Gregor Townsend feared another dramatic Cardiff collapse would cost Scotland their first win over Wales at the Principality Stadium for 22 years.

Head coach Townsend was an assistant to Andy Robinson in 2010 when Wales scored 17 points in the final few minutes in Cardiff to incredibly turn a 14-24 deficit in to a 31-24 victory.

But this time Scotland – who were 27-0 ahead a few minutes into the second half – withstood a Welsh onslaught to win 27-26 and get their Guinness Six Nations campaign off to a positive start.

“It was a bit like 2010 and it went into my thoughts as the second half went on,” said Townsend after Scotland had ended a run of 11 straight defeats in Cardiff stretching back to 2002.

“I remember the atmosphere that day when Wales had the momentum behind them and came back on the scoreboard.

“The same happened today, fortunately we stayed ahead and we were able to play well in the final five minutes.

“A lot of effort went into that last five minutes – we should have scored a try and we felt there were a couple of penalties that could have gone our way in the last passage – but it was past 80 minutes and we got the win.”

Wing Duhan Van Der Merwe scored two tries and prop Pierre Schoeman also touched down, while skipper Finn Russell was flawless with the boot in landing 12 points.

After Van Der Merwe sliced through for a stunning second try just after the restart, Scotland were on course to eclipse last year’s record win over Wales.

But that was not to be and Townsend was grateful to see Scotland hang on while cursing significant injuries to forwards Richie Gray and Luke Crosbie.

“Both are in a lot of pain,” Townsend said. “Richie and the medics knew straight away it was a bicep injury. So that doesn’t look good for this Championship.

“Luke was a shoulder injury. It’s a painful one and that might settle.

“Not for next week (against France at Murrayfield), but let’s hope he’s not done any significant damage there. It’s a blow to lose two players from our starting team.”

On the nail-biting victory, Townsend added: “We were accurate and put Wales under pressure in the first half.

“Those two tries were really good reward and to have that cushion should have made it a more comfortable second half.

“The fact that it didn’t is a concern for us, but a lot of that was due to the penalty count (16 to four against Scotland) and the numerical advantage Wales had for 20 minutes.”

Wales made the most of second-half yellow cards for George Turner and Sione Tuipulotu to turn the contest on its head.

James Botham, Rio Dyer, Aaron Wainwright and debutant Alex Mann crossed, with Ioan Lloyd kicking three conversions, as Wales secured two losing bonus points.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland, whose young side head to Twickenham next Saturday to play England, said: Did we give Scotland too much respect in that first half?

“They were fully loaded and we’re a young team. To do what we did, be 27-0 down, other teams might have shown less character and start thinking about next week, even throw in the towel.

“We didn’t do that. They kept fighting and put themselves in a position to win. That showed real character and we’ve just got to play like we did in the second half.

“You can’t coach experience. When you’re out there in front of 75,000 people making that much noise and the pace is quicker than club rugby, sometimes that takes time for players to get used to.

“We’ll need a little bit of leeway, but it’s still Test rugby and it’s about winning. That’s what we’ve got to focus on.”

Scotland ended 22 years of hurt in Cardiff after they thwarted a spectacular Wales fightback to win an extraordinary Guinness Six Nations clash 27-26.

It was Scotland’s first win in the Welsh capital since 2002 – ending a run of 11 successive defeats – to set up a mouth-watering Murrayfield encounter against France next Saturday.

But Wales made them fight every inch of the way after the Scots had breezed into a 27-point lead after 42 minutes, with wing Duhan van der Merwe scoring two tries including a virtuoso long-range effort while prop Pierre Schoeman also touched down.

Captain Finn Russell kicked three conversions and two penalties, but it only told half the story.

Flanker James Botham’s try sparked the Welsh recovery then he was followed over the line by Rio Dyer, Aaron Wainwright and debutant Alex Mann, with Ioan Lloyd kicking three conversions.

Scotland found themselves on the rack after hooker George Turner and centre Sione Tuipulotu were sin-binned during the second period, yet they successfully closed the game out and left Wales wondering what might have been.

Both teams started brightly under the stadium’s closed roof and Scotland struck first when Russell kicked an angled 20-metre penalty, before quick lineout ball gave Tuipulotu a chance that Wales managed to defend.

Wales, though, could not stop wave after wave of attacks that led to the game’s opening try after 11 minutes.

Russell created initial space and after a strong run by wing Kyle Steyn, Scotland’s forwards took over and Schoeman crossed from close range. Russell’s conversion made it 10-0.

Scotland enjoyed scrum and lineout dominance and they controlled the opening quarter, even if Wales established promising attacking positions at times.

Russell extended Scotland’s lead with a second penalty – Wales wing Josh Adams was punished for throwing the ball away and denying Scotland a quick lineout throw – and alarm bells were beginning to ring for Gatland’s team.

Inevitably, Russell was at the heart of everything good about Scotland’s magic and he weaved his magic to devastating effect 10 minutes before half-time.

Scotland set up a strong position inside Wales’ 22 and the rest was all about Russell, who ghosted into space, threw a half-dummy pass, then delivered a try on a plate for Van der Merwe.

There appeared no way back for Wales, with their problems showing no sign of abating as fly-half Sam Costelow went off for a head injury assessment as Scotland led 20-0 at the interval.

It got even worse for Wales just two minutes into the second period when Van der Merwe carved them open from deep to claim a blistering solo touchdown, and Russell’s conversion put further daylight between the teams.

Costelow failed his HIA and Gatland made three half-time changes, sending on scrum-half Tomos Williams, hooker Elliot Dee and prop Keiron Assiratti, and Wales opened their account when Botham crashed over.

Turner was sin-binned for an offence in the build-up to Botham’s try and Wales struck again, this time through Dyer, with Lloyd’s conversion cutting the gap suddenly and unexpectedly to 15 points.

It was panic stations for Scotland when Tuipulotu went into the sin bin and Wales punished them immediately as Wainwright touched down for a third try in 13 minutes, with Lloyd converting.

The capacity crowd could scarcely believe what they were witnessing, but it was Williams’s influence off the bench that proved key as he injected pace and purpose into Wales’ game.

And when Mann claimed a 68th-minute try, again converted by Lloyd, the improbable dream edged closer, with Scotland looking bewildered and devoid of answers.

But they somehow held out, Wales left with the consolation of two losing bonus points.

Jamie George is convinced England can win the Guinness Six Nations but accepts they must learn fast after edging Italy 27-24 in Rome.

England were outscored 3-2 on the try count and were outplayed in the first half, which they finished 17-14 behind, but they rallied with an important Alex Mitchell try and two penalties from George Ford.

It was the closest Italy had come to beating them in 31 Tests between the rivals and even allowing for the five new caps in Red Rose ranks, it was a shaky start to post-World Cup rebuilding.

While England were labouring to victory at the Stadio Olimpico, Ireland looked sensational in a crushing win over France in Marseille the previous evening.

When asked is there is enough quality in the team to challenge Ireland, George said: “Absolutely. I don’t want anyone to be involved in this squad if they don’t genuinely believe we can go and challenge the best and win this tournament.

“Looking at Ireland, they were very impressive. Not many teams go to France and perform like that. It’s a blueprint for us, and any team, to look at how they approached that game.

“For us, we’re going to be learning fast and we need to make sure we learn our lessons, being very clear about what we want to go after this game.

“We’ve got a great opportunity to be back in front of our fans against Wales next weekend and really give them something to smile about.”

England have a new defence coach in Felix Jones and at times they were exposed by an inspired Italy, who took advantage of the lack of familiarity with the new system to engineer three tries.

“I’m very pleased the players found a way to change and win the game,” head coach Steve Borthwick said.

“There were areas we improved upon and it was brilliant to see five players making their debuts in the Six Nations, which doesn’t happen very often.

“But having said that there were plenty of areas we need to be better. Italy scored too easily and we need to look very closely at things that need to be improved around our defence.

Italy head coach Gonzalo Quesada took little comfort from knowing that it was the closest the Azzurri had come to beating England in 31 attempts.

“When I spoke to the players and coaches in the changing room, no one was happy with this narrow defeat,” Quesada said.

“That’s something that’s very important for me because I didn’t care to look at the closest gap in history.

“I’m proud of the spirit showed by the team. England were close to our tryline many times but we kept them out, which is the team we want to be.”

England survived a scare at the Stadio Olimpico to launch their post-World Cup rebuild with a 27-24 victory over Italy in their Guinness Six Nations opener.

For only the third time in the history of a rivalry spanning 31 Tests, inspired Italy led at the interval, but their 17-13 advantage was methodically picked apart by Steve Borthwick’s men.

Tommy Freeman proved England’s most effective weapon in attack, the Northampton wing roaming the pitch in search of impactful moments, but it was Elliot Daly and Alex Mitchell who finished the tries.

As promised by new captain Jamie George, the favourites played with greater freedom and there was less kicking than in the first year of Borthwick’s reign, at least until the focus switched to grinding Italy down in the final half-hour.

But overall the more exciting rugby was played by the Azzurri, who showed ingenuity and ambition in their pursuit of a maiden victory against their rivals and their second try scored by Tommaso Allan was a beauty.

New caps Ethan Roots, Fraser Dingwall, Fin Smith, Chandler Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso brought a freshness to England, who ended their four-year stretch of beginning the Six Nations with a defeat, but the initial outlook was far less rosy.

They lost replacement prop Ellis Genge to a foot injury shortly before kick-off and that was only the start of their problems as early enterprise from Italy engineered a try for Alessandro Garbisi.

It rewarded their brighter start and came when Lorenzo Cannone was sent through a gap, with Garbisi able to scoop up the offload.

With Allan and George Ford exchanging penalties the score read 10-3, but the deficit provided the jolt England needed as Freeman glided into space and delivered the scoring pass to Daly.

The try had been coming but it was quickly overshadowed by a stunning riposte from Italy, whose precise passing and clever running off set-piece ball was executed beautifully for Allan to score.

Two penalties by Ford kept England snapping at the Azzurri’s heels at half-time and they needed to regroup quickly, particularly in defence, to spare themselves an unwanted slice of history.

Reassurance came when Mitchell jinked and spun his way over the whitewash in the 45th minute and for the first time the visitors led.

Italy’s play now lacked its earlier precision and they were pinned deep in their own half as England tightened the screw with Ford landing successive penalties to propel them 10 points ahead.

Handling errors cost the Azzurri time and again and their line-out continued to malfunction in an exasperating period for the hosts that also saw Allan miss an important penalty.

Daly was sent to the sin-bin for a trip as Italy hunted the try that would haul them back into contention, but they were unable to produce any more magic as the upset slipped from their fingertips despite a last-gasp Monty Ioane touch down.

Ireland lock Joe McCarthy admitted he battled nerves and fears of being over-hyped ahead of his eye-catching Guinness Six Nations debut in Friday evening’s crushing demolition of France.

The towering 22-year-old was selected ahead of James Ryan and Iain Henderson in Marseille and justified the faith of Andy Farrell with a man-of-the-match display in a record-breaking 38-17 win.

His powerful performance alongside second-row partner Tadhg Beirne helped silence a stunned Stade Velodrome crowd en route to Ireland’s biggest victory away to the pre-tournament favourites.

“There was obviously a lot of distraction, the atmosphere is crazy, it’s hard to hear yourself think in these games,” said McCarthy, who won his sixth Test cap.

“I was quite nervous in the week because it was a big opportunity, playing my first Six Nations game.

“I just kept going back to the process and (had) loads of great second rows giving me help in the camp.

“The place was rocking. Again, you’re trying not to get over-hyped, because I’ve definitely had games before where you’re too fired up and you might start off a bit off.

“I was trying to chill as much as I could and keep the heart rate down.


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“I kind of like playing aggressively and flying around the place. I just need to keep looking forward, there’s plenty more to do.”

McCarthy’s only previous international starts came in a Rugby World Cup warm-up victory against Italy and a routine success over minnows Romania at last autumn’s tournament in France.

The youngest member of Farrell’s 34-man Six Nations squad gained further attention following his impressive outing against Les Bleus after presenting his man-of-the-match medal to his elder brother Andrew.

“It was hard to miss him there, he was looking like a leprechaun in the crowd – a big Irish blazer,” he said.

“It was good to see the family after the game, it was special.”

Tadhg Beirne says Ireland are brimming with “massive belief” after launching their Guinness Six Nations title defence with a landmark demolition of pre-tournament favourites France.

Andy Farrell’s reigning Grand Slam champions made a statement of intent in Marseille with a stunning 38-17 bonus-point win to propel themselves into pole position for further championship glory.

Ireland were a class above at Stade Velodrome, albeit their cause was aided by a first-half red card for France second-row Paul Willemse.

Munster lock Beirne, who claimed the second of five Irish tries en route to his country’s biggest victory away to Les Bleus, said the performance was a “special feeling”.

“You can’t really expect to beat France by a score like that,” he said.

“You always think it’s going to be a tight game and maybe if there wasn’t a red card it might have been a bit tighter but who knows?

“We also knew that with our ability and the way we play that we were going to be able to take it to this French team.

“Within this group, there’s a massive belief. It’s such an enjoyable group to be with and such an enjoyable group to play with; the way we play we all love it.

“Everyone’s involved and I felt from the get-go that we were just on it.

“It’s a special feeling when you’re in a game and everyone is doing their job right and everything is flowing.”

Both sides went into a mouth-watering tournament curtain-raiser on the back of agonising World Cup quarter-finals exits.

Jamison Gibson-Park, Six Nations debutant Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher were also on the scoresheet on Friday evening to ensure Farrell’s men bounced back from their last-eight World Cup exit to New Zealand.

Man of the match went to 22-year-old Leinster lock Joe McCarthy, who more than justified his selection ahead of James Ryan and Iain Henderson by producing a colossal display on his first appearance in the championship.

Beirne believes there is plenty more to come from his second-row partner, affectionately dubbed ‘Big Joe’.

“Well, he certainly was Big Joe out there,” said Beirne.

“He was physical, he did exactly what everyone was hoping that he would do and everything that we expected him to do. He does it in training, he’s so athletic and credit to him.

“What a first start in the Six Nations for Joe. There’s a lot more to come from him for sure.”

Ireland move on to a second-round clash at home to Italy after beginning the post Johnny Sexton era with a bang.

Fly-half Jack Crowley filled the void left by Sexton’s retirement, overcoming some errors to nail each of his five conversions and add a penalty.

Back-row forward Caelan Doris praised the impact of Test rookies Crowley, Nash and McCarthy.

“Momentum’s big in the Six Nations, we know that from previous years and it’s a pretty tough start coming over here,” he said.

“It’s a bit of a cauldron here, the French supporters are like no others in terms of volume – apart from the Irish, of course.

“We were aware of what we were coming into and it was just about playing our game.

“Obviously we’ve lost key figures, like Johnny, over the last number of months but other guys stepped up and it was a great night.

“It was class to see the likes of Joe and Jack step up massively and put in great performances.”

Andy Farrell hailed Ireland’s ruthlessness and composure after their Guinness Six Nations title defence was launched with a record-breaking five-try demolition of 14-man France.

The reigning Grand Slam champions propelled themselves into pole position for further championship glory by dismantling the ragged pre-tournament favourites 38-17 in Marseille.

Ireland’s bonus-point success, secured by tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, plus 13 points from Jack Crowley, was their largest winning margin away to France.

Les Bleus’ quest for victory at a largely subdued Stade Velodrome was damaged by the 32nd-minute dismissal of lock Paul Willemse.

“We’d take any type of win here in Marseille to kick off the Six Nations but the more the game was going on, the more you saw a performance building,” said head coach Farrell.

“I thought we got exactly what we deserved in the end.

“Our composure, it wasn’t all singing all dancing and the French side was always going to pose questions and the crowd was always going to get behind them.

“But we managed to silence them quite a lot through good composure.

“The main thing for me would be our ability to stay on it for the full 80 minutes and keep attacking the game.

“When you’re playing against 14 men for a long period, sometimes subconsciously you tend to shut up shop a little bit more,

“I thought our intent was pretty good and we were pretty ruthless when we needed to be, then obviously on top of that I thought our line-out in attack and defence was outstanding.”

Both sides came into a mouth-watering tournament curtain-raiser on the back of agonising World Cup quarter-finals exits.

Ireland began in the ascendancy but received a helping hand from the indiscipline of Willemse, who was sent off in the 32nd minute following a high hit on Caelan Doris having previously been sin-binned for a similar challenge on Andrew Porter.

Scores either side of half-time from Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues and seven points from the boot of Thomas Ramos gave the hosts hope but Farrell’s men were a class above.

New Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony, who spent a spell in the sin bin in the aftermath of Gabrillagues’ try for bringing down the maul, said: “I don’t think it gets any better really.

“With the stress of the last couple of days I’d have given the whole lot up for a win tonight.

“Away from home, first game up, Friday night, Marseille, the Velodrome, I’d have been a happy man packing the whole lot in tomorrow morning if you’d given me the chance to take a win.

“It’s the biggest margin that we’ve beaten France by.

“I remember as a young fella watching Irish teams and you’d be hoping that they’d hang on in there, whereas it’s a different animal now.”

France were often rudderless in the absence of star man Antoine Dupont, who is sitting out this year’s championship to focus on his country’s sevens squad for the Paris Olympics.

Les Bleus head coach Fabien Galthie said: “It’s clear that the attack game wasn’t really up to scratch, we dropped the ball, had less speed. We need to up our game in attack and defence.

“The important thing is we pick ourselves up and assume that defeat.”

Asked about Willemse’s indiscretions, Galthie replied: “I’m not going to speak about the future of this great player who was doing all he could to defend for the French team.

“They were technical errors, we know the referees don’t give any ground when the head is involved and that is quite right.”

Ireland ruthlessly capitalised on the absence of Antonie Dupont to launch their Guinness Six Nations title defence with a stunning 38-17 bonus-point demolition of 14-man France.

Both sides came into a mouth-watering tournament curtain-raiser in Marseille on the back of agonising World Cup quarter-finals exits.

Tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Beirne, Calvin Nash, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher ensured it was the reigning Grand Slam champions who stylishly bounced back at the first attempt to propel themselves into pole position for further championship glory.

France’s quest for victory at a largely subdued Stade Velodrome was damaged by the indiscipline of lock Paul Willemse, who was sent off in the 32nd minute following a high hit on Caelan Doris having previously been sin-binned for a similar challenge on Andrew Porter.

Scores from Damian Penaud and Paul Gabrillagues and seven points from the boot of Thomas Ramos gave the pre-tournament favourites hope.

But Ireland, aided by 13 points from Jack Crowley on his first Six Nations start, deservedly romped to another statement victory of the Andy Farrell era.

The two teams came into a blockbuster showdown seeking to ease disappointment at falling short in their efforts to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in the autumn and having each lost influential captains.

Dupont’s temporary unavailability, as he focuses on his country’s sevens squad for this year’s Paris Olympics, afforded a start to scrum-half Maxime Lucu, while Crowley was given a chance to stake his claim as long-term fly-half successor to the retired Johnny Sexton.

Farrell’s men began in the ascendancy and led through an early Crowley penalty before Willemse was ordered off for ploughing into prop Porter.

A relieved Willemse had just learnt his yellow card would not be upgraded to red on review when Gibson-Park latched on to a fine Bundee Aki offload to ensure Ireland capitalised on their temporary numerical advantage.

Three points from France full-back Ramos’ penalty briefly improved the mood in the stands before Beirne collected Crowley’s pass to easily beat Jonathan Danty and dive over under the posts at the end of sustained Irish pressure.

Willemse’s reprieve proved only to be fleeting as he was dismissed eight minutes before the break following another dangerous challenge, this time on Doris.

Ireland were in complete control but head coach Farrell would have been frustrated to only hold a 17-10 half-time lead after Penaud, who moments early was repelled by a superb Hugo Keenan tackle, produced a spectacular finish to Matthieu Jalibert’s pass.

The visitors set aside the setback to restore their 14-point advantage six minutes after the restart as Munster wing Nash marked his first Test start with a memorable maiden try after being freed by Doris.

Deprived of Dupont, France were largely rudderless in attack.

But Fabien Galthie’s side again cut the deficit when Gabrillagues’ score was awarded following a lengthy review, an incident compounded from an Irish perspective by new captain Peter O’Mahony being sin-binned for bringing down the maul.

Ireland once more earned breathing space 18 minutes from time when Sheehan peeled off a rolling maul to finish his own line-out.

The staggeringly-simple score secured a merited bonus point for the dominant visitors and proved to be the fatal blow to French resistance.

Yet there was more punishment to come for the ragged hosts as replacement hooker Kelleher bulldozed over to cap a fine Ireland performance and ramp up pressure on Les Bleus head coach Galthie.

Owen Watkin will complete an impressive recovery from World Cup reject to Six Nations starter when Wales tackle Scotland on Saturday.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland selected seven centres as part of an expanded training squad in May last year for the World Cup – but Watkin was not among them.

George North, Mason Grady, Nick Tompkins, Joe Roberts, Johnny Williams, Max Llewellyn and Keiran Williams were Gatland’s preferred options, with 27-year-old Watkin left in the wilderness.

“Being left out of the training squad was really heartbreaking and massively disappointing for me,” he said.

“But I think setbacks like that can motivate you even more. I didn’t let it get the better of me.

“I knew I had to put more work in, stay injury-free and just create that momentum. I feel confident at the minute, I feel like my game is going well.

“I am probably being a bit braver with things I am trying, I am probably not just going through the motions.

“I am enjoying my rugby at the Ospreys, we are scoring some nice tries and winning some really tough games. I want to bring that momentum from there and try and implement it with Wales.”

While Watkin has won 36 caps and is the sixth-most experienced player in Wales’ starting line-up this weekend, it is his first Test appearance since an ignominious home defeat against Georgia during the 2022 autumn Tests.

“Obviously, you don’t want to go out on a loss,” Watkin added. “I did have that fear of ‘what if it was my last game for Wales’.

“I think I’ve put the work in and I do deserve to be back and I am focusing on the Scotland game. The Georgia game is behind me – I don’t even think about that now.”

Watkin will forge Wales’ midfield partnership with Nick Tompkins, offering an experienced combination as Wales look to make it 12 games unbeaten in Cardiff against Scotland.

The last time Scotland triumphed in the Welsh capital, current head coach Gregor Townsend was fly-half and it required injury-time penalties from Brendan Laney and Duncan Hodge to secure a 27-22 win.

Wales, though, have got it all to do this time around, underlined by a line-up that contains their lowest cap total for a Six Nations game since facing Italy five years ago.

Watkin added: “We know that they (Scotland) are a great team, they can turn it on when they are on their day and we know it is going to be a huge physical battle out there.

“It is going to be high intensity but like I said, we just need to focus on ourselves and control what we can control.

“We want to play rugby, but you have obviously got to play in the right areas.

“You can’t go playing from anywhere, against a team like Scotland as well, (because) they will punish you.

“It’s just (being) sensible where you play from, but when we get the opportunities we are going to look to play.”

Finn Russell insists Wales’ inexperience does not make Scotland’s chances of ending a 22-year wait to win in Cardiff any easier.

Scotland have not won at the Principality Stadium since 2002, losing 11 successive games that comprise nine Six Nations contests, a World Cup warm-up fixture and an autumn Test.

But Wales have hit been hit by a long list of injuries and big-name retirements, while British and Irish Lions wing Louis Rees-Zammit has departed to try and launch a career in American football.

Scotland have arrived in Cardiff in the unusual position of being bookmakers’ favourites for this Guinness Six Nations Championship opener.

But Russell said: “With the Welsh side being slightly different to previous years I think people would see Scotland are favourites.

“I don’t view it like that. We’ve not won here in 22 years, so it shows it’s not an easy place for us to come and win.

“We’ve got a more experienced team, but that doesn’t always count on the day.

“They’ve got very exciting players who will be playing with freedom and that’s part of the joys of having a more youthful side.

“We’re more experienced and we have to lean on that.

“But we’ve got to be careful we don’t overthink the game because it’s a very dangerous team in front of us.

“The atmosphere is one of the best in the world and when the Welsh boys put that red jersey on it’s different to when they are at their clubs.

“It’s a massive challenge for us to win here. We’ve got a few new faces and a few points to prove after a disappointing World Cup, both sides have.”

The Principality Stadium roof will be closed for Saturday’s clash following a U-turn by the visitors.

Under Six Nations regulations, the roof is only closed if both teams agree to it.

Scotland had originally wanted the roof open despite a match-day forecast of persistent light rain.

But Scotland have now reversed that decision with heavier rain forecast and Wales have accepted their request.

Russell said: “For me personally it doesn’t change too much. I was at Racing for five years and they’ve got an indoor stadium. So I’m pretty used to it.

“I think the weather conditions changed over the week, so that’s why the roof is now closed.

“It will get slightly greasy inside with the humidity, but both teams are under the same conditions. It will make for an exciting and fast free-flowing game of rugby.”

Jamie George has urged England to draw inspiration from their cricketing counterparts by cultivating their own form of ‘Bazball’.

Steve Borthwick’s side launch a new era when they face Italy in the Guinness Six Nations on Saturday with George leading a side containing two uncapped starters and three more debutants on the bench.

George is at the helm for the first time and the Saracens hooker is stirred by the success of captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum in developing a winning cricket team that plays without fear.

The style has been dubbed Bazball, referencing McCullum’s nickname, and George believes that by adopting similar principles his England can also flourish as the next World Cup cycle begins at the Stadio Olimpico.

“I’m a cricket fan so why would I not take inspiration from what Ben Stokes is doing with the England cricket team?” George said.

“You look at the influence Ben Stokes has on young players, allowing them to go out and perform the way they do, creating an environment to allow that. It’s exactly the model that we want.

“I’m not saying it’s going to be perfect, it’s never going to be perfect. But at the same time, Ben is someone who I take a huge amount of inspiration from.

“I want that connection with the fans. I want people to love coming to watch England play, for plenty of reasons – the result being one, how we play the game being another.

“Also the amount of fight and character that we show, the amount of pride and passion that we play with.

“Ben Stokes talks about being entertainers and we want to entertain people, of course we do, but we want to do it in the right way, we want to do it in the England way.

“They’ve managed to find a way to do that with Bazball so we will find our own way of doing it.”

England have lost the opening match in the previous four Six Nations and George is determined for them to end that sequence by delivering an emphatic victory over opponents they have beaten in all 30 previous meetings.

“We want to make a statement and we also want to make it very clear what this England team is about going forward. And we want to give the England fans plenty to shout about,” he said.

George knows the advice he will give to the uncapped Fraser Dingwall, Ethan Roots, Chandler Cunningham-South, Fin Smith and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso also stands for himself when he lead the side out for the first time.

“It’s going to be quite an emotional day,” he said. “I’m quite an emotional person anyway. I’ve got some family flying over – and some family who aren’t able to fly.

“The obvious statement is that it’s going to be a dream come true. I don’t think you can ever prepare yourself for moments like that.

“As ever I just want to be in the moment as much as I can and soak it all up. It’s a similar message to what I’ll be telling the guys having their first cap.

“That was the best piece of advice I got before my first cap because it goes like that (clicks fingers). The anthem… it just flies by.

“I want to really try and soak it all up, take it all in and then put in a good performance off the back of it.”

Adam Beard has delivered a “don’t write us off” message ahead of Wales’ Guinness Six Nations campaign that begins against Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday.

Wales’ chances have largely been dismissed by the bookmakers, as they they set off on a long road towards Rugby World Cup 2027 in Australia with a new-look squad.

Several big names are no longer part of Wales’ rugby landscape, headlined by Louis Rees-Zammit’s departure for a possible career in American football, while cap centurions Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny have retired from Test rugby.

And when Wales’ injury list is factored in – George North, Taulupe Faletau, Jac Morgan, Dewi Lake and Gareth Thomas are among those currently absent – the size of their task is laid bare.

Scotland, though, have not won in the Welsh capital for 22 years, losing 11 successive games that comprise nine Six Nations encounters, a World Cup warm-up fixture and an autumn Test.

And Gregor Townsend’s team will need to overcome any mental demons that might exist as a result of that one-sided sequence.

Ten of Wales’ matchday 23 have cap totals in six figures, but experienced lock Beard said: “Look, don’t write us off, whether it is new faces or not.

“When you put on that Welsh jersey you have got a job to do, and our job tomorrow is to get a victory over Scotland.

“There is no better competition in the world than the Six Nations.

“(It is) a new-look squad, a lot of boys getting their opportunities to play in their first Six Nations, and there is no better way than to start at home.”

Cardiff full-back Cameron Winnett makes his Test debut on Saturday, named in the starting line-up after just 15 games of professional rugby.

And Wales will be led by their youngest captain since 1968 – 21-year-old Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins – for a game that is followed by Six Nations assignments with England at Twickenham, Ireland in Dublin and then France at the Principality Stadium.

On Winnett, Wales head coach Warren Gatland said: “You watch someone at training and that is where you get a feel for a player.

“He looks comfortable on the ball, he is good in the air, and when we had our selection meeting we just said, ‘let’s go for it. Let’s not be afraid to expose someone at this level’.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision for us to make when you see a player and think he is going to be a really good player in the future.

“Yes, we’ve lost a considerable amount of experience and players have moved on.

“But a lot of teams go through cycles, and I think we are at the start of an exciting cycle with this group of players. I couldn’t be happier with how they have trained and prepared.

“There are probably a couple of young players in the squad who are still developing, and they will learn from the time with us.

“We have already seen in the last couple of weeks how much some of them have improved and handled the difference in intensities in training at this level. So that has been a real positive for us.”

Fraser Dingwall will take extra satisfaction from his England debut knowing it embodies a triumph of persistence.

Dingwall starts Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Italy at inside centre as reward for his impressive form for Northampton, who provide three of the backline at the Stadio Olimpico.

Injuries to Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi have presented the 24-year-old with a platform to offer the solution to England’s perennial problem position – and it has been earned the hard way.

First called-up by Eddie Jones in 2020, he has been picked in nine senior squads without breaking into the matchday 23 in a sequence of omissions that left him fearing he would never be capped.

“There have been a couple of times when I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen but I feel like I’ve been pretty persistent,” Dingwall said.

“To get to this point makes it even more special just because I know the journey I’ve been through and what has been required to get to this point.

“I always felt like I was in and around it but also felt like there was growth in me. I don’t think I ever came in initially thinking I was the finished article and ready to go.

“I think I knew I was slightly early. And there has probably only been a couple of times I was really pushing.

“This was one of them and was the Australia tour in 2022. I was pretty gutted after that one not to have featured.

“But I’ve got lots of good people around me just to keep me level and I have a great team at Saints who have pushed me on to that next level.”

By his own admission Dingwall is not a bulldozing centre in the mould of Lawrence or Tuilagi but he is confident in his ability as a smart all-rounder who matches robust defence with sharp distribution and an eye for space.

“Some players typically have super strengths. I guess you could say I don’t necessarily have that, other than if I can be really good at lots of things,” he said.

“I can be really good with my voice and also really good at bringing the best out of other people. That almost becomes my super strength.

“It’s not so much about being really quick, or really powerful. But if I could do everything really well, that becomes a trait.

“I wouldn’t look to replicate what Henry Slade does or what Ollie Lawrence does. Each centre is very different.

“It’s more about creating a balance in the midfield as a whole and how centres can complement each other.”

Northampton are the Gallagher Premiership’s pacesetters and qualified for the knockout phase of Europe after registering four wins in as many group outings.

Their backline potency is reflected in England’s team selection against Italy with scrum-half Alex Mitchell and wing Tommy Freeman also present and Dingwall believes recent wins over the likes of Toulon, Munster and Sale have put a spring in their step.

“There’s definitely confidence from that because we’re doing so well and also because of the teams we’ve beaten,” he said.

Wales host Guinness Six Nations opponents Scotland on Saturday with both countries looking to blast out of the starting blocks.

Momentum is key in European rugby’s blue riband tournament, and it could be a long campaign for whichever team ends up losing.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key talking points heading into the game.

Home sweet home for Wales

When it comes to making home advantage count in the Six Nations, Wales have repeatedly delivered against Scotland. It is 22 years since the Scots triumphed in Cardiff, a 27-22 victory secured through stoppage-time penalties kicked by Brendan Laney and Duncan Hodge. Current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was the fly-half that April afternoon, with hooker Gordon Bulloch scoring two tries, but it has been a tale of woe since then.

Eleven successive defeats – nine Six Nations games, one World Cup warm-up and an autumn Test – unfolded at an average scoreline of 29-14. Scotland did claim a Six Nations win on Welsh soil four years ago during the coronavirus pandemic, but that match was staged in Llanelli behind closed doors.

Flying Finn to fire Scots?

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell is one of world rugby’s genuine box-office talents, and a Six Nations tournament that will not see the likes of star names Antoine Dupont, Louis Rees-Zammit and potentially Marcus Smith this season needs Russell firing on all cylinders. The 31-year-old captains Scotland on Saturday, and he can be expected to relish that responsibility.

Russell lines up on the post-World Cup international stage after producing some command performances for his new club Bath in domestic and European arenas, with the west country club challenging for Premiership and Champions Cup honours. If he hits top form, Scotland will flourish.

Captain Jenkins in the spotlight

Exeter’s 21-year-old lock Dafydd Jenkins will become the youngest Wales captain since Gareth Edwards in 1968 when he leads his country out against Scotland. But such an honour being handed to him only 12 caps into his Test career should not come as a surprise. He first captained Exeter at the age of 19, and this season he has led impressively from the front, with Chiefs firmly in Premiership play-off contention and through to the Champions Cup round of 16.

“He pretty much gets everything right,” Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter said of Jenkins. “Our job is to try not to put too much on his shoulders, but at the same time he is exactly the kind of guy you want as captain of your team.”

Wales fans might need to be patient

Wales have enjoyed considerable success in the Six Nations, being crowned champions on six occasions, with four of those titles achieved in Grand Slam fashion. Five Triple Crowns can also be added to an impressive roll of honour as they have repeatedly punched above their weight, but any challenge for silverware this season appears unlikely.

The long road to World Cup 2027 in Australia starts with Wales fielding their least-experienced Six Nations starting XV since 2019, as a combination of factors mean players like Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, George North, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau are unavailable. The Scotland game is followed by England at Twickenham, Ireland in Dublin and France at home, so Wales are unquestionably up against it.

Can Scotland handle expectation?

Six Nations history might be against them, but Scotland will arrive in Cardiff as firm favourites to end their dismal losing run. Wales field just seven of the side that lost to World Cup quarter-final opponents Argentina last time out, and players like Russell, wing Duhan van der Merwe and centre Huw Jones are genuine game-breakers more than capable of testing a new-look Wales side.

If the Scots hit their straps, then they could win with something to spare, setting themselves up for a Murrayfield showdown with France next weekend, but the biggest battle could be overcoming those Cardiff demons and keeping them at bay.

England will begin rebuilding for the 2027 World Cup when they clash with Italy in Rome on Saturday.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points ahead of the Stadio Olimpico opener.

All change

While picking veteran fly-half George Ford might be an opportunity missed against the Six Nations’ weakest opposition – the inclusion of rookie Fin Smith would have provided a glimpse of the future – Steve Borthwick has shown a willingness to experiment elsewhere. Flanker Ethan Roots and inside centre Fraser Dingwall are given debuts while Smith, exciting wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and back row Chandler Cunningham-South will win their first caps if they step off the bench. Some of the changes have been forced on Borthwick by circumstance but it is still England’s biggest injection of fresh faces in the Six Nations since 2012.

Dingwall’s chance to shine

England have been unable to find a potent, enduring answer to who plays inside centre since Will Greenwood retired in 2004. The next player to be given the opportunity to prove he is the solution is Dingwall, who profits from injuries to Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence to take the number 12 jersey at the Stadio Olimpico and possibly beyond. The Northampton Saint has added three kilos of muscle for this season and plays with greater physicality as a result, especially in defence, but his true skill is an all-rounder who brings out the best in the players around him.

Release the handbrake

England must show greater ambition in attack or the goodwill generated amongst fans by finishing third at the World Cup will be washed away. The simplified, kick-focused, data-driven approach was acceptable for the first year of Borthwick’s reign given the need to pick up the pieces of the Eddie Jones era but a failure to add new layers will lead to unrest in the stands. New captain Jamie George has acknowledged that “you get people on their feet when they see tries being scored” and one of the hopes is that they play with greater freedom outside their own half.

Carrying threats needed

A concern hanging over England’s team selection is the lack of carrying power outside the explosive Ben Earl, who continues at number eight having taken the World Cup by storm. In particular, the backline is short on players who can muscle through heavy traffic in the absence of blockbusting centres Tuilagi and Lawrence. There are plenty of options to grind out yards up front, but few to blast big holes in the defence.

Quesada plots Roman ambush

Italy have a new head coach in Argentinian Gonzalo Quesada, who is expected to tighten up the loose game introduced by his predecessor Kieran Crowley. It helped deliver wins against Wales and Australia but the Azzurri self-destructed at the World Cup with crushing losses to New Zealand and France reversing the progress made in the previous 18 months. Since joining the Six Nations in 2000 Italy have recorded a win rate of only 11 per cent and have yet to defeat England in 30 meetings but traditionally they are at their strongest at the start of the tournament as France found out a year ago when they edged home by the skin of their teeth.

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