Andy Farrell says Ireland have “battened down the hatches” in their quest to retain the Guinness Six Nations title after some players received online abuse in the wake of their last-gasp loss to England.

Ireland’s pursuit of successive Grand Slams ended following Marcus Smith’s dramatic drop goal in last weekend’s 23-22 Guinness Six Nations defeat at Twickenham.

Members of Farrell’s squad, including veteran scrum-half Conor Murray, were subsequently targeted on social media for their performances in south-west London.

Farrell last year branded the “circus” surrounding his son Owen “absolutely disgusting” before the England captain decided to take a break from international rugby to prioritise his mental health.

The Ireland head coach, whose side host Scotland in a championship title decider on Saturday, seemed resigned to players having to deal with online hate but expressed hope the situation will change.

“Everyone would be lying if they said they hadn’t (been aware of it),” said Farrell.

“But that’s been the way of the world for some time now, hasn’t it, really, in regards to social media etc?

“We’ve battened down the hatches as far as our concentration on what we need to do to improve our performance and make sure that we’re the best of ourselves.

“And come Tuesday afternoon after the training session and a big session on Wednesday as well, it seems to be that the focus is right where it should be.”

Murray was vilified for kicking away possession in the closing minutes as Ireland attempted to protect a 22-20 lead, while captain Peter O’Mahony was criticised following a costly second-half yellow card.

Former Ireland international Andrew Conway described the negativity and disrespect aimed at players following his country’s second defeat in 22 games as “staggering”.

“It’s one loss and the bounce of a ball, an interpretation here and there,” said Farrell.

“But that’s the way of the world, you’ve got to roll with the punches as far as that’s concerned because we’ve all talked about it, we’ve all discussed it at length, certainly in this room (referring to Owen Farrell).

“It’s not for changing any time soon. Hopefully it will do though.”

Farrell has named an unchanged starting XV to face the Scots in Dublin, including retaining Calvin Nash on the right wing.

The 26-year-old Munster player was forced off by a head injury inside five minutes against England following a heavy collision with Tommy Freeman.

Farrell insisted he trusts the medical experts as he moved to allay fears about the selection of Nash.

“If you’re in the inner circle and you understand the process that these players have to go through now, you would thoroughly back that process,” he said.

“One, he has gone through it with flying colours and he never looked like failing for one second. And two, the process, I think is very sound.

“He passed the three stages that he had to go (through). He trained fully yesterday without doing contact within the session, but had to do contact after the session.

“(He) passed that with flying colours, no problem whatsoever. He had to see an independent doctor – if it’s a seven-day turnaround, you have to do that, and he passed that with flying colours as well.

“You trust the experts on this.”

Farrell has made two alterations on his bench.

The Englishman has scrapped the six-two split of forwards and backs by selecting centre Garry Ringrose ahead of lock Iain Henderson, while Ciaran Frawley, who is unavailable due to a head knock sustained after coming on for Nash last time out, is replaced by fly-half Harry Byrne.

Gregor Townsend admits Scotland will have to “do something special” in Dublin as he challenged them to score at least 20 points against Ireland and give themselves a fighting chance of a first Triple Crown since 1990.

The Scots are heading to the Irish capital looking to save face after a shock defeat in Italy last weekend all-but ended their hopes of winning the championship and left them staring at the possibility of finishing fifth if results go against them on Saturday.

Townsend is braced for a formidable test against a side the Scots have lost to in each of their last nine meetings – including a chastening 36-14 defeat at the World Cup just five months ago.

“We know how tough it’s going to be,” he said. “They’re one of the top two teams in the world and at home they’ve been virtually unbeatable the last few years so it’s going to require something special from our players.

“We’ve got to accept that they’ll score points on Saturday. I think before (losing 23-22 to) England they were averaging 30 points a game, so it will be a test for our defence, and we have to score points.

“We have to get to 20 or more, which will be tough but we believe we can do that against any team.”

Townsend conceded there is a sense of regret that Scotland – who have two wins out of four so far – are not heading to Ireland with a genuine chance of winning the title.

“The frustration is that we’re not going to Dublin on the back of four wins,” he said.

“We feel we had a win taken away from us against France, and obviously Italy deserved their win but we feel we could have been better that day.

“But we have this game ahead of us to show our best performance of the season.

“We’re still playing for something, not just a place in the table, it’s for a trophy (the Triple Crown), and also we’re playing one of the best teams in the world so that’s got to inspire us to deliver our best rugby.

“It’s weird to think we’re the only team that can win the Triple Crown but the focus is on the performance.

“We know we have to play our best rugby this week. We’re away to Ireland and it’s the ultimate challenge in the game right now. The huge motivator for us is to try and deliver our best rugby of the season.”

Despite last weekend’s disappointment, Townsend has opted to make just two changes, with Glasgow centre Stafford McDowall replacing Cam Redpath and first-choice scrum-half Ben White returning at the expense of George Horne.

The head coach is adamant there is no need for a wholesale overhaul of the team.

“If you suddenly change what you’re doing because of one defeat or one performance that had some negative elements then you’re forgetting what went on beforehand,” he said.

“Before that 20-minute period (in the second half in Italy) when we lost our focus, we played a lot of good rugby and we played a lot of good rugby leading up to the Italy game.

“We know we have to deliver our best performance of the season on Saturday to come away with a positive result and we believe in the players we’ve selected.”

Townsend was heavily criticised after the Italy defeat, but he dismissed any notion that he had felt the weight of the world on his shoulders since returning from Rome.

“No, I feel massive responsibility and privilege being in this job,” he said on Thursday. “It’s a huge purpose in my life.

“I’ve got a fantastic coaching staff and a great group of players around me and I love being in this role. It’s disappointing when you don’t get your best performance but there’s another game to work towards this weekend.”

Warren Gatland says he relishes the high-pressure stakes of international sport as Wales strive to avoid a first Guinness Six Nations wooden spoon for 21 years.

Gatland oversaw Six Nations titles triumphs, Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-final appearances during his trophy-laden first stint as Wales head coach from 2007 to 2019.

He returned to the role as Wayne Pivac’s successor ahead of last season’s Six Nations, with Wales finishing fifth on that occasion.

But if Wales fail to beat Principality Stadium visitors Italy on Saturday, then they will prop up the final table, which has not happened since Gatland’s fellow New Zealander Steve Hansen was in charge for the 2003 campaign.

Asked about the pressure, Gatland said: “I love it. You find out about people in weeks like this when you are under a bit of pressure, how you respond to that pressure, who is going to put their hand up, who is going to accept the responsibility.

“You find out so much more about individuals when you are under pressure.

“And that is what international sport and professional sport is all about, whether you are playing for Grand Slams or you are at the other end of the table and fighting for survival and fighting to make sure we get a win on the weekend.

“I am still learning about the game, still asking questions about things that you would do differently and how you would prepare differently.

“If you think you know everything, then you are probably in the wrong thing. Things keep moving on, and it is looking at the game and the changes and trying to stay in front of those changes and being proactive about those sort of things.”

Gatland’s squad rebuilding process is under way, one that was underlined by Test retirements last year of Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny – their fellow cap centurion George North will follow after the Six Nations – Louis Rees-Zammit quitting rugby for a possible American football career, Liam Williams playing in Japan, plus injuries to players like Jac Morgan, Dewi Lake and Taulupe Faletau.

“You tend to go back and look a little bit at history,” Gatland added.

“You can go back as far as 2003, which probably wasn’t the best year for Welsh rugby, but two years later that team won the Grand Slam.

“It does take a bit of time. You can’t coach experience. Players learn from being out in the middle. They make mistakes, but it is how you rectify those mistakes for them to be better the next time.

“We know where we are as a group. This group of players have worked incredibly hard and I can’t question the effort.

“Looking at some of the statistical data in terms of GPS numbers, they are very good. There is no way they are not trying out there.

“Both winning and losing become habits, and we’ve got to break that. We are desperate for a win on Saturday.

“We are desperate to go out there and start well and continue to play well for 80 minutes to show as a group we have been improving.”

North will bow out of the international game following a career that saw him help Wales win four Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, and play in four World Cups.

The 31-year-old back, who will play for French club Provence next season, has scored 47 tries for Wales – a figure only bettered by Shane Williams – and he is his country’s third most-capped player behind Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins.

Gatland added: “He was probably thinking to himself when was the right time (to retire) from a physical point of view.

“We would have loved for him to still be involved, but the conversation with him was that he didn’t want to continue playing for the next couple of years and then potentially leave us in a bit of a hole 12 months out from a World Cup.

“I completely understood his decision with him going to France and taking the family with him.

“It is not completely a surprise to me because we had already had a couple of conversations. We would have loved to have had a player of his ability still to be involved, but at some stage everyone calls time.”

George Ford continues at fly-half as England keep faith with the side that stunned Ireland for their attempt at winning the Guinness Six Nations title.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has made only one enforced changed for the showdown with France in Lyon on Saturday night by choosing Elliot Daly to replace the injured Immanuel Feyi-Waboso.

Feyi-Waboso self-reported concussion symptoms incurred against Ireland, prompting England to stand down their breakout player of the tournament.

Veteran Daly is restored to the left wing in his absence, with Tommy Freeman switching to the number 14 jersey worn by the 21-year Exeter Chief on his first international start.

Manu Tuilagi makes his first appearance of the Six Nations after taking Daly’s place on the bench in what will be his first Test since last autumn’s World Cup bronze medal match, having missed the opening rounds because of a groin problem.

Ford has held off the challenge of Marcus Smith to retain the fly-half duties for the climax to the tournament.

Smith kicked the last-gasp drop goal that sank Ireland 23-22 last Saturday and made a telling contribution off the bench, bring extra zip to England’s attack after Ford had pulled the strings effectively earlier on.

A second change among the replacements sees Ethan Roots replace calf injury victim Chandler Cunningham-South.

England will win the title if Ireland lose to Scotland without claiming a bonus point and they defeat France while securing a bonus point.

“After such a hard-fought win against Ireland last week, we realise how important it is to back that performance up with another similar display in Lyon on Saturday,” Borthwick said.

“France remain one of the very top sides in the world and will pose a great challenge for us.

“We’ve had a great preparation so far this week and there is a genuine sense of anticipation and determination around the camp as we head to what will be an exciting final weekend.”

Ireland have stuck with the starting XV narrowly beaten by England for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations title decider against Scotland in Dublin.

Andy Farrell’s men will retain the championship crown by avoiding defeat or securing two losing bonus points against the Scots at the Aviva Stadium.

Calvin Nash has overcome the head knock which forced him off inside five minutes of the last-gasp 23-22 loss at Twickenham to retain his place on the right wing.

Garry Ringrose, who is yet to feature in this year’s championship following a shoulder issue, is named among the replacements.

Farrell’s bench shows a five-three split of forwards and backs after the six-two selection in south-west London backfired because of head injuries suffered by Nash and his replacement Ciaran Frawley.

Versatile back Frawley drops out of the 23, replaced by fly-half Harry Byrne, while lock Iain Henderson makes way to accommodate the returning Ringrose.

Although Ireland’s pursuit of successive Grand Slams was ruined last weekend, they remain in a strong position at the top of the championship table, having racked up four bonus points and a vastly-superior points difference on each of their rivals.

A defeat without any bonus points could also be sufficient for the title, but would be dependent on the result of England’s trip to France in the final match of ‘Super Saturday’.

Gregor Townsend’s Scots are also mathematically still in the mix. However, following a shock loss to Italy, securing the Triple Crown looks to be the extent of their realistic ambitions.

Leinster trio Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong once again pack down in Ireland’s front row, ahead of locks Joe McCarthy and Tadhg Beirne.

Captain Peter O’Mahony retains the blindside flanker role, despite his costly second-half yellow card against England and strong competition from Ryan Baird, with Josh van der Flier at openside and Caelan Doris lining up at number eight.

Jamison Gibson-Park and Jack Crowley continue as the half-back pairing, while Bundee Aki partners Robbie Henshaw in midfield.

Left wing James Lowe, who claimed Ireland’s two tries at Twickenham, and full-back Hugo Keenan complete the starting line-up.

Ireland have won 13 of the last 14 meetings with Scotland, including nine in a row following a decisive 36-14 pool-stage success at last year’s Rugby World Cup in France.

Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Baird, Jack Conan and Conor Murray join Byrne and Ringrose on the bench.

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

Replacements: R Kelleher (Leinster), C Healy (Leinster), F Bealham (Connacht), R Baird (Leinster), J Conan (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), H Byrne (Leinster), G Ringrose (Leinster).

Glasgow centre Stafford McDowall is set for his second Scotland appearance after being selected to start Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations match away to title-chasing Ireland.

The 26-year-old made his debut against Italy in a World Cup warm-up match last summer before being cut from Gregor Townsend’s squad for the tournament in France.

The recent injury sustained by regular starter Sione Tuipulotu paved the way for Cam Redpath to make a rare start in last weekend’s damaging 31-29 defeat away to the Azzurri.

However, McDowall, who has been in good form for Warriors this term, has been preferred to Redpath, who drops to the bench in one of two changes to the team that started in Rome.

The other alteration sees first-choice scrum-half Ben White return in place of George Horne after the Toulon number nine was rested for the match at the Stadio Olimpico.

Backs Horne and Redpath both drop to the bench, with head coach Gregor Townsend reverting to a 5/3 split after going with a 6/2 last weekend.

Veteran prop Rory Sutherland, a late call-up to the squad ahead of the Italy game, is in line for his first outing of the championship after being named among the subs.

Fellow loosehead Alec Hepburn drops out of the 23 along with former captain Jamie Ritchie.

Gloucester have signed former Wasps and England winger Christian Wade – who quit rugby in 2018 to join the NFL’s International Player Pathway – just weeks after losing ex-Wales star Louis Rees-Zammit to the same programme.

The 32-year-old will join from French club Racing 92 ahead of the 2024/25 season and will help fill the void left by Rees-Zammit’s shock move to the US.

Wade was drafted to the Buffalo Bills in 2019 but never played a competitive NFL match and returned to rugby in 2022.

“I’m excited to be returning to the Premiership next season and for a great club like Gloucester,” Wade said.

“After speaking with George (Skivington), I believe in his vision and ambition for the team and I can’t wait to play my part in that.

“I have fond memories of playing at Kingsholm in Wasps colours so I’m looking forward to getting out there in Cherry & White next season.”

Wade played just one Test for England but was selected for the British and Irish Lions’ 2013 tour of Australia.

Head coach Skivington said: “It’s been clear since he returned from America that he has come back in even better shape and still has that sixth sense for the try line that he had before he left.

“We’ve got a pretty exciting stock of back three players here, but it’s hugely pleasing to add someone of Christian’s experience to that group.”

Grant Gilchrist has told his Scotland colleagues to embrace the pressure of having to produce a positive response against Ireland on Saturday as they bid to banish “a dark couple of days” following their damaging Guinness Six Nations defeat in Italy last weekend.

The Scots have been heavily criticised after losing 31-29 in Rome and squandering the chance to set up a title shootout with Andy Farrell’s side in Dublin.

Instead Gregor Townsend’s team are now chasing a face-saving result away to “arguably the best team in the world at the minute” in order to avoid potentially finishing as low as fifth in the championship.

“We should feel under pressure,” said veteran second-rower Gilchrist. “Every time you put on the jersey you should feel under pressure, nothing for me changes.

“Through our own play we’ve set the bar a lot higher than any other Scotland team that I’ve ever been part of and that pressure is a privilege.

“It’s a privilege to wear the jersey, it’s a privilege to play in a team that’s good enough to be expecting to get huge results and to win all these big games.

“We’re not going to shy away from pressure. Pressure comes with big games and big moments and that’s why we play the game.

“We know the strength of the opposition, Ireland are arguably the best team in the world at the minute. With their home record, you can’t pick a tougher test but that’s a huge excitement for us.

“We know we’re going to have to be at our very best but that’s what we strive to be anyway. We need to embrace the pressure, embrace the challenge – I don’t think there’s any bigger challenge – and go out and deliver a performance.”

Gilchrist, 33, admitted the defeat in Rome was a tough one to swallow.

“In the immediacy, it was a dark couple of days,” he said. “No one cares more than the guys in that changing room and we’re devastated with how the game went and the opportunity we let slip by.

“It’s not a case of being able to move on too quickly but we had a really good day on Monday going through it and players taking a lot more responsibility.

“It was on us to look at solutions and come up with a plan so that we could put it behind us and it was great to get out on the grass on Tuesday and start putting things in place for what’s going to be… well there’s no bigger challenge.”

Hours after their own defeat, there was further reason for Scottish regret when Ireland’s surprise loss to England effectively meant Townsend’s team had blown a golden chance to go into the last weekend of the championship knowing victory would bring them title glory for the first time in 25 years.

“You couldn’t give me more of a blow than losing a game of rugby for my country that I know we were more than good enough to win, but because of our own doing we allowed ourselves to get into a game where we came out on the wrong side of the result,” said Gilchrist.

“Yes, it was a double blow (with Ireland also losing) but the first blow was enough for me. I couldn’t be more devastated at the fact that we didn’t take care of what we were doing and we knew all that stuff (the result at Twickenham) was out of our control anyway.”

George North has announced that he will retire from international rugby following Wales’ Guinness Six Nations game against Italy on Saturday.

It will be his 121st and final Wales appearance during a career that saw him help his country win four Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, play in four World Cups and go on two British and Irish Lions tours.

Here, the PA news agency recalls three of North’s finest moments.

2010 (November 13)

North was just 18 years old when Wales head coach Warren Gatland handed him a Test debut against South Africa in Cardiff. North had produced some blistering form for his regional team the Scarlets, and he simply carried that with him into the international arena. A thrilling game ultimately went South Africa’s way, but North announced his arrival as a star-in-the-making by scoring two tries opposite revered Springboks wing Bryan Habana. He was the largely unknown quantity in a Wales team that featured the likes of Shane Williams, James Hook, Alun Wyn Jones and Martyn Williams, but he could not have made a greater impact.

2013 (June 22)

North’s progression for Wales made him an obvious choice for the 2013 British and Irish Lions’ tour of Australia, and he did not disappoint. He made his presence felt early in the first Test in Brisbane, scoring a stunning solo try that showcased the 6ft 4in wing’s pace and power as he brushed aside Wallabies defenders Pat McCabe and James O’Connor. It was a highlight of the Lions’ 23-21 victory, while a week later in the Melbourne-staged second Test, North provided another memorable moment when he tackled Israel Folau by effectively picking the Australia wing up and carrying him.

2019 (February 1)

Wales began their 2019 Six Nations campaign with a Friday night encounter against France in Paris, and it looked bleak for the visitors when they trailed 16-0 at half-time. North, though, proved the catalyst of a remarkable turnaround, He pounced on a dreadful defensive error by France wing Yoann Huget to touch down and put Wales back in contention, then he intercepted France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina’s pass to speed away and leave Les Bleus crestfallen. Wales went on to win the Six Nations title and a Grand Slam.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland led tributes to George North after his announcement that he will retire from Test rugby following Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy.

North has decided to call time on an international career that has yielded 120 caps, 47 tries for Wales, four Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, four World Cups and two British and Irish Lions tours, when he played in three Tests.

“George has contributed hugely to Welsh rugby in an incredible career, starting as an 18-year-old,” Gatland said.

“The way that he burst on to the scene. I can remember seeing him play and thinking, ‘We need to cap this kid’.

“He has been incredible as a rugby player, but I think the most important thing is how he has contributed to the squad as a person over the years.

“How positive and encouraging he has been within and around the group, things that people wouldn’t have seen in terms of what he has organised off the field.

“George has been outstanding and a credit to himself. He can definitely hold his head high. He and his family and friends can be very proud of everything he has achieved.

“I look forward to watching George play at the Principality Stadium one final time in a red jersey on Saturday and I hope everyone will join me in celebrating him. Diolch George.”

North’s former Wales and Lions team-mate Jamie Roberts described him on X as a “generational player”, while the Lions said that North had enjoyed “an incredible international career”.

And ex-Wales and Lions number eight Scott Quinnell said on X: “Congratulations on an amazing career. One of the very best. Enjoy every minute of Saturday.”

Ospreys centre North will continue playing rugby next season, having agreed a deal with ambitious French club Provence.

Six Nations chief executive Tom Harrison insists bonus points are unlikely to be abandoned if it transpires that Ireland win this year’s tournament despite claiming fewer victories than England.

England’s triumph over Andy Farrell’s men on Saturday has brought intrigue to the final day of the Guinness Six Nations, with both sides capable of lifting the crown, while France and Scotland also have mathematical chances of winning.

Ireland are in the driving seat and could retain their title even if they lose or draw against Scotland and England topple France, because they have already accumulated four bonus points.

It would be the first time since bonus points were introduced in 2017 that the team finishing top had collected fewer victories than the side in second, but Harrison has indicated the format is here to stay.

When asked about whether a rethink would be needed if the Six Nations was won in that way, Harrison replied: “Yes, if we think bonus points are a problem.

“But remember why bonus points are there – bonus points are there to promote positive rugby. It’s about fan engagement, right?

“It’s also that the players know. It’s not as though we’re saying ‘You’ve played so well we’re going to award you an extra point afterwards’. No, I don’t think it will change.

“I’m delighted that there is some jeopardy going into the final weekend. It’s great. That’s one of the features of the Six Nations – you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Harrison was speaking at the launch of the Women’s Six Nations in London – a competition England are aiming to win for the sixth successive year, with France their closest rivals.

With their rivals investing more money into their national programmes in an attempt to catch up, Harrison is confident the playing field will level out.

“It would be great to have more competitive matches and I think that, through the investments that have happened just in the last 12 months, we will start to see some of that,” he said.

“Of course, England and France have obviously also upped their game in terms of their performance, and we have had another year of understanding how to become even better.

“Partners are very interested in seeing those improvements and seeing how teams are becoming more competitive.

“And let’s be honest, this isn’t the domination that you might see in Scottish football, for example. We’ve got a couple of years where the gap has widened and I expect that gap to narrow.

“Our role is to provide increased levels of funding for the women’s game because we don’t really get involved in the high-performance space.

“What we can do, though, is ensure those funding streams are healthy, open and exploited to the full extent.”

Wales star George North fought back tears as he reflected on an international career that saw him “live a dream”.

The 31-year-old has announced that he will retire from Test rugby after Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy in Cardiff.

He made his Wales debut as a teenager in 2010, touching down twice against South Africa, and has scored 47 tries for his country – a figure bettered only by Shane Williams.

North is third on Wales’ all-time cap list with 120 Test appearances behind Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins, while he played in four Rugby World Cups and helped Wales win four Six Nations titles – including two Grand Slams.

He also toured Australia with the 2013 British and Irish Lions, which included him scoring a brilliant solo try in the first Test and then famously picking up and carrying Wallabies wing Israel Folau during the second game, and New Zealand four years later.

“It has not been an easy decision for me at all,” an emotional North said at Wales’ training base in the Vale of Glamorgan, pausing to regather himself on several occasions during a 20-minute press conference.

“It is the best thing for me and my family and the sacrifice everyone has to make.

“I didn’t think this day would come – I wished this day would never come – but for me it is about being able to go out on my terms and being able to enjoy it like I have for every second of the last 14 years.

“I am going to use this week and Saturday to really take it all in and to live my dream again one more time.

“For me, it has always been about me being the best I can be for Wales and being the best I can be with the Three Feathers on my chest.

“I have loved every second of it and cherished every second of it – the highs and the lows. I couldn’t have written it better myself, to be honest.

“I have been very fortunate to live a dream not many people get to do.”

North, who played the majority of his time with Wales as a wing before moving to centre and will join French club Provence next season, addressed his national squad colleagues on Wednesday.

And he underlined how he wants it to be business as usual when Wales strive for a first victory of this season’s Six Nations against Italy.

“I said (to the squad), let’s not get weird. This week is the same and the preparation is the same,” he added.

“I asked them for nothing to change from what we always do. For us, it is a must-win game and the focus should never be on one individual.”

North is the latest big-name Wales player to step down from the Test arena during a 10-month period that has also seen Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny call time.

“I was speaking to Becky (North’s wife, who is a double Olympic medallist), and when she stepped away from cycling. The conversation we have had plenty of times is, ‘when you know, you know’,” he said.

“Sometimes that is not the right answer and the answer is a fairy-tale answer or the fairy-tale finish. For me it has been a dream, and in my heart I know it is the right time for me to step away.

“I think my first cap is something that will always burn strong with me. It will put a smile on my face. At the time I said I had a list of goals at the back of my bedroom door, and I knocked out probably 95 per cent in one game!

“To me that really gave me the snapshot and the window to really push on to give me the fuel and desire to do what I’ve done for so long.

“You work until you are content, and that is when you can walk away with a smile on your face.

“I hope people will think of me as a Test animal, someone who would never give in, would give everything and left nothing out there.

“I have had my journey and I’ve loved it, and now it is time for those boys to have theirs and to love it as much as I have.”

North, who was omitted from the Wales starting line-up beaten 45-24 by France last weekend, replaces Joe Roberts against Italy on what his now his Wales farewell, with fellow centre Nick Tompkins returning instead of Owen Watkin.

Two other changes are in the pack, where Harlequins prop Dillon Lewis is preferred to Keiron Assiratti and Cardiff flanker Alex Mann packs down alongside back-row colleagues Tommy Reffell and Aaron Wainwright.

Wales centre George North has announced that he will retire from international rugby after Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy.

The 31-year-old, who has won 120 caps, has been recalled to the Wales team for what is a wooden-spoon decider.

He wrote on X: “I’ve decided that the game on Saturday will bring my international career to an end.

“After 14 years it feels like now is the right time to step away. I have loved and cherished every second in a Welsh shirt and been able to play alongside some fantastic team-mates.”

Ben Earl is unsatisfied with his rampaging display against Ireland as his pursuit of becoming world class demands he develops into the complete back row.

England’s number eight was named official man of the match for the second time in this Guinness Six Nations after providing the tip of the spear in Saturday’s 23-22 upset of Andy Farrell’s defending champions.

Using a combination of speed, power and footwork, he carried 19 times for 140 metres and crossed for a vital second-half try as he continues to prove an unstoppable force from close range.

While the 26-year-old Saracen says he is aiming for world-class status, his overall stats after four rounds of the Six Nations are evidence he is already there – more carries than any other player, second behind Ireland’s James Lowe for metres carried and sixth for metres gained.

But as the tournament’s most potent forward in attack, he heads to Lyon for Saturday’s clash with France aiming to elevate another essential part of his game.

“Ben can get a lot better,” said England’s head of strength and conditioning Aled Walters, who described Earl’s ability to move laterally and then “punch forward immediately” as his point of difference.

“He was happy with his performance in attack at the weekend but disappointed with his performance in defence. So his ceiling is way off.

“Ben is striving to become one of those players on the world stage. I remember the term ‘superior discontent’. That is what Ben has. It will be good to watch how he progresses.”

Earl was an outsider for England in the build-up to the World Cup with all 15 of his caps won as a replacement, but by the end of the competition he had emerged as the squad’s standout player.

That form has continued into the Six Nations despite the interruption of a knee injury to the point he is now one of the first names on the team sheet.

“I’m trying to take my game to a place it’s not been before. You have to nit-pick and look at your performance as a whole,” Earl said.

“That’s especially being a back row because it’s not all about what you do with the ball in hand, it’s not all about what you do without the ball, it’s a combination of both.

“I’m trying to get to a point where both facets of my game are at a world class standard. That’s not the case now and it’s certainly something I’m working very hard towards.

“I’ve made no secret to where I want to be in the game. Has wanting to be world class driven me more? Probably not, I think I put a bit more pressure on myself than most. It’s something I’ve just had to live with.

“It just feels like we as a team are just going to get better and better and the more I can contribute to that then the better.”

Self-belief has never been an issue for Earl, according to his former Saracens team-mate and current England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth, who insists an important aspect of his game has gone unrecognised.

“I actually sat next to him in the changing rooms at Saracens from when he was like 18 or 19 coming into the squad,” Wigglesworth said.

“He got essentially booted up the arse every day at training because he had some confidence. At 19 it was not always backed up.

“But he keeps getting into battles. He keeps wanting the ball, he keeps putting himself in great positions.

“And I don’t think he probably gets much credit for his toughness. Because whatever has just happened, he’ll do the next thing to the absolute best of his ability. There’s no going into his shell.

“For Ben, this is years of hard work that are allowing him to flourish at Test level. And he’s got more in him.”

George North has been recalled to the Wales team for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations wooden-spoon decider against Italy.

North, who was omitted from the starting line-up beaten 45-24 by France, replaces Joe Roberts, with his fellow centre Nick Tompkins returning instead of Owen Watkin.

Two other changes are in the pack, where Harlequins prop Dillon Lewis is preferred to Keiron Assiratti and Cardiff flanker Alex Mann packs down alongside back-row colleagues Tommy Reffell and Aaron Wainwright.

Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins, who featured at blindside flanker against France, returns to the second-row alongside Adam Beard, with Will Rowlands dropping to the bench.

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