calcutta Cup from Scotland by dropping Freddie Steward in favour of George Furbank at full-back.

Steward has been an ever-present under successive England regimes because of his unrivalled ability under the high ball, but having started the opening two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations he is jettisoned from the 23 completely.

The inclusion of Furbank could pay dividends as the Northampton playmaker will provide more of a cutting edge in attack than Steward, but even in the dry conditions expected at Murrayfield on Saturday the selection is gamble.

Furbank has yet to convince in his six caps dating back to 2020 but the 27-year-old, who can also operate at fly-half, is a classy ball player whose skills have helped Saints take the Gallagher Premiership by storm this season.

Ciaran Frawley will make his first Test start in Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales after being selected in place of injured full-back Hugo Keenan.

The versatile 26-year-old won his two previous caps as a replacement, including playing the final four minutes of the championship curtain-raiser away to France.

Keenan has been virtually ever-present in his country’s number 15 jersey during the past three years but will miss Saturday’s match in Dublin due to a knee injury suffered in the round-two victory over Italy.

Head coach Andy Farrell, who has included uncapped Munster prop Oli Jager among the replacements, has made seven personnel changes to his starting XV from the 36-0 win over the Azzurri Italy on February 11.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong and centre Bundee Aki return following injuries, while lock Tadhg Beirne, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and flanker Josh Van Der Flier are also recalled.

Second-row James Ryan, flanker Ryan Baird, number eight Jack Conan and centre Stuart McCloskey drop to a bench containing a six-two split of forwards and backs.

Prop Finlay Bealham and scrum-half Craig Casey have been left out of the matchday 23 after starting against Italy.

Lock Iain Henderson, who suffered a foot injury playing for Ulster last weekend, is not involved, while centre Garry Ringrose remains absent after missing the opening two rounds with a shoulder issue.

Frawley has been battling Jack Crowley and Harry Byrne for action at fly-half but Farrell has limited back-up options at full-back due to Jimmy O’Brien and Mack Hansen being ruled out of the entire tournament.

The full debutant has played a total of just 44 minutes of international rugby, during cameos in last summer’s World Cup warm-up win over Italy and the 38-17 victory over Les Bleus at the start of the month.

Crowley continues in the number 10 role, partnering Gibson-Park, with Aki and Robbie Henshaw in midfield and Calvin Nash and James Lowe retained on the wings.

In the front row, returning tighthead Furlong will pack down alongside Leinster team-mates Andrew Porter and Dan Sheehan, ahead of the second row pairing of Joe McCarthy and Beirne.

Caelan Doris, who stood in as skipper last time out, reverts from openside flanker to number eight. Van der Flier returns to the number seven role, while O’Mahony is back in at blindside flanker.

Hooker Ronan Kelleher, prop Cian Healy and scrum-half Conor Murray complete the bench.

Ireland are seeking a third successive win in this year’s championship – and an 18th in a row at home – after launching their title defence with back-to-back bonus-point victories over France and Italy.

Opponents Wales began with narrow defeats to Scotland and England and have not won a Six Nations fixture in Dublin since 2012.

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