Josh Navidi has been passed fit to start his first Test for almost a year when Wales face leaders France in the Six Nations on Friday.

Navidi last played for his country against Les Bleus in the 2021 Six Nations, but will start at open-side flanker at the Principality Stadium after recovering from a shoulder injury.

Seb Davies comes in at blindside flanker, as Ross Moriarty and Taine Basham drop out of the side following a defeat to England at Twickenham that leaves the holders in fifth place.

Prop Gareth Thomas and centre Jonathan Davies also get the nod for the round-four showdown in Cardiff.

Tomas Francis and Josh Adams have been given the green light to start after coming through the return to play protocols.

Nick Tompkins will not feature after suffering a concussion in Saracens' win over Leicester Tigers last weekend. Wing Louis Rees-Zammit returns, but will be among the replacements.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said: "Josh is a fantastic player and has played well for us in the past.

"He’s come back before straight back into the side so having 80 minutes under his belt for Cardiff we think that’s enough for him and we look forward to him being back out there bringing that experience.

"He’s a very good player and has played at this level on many occasions so that’s going to be great for us.

"Seb at six just gives us a little bit more size. It helps the lineout, but also in the wider channels where he often runs he’s got the skill set to trouble a few defenders out wide.

"I think Gareth made a really big impact for us last week as did a number of players and so he gets to start."

 

Wales team: Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Owen Watkin, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar (captain), Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Seb Davies, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Dewi Lake, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Ross Moriarty, Jac Morgan, Kieran Hardy, Gareth Anscombe, Louis Rees-Zammit.

France head coach Fabien Galthie has been forced into one change for Friday's Six Nations clash with Wales and fears others may yet be ruled out with coronavirus.

Les Blues lead the way at the top of the standings with three wins from three ahead of their trip to the Principality Stadium to face a struggling Wales side.

However, the visitors will be without wing Damian Penaud and second row Romain Taofifenua after both players tested positive for COVID-19.

Losing Penaud is a big blow for Galthie as the 25-year-old has beaten 10 defenders in this year's tournament, the joint-most of any player alongside Scotland's Darcy Graham.

Indeed, Penaud has faced just 13 tackles in total across France's three matches, with his tackle evasion rate of 77 per cent the best of any player.

Yoram Moefana will switch to the right wing in the absence of Penaud, who started the 36-17 win over Scotland last time out, with Gabin Villiere drafted into the side on the left.

After losing Penaud and Taofifenua, Galthie is now awaiting the results of further PCR tests ahead of making the trip to the Welsh capital.

"We were notified this morning that they were positive so we had to make last-minute changes," Galthie told a news conference on Wednesday.

"We are preparing for other changes. We have no additional information yet, but we need to know by Thursday [if more changes will be made]."

In more positive news for France, captain and reigning world player of the year Antoine Dupont has recovered from a knock sustained in training to make the starting XV.

Les Blues have won their last six Test matches, making this their best run of form since 2006, and have won their last two Six Nations meetings with Wales.

France's 27-23 victory on their last trip to Cardiff in 2020 was their first Six Nations victory in the Welsh capital since 2010, which was also the last time they won the tournament.

 

France team: Melvyn Jaminet, Yoram Moefana, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (c); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio, Cameron Woki, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Mohamed Haouas, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos, Matthis Lebel.

Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe's Six Nations campaign is over after his red card for Worcester resulted in a three-game ban.

The 26-year-old was dismissed for "reckless or dangerous play" on London Irish's Kyle Rowe in Saturday's Premiership match which Worcester lost 43-12.

The suspension means van der Merwe will miss Scotland's final two Six Nations matches against Italy and Ireland.

Van der Merwe had scored his 10th try for Scotland in their 36-17 loss to France at Murrayfield Stadium on February 26.

Scotland have one win and two defeats in the Six Nations, having beaten England 20-17 in their opening game before losses to Wales and Les Bleus.

Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton will retire after the 2023 World Cup despite signing a new deal with Irish Rugby.

The 36-year-old, who earned his 100th cap in November and won the 2018 World Player of the Year, wants to go out on a high at next year's World Cup in France.

Irish Rugby confirmed on Tuesday that Sexton had signed a new contract up until the 2023 event but the 103-cap veteran said he would finish up after that.

“Yeah, finished, 2023 World Cup – it’s up to me to work hard, get the body and mind in the best shape possible and attack the last 18 months,” he said.

“I’m still very driven to get there and perform at the World Cup. I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract.

“There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then.”

Sexton has played 103 times for Ireland in his storied career and reached the milestone of 500 points in the Six Nations in the 29-7 win over the defending champions last month.

A four-time European Champions Cup winner with Leinster, Sexton is now looking ahead to the prospect of a fourth World Cup finals appearance in France next year.

Ireland and Leinster star Johnny Sexton has signed a new contract that will run until after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The 36-year-old has captained his country since January 2020, leading them to 10 wins in 13 matches in that time.

Sexton has played 103 times for Ireland in his storied career and reached the milestone of 500 points in the Six Nations in the 29-7 win over the defending champions last month.

A four-time European Champions Cup winner with Leinster, Sexton is now looking ahead to the prospect of a fourth World Cup finals appearance in France next year.

"I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract," the fly-half said.

 

"There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then."

David Nucifora, performance director for Irish Rugby, said: "Johnny's performances continue to be of the highest standard and he remains an integral member of the Ireland and Leinster squads.

"He has always been a leader on the field and in the past two years since taking on the Ireland captaincy his leadership off it has been top class. Johnny is a generational player and we are delighted that he has extended to 2023."

Jordan Larmour has been ruled out of the remainder of Ireland's Six Nations campaign after suffering a hip injury in Leinster's win against Benetton on Saturday.

Larmour's last appearance for his country came in the win against Japan in July 2021 at Lansdowne Road.

The 24-year-old back has made 30 test appearances for Ireland, with 13 starts, scoring seven tries.

Ireland had already lost prop Andrew Porter, who sustained an ankle injury during the 57-6 round three rout of Italy, which left Ireland just a point behind leaders France in second place.

Ireland are hopeful centre Robbie Henshaw will be passed fit to take on England after he suffered a head injury in the thrashing of the Azzurri.

Iain Henderson returns to the squad for Saturday's game after missing the win over Italy with COVID-19, having played the full 80 minutes of Ulster's victory against Cardiff on Friday.

Henderson missed the opening win over Wales because of an ankle injury and came off the bench in the loss to France in Paris.

Munster loosehead Jeremy Loughman has also been called up to the Irish squad for the first time as extra cover.

England have lost Luke Cowan-Dickie for the remainder of the Six Nations due to a knee injury and Ireland prop Andrew Porter will also play no further part in the tournament.

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter on Thursday confirmed Cowan-Dickie could be out for the rest of the season as he requires surgery.

The hooker did the damage in a 23-19 win over Wales at Twickenham last weekend and England forwards coach Richard Cockerill says his absence is a blow for the Red Rose in their quest to win the title.

Cockerill said: "We're disappointed for him, for Exeter and obviously ourselves. He's a really important player to the team and a leader to the group as well.

"So it's a bit of a blow to the team, but we've got cover and that's the game isn't it, players get injured, you have to deal with that and someone else gets an opportunity.

"Jamie [George] is a fantastic player; he's proven that for the last 10 years or so. He did a great job when he came on at the weekend and I'm sure he’s looking forward to doing that again."

Ireland will have to do without Porter when they travel Twickenham to face Eddie Jones' side a week on Saturday.

The prop sustained an ankle injury during the 57-6 round three rout of Italy, which left Ireland just a point behind leaders France in second place.

Ireland are hopeful centre Robbie Henshaw is passed fit to take on England after he suffered a head injury in the thrashing of the Azzurri.

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

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

But they had a numerical advantage for the majority of the game after Hame Faiva was shown a contentious red card for shoulder-to-chin contact on Dan Sheehan midway through the first half, with the World Rugby requirement for hooker-less Italy to be a man down in an uncontested scrum in such circumstances reducing them to 13 men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland cruised to a bonus-point 57-6 win over Italy in the Six Nations after a contentious red card left the Azzurri with 13 men.

Italy were always expected to slump to a heavy defeat in Dublin, having done so against both France and England, and their hopes of an upset were essentially ended in the 19th minute when Hame Faiva, on as a replacement hooker for Gianmarco Lucchesi, was sent off.

Faiva was deemed to have made dangerous shoulder-to-chin contact in a tackle on Dan Sheehan, his subsequent dismissal and the World Rugby requirement for hooker-less Italy to be a man down in an uncontested scrum in such circumstances reducing them to 13 men.

From that point, the game was over as a contest, Ireland running in nine tries to make it two wins from three and keep their hopes of Six Nations glory firmly intact as they leapfrogged England into second behind unbeaten France.

Joey Carbery crawled over the line to open the scoring after an Ireland break in the third minute.

Italy answered through Edoardo Padovani's long-range penalty, but the game was settled for all intents and purposes when the officials decided to dismiss Faiva after a long discussion with the TMO despite a seemingly innocuous tackle appearing to have done no damage to Sheehan.

It prompted another prolonged discussion at the scrum as referee Nika Amashukeli explained Italy's secondary punishment, which was soon followed by Jamison Gibson-Park going over for Ireland's second try.

A predictable Ireland overlap saw Michael Lowry cross, the bonus-point try then coming from Peter O'Mahony before Padovani gave Italy some cheer with another penalty before the break.

The rout continued thereafter, though, James Lowe strolling over out wide before Lowry added his second and Ryan Baird charged down an Italy kick to scoop up and dot down.

Italy were then reduced to 12 men as the game finished in farce with Braam Steyn shown a yellow card for batting the ball out of play. Lowe's easy second try took Ireland to the half-century mark and Kieran Treadwell had the final say against a shattered Italy defence.

 

Unwanted century comes in ruined spectacle

Italy's defeat marked their 100th in the Six Nations, but that unwanted milestone will be overshadowed by the officiating controversy in the first half.

In the circumstances of both the red card and reducing Italy to 13 men, Amashukeli was bound by the rules, but Italy being punished twice for a decision that was marginal at best was extremely harsh and ruined the game as a spectacle.

Ireland home comforts continue

Ireland have now lost just two of their past 23 home matches in the Six Nations, and few have come easier than this victory against an outnumbered Italy side.

What's next?

Italy host Scotland in Rome on March 12, when Ireland face a pivotal blockbuster clash with England at Twickenham.

Ben Youngs said the "magnitude" of becoming England's most-capped men's player has yet to sink in, after the 32-year-old surpassed Jason Leonard by making his 115th international appearance in the Six Nations win over Wales.

Youngs came on from the bench during England's 23-19 win over the Six Nations holders at Twickenham, as Eddie Jones' side survived a second-half Wales comeback to follow up their 33-0 thrashing of Italy with another crucial win.

Leicester scrum-half Youngs, who made his senior international debut against Scotland in March 2010, said he needed time to reflect upon his accomplishment.

"I've tried to convince myself that today and tomorrow I will sit back and try and absorb it all," he said.

"I don't think the magnitude of what's happened has sunk in."

Harry Randall was England's starting scrum-half for the contest, but Youngs said he had no qualms with playing a supporting role to the 24-year-old in his own veteran years.

"Right now I'm getting a huge amount of joy in helping this young team," Youngs added. "While Eddie still thinks I have value and I feel I have value, it seems all right.

"Now I can reflect on that moment and to have the family witness it as well, it was a fabulous occasion."

 

115 - Ben Youngs has won his 115th cap for @EnglandRugby - and his 50th in the #GuinnessSixNations - making him the most capped player for the England men's team; only Rocky Clark, Sarah Hunter and Katy Daley-Mclean have won more for England overall. Roses. pic.twitter.com/3ZHGElKDrT

— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 26, 2022

Antoine Dupont lauded the France support for their role in a long-awaited away win against Scotland at Murrayfield.

In each of the previous two Six Nations campaigns, defeats to Scotland cost France their shot at the title, with a 2020 Grand Slam bid ending in Edinburgh.

That defeat had been the most recent of three in a row for Les Bleus at Murrayfield, where they were without a win since 2014.

But Fabien Galthie's side put that pain behind them in real style with a 36-17 triumph, their biggest against Scotland since 2008.

"There is a lot of satisfaction to be drawn from this game," said Dupont, finished with 64 metres carried after playing a key role in the opening try.

"We made a very good start, then we gave them some points. They came back but despite that, despite two or three errors in our camp, we did not panic.

"We stayed together, united collectively throughout the match, which paid off in the end.

"We didn't necessarily have very good memories here at Murrayfield. There were times when we almost thought we were at the Stade de France, the Marseillaise made a lot of noise.

"We felt supported and it felt good as soon as the bus arrived. The Scottish crowd is an incredible crowd, they kept supporting their team despite the score. It was a great feeling."

England punished an error-strewn Wales performance to win 23-19 at Twickenham and remain France's nearest challengers in the 2022 Six Nations.

The Red Rose had responded to their opening defeat to Scotland with a routine victory over Italy but would have expected a greater test against the defending champions on Saturday.

Instead, England controlled much of the proceedings, with Wales initially impressing only in limiting their scoring.

Marcus Smith's penalty kicking ensured the home side were comfortable early on, though, and an Alex Dombrandt try early in the second period meant an attempted Wales comeback – led by scores from Josh Adams, Nick Tompkins and Kieran Hardy – fell just short.

There was precious little quality in a first half that England dominated, with their 12 points all coming from the boot of Smith.

England's best chance of a try saw them halted in front of the line before Charlie Ewels was penalised for a knock-on, although the TMO spotted Liam Williams had dislodged the ball, earning a yellow card.

Williams headed for the sin bin, yet England added only three points to their total through Smith's latest penalty in his time off the pitch.

The breakthrough try was suitably scruffy in the 43rd minute when Ryan Elias' lineout cleared all of his team-mates and allowed Dombrandt to steal in and score.

Wales' response was rather more impressive, with Adams found free on the left for one try before Tompkins exploited a gap for another, cutting the lead from 17 points to five.

England introduced Ben Youngs for a record-breaking 115th cap as they sought to stem the tide, although it was a further pair of fine Smith kicks that really eased the nerves.

A quick restart from Hardy to score with seconds remaining gave England one last attack to see out with the match on the line, but Eddie Jones' men held on.

Another slow Welsh start

A worrying trend of this Wales campaign has been their poor first-half showings. This was the second of three matches in which they have failed to score a point before the break.

Struggling prior to half-time is nothing new in this fixture, though. They have not led at the interval in any of their 12 Six Nations matches at Twickenham and are the only side with that miserable record.

Smith's boot the standout

Smith finished with 18 points, matching his previous Test best against Canada last July. On that occasion, however, his points came courtesy of nine conversions in a one-sided triumph; this time, with six penalties, his contribution was far more decisive.

The England fly-half also now leads the charts for points in this championship, 12 ahead of Melvyn Jaminet, with whom he had been tied heading into Saturday.

What's next?

Ireland will have the opportunity to nudge ahead of England when they host Italy on Sunday, but they are then the next visitors to Twickenham. Wales must attempt to halt France's Grand Slam charge in Cardiff.

France gained revenge for two costly Six Nations defeats to Scotland with a stylish 36-17 bonus-point triumph at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Les Bleus maintained their winning start to this year's tournament against the team who cost them the title in each of the previous two campaigns.

Sublime team moves ended in early tries for Paul Willemse and Yoram Moefana, before Scotland's hopes of a fightback were all but ended by Gael Fickou on the stroke of half-time.

France scarcely let up in the second period, with Jonathan Danty and Damian Penaud adding to the scoreline, moving Les Bleus eight points clear at the top of the standings ahead of the rest of the weekend's action.

Antoine Dupont's stunning run from deep in France territory led to the breakthrough try for Willemse, with his team-mates moving the ball sharply when the captain was belatedly halted.

France worked the ball right to left for their next score, as Penaud and Cyril Baille each smartly offloaded when stopped short to allow Yoram Moefana to get over.

A strong Scotland response was rewarded with Rory Darge's try, and they should have had another when Chris Hogg failed to gather a routine pass on the counter.

Instead, France stretched their advantage heading into the break as Fickou powered over in the corner, and the bonus point was secured within two minutes of the restart courtesy of a generous bounce for Danty.

Les Bleus controlled the match from there and created opportunities for Penaud to get his name on the scoresheet twice, sauntering in for number five and then gathering a crossfield kick in plenty of space for their sixth and final try.

Duhan van der Merwe got a late Scotland consolation, although unlike when he crossed in the 85th minute in Paris last year, it was France who celebrated at full-time.

Ex-England star Jason Leonard has congratulated Ben Youngs as he gets set to become the nation's most-capped player in men's international rugby ahead in their Six Nations clash with Wales.

The scrum-half will start from the bench for Eddie Jones' side at Twickenham, with Harry Randall favoured in the initial XV, but will win his 115th cap for his country when he enters the fray.

That will take him past former World Cup winner Leonard, with whom he jointly sits on 114 caps at the top of the leaderboard.

The former Harlequins favourite took to social media ahead of the match to pay tribute to Youngs' achievement.

"All the best Ben Youngs," the former prop wrote on Twitter. "I know Twickenham will raise the roof for your 115th cap, as I will be one of them!

"I couldn't want for a better individual to pass the record [to] as you are an absolute credit to the game. [It's been] an absolute honour to have held the record for so long."

Youngs will remain shy of Leonard's total international cap record for a few more games at least, however, given that the latter has played more games for the British and Irish Lions.

Both remain well shy of Wales stalwart Alun Wyn Jones' all-time men's record, with the lock having picked up 161 caps to date - 149 for Wales and a dozen for the Lions.

Dan Biggar says he will not have to plan his pre-match speech when Wales face England in the Six Nations, adding that the emotion should prove enough for his side.

The Northampton fly-half will skipper Wayne Pivac's side at Twickenham as they look to give their Championship hopes a shot in the arm.

Wales have not won at the home of English rugby since 2015, having lost on their last five visits – and Biggar admits that his side should need no motivation to deliver.

"Sometimes very little is needed to be said," he stated. "It's very much down to the individual.

"I'd like to think that in a pivotal weekend in the Six Nations against England at Twickenham there won't be too much needed [to be] said from an emotional level to get us going.

"At some point you have to roll your sleeves up. Do we want to be enjoying a beer after putting everything in and enjoying the result?

"Or do we want to feel that we haven't given it our all and are really quite disappointed with how we played and let the country down?"

Biggar admitted that Wales need to ensure they make a sharp start, having historically sunk to defeat against England after falling behind early on.

"We need to make sure that when we go away to tough places, like the Aviva, like Twickenham, we start well," he added. "It's important we don't give them a start.

"It's such a difficult task. Even if you get yourself back in the game, one more score for England takes you out. They've got some serious strength in depth and they're a very good side."

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