Warren Gatland has underlined Wales’ desperation to end their losing Six Nations run this season and claim what would be a statement victory over France.

Even though Les Bleus have produced nowhere near their standards of last year, highlighted by a comprehensive defeat against Ireland and home draw with Italy, they have claimed four successive Six Nations wins at Wales’ expense.

Despite several promising moments in defeats to Scotland, England and Ireland, new-look Wales are nil from three heading into Sunday’s Principality Stadium clash.

They have not lost all five games of a Six Nations campaign since 2003, with Italy – conquerors of Wales in Cardiff two years ago – arriving next weekend.

Wales’ recent overall Six Nations record is poor, having claimed just two victories from the last 14 starts, beating Scotland in 2022 and Italy last season.

“We need to win, and that is what Test match rugby is all about,” Wales head coach Gatland said.

“We desperately want to win. We feel we have been going OK and we want to try and put a complete performance together.

“We know we are on a journey, but we are trying to fast-track things as quickly as possible. A win on Sunday would be a good stepping stone for that.

“Whether they (France) come here to throw the ball around or play an off-loading game, or whether they go for being a bit more brutal upfront and play for territory, we have just got to make sure we are prepared for anything.

“We are desperate to get that win. We know we are not quite there and there is a lot of work to do, but we have put ourselves in games and put teams under pressure.

“They (France) have got a huge pack, but that is the challenge for us, it is about moving their pack around. We saw what happened to them against Italy, that they do tire and that creates opportunities.”

Wales were edged out by a point against Scotland, then two points at England’s hands, and captain Dafydd Jenkins added: “Obviously, we are extremely disappointed to lose games, especially with the tight ones.

“But in terms of staying composed, I think we have built game on game and I feel like we’ve got better.

“We are looking at the quality in the room we have, and we should be winning games, so that is really what we are striving for.”

Gatland’s main selection talking point has been a new centre combination of Joe Roberts, who makes his first Six Nations start, and Owen Watkin.

George North, Wales’ most experienced Six Nations squad member with 120 caps, and Saracens’ Nick Tompkins were the midfield pairing during the World Cup and in two Six Nations games this term.

Gatland said: “We just wanted to give Joe an opportunity. He is a left-foot (kicking) option as well, and he has been training well.

“I thought they (North and Tompkins) were outstanding during the World Cup. Again, it is a chance for us to look at a few other players.

“George and I have had some honest discussions about whether he gets through to the next World Cup (in 2027). He started at a very young age, I think at 18 he was playing for Wales.

“Part of our discussions were about how we manage him, how do we look after him going forward?

“We’ve just got to make sure we have got some depth in that 13 position. That is why Joe gets an opportunity.

“I must say how the two boys (North and Tompkins) have responded after the disappointment of being left out this week. They has been fantastic in the way they have trained and helped the team.”

Danny Care was presented with his national academy report in anticipation of his 100th cap and the England scrum-half jokes that the assessment made two decades ago is still accurate now.

Care will become the sixth England men’s Test centurion if he steps off the bench in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations match against Ireland with his extended family, including his wife Jodie and three children, all present at Twickenham.

When the squad gathered on Thursday to celebrate the occasion, they were read out the 37-year-old’s hand-written Under-18 report that had been obtained by attack coach Richard Wigglesworth.

“Wiggy got handed it at our training camp in York last week and was asked to give it to me. He said ‘there’s no way I’m giving it to him yet. I’m going to have some fun first’,” Care said.

“He did a little bit of a montage of good and bad bits from my career. The report said ‘he lacks a bit of physicality, box-kicking is slightly inconsistent’. I’d say 18 years later it’s still the same!

“The cool line at the end of it was ‘future England player’. There was also ‘he tries a bit too much and makes a few mistakes, but he’ll have a crack’.

“Wigglesworth had a bit of fun with that and it’s come a full circle. I’m still quite similar, I’d say.”

Care’s passage to the milestone has been far from plain sailing after being dropped by Eddie Jones in 2018, resulting in four years spent in the international wilderness until his dazzling form for Harlequins forced a recall.

Back in the saddle for the 2022 tour to Australia, he was then hauled off before half-time of the Sydney decider and once again he appeared to have been frozen out.

 

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But upon Steve Borthwick’s appointment as Jones’ successor in time for the 2023 Six Nations, the Test odyssey of England’s most attacking scrum-half was given a new lease of life.

 

“As a parent you want to inspire your kids and if they can maybe have a look at my career and go ‘dad didn’t give up, he kept trying’, then maybe there’s a message out there for them to believe in yourself and keep going,” he said.

“Because it would have been quite easy for me to sack it off and not want to do it any more.

“But I’ve always had that drive to wear the shirt again. It might be my last opportunity to wear it at Twickenham, the stadium where I’ve played at a lot of times, so I’m desperate to get out there on the weekend and have some fun.

“I’ve just tried to embrace these moments because it’s not going to last forever. That’s what I’ve been telling the young lads in the team – embrace it and enjoy it.”

“Now I’m still here blagging it! I still think a lot of people can’t believe I’m here – I’m the same.”

It is fitting that Care will reach the century as a replacement having made the role of giving England zip and energy late in games his own. With 56 substitute appearances already made, no Test player has appeared more off the bench.

“Everyone always asks me if I get annoyed being on the bench and I genuinely don’t. It’s not that I prefer it, but I love it,” he said.

“I love that role because you’re on the pitch at the end. You have the ability to help your team win the game and you’re on the pitch for the final whistle. When you’re a starter as a nine, you very rarely play the 80 minutes these days.”

England and Ireland clash in round four of the Guinness Six Nations at Twickenham on Saturday, with the 142nd meeting between the rivals packed with significance and sub-plots.

Here, the PA news agency examines five talking points ahead of the match.

The real world champions?

“Let’s be clear on Ireland – right now we can all agree they are the best team in the world,” were the words Steve Borthwick used when assessing England’s round four opponents, adding his voice to a theme that has developed throughout the tournament. Former Wales captain Sam Warburton holds a similar view that has been greeted with indignation in South Africa given the Springboks retained the World Cup last autumn. It will take the rivals’ two-Test series in July to settle the debate, but for now Andy Farrell’s green machine appear invulnerable as they aim
to become the first side to win back to back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era.

Against all odds

The odds are startling – England are rated 4-1 to win with Ireland 1/5 to continue their Grand Slam march. It is hard to recall a more lopsided evaluation for a match at Twickenham and Borthwick’s men undoubtedly face a gargantuan task to rebound from their 30-21 mauling by Scotland, a game in which they made 25 handling errors and gifted 22 turnovers, and deny Ireland a fifth successive victory in the fixture. Murrayfield was the pivotal encounter for England, who must now topple the favourites and France in Lyon to avoid finishing the Six Nations with just two wins for a fourth successive year, a run that would evoke memories of the dark days of the early 1970s and mid 1980s.

Manny mania

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s inclusion on the right wing at the expense of Elliot Daly should thrill England fans even if the 21-year-old Exeter finisher has played only a handful of professional matches. Injecting genuine X-factor into the team, Feyi-Waboso has been told to go hunting for the ball in the hope his pace, strength and running lines can make a difference against the champions. But a cautionary tale can be seen in the similar trajectory of Henry Arundell, who exploded on to the scene amid a flurry of stunning tries but now plays in France and is unavailable as a result. It is a failure of England’s that they were unable to find him an ingoing role and they must ensure Feyi-Waboso’s vast talent is fully realised.

Clash of the Titans

It will be a duel to savour when young second row enforcers George Martin and Joe McCarthy go toe to toe. There is a thuggish-ness to both forwards as they look to inflict maximum damage on each side of the ball. And as they share similar stats across the board – both are 22-years-old, same height, comparable weights and experience – there is a real sense that this could be the first of many battles between the type of menacing tight five forward every team needs. Martin’s coming of age performance came against South Africa in the World Cup semi-finals, McCarthy’s against France in round one of this Six Nations. Neither will want to give an inch, the type of menacing tight five forward every team needs.

100 not out

If and when Danny Care steps off the bench at Twickenham, he will become the sixth England men’s player to reach the 100 cap milestone. The enduringly brilliant Harlequins scrum-half made his professional debut in 2003 and even at 37-years-old he is still playing the electrifying rugby that thrills audiences. One of the game’s most popular characters has done it the hard way too, long playing second fiddle to Ben Youngs and then having to resurrect his career, having been cast into Test exile after the 2018 ‘Black Hole Game’ against Japan. Not bad for a self-confessed nutritionist’s nightmare who credits a regimen of cookies and saunas for his longevity.

Scotland face Italy in their penultimate Guinness Six Nations match at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some key talking points ahead of the showdown in Rome.

History beckons for Duhan

There is every chance of Scottish history being made in Rome this weekend. Duhan Van Der Merwe moved within one of Scotland’s record try-scorer Stuart Hogg when he scored a match-defining hat-trick against England at Murrayfield last time out. A single score will be enough to take the South Africa-born wing level with Hogg on 27, but in his current form – five tries in his last three Six Nations matches – few would bet against him doing enough at the Stadio Olimpico to break the record outright. Hogg, incidentally, is set to be watching on from the stand after completing a fundraising cycle to the Italian capital in aid of the My Name’5 Doddie charity.

Scots in hunt for rare top-two finish

Scotland have not finished in the top two of the championship since winning the last staging of the Five Nations in 1999. They arrive in Rome knowing a victory will keep them on course to do so for the first time in the 21st century. Gregor Townsend’s team are currently second in the table – a point ahead of England and three above France – with two matches to play. While they still have an outside chance of pipping Ireland to the title, finishing second appears to be a more realistic target.

Chance for Scots trio to shine

There is an element of freshness to the Scotland team this weekend as Townsend has handed opportunities to three players who have been regular squad members in recent seasons but who are not accustomed to starting in the dark blue. Burgeoning Bath centre Cam Redpath makes his fourth Scotland start in place of the injured Sione Tuipulotu, Glasgow scrum-half George Horne has been handed his first start since the 2019 World Cup as Toulon’s Ben White gets the weekend off to rest, while in-form Saracens back-rower Andy Christie has finally been rewarded with first international start two years after making his debut at home to France.

Italy a sticky opponent

Italy have bounced back well from a chastening World Cup and have proved particularly testing opponents for England and France under recently-installed head coach Gonzalo Quesada. The Azzurri lost by just three points to the Red Rose on match-day one and drew away to France in their last outing, with a last-gasp penalty miss costing them what would have been a famous victory in Lille. The Italians have lost their last 13 meetings with the Scots but they gave Townsend’s team a good game at Murrayfield a year ago and have every reason to be confident of doing so again on home soil this weekend.

Full house at the Olimpico

The Stadio Olimpico regularly hosts capacity crowds for football matches, such as Thursday’s Europa League showdown between Roma and Brighton, but it is far more unusual for the iconic bowl in the north-west of the Eternal City to sell out for rugby matches. It is a sign of the relative buoyancy of both of these nations, therefore, that almost 70,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s match.

Brian O’Driscoll bade farewell to the Aviva Stadium a decade ago with a memorable last appearance in Dublin in Ireland’s Six Nations victory over Italy.

O’Driscoll’s vintage sleight of hand inspired a seven-try, 46-7 win to set up a title decider against France.

The then 35-year-old marked his world-record 140th Test cap by deftly setting up tries for Johnny Sexton and Andrew Trimble.

Chants of “one more year” rang around the ground at the final whistle, but O’Driscoll’s summer retirement was set in stone.

The outside centre, who made his Ireland Test debut in 1999, said: “I couldn’t have asked for a better close to playing at home in an Irish jersey.

“To score 46 points and only concede one try, it really made the day what it was. I’ll remember that for a very long, long time. I got emotional at the end, it was hard to take it all in.

“I think maybe when I go back and look over it again, I’ll probably get more emotional then. But it was very, very special, if a little embarrassing, but it was still great.”

O’Driscoll had a fairytale ending to his international career, with Ireland defeating France in Paris the following weekend for only the second time in 42 years to claim the Six Nations title.

He continued playing for Leinster until the end of May, with his final appearance coming in their Pro12 Grand Final victory over Glasgow Warriors.

Exeter wing and Gladiators star Jodie Ounsley has targeted a place in the England 15s squad after hanging up her super-hero outfit and changing back into a rugby kit.

The 23-year-old from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, is already an England Sevens international and has set the bar high following her exploits as Fury on the revamped BBC show.

Ounsley, who became the first deaf woman to play for a senior England rugby side in 2019, told the PA news agency ahead of International Women’s Day: “I was straight back into rugby the week after filming finished last summer, but because of my injury I’ve been out.

“Quite a lot of people thought I’d given up rugby, which is not the case at all. I’m full-time rugby and part-time Gladiator.

“I’d love to do another Gladiators series, but right now it’s all rugby for me. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’d love to be involved with the Red Roses 15s.

“I’m focused on getting back fit, hopefully getting some game-time in the Premiership with Exeter and then who knows?”

The multi-talented Ounsley is a former British jiu-jitsu champion, five-time world junior coal-carrying champion and represented Great Britain at the 2017 Deaf Olympics in the 100m and 200m sprints, aged just 16.

But after scoring a length-of-the-field try with her very first touch in her first rugby match for local club Sandal, she was hooked on the 15-a-side game and never looked back.

Ounsley was included in the England Sevens squad while at first professional club Loughborough Lightning and was snapped up by Sale Sharks in 2020 before joining her third top-flight club, Exeter Chiefs, in 2022.

“There’s so much competition in the Red Roses, especially the back three, so I’m not putting any expectation on it,” she said.

“I’m just going to work hard and let’s see what happens. First of all I just want to get back on the pitch and see where I can go with it.”

 

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Ounsley has long been blazing a trail for the deaf community and, since starring in Gladiators, her popularity has transcended to a wider audience.

She is grateful to her growing fan-base for helping her inspire the next generation of deaf athletes and change the perception of women’s rugby in general.

Ounsley, whose TikTok followers alone number over 176,000, said: “I just love showing young kids you can be a bad-ass rugby player, a bit savage, but also be a nice person and still be feminine. I like to show people that.

“I always wanted to be successful in sport, whatever that might be. But I never in a million years expected it to turn out how it did and have such a platform.

“In terms of the rugby community and kids now getting into rugby, girls playing it and having that ‘Fury mentality’ of smashing people and stuff… I love it!”

 

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Ounsley is completely deaf in both ears and wears a scrum-cap while playing rugby to protect her cochlear implant.

She is a “super-proud” honorary president of UK Deaf Sport and a patron of the Elizabeth Foundation, a charity which helps young deaf children learn to listen and talk.

“Being on Gladiators has meant so much to me, not because it’s on TV, but because we can be good role models to kids,” she said.

“We look a bit like super-heroes, so they’re perhaps more susceptible to us setting a good example, but the response has blown me away.”

As tough-tackling Exeter wing or as Fury the Gladiator, Ounsley is playing her part in the drive to raise the profile of women’s sport.

“The gap is massive, obviously, and I know there’s a long way to go,” she added.

“We’re sort of indebted to the Lionesses. They’ve taken it to another level. Women’s football is showing the support is there and women’s rugby has stepped it up over the last few years.

“Women’s sport is certainly becoming a lot more popular. More people are appreciating that there are some super-talented female athletes out there.”

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso has been ordered to go hunting for the ball when he makes his full England debut in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Ireland.

With two replacement appearances in the bank, including a try-scoring cameo against Scotland in round three, the Cardiff-born 21-year-old is considered ready to start on the right wing at the expense of veteran Elliot Daly.

One of the most exciting young talents in the Gallagher Premiership was persuaded by Steve Borthwick to opt for the Red Rose over Wales in January – less than a year after he was playing in the third tier of English rugby for struggling Taunton Titans.

 

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Now that his rapid development has accelerated with a first Test start, he has been instructed to make his pace, power and work rate count against the Grand Slam champions.

“When I watch Manny, I see his ability to come off the wing and pop up off scrum-half – as he did against Scotland – and pop up inside and outside fly-half,” Borthwick said.

“I have seen him several times pop up in the middle and do a pick and go at the ruck because he wants the ball in his hands. That is the encouragement I have for him – get that ball in his hands.

“After I told him he was starting, he was very grateful and thanked me numerous times then asked me ‘what do you want from me?’.

“I said ‘find the ball and get it in your hands’. There are some nuances, but the message was ‘I want you to get the ball in your hands as many times as possible’.”

Feyi-Waboso missed last week’s training camp in York in order to sit an exam for his medical degree at Exeter University, and Borthwick believes he has the temperament to thrive against Ireland.

“Basically we think he’s one of those people who is good at everything. We’re yet to find something he’s not good at, but we’ll keep trying,” Borthwick said.

“We certainly asked him how his exam went, he said he felt it went OK, which I took as he’d aced it. But we’ll find out in due course when he tells us his results.

“I sense he’s a guy who takes things in his stride. He’s a really calm and composed character. And given everything he’s doing in his life, and what he’s gone through so far, it’s a real strength.

“Each challenge that has been thrown towards him, he’s risen to that level and I expect he’ll do the same again on Saturday.”

Ireland boss Andy Farrell insists under-fire England remain capable of representing one of the ultimate tests in world rugby ahead of a tantalising Twickenham showdown.

Farrell’s in-form side are odds-on favourites for a fifth successive victory over their rivals to stay on course for back-to-back Guinness Six Nations Grand Slams following bonus-point wins over France, Italy and Wales.

Amid ongoing criticism of their performances, Steve Borthwick’s hosts are battling to stay in title contention after suffering a 30-21 Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland last time out.

Englishman Farrell has little interest in the negativity surrounding his native country and is preparing for “one hell of a battle” on Saturday.

“I’ve no doubt that England would have loved to have put the best performance out against Scotland and come away with the victory there,” he said.

“But I’ve no doubt now that over the last two weeks that concentrates their mind to have another chance to have a crack at us.

“You expect them to be at their best and if they’re at their best you expect them to be as hard as anyone in world rugby to beat.”

England were two minutes away from reaching the World Cup final in October but have struggled to fully convince since Borthwick succeeded Eddie Jones in December 2022.

“I don’t get involved with the criticism at all,” continued Farrell. “I don’t look at it.

“I look at the individuals the way that they’re playing, the coaching staff that they got, the plan that they’ve got, a fantastic side that is going to be preparing to give it everything they’ve got at the weekend, so that makes them unbelievably dangerous.

“We just prepare for them to be at their best and if that’s the case it’s going to be one hell of a battle.”

Ireland twice lost to Jones’ England in 2020 – the first year of Farrell’s reign – but have since dominated the fixture, including clinching last year’s championship clean sweep with a 29-16 success in Dublin.

Extending the winning streak could see the visitors retain their crown with a fixture to spare.

While Farrell was not entirely satisfied with his side’s performances in their last two Six Nations wins over the Red Rose, he refused to rule out another fragmented affair this weekend.

“I’m not Mystic Meg, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he replied, when asked if he was confident of avoiding a repeat of the disjointed displays.

“You take every game on it’s own course really and judge it and England did very well at slowing us down last year.

“There were a lot of stoppages within the game and it wasn’t just errors, the game was slow.

“Whether that’s a tactic of theirs or not, I don’t know, but we’ll have to expect more of the same I would have thought.”

Farrell won eight England caps during his playing days and later served his country as a coach under Stuart Lancaster before being let go by Jones following a dismal home World Cup in 2015.

The former dual-code international dismissed any notion of sentiment as he prepares for his latest Twickenham return.

“It’s no different to any other game,” said Farrell, who has recalled fit-again full-back Hugo Keenan in place of Ciaran Frawley in the only change to his starting XV.

“We, and certainly I, concentrate on the week ahead and this game is no more important than the first game in Marseille or no more important than the Italy game or the Wales game at home.

“It’s another chance for us to go out there and show the best of ourselves, albeit a tough old task.

“Everyone knows it’s a tough place to go and get a victory. But that’s the challenge in front of us every week.”

Will Rowlands says Wales will relish “going toe-to-toe” with a juggernaut France pack in Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash.

France have dropped way off last year’s standards, losing comprehensively at home to title favourites Ireland before scraping a draw with Italy after narrowly beating Scotland.

And while Les Bleus have claimed four successive Six Nations victories over Wales, no-one knows if they will suddenly find top gear in Cardiff this weekend or continue to struggle.

Their forwards will look to dominate, and Rowlands knows what is coming after linking up with French Top 14 club Racing 92 following the World Cup.

“They have got a big team, but I think you’ve seen in the last few years that French rugby is about much more than just a physical threat,” Wales lock Rowlands said.

“I think the physical side of it is something I think we will be looking forward to going toe-to-toe with. We’ve got a big team up-front, so bring it on.

“Rugby is much easier if you can get some go-forward. It’s a self-fulfilling circle.

“It is something we are working on. We are trying to bring our best game to allow us to have physically-dominant moments.

“They are a team rammed full of quality, and I see that in the league. If they get it right, there is no reason why we won’t see a French performance like we have seen in the last six months this weekend.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made changes to the pack, with Rowlands handed a first start of the tournament after being on the bench for defeats against England and Ireland.

Elsewhere, captain Dafydd Jenkins moves from second-row to blindside flanker – a position he has never filled for club or country – and hooker Ryan Elias returns instead of Elliot Dee.

France are expected to show wholesale switches, with absentees including suspended centre Jonathan Danty and injured fly-half Matthieu Jalibert, but fit-again skipper Gregory Alldritt is back.

Rowlands is set to face some familiar faces from the French domestic game, and he added: “Playing club rugby there is an absolute joy.

“One of the things I have to say that has been really enjoyable for me to experience is how much passion there is for rugby in France.

“Wherever you go, the people are mad for it, and I think that is reflected when you see how much it means to the players when they play for their clubs and country.

“Everyone talks about the bit of a myth, which is the glitz and glamour of the ‘Racing Galacticos’, but I don’t think that is really the case.

“There are some really high-profile players, but there are also a lot of local French young guys who have a lot of talent. It is an exciting place to be.

“From a rugby point of view, I feel like playing in the French league for Racing has meant I’ve already had to develop parts of my game.

“I think going forward it will make me a much better player.”

England have taken steps to relieve the pressure on their under-performing stars with Steve Borthwick admitting his players are feeling the weight of the jersey.

An Ireland side pursuing consecutive Grand Slam titles – a feat never achieved in the Guinness Six Nations era – are overwhelming favourites to prevail when the rivals clash at Twickenham on Saturday.

England, meanwhile, have been forced to regroup after a nine-point mauling by Scotland in round three that has left them facing another deflating Championship.

Borthwick has freshened up his side after the Edinburgh collapse, giving starts to wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, scrum-half Alex Mitchell and lock George Martin, while Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt are new faces on the bench.

England’s head coach stressed the importance of continuity in selection, but also revealed that his biggest task since Duhan van der Merwe ran riot at Murrayfield has been psychological.

“We know that against Scotland there were errors,” said Borthwick, in reference to the 22 turnovers and 25 handling errors conceded by his side.

“It’s probably the first time in a while I’d seen the weight of the shirt feels heavy on the players. We’ve worked around that and to develop that.

“We try to make an environment where the players enjoy it, where we know mistakes are going to be made, but still continue to do the right things.

“I back the players. Yes we made errors. We’re disappointed in the performance and we’re disappointed in the result.

“I’ve made some of changes to the team but I believe in these players. I sense a determination in them to put in a performance this weekend and there has been ever since the end of that Scotland game.”

England have managed only two wins in each of their last three Six Nations and with Ireland next up – Borthwick described them as the best team in the world – followed by France in Lyon, they could endure the same outcome in 2024.

Captain Jamie George admitted they “tightened up” against Scotland but has told his players not to retreat into their shells.

“The main focus for us the last couple of weeks in particular has been around making sure that we can be ourselves, making sure that it is still okay to make mistakes but that we’re going to learn very quickly from those,” George said.

Feyi-Waboso’s inclusion on the right wing at the expense of Elliot Daly is an audacious selection for a player whose two caps against Italy and Scotland total 20 minutes as a replacement.

But the 21-year-old Exeter Chief made an impact at Murrayfield, including running in a try, and is picked less than a year after playing for Taunton Titans in National League One.

“Manny’s ready – he’s more than ready. You’ve seen that in the time he’s had on the field so far in the Six Nations,” George said.

“He’s an incredible talent, but the maturity we’ve seen from Manny is something that’s impressed me a lot.

“His willingness to learn, he’s eager, you’re constantly having to pull him back, but he’s so excited for this opportunity, you can see that, and that energy is infectious throughout the team.”

Danny Care will win his 100th cap off the bench to become the sixth England men’s player to reach the milestone.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso will make his first start for England in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Ireland at Twickenham.

In an audacious selection by head coach Steve Borthwick, Feyi-Waboso will line-up on the right wing less than a year after playing for National League One side Taunton Titans.

The 21-year-old made his debut off the bench against Italy at the start of the tournament and also came on as a replacement for the round three defeat by Scotland, both appearances totalling 20 minutes.

Apart from scoring a try in his cameo at Murrayfield, the Exeter Chief showed significant promise and is chosen ahead of 67-cap veteran Elliot Daly, who is given the number 23 jersey instead.

Borthwick has made three changes in personnel and one positional switch following the 30-21 mauling in Edinburgh, but there is still no place for Freddie Steward at full-back with George Furbank continuing at 15.

Ireland have recalled “world-class” Hugo Keenan for Saturday’s clash with England but will be without lock James Ryan for the remainder of the Guinness Six Nations.

Fit-again full-back Keenan replaces Ciaran Frawley in the only change to Andy Farrell’s starting XV after overcoming the knee issue which caused him to miss the 31-7 round-three win over Wales.

Lock Ryan, who has been reduced to a peripheral role during the championship, suffered a “freak” bicep injury in training on Wednesday and will sit out the trip to Twickenham, in addition to next week’s finale against Scotland.

“I think it would be a boost for any side in world rugby,” head coach Farrell said of the return of Keenan.

“He’s a world-class full-back.

“It’s testament to him and it’s no shock to us that he’s been able to get himself back to this position to be involved this weekend as he’s been unbelievably diligent over the last few weeks to make that happen.”

Ulster second row Iain Henderson has recovered from a dislocated toe to take Ryan’s place on a bench which once again includes a six-two split of forwards and backs.

Ryan was strong contender to succeed Johnny Sexton as Ireland captain following the World Cup but the emergence of Leinster team-mate Joe McCarthy has limited him to just one start during this year’s tournament.

“He got injured yesterday in training, just a freak accident really, just a reaction, reaching out for a tackle that was non-contact and he’s injured his bicep,” Farrell said of Ryan.

“He won’t be available for the remainder of this Six Nations.”

Prop Finlay Bealham and the versatile Frawley join Henderson among the replacements, with Oli Jager, who has a knee problem, and centre Stuart McCloskey dropping out of the match-day 23.

Garry Ringrose is fit following a shoulder injury but must wait for his first international appearance since the World Cup due to the impressive form of midfield pair Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki.

Reigning champions Ireland, who are chasing successive Grand Slams on the back of bonus-point wins over France, Italy and Wales, could retain their title with a game to spare with victory in south-west London.

Steve Borthwick’s hosts were two minutes away from reaching the World Cup final in October but have attracted criticism for some underwhelming performances.

Englishman Farrell is braced for “one hell of a battle” against “unbelievably dangerous” opponents seeking to respond to Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland.

“I don’t get involved with the criticism at all,” he said of England.

“I look at the individuals the way that they’re playing, the coaching staff that they got, the plan that they’ve got, a fantastic side that is going to be preparing to give it everything they’ve got at the weekend.

“That makes them unbelievably dangerous, we just prepare for them to be at their best and if that’s the case it’s going to be one hell of a battle.

“If they’re at their best, you expect them to be as hard as anyone in world rugby to beat.”

Ireland team: H Keenan (Leinster); C Nash (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Lowe (Leinster); J Crowley (Munster), J Gibson-Park (Leinster); A Porter (Leinster), D Sheehan (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster), J McCarthy (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster, capt), J van der Flier (Leinster), C Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: R Kelleher (Leinster), C Healy (Leinster), F Bealham (Connacht), I Henderson (Ulster), R Baird (Leinster), J Conan (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), C Frawley (Leinster).

Gregor Townsend is desperate to see Scotland hit their maximum performance levels over the next two weekends as they bid to secure a first top-two finish in the Six Nations era.

The Scots are second in the championship table – a point ahead of England and three above France – as they prepare for matches away to Italy this Saturday and Grand Slam-chasing Ireland the following week.

Townsend has seen his team defeat Wales and England while going agonisingly close to defeating the French, but he still feels they are yet to hit top gear for any sustained period.

“Happy-ish,” he said, reflecting on the campaign so far. “You’ve obviously got to be delighted for the team to beat England and retain the Calcutta Cup.

“But in terms of performance, we’re a little bit away from what we know we can deliver. The first 45 minutes against Wales is probably still the best we’ve played.

“We had elements of control throughout much of the France game and for the last 60 minutes of the England game. But there’s still a lot more to come from us.

“We’re delighted with how the guys trained yesterday, a real physical session. The non-23 trained really well and really tested us. So the guys are in a good position to deliver their best performances over the next two weeks. That’s all we’re working towards.”

Scotland know that even if they win in Rome on Saturday, it may not be enough to stop Ireland securing the championship against England later in the day. If the Irish slip up at Twickenham, it could pave the way for a last weekend title shootout between Ireland and Scotland in Dublin.

“We can only do what we have to do this weekend which is deliver a winning performance and see where we are after that,” said Townsend.

“We’re the first game so I’m sure we’ll be watching the other game with interest.

“We’re into the last two rounds of the championship still in the mix, although it’s an outside chance for the championship. There’s a lot to play for this weekend and again in Dublin.”

Asked if a second-place finish would represent a good outcome for the Scots, who have never finished higher than third this century, Townsend, said: “I don’t know. Anything to build on what we’ve done in the last few years would be an improvement.

“We’re focused on the performance and we know that at times it’s been better since the World Cup and last year’s Six Nations but still not where we believe this team can be.”

Townsend has made three changes to his team for the match in the Stadio Olimpico.

Regular scrum-half Ben White has been rested following a busy schedule with Toulon, paving the way for Glasgow’s George Horne to make his first start since the 2019 World Cup and the experienced Ali Price – who has played no part in the championship so far – is promoted to the bench.

In-form Saracens back-rower Andy Christie replaces Jamie Ritchie, who drops to the bench, while Bath’s Cam Redpath takes the place of influential Glasgow centre Sione Tuipulotu, who is out for the remainder of the tournament with a knee injury.

“We feel Ben has played a lot of rugby, he’s only missed one game since October,” said Townsend, explaining the changes at scrum-half.

“Going back and forward to Toulon during this period, something’s got to give in terms of a rest at some point, and we feel this week is the best week for him to recharge.

“And also with the form and experience of the two other scrum-halves in our squad who have been training really well. George has been on the bench and Ali has been excellent during this period so we want to give those two an opportunity.”

Scrum-half George Horne has been handed a surprise start for Scotland’s Guinness Six Nations showdown with Italy in Rome on Saturday, with Gregor Townsend making three changes to his starting XV.

The 28-year-old Glasgow back has been given the nod to wear the number nine jersey for the first time since the 2019 World Cup. Regular starter Ben White is rested and drops out of the squad altogether, with Ali Price – who has played no part in the tournament – promoted to the bench.

Saracens flanker Andy Christie is handed his first international start in place of Jamie Ritchie, who is among the substitutes.

Bath centre Cam Redpath made a positive impact off the bench in the 30-21 victory over England and replaces Glasgow’s Sione Tuipulotu, who will miss the remainder of the championship with a knee injury.

Back-rower Matt Fagerson, who dropped out of the 23 altogether for the last match, returns to the bench, with Townsend switching from a 5/3 split to a 6/2.

The Scots are currently second in the table and need a win to keep alive their slim championship hopes.

Sam Underhill is savouring his England revival having feared his international career might already be over.

Underhill is poised to win his 34th cap in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Ireland at Twickenham after returning to favour under Steve Borthwick – a comeback he views as a personal triumph.

Still only 27, the big-hitting Bath flanker missed 20 successive Tests from the second match of the 2022 tour to Australia because of a combination of concussion and selection.

But a sliding doors moment arrived when Jack Willis sustained a neck injury in last autumn’s World Cup and Underhill was propelled straight into the back row for the bronze final against Argentina.

A defensive masterclass consisting of 24 tackles resulted in the man of the match award and now that he has played four consecutive Tests, he grants himself a moment of recognition.

“It’s been class. All I wanted to do was to get back into this team and, if I’m perfectly honest, I was doubtful that that would happen,” Underhill said.

“This is the first time I’ve done a full campaign with Steve, under him as a coach. I played in the Aussie tour and then didn’t I play again until the third-fourth play-off, which was 18 months.

“My aim personally was to get back here. Now that I am, as a player you’re constantly looking for challenges, or things to go wrong or not be going that well.

“Whereas actually now, I am where I want to be and while I want to keep on improving, I have taken a moment to say to myself, ‘hey, you’re doing it, well done’.

 

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“I’m not just content to be here, I want to win with this team and help and perform as well as I can for them. It’s been class.”

Underhill’s standing among his team-mates was evident in July when Ben Earl spoke of the “shock” that rippled through the squad when the destructive openside was dropped early in the build-up to the World Cup.

As one of half of Eddie Jones’ ‘Kamikaze Kids’ who lit up Japan 2019, he was expected to travel to France having proven he can thrive on the greatest stage of all.

Instead, he was consigned to playing in the Premiership Rugby Cup for Bath in what was a test of his ability to rationalise the vagaries of selection.

“It would be remiss of me, and certainly any player, to think that they have to be in any team,” Underhill said.

“I respect the other players too much to say ‘I should be there’. A decision’s going to have to be made at some point, someone’s going to miss out.

“But someone missing out doesn’t mean they are a bad player. You’re not a better player for being picked than not being picked, or for getting a contract or not getting a contract. That’s the hard thing to get your head around sometimes.

“A lot of people talk about being process-driven but that’s easier said than done. When you aren’t picked, the ability to think that this isn’t actually a reflection of where I am, is important but tough.

“You’re allowed to be disappointed if you’re not selected, you’re allowed to be upset. What isn’t great for you is if you then let that affect your behaviour and let that affect your actions that come afterwards.”

Borthwick names his team to face Ireland at lunchtime on Thursday with England looking to bounce back after a comprehensive defeat to Scotland in round three.

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