England are considering unleashing Manu Tuilagi against Scotland amid a warning from Kevin Sinfield that the midfield powerhouse remains a potent force.

Tuilagi is in contention to make his first appearance of the Guinness Six Nations at Murrayfield on Saturday, having been sidelined since December because of a groin tear.

It is the latest of many injury setbacks for the 32-year-old Sale Sharks centre, who broke his hand twice at last autumn’s World Cup, ruling him out of the start of the club season.

Tuilagi’s return would provide the ball-carrying muscle missing from England’s back line – Ollie Lawrence is also an option for the role – and Sinfield insists he still has plenty to offer the national side.

“I would say this without any doubt – don’t write him off yet,” the assistant coach said.

“He’s still got some really good years ahead of him and he’s very much a big part of how we move forward and what we are doing here.

“When you play like he has done for so long, and you are so physical, it is inevitable that at some point in your career you will have a run of injuries.

“What you find with the powerful-type guys, one injury tends to lead into another.”

Also back in contention for the pivotal round-three encounter in Edinburgh is George Martin, the star of England’s heartbreaking World Cup semi-final defeat to South Africa who is fully fit after tweaking his knee.

The 22-year-old enforcer, who can operate at lock or blindside flanker, stood toe to toe with the Springboks and his physicality will be a valuable asset against Scotland.

“Big. Physical. Aggressive. Great ball carrier and he’s one of our better defenders,” Sinfield said.

“In the semi-final he really stood out on the international stage against some of the biggest, nastiest, most aggressive forwards in the world. He was in and amongst it.

“If selected I have no doubt he’ll leave a mark on somebody. He’s already a top player, but he’s going to get better and better.”

England have won only one of their last six meetings with Scotland and visit Murrayfield knowing it is the most hostile of all opposition venues for Red Rose teams.

Fly-half George Ford has braced his side for a “niggly game” – he was targeted in the tunnel by Scotland number eight Ryan Wilson in 2018, sparking a brawl with Owen Farrell – and Sinfield insists frayed tempers are inevitable.

“There’s certainly going to be some niggle. When you’ve got two angry, nasty forward packs wanting to go at each other, there will be some niggle,” he said.

“It’s a Test match, there’s a lot at stake and we haven’t won against them for a number of years, so no doubt there’ll be some niggle.

“There will be some bits thrown at us over the next couple of days that we haven’t planned for or we haven’t quite expected.

“But that’s the nature of being in top-level sport and we meed to make the best of some of the circumstances we are faced with.

“The history is important for us to understand but it won’t change anything – we’re not going up there with any fear.

“We know how dangerous they are, we know they’re a good team, we know they’ve got some great players. But so have we.”

Scotland are hopeful that talismanic wing Darcy Graham will be fit enough to play a part in the Guinness Six Nations even though he will stay on the sidelines for Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown with England.

The 26-year-old – who is second on the national team’s all-time try-scoring list – missed the opening two matches of the championship against Wales and France with a quad problem.

Graham was scheduled to return to the fold for this weekend’s Murrayfield clash with England, but it emerged on Monday that he had suffered a new groin issue while training with Edinburgh last week, which has ruled him out of contention.

The free-scoring back – who missed the entirety of last year’s Six Nations with a knee injury – is due to be assessed this week and Scotland are hoping he will be able to return for the championship-concluding fixtures away to Italy and Ireland next month.

“Darcy had started back with Edinburgh and we were very happy about that,” said scrum coach Pieter De Villiers at a media briefing on Tuesday.

“But he’s picked up a bit of a groin niggle at the moment so he’s just nursing that. We’ll see how that goes.”

Asked if Graham was expected back before the end of the tournament, De Villiers said: “We’ve got another fallow week (after England) so that will hopefully give him enough time and then we’ll just assess things from there.”

Despite Graham’s ongoing absence, Scotland will welcome back two senior members of their back three this weekend, with Glasgow wing Kyle Steyn returning after missing the France game for the birth of his child and Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn available after sitting out the first two games with a knee injury.

“Blair has been training really well and we’re excited to see him back in the squad again,” reported De Villiers.

Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash will be Scotland’s first outing since their agonising defeat at home to France, when the officials controversially decided not to award them what would have been a match-winning try after Sam Skinner appeared to ground the ball on the whitewash in the last action of a tightly-contested affair.

De Villiers admitted that having last weekend off was beneficial in helping the Scots banish any lingering frustration at having their hopes of a Grand Slam dashed in such galling fashion.

“Yes, it almost feels long ago,” he said of the extra time out of camp to regroup. “A bit of time off was good for the team.

“There’s obviously been frustration and disappointment. I thought we’d done enough to win that game but that’s the way rugby goes. Sometimes things don’t go your way.

“It’s the best thing for us to move on and prepare for England which is a fantastic game to look forward to. It’s all behind us.”

De Villiers has no concerns about any hangover from the France game plaguing Scotland this weekend as he feels recovering from such setbacks is “part of what we do”.

“It’s important to be able to move on,” he said. “It’s important to be able to be frustrated as well.

“As much as there were things we could have done better, it’s good to know that we did enough (to potentially win the game) as well.

“That’s important for our psyche and for moving on. It’s not the first decision to go against us and it won’t be the last decision to go against us.”

Kevin Sinfield insists Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi are “ready to kick the door down” if England beef up their backline for Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.

The hard running centres are available for the first time in the 2024 Guinness Six Nations having recovered from the respective groin and hip injuries that forced them to miss the opening two rounds.

Head coach Steve Borthwick must decide whether to break up the midfield partnership of Fraser Dingwall and Henry Slade that started the wins against Italy and Wales or add more ball-carrying clout to the backline.

“Ollie and Manu bring power,” assistant coach Sinfield said ahead of the trip to Murrayfield.

“Fraser and Henry offer a bit more ball movement and a bit more finesse at the line but what Manu and Ollie bring is they will kick the door down.

“It’s about trying to find the right balance for us this weekend. Ollie and Manu haven’t been in with us that long but we know them pretty well from the World Cup and what they’ve done previously.

“Then there’s the experience of Henry and Fraser’s ball skills and games management in and around that midfield, so we’ve got a real healthy competition there.”

Borthwick will make at least one enforced change when he names his team on Thursday after scrum-half Alex Mitchell was ruled out by a knee injury sustained in training.

Mitchell was due to see a specialist on Tuesday when a date for his return will be set.

It clears the path for 37-year-old veteran Danny Care to win his 99th cap as a starter in Edinburgh on Saturday, if he holds off the challenge of Ben Spencer who is likely to feature on the bench.

“Danny’s had a great career and I’ve loved working with him. He looks after himself really well and to still be playing at 37, you’ve got to be doing that early in your career,” Sinfield said.

“We all know the type of professional that he is and the experience he has. You can’t measure how valuable experience is because it gives confidence, belief and trust to those around him.

“He’s really good around the group because of his personality. He’s always got a smile on his face.

“He understands people really well and he gets the best out of those around him. It would be awesome if he can get to 100 caps.”

Rob Howley says Wales will aim to create rugby chaos when they face what most people believe is mission improbable against Ireland on Saturday.

Wales have not won a Guinness Six Nations game against Ireland in Dublin since 2012, drawing one and losing four of the subsequent fixtures.

Ireland are chasing back-to-back Grand Slams – a feat never previously achieved in the Six Nations – and have taken pole position following emphatic bonus-point victories over France and Italy.

Andy Farrell’s team will also equal a record, currently held by England and set seven years ago, of 11 successive Six Nations wins if they topple Wales.

“The challenge for us is making them as uncomfortable as we can, for every minute that we can do that, and ask different questions of them,” Wales assistant coach Howley said.

“I think if we can be comfortable in a chaos game and challenge them, because they are very well organised. We need to create chaos. Everyone reacts differently under pressure.

“We have to be able to create pressure on both sides of the ball on Saturday, for 80 of those one-minute games. If we can do that, it is 23 against 23 at the end of the day.

“It is our ability to create pressure on both sides of the ball, our ability to be clinical when we need to be. There might only be two or three opportunities, and we have to be clinical and ruthless.

“Against a world-class side that hasn’t been beaten, you have to be on it for 80 of those one-minute games.

“They (Ireland) have come out of the World Cup probably with a slight disappointment, knowing Andy Farrell and how he drives their coaching team.

“It’s a great opportunity to go to Dublin and face a formidable side. It is something we are looking forward to, and we will look to challenge them at every opportunity.”

Fly-half Sam Costelow has been recalled to the Wales starting line-up for Saturday’s clash.

The Scarlets number 10 went off because of a neck problem suffered when Wales were beaten 27-26 by opening Six Nations opponents Scotland.

He was replaced by Ioan Lloyd, who started at fly-half in the Twickenham appointment with England, but Costelow now returns as a solitary change from that game.

Elsewhere, there are further starts for squad newcomers Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann, with centre George North winning his 120th cap and becoming only the third Wales player to reach that mark after Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Uncapped Cardiff back-row forward Mackenzie Martin, meanwhile, features on the replacements’ bench.

The 20-year-old is in his first full season of professional rugby and totals just nine Cardiff appearances, but he is now set to make a Test debut at the Aviva Stadium.

Howley, who served as Wales attack coach from 2008 to 2019, is back involved with the national squad this season following his ban for breaching betting regulations.

He was forced to step back from the game in the build up to the 2019 World Cup when his betting activity came to light, resulting in an 18-month ban from rugby, half of which was suspended.

“I am so grateful to the coaches, and Warren (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) in particular, to think of me and bring me back into the fold,” Howley said.

“Every time I’ve been out with my family, it is the first time my girls have smiled for a pretty long time. The public have been fantastic in terms of what they have said to me.

“I am so lucky and glad to be back in a role I have loved for a long period of time.”

Ireland back-rower Caelan Doris is expected to be fully fit to face Wales in the Guinness Six Nations, despite sitting out training on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old suffered “bumps and bruises” while captaining his country to a 36-0 win over Italy in round two of the championship.

Full-back Hugo Keenan is yet to train after being forced off by a knee injury against the Azzurri on February 11 but will be given chance to prove his fitness ahead of Saturday afternoon’s match in Dublin.

“Caelan didn’t train and that was the plan at the beginning of the week, just to manage him,” defence coach Simon Easterby told a press conference, according to the Irish Independent.

“But we’re expecting him to train fully tomorrow, so there should be no issue with Caelan.

“He is probably carrying a few (knocks), but more bumps and bruises.

“I guess he took a few hits against Italy and he’s in a good place but he needs to be managed in a couple of areas.

“We don’t expect him not to be fully fit for the weekend.”

Keenan has been almost ever-present in Ireland’s number 15 jersey during the past three years.

Asked for an update on the 27-year-old, Easterby said: “He’s good, and I think again, it’s sort of similar to Caelan.

“Hugo has been such a massive part of this group since he first made his debut a few years ago, so it’s important that we give him the opportunity to prove his fitness.

“But we are really excited as well about the opportunities that might present if he doesn’t make it.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is due to name his team on Thursday afternoon.

Lock Iain Henderson is another doubt after sustaining a foot injury on Sunday during Ulster’s 19-17 United Rugby Championship defeat to the Ospreys.

Easterby said final calls on the fitness of Keenan, Doris and Henderson will be made on Wednesday.

“For someone like Caelan in particular, you wouldn’t want to leave it too late,” he said.

“You’d also want to make sure you give the guys that potentially do start the opportunity to get time in the saddle.

“It’s important that we grow the squad and grow the experience that the guys have and that’s the case for Caelan’s position and Hugo’s.”

The Rugby Football Union is aiming to begin renovations of Twickenham in 2027 after rejecting a proposal to make Wembley the new home of English rugby.

Buying a 50 per cent share in Wembley from the Football Association was considered by the RFU’s board in March last year before the idea was discounted without a formal approach to the FA being made.

“The RFU is focussed on continuing to develop Twickenham,” an RFU statement read.

“Previous considerations looking at the viability of moving to alternative sites have been rejected. We do not anticipate major stadium works starting before 2027.”

A 69-page document titled ‘Twickenham Stadium Masterplan Programme’, elements of which have been published in the media, outlines a £663million revamp of the ground that has been England’s home since it was built in 1909.

The report states that a renovation of that size is unaffordable but essential works could be completed for a cost in the region of £300million, which would still require a loan.

Beginning the overhaul between the 2027 and 2028 Six Nations would minimise disruption due to the absence of an autumn schedule at Twickenham in a World Cup year.

“Our long-term masterplan for Twickenham is being developed to ensure England’s national rugby stadium stays up to date, is compliant with all relevant regulations, provides the best possible experiences for fans and continues to generate revenue for reinvestment into the community and professional game,” the RFU statement said.

“Work will be undertaken over the next 12 months to consider next stage designs and assess what interventions might take place and when within the existing stadium footprint over the next 10 years.

“The RFU board has not agreed any new re-development plans. However, as you would expect all options will be thoroughly considered as part of a long-term strategy.

“As plans are further developed, the RFU board and council will be fully consulted and engaged in the due diligence and approval process, this would include any potential funding sources.

“As per the RFU constitution, if borrowing of over £150m was needed, council members’ views and approval would be required.”

Fly-half Sam Costelow has been recalled to the Wales starting line-up for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Ireland in Dublin.

The Scarlets number 10 went off because of a neck problem suffered when Wales were beaten 27-26 by opening Six Nations opponents Scotland.

He was replaced by Ioan Lloyd, who started at fly-half in the Twickenham appointment with England, but Costelow now returns as a solitary change from that game.

Elsewhere, there are further starts for squad newcomers Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann, while centre George North wins his 120th cap and is only the third Wales player to reach that mark after Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Magnus Bradbury, Alex Craig, Blair Kinghorn, WP Nel and Hamish Watson have joined the Scotland squad ahead of the weekend’s Six Nations match against England.

They replace Josh Bayliss, Javan Sebastian and Ross McCann, while Darcy Graham remains out after sustaining a groin injury last week and is subject to further assessment.

Toulouse’s Kinghorn has recovered from the injury that ruled him out of the first two games and he met up with the group at the start of the week.

The back-row options have been bolstered by the return of Bristol flanker Bradbury and – after making his 150th appearance for Edinburgh at the weekend – Watson is called up.

Following the injury to Richie Gray in Cardiff, Scarlets second row Craig has joined the squad. The 26-year-old has two caps, playing twice in 2021, including the win over France away from home.

Nel has recovered from his injury and replaces Sebastian, but Bayliss has been ruled out of the squad due to concussion.

Chris Ashton believes Ollie Lawrence has the physical presence to become the long-term successor to Manu Tuilagi as England’s midfield powerhouse.

For the first time in this Guinness Six Nations, both Lawrence and Tuilagi are available after recovering from respective hip and groin injuries and Steve Borthwick is deciding what role they should play in Saturday’s clash with Scotland.

Owing to their lack of match fitness, former England wing Ashton insists the existing midfield of Fraser Dingwall and Henry Slade needs to be retained with Lawrence included on the bench.

And while the rampaging, if injury-prone, Tuilagi still has a role to play at 32 years old, Ashton feels Lawrence is ready to show he can also punch holes in defences at Test level.

“Ollie seems like a very, very similar to Manu and its taken his move to Bath to realise his full potential in how good he can be,” BBC Rugby Union Daily podcast co-host Ashton told the PA news agency.

“Against Toulouse a few weeks ago he was outstanding. We have yet to see that at England level, but I see Ollie as the perfect replacement for Manu, a really natural fit.

“When Manu’s available you still have to use him because he’s so different, but he’s more of a risk because he hasn’t had any game time.

“He can come off the bench and do 15 or 20 minutes, but that’s a problem in itself because if someone goes down early and Manu’s got to go on, then he’s at real high risk because he’s got to do 60 or 70 minutes.

“Ollie’s less risky just because of his age, the number of injuries he’s had is quite low and he’s played a lot of ruby for Bath this season, so he can get going quickly. I would be leaning towards Ollie on the bench for those factors.”

Dingwall is the most likely to lose out because of the availability of Lawrence and Tuilagi, having produced solid but unspectacular performances against Italy and Wales, and Borthwick could decide a more muscular carrier is needed at inside centre.

But Ashton, who won 44 caps in a distinguished England career lasting from 2010 to 2019, believes he should be retained for the Calcutta Cup showdown at Murrayfield.

“Fraser is a very unselfish player and is the kind of player I would love to play with,” Ashton said.

“You know he’s always going to provide and work hard to get to places that not necessarily everyone would cover. He’s a link player and he’s knows how to combine and provide for everybody else.

“You know that he will provide the right pass or cover your inside shoulder all the time. Every team needs players like him.”

One change forced upon Borthwick will be at scrum-half after Alex Mitchell was ruled out by a knee injury, creating a vacancy for either Danny Care or Ben Spencer to fill.

“It’s a shocker to lose Mitchell because he’s so good. He’s a big loss and it’s not great timing going into these games,” Ashton said.

“Before we all thought he was an attacking nine, but he showed at the World Cup he can do it all and he’s carried on doing that in the Six Nations.

“He’s just such a threat, especially because of the danger he poses near the try-line when he pulls people out of place. You can’t coach the skills Alex has.”

* Chris Ashton is a co-host of the BBC’s ‘Rugby Union Daily’ podcast with new episodes available every morning during Six Nations match weeks.

England’s prospects of reclaiming the Calcutta Cup from Scotland have been dealt a blow after scrum-half Alex Mitchell was ruled out of the Murrayfield showdown with a knee problem.

The Rugby Football Union confirmed that Mitchell will miss the pivotal Guinness Six Nations round three game because of an injury that requires further investigation before a date for his return can be set.

Harry Randall has been named as the replacement in Steve Borthwick’s 36-man training squad with Danny Care and Ben Spencer competing to fill the void in the number nine jersey in Edinburgh.

Dan Cole was given the green light to continue his England career by wife Isobel having decided he did not want to join the contingent of players retiring after the World Cup.

Cole took stock of his Test future after helping England finish third at last autumn’s global showpiece knowing that Courtney Lawes, Jonny May and Ben Youngs had already played their final international games.

The 36-year-old prop has re-established himself in the front row under Steve Borthwick after spending three years in Red Rose exile and is eager to make the most of his time at the top.

“My wife is very understanding that I haven’t got many games left. It was a joint decision,” Cole said.

“She understands that with Steve and the coaches that she knows from Leicester, it is a very good team environment and place to be. I won’t be doing it forever, so enjoy it.”

When asked if the current Six Nations would be his last campaign with England, Cole replied: “I haven’t made up my mind. I haven’t thought about it so far, we’ll see how it goes.

“After the World Cup I thought about everything really. I had a conversation with Steve and he said to me after Courtney had announced his retirement at a press conference ‘are you planning any press conferences or announcements?’.

“I said that ‘I’ve got to speak to my wife and to you Steve because if you’re not going to pick me then I will’. He said that I’d like you to have the option (to play on). I was like fair enough because I owe Steve a lot. And here I am!

“It’s one of those things where you never want to give up, but at the same time you can understand why boys with families do because international rugby is a tough environment to be in. It’s intense.”

Cole will be involved in next Saturday’s visit to Murrayfield where England will be aiming to register a third win of this year’s Six Nations, keeping them on course for the Grand Slam.

The Leicester tighthead’s scrummaging expertise has led to his Test resurgence and he believes the set-piece is more vital than it has ever been.

“Tournament by tournament in international rugby, there are less scrums but they are of higher importance, which is why teams don’t want to give an inch there,” Cole said.

“You have seen in the first couple of weeks of the Six Nations they can sometimes be a bit messy and slow.

“I know the reaction to that over the first couple of weeks of the Six Nations hasn’t been great, but obviously it can be a massive turning point in the game.

“It’s tough because it’s so important and every scrum is heightened. You are playing international rugby and so you are not going to be playing against any mugs, everyone knows what they’re doing and everyone is good.”

Wales prop Keiron Assiratti is set to face Guinness Six Nations opponents Ireland a year after his professional rugby career hung in the balance.

He considered signing for Welsh Premiership club Merthyr as the regional game in Wales grappled with major financial issues that stalled contract offers to players.

Assiratti had nothing on the table from Cardiff, and he seriously considered dropping down a level, while also potentially finding work outside of rugby.

But the subsequent turnaround in fortunes surpassed all expectations, with a one-year deal eventually being signed last summer before an extended contract was agreed midway through this season.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland also came calling, handing the 26-year-old a Test debut against World Cup warm-up opponents England.

Although Assiratti missed out on World Cup squad selection, he has made a strong impression in the Six Nations with his displays in defeat to Scotland and England.

Runaway title favourites Ireland now await in Dublin next weekend, with Assiratti top of the props on the tighthead side of Wales’ scrum.

“It is a big change, to be fair,” he said.

“This time 12 months ago I didn’t know what I was doing with my rugby. Now, I can say I am doing quite well, so it has been a big turnaround.

“I had to think about getting a job for my family to try and secure everything.

“I was thinking of signing for Merthyr. That is what I was going to do. I didn’t think I was going to get anything at Cardiff at that time.

“I was speaking to one of the Merthyr coaches, but I also let things play out at Cardiff, then I had a run of games and now here I am.

“I wasn’t playing at all in the first half of last season, and it was really frustrating. I had to stick at it because I have got a family.

“Now, when I think about what could have been and what is happening, I am glad I stuck at it.”

When Assiratti featured against England in August 2023, he fulfilled a promise he made to his late grandfather almost two years earlier.

Assiratti and his Cardiff team-mates were stuck in isolation at a Cape Town hotel during the coronavirus pandemic, having travelled to play two United Rugby Championship games, when he had a final telephone conversation with his grandfather before he died.

He told him during the call that he would play for Wales, and Assiratti now heads to Dublin as first-choice tighthead.

“I would love him to still be here, but I am doing it for my family now. Hopefully, he is up there feeling proud,” Assiratti added.

“I am enjoying playing and having the exposure of my first Six Nations.

“It was good to go up against Joe Marler at the weekend, a really experienced loosehead, and it was a good battle between us.

“It is going to be a test for us going out there (to Dublin) with a young squad, but as (captain) Daf Jenkins has said, we can’t keep going on about having a young squad. We just have to go there and meet fire with fire.

“I feel like it’s going to come, so people just have to be a little patient with us.”

Paul O’Connell believes the legacy of influential former captain Johnny Sexton lives on among Ireland’s 2024 Guinness Six Nations squad.

The reigning Grand Slam champions have made a strong start to the post-Sexton era by bouncing back from Rugby World Cup disappointment with successive championship wins over France and Italy.

Forwards coach O’Connell admits there was a degree of trepidation about how the team would respond to the agonising quarter-final defeat to New Zealand and losing their long-serving leader.

Sexton, 38, retired immediately after the 28-24 Paris loss in October but has been credited with having a lasting impact on senior members of Andy Farrell’s squad, including new skipper Peter O’Mahony.

“I suppose you’re very hopeful that the work we’ve done with all of the players kind of comes through, but you’re a bit nervous that it might not happen as well,” O’Connell said of the new era.

“We’re only two games in so we’ve plenty of battles ahead of us.

“I think one thing that maybe Johnny has given a lot of the guys is he’s shown how much you have to care about the team and how much you have to care about how you prepare.

“He’s been a great example to some of the guys that are going to end up as leaders in the team.

“While he’s gone, his legacy from how he used to go about his business still lives on with us.

“A lot of the guys – Peter O’Mahony, Caelan Doris, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose – they’ve a few of his qualities in them that helps us arrive to a good place every Saturday when we play.”

Ireland resume their title defence at home to Wales on February 24, ahead of March appointments with England and Scotland.

Many pundits already feel it is a formality that Farrell’s men will become the first side to claim back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era.

Former Ireland captained O’Connell, who won the competition three times as a player, thinks players are adept at “ignoring the bigger picture”.

“We talk about winning, for sure, we always want to win the tournaments we’re playing in and we talk about winning them but once we’ve cleared that up, we don’t really talk about it much more,” said the 44-year-old.

“We just focus on the next game. We focus on what needs to be better for the next game and get excited about doing the things we feel might lead to a performance.

“It’s something that the players do really well. It’s a practised skill being next-game focused.

“Andy’s big into it; Joe Schmidt (former Ireland head coach) was big into it back in the day and a lot of the players are big into it because it helps them prepare properly by ignoring the bigger picture.”

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell believes being without star full-back Hugo Keenan against Wales could be a blessing in disguise.

Keenan suffered a knee issue during Sunday’s 36-0 Guinness Six Nations win over Italy and did not take part in physical training on Thursday.

The influential 27-year-old, who is yet to be ruled out of the round-three clash with Warren Gatland’s men on February 24 in Dublin, has been virtually ever-present in the number 15 jersey during the past three years.

Aside from Keenan, only the injured Jimmy O’Brien and out of favour Michael Lowry have started at full-back for Ireland since the end of 2020.

“He didn’t train today but he hasn’t been ruled out for the Welsh game yet,” O’Connell said of Keenan.

“He’s progressing with his rehabilitation. He was there at training today and he took part in all the organisational bits.

“He plays a big role. He’s obviously injury-free for a very long time, he’s an excellent player.

“It’s probably good for us in some ways because it makes us play someone else there if he doesn’t make it.

“But I’m not sure yet where he’s at. He was around training today so we’d be hopeful.”

Fly-half Jack Crowley filled in for Keenan in the closing stages against the Azzurri, while Ciaran Frawley is another potential replacement.

Current squad members Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale were given opportunities at 15 early in Andy Farrell’s reign but have barely featured in selections since.

“At full-back, you’re covering the back field defensively and he (Keenan) has a lot of work to do in attack as well,” said O’Connell.

“There’s a lot of IP (intellectual property) that we might miss out on if he wasn’t playing.

“He also plays a big leadership role for us. He’s a very smart guy, he’s a problem-solver within the group, he’s highly regarded within the group.

“Whether he’s there or not, he’ll continue to play that role.”

Reigning champions Ireland top the table following back-to-back bonus-point wins over France and Italy.

Keenan was the only member of Farrell’s squad to sit out Thursday’s session.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong and centres Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose each featured following their respective injury issues.

Former Ireland skipper O’Connell believes Ringrose, who is yet to feature in this year’s tournament due to a shoulder problem, is on track to return against Wales.

“It looks like it, he trained today, we didn’t do a massive session,” he said. “He’s in good shape.”

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso knew the time to choose between England and Wales would come but not quite so soon.

Less than a year after helping Taunton Titans escape relegation from National League One, the 21-year-old Exeter wing made his Test debut in the Guinness Six Nations.

Whether he would commit to England or Wales became a matter of urgency when he began shredding defences for the Chiefs in his first season in the Gallagher Premiership.

 

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Born and raised in Cardiff, he qualifies for England through his grandmother, and the tug of war for his allegiance began when he was first called by Steve Borthwick in November.

By January, his mind was made up and he was picked in Borthwick’s squad for the Six Nations with his first cap against Italy following soon after.

“The first conversation I had with Steve was after Northampton away and that wasn’t even a good game for me. That was a terrible game for me!” Feyi-Waboso said.

“He rang me after that and said I’m on his radar. I was really shocked at the call and I kind of thought he was just saying I’m in his mind, but obviously I’m here now.

“It’s always been something to think about. I moved to England. A lot of my family are English.

“My grandmother [Margaret Spence Taylor] is English, lives in Gloucester. My dad [Andrew] is half-English and my mum’s Nigerian.

“As soon as I got into England it was a decision to think about, but I thought it would be a lot further in the future.

“I blocked out a lot of the noise (around the decision). I have a lot of good people around me, like family. They helped my decision and definitely didn’t force my hand. It was definitely my decision.”

Feyi-Waboso’s availability was considered a formality by Wales, but they underestimated the strength of his English ties and determination to study medicine.

Despite being awarded three A stars for his ‘A’ levels, he was unable to secure a place at Cardiff University and having then enrolled at Aston University, the financial collapse of his club Wasps placed him in limbo.

The Chiefs provided him with a new home and a place at Exeter University, where he is able to pursue his true calling.

“I enjoy learning, it’s what I enjoyed even before rugby. If I wasn’t playing rugby, my ideal situation would be just to stay in uni, keep learning, keep going,” he said.

“But obviously being a doctor is a career of constant learning. You don’t really stop. You do five years in uni, then you have two foundation years, then specialise … it’s not boring.

“I feel like learning is now habitual. It’s just something that I really want to do – become a doctor.”

Balancing his medical course with the demands of playing for Exeter and England takes careful planning, and he is being assisted by team doctor Katy Hornby.

“I have an exam in a couple of weeks. So I might have to go back for that, do the exam, then come back to the Six Nations,” he said.

“I also have an exam three days after we come back from France so I’ll be revising. It can be a lot to think about, but you make timetables and you manage – you do manage.

“And there’s a lot of help around – I’m going to do some exam prep with the [RFU] doc.”

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