Andy Farrell hopes Ireland can fire up a sold-out Dublin crowd and prevent a zombie-like atmosphere during their homecoming against Italy.

The reigning Guinness Six Nations champions are poised to play at the Aviva Stadium for the first time since an agonising World Cup quarter-final exit to New Zealand in October.

Tens of thousands of travelling fans celebrated each of Ireland’s pool-stage wins in France with rousing renditions of the team’s tournament anthem – Zombie by the Cranberries.

Head coach Farrell wants to continue the special connection with supporters on Sunday afternoon when his side take on opposition narrowly beaten by England on the opening weekend of the championship.

“Well I hope they’re not patient in just being quiet and waiting to get going,” he said of the fans.

“I hope we can excite them in our intent and the way that we can go and play the game.

“Everyone who watched Italy’s game last week knows that they’re going to be a threat and I think our fans will certainly get behind our side.

“The first time (at home) since the World Cup warm-up games and it is something that the players have talked about and are excited about.”

Ireland launched their title defence with a statement 38-17 success over pre-tournament favourites France in Marseille.

Italy, who were defeated 27-24 by Steve Borthwick’s side in Rome the following day, have lost each of their previous 12 Six Nations fixtures on Irish soil.

Farrell has made six personnel changes to his starting XV and selected Caelan Doris as captain for the first time but dismissed any notion of over-confidence.

“You know me, I’m not disrespectful to anyone,” said the Englishman.

“It’s not the way that I am but, honestly, it is about us.

“It’s about us improving on last week and the expectation that we’ve got within our own four walls, of an understanding of how we kick on in all parts of our game.

“It’s genuine, it’s there, it’s obvious to see for us the levels that we need to get to, not just on the field but off the field as well.

“The players are very honest and it’d be wrong for us to waste a week and not progress.”

Back-rower Doris leads his country from openside flanker having only captained Leinster for the first time in a 22-21 United Rugby Championship loss to Ulster on New Year’s Day.

The 25-year-old revealed he “annoyed” referee Frank Murphy that day by questioning decisions which turned out to be correct, an experience he and Farrell have discussed.

“We obviously speak about it,” said Farrell.

“Caelan is a humble type of guy and would always be his biggest critic, that’s what you would expect of someone who wants to learn and get better.

“I know that I made many a call and I probably wasn’t as humble as that on my first outing as a captain when I was playing.

“I’ve no doubt he would have learnt from that massively. He’s a thinker.”

George Ford insisted England were still adjusting to life without Owen Farrell as they forged a new identity under Jamie George.

Farrell ruled himself out of the Guinness Six Nations for mental wellbeing reasons and having agreed to join Racing 92 next season, will then be ineligible for international selection.

For over a decade, Test centurion Farrell has been the dominant figure in English rugby, as well as serving as the national side’s talisman, goalkicker, playmaker-in-chief and captain.

But it will be George who leads out the team in Saturday’s clash with Wales at Twickenham as England continue to rebuild after the 2023 World Cup.

“It is different without him. He has been here for so long,” Ford said.

“He has been such an integral part – he has been our captain, he has been a massive leader for us and he stamps his authority on our team.

“So him not being here, of course it’s different, but there is always a time when things change.

“For us, for me and the other leaders, it’s about not trying to replicate what it was like with him here, but be a bit more authentic. Jamie has done that brilliantly.”

 

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Farrell’s absence – combined with Marcus Smith’s calf injury – provides the opportunity for Ford to cement his latest incarnation as ringmaster.

The 30-year-old Sale Shark has 92 caps, 65 of them starts and regularly formed a playmaking axis alongside Farrell, yet under each of Stuart Lancaster, Eddie Jones and Steve Borthwick, he has made way for his long-term friend for critical games.

Most recently, he was demoted after last autumn’s World Cup group match against Argentina despite drop-kicking 14-man England to victory as part of a fly-half masterclass.

While being dropped still hurts, he has learned to roll with the punches in the belief his time will come again.

“I have been through all the emotions – frustrated, disappointed, gutted, angry. It means a lot to you so you are going to have the emotions,” Ford said.

“But what these experiences have done – because it has obviously happened a few times – is allow you to deal with those moments a bit better and stay a little bit neutral about it.

“When I was younger, when you are starting and playing every weekend and then you get dropped, you are rock bottom and it is a rollercoaster ride.

“Whereas now, you still go through the emotions – angry, gutted and all them – but it is about how quickly you can get back to accepting whatever the new role is.

“I always back myself to go out there and keep getting better in case I do get another opportunity. It’s about belief and a consistency.

“Since making my debut for England, the one constant and consistent thing is the debate around who plays number 10 for England. I’m not sure why.

“You become used to the exterior noise. Everyone’s got their opinion on who should play and the way England should play.

“I make all the choices I do to be the best player I can be and do the best job for England. If some people agree – or don’t – on who should be playing for England, for me that’s massively irrelevant.”

George North says his drive and desire is undiminished as he prepares to take up membership of an exclusive club.

The Wales centre, who wins his 119th cap against England at Twickenham on Saturday, also clocks up 50 appearances in the Six Nations Championship.

It is a feat achieved by only four other Welshmen – North’s fellow cap centurions Alun Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams.

The 31-year-old has been backed by Wales head coach Warren Gatland to make a fifth successive World Cup in Australia during 2027, which would see him equal the record jointly held by Brian Lima, Sergio Parisse and Mauro Bergamasco.

That possibility is some distance down the road, but North’s form and consistency underpins a player who shows no sign of slowing up.

He made his Six Nations debut 13 years ago and heads to Twickenham as the only player in Wales’ matchday 23 to have experienced a Test match victory at the home of English rugby – winning there in 2012 and 2015.

“My drive has never changed,” North said.

“It is always the three feathers. The honour, the privilege and the respect I have for the jersey is something that keeps me focused every day, keeps me working every day.

“I am sure there are a fair few people who say I should have finished a few years ago, but that fight in me and that desire in me to do best by the jersey and do best by Wales has always kept me focused.

“In a four-year cycle, there is a lot of rugby to be played.

“Another World Cup (training) camp is an interesting debate and that will be a coffee with Gats, I imagine. To get to that point, I have got to go for another four years.

“Obviously, I can’t promise that my body will still be in a position to fight and compete, but I am doing everything I can to be the best I can be to perform.”

North is the oldest player on duty for Wales this weekend, while his cap total is more than the entire eight-strong Wales replacements bench combined.

But he relishes being part of a new-look squad and the young talent that is emerging – players like Cameron Winnett, Ioan Lloyd, Keiron Assiratti, Alex Mann and Archie Griffin, who are all involved at Twickenham.

And it has shades of a 19-year-old North heading to his first World Cup in 2011 when his colleagues included Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Lydiate and Jonathan Davies, who were all 23 or younger.

“I don’t want to sound old and say I don’t remember those days, but they are very similar,” North added.

“The only difference is probably when I came through in that group of young players we had a few more senior players for a bit longer to help guide, mould and perform.

“I have been massively impressed with the young boys coming through. Their application, that intensity – you have got to go, go and go – and how they are adapting to that is really good.

“They have got a great opportunity now to stamp their authority on the jersey, a great opportunity to stamp how they want this cycle to look going into the next World Cup, and what an exciting opportunity that is for me to be part of that.”

Ireland boss Andy Farrell said Caelan Doris’ leadership development during his reign has been “astonishing” after naming him captain for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy.

Leinster back-rower Doris made his Test debut in the first match of the Farrell era – a 19-12 win over Scotland in 2020 in which he was forced off within five minutes due to concussion.

The 25-year-old has been switched from number eight to openside flanker for the Azzurri’s visit to Dublin and will lead his country in place of the injured Peter O’Mahony.

Farrell, who has made six personnel changes to his starting XV following last week’s 38-17 demolition of France, has been considering Doris as a potential skipper since last year’s World Cup.

Asked what he has seen in the player, the head coach said: “A lot, obviously.

“To put him in that position is a massive privilege for me, as I’m sure it is for Caelan and his family, so let’s recognise that, first and foremost.

“He’s someone that has been on my mind certainly through the World Cup and how he has come on as a leader and how he has dealt with being an international, top-class player over the years.

“His story, as it were, from his first cap to where he is now, has been astonishing really, behind the scenes.

“We are excited to give him the reins and let’s see what he can do with it.”

O’Mahony and prop Tadhg Furlong have been ruled out due to calf injuries, while centre Bundee Aki has a knee issue and Garry Ringrose continues to nurse a shoulder problem.

Farrell is hopeful the absentees will return to training ahead of Ireland hosting Wales on February 24.

Scrum-half Craig Casey, centre Stuart McCloskey, prop Finlay Bealham, lock James Ryan and back-rowers Ryan Baird and Jack Conan come into the team, while Tadhg Beirne has a weekend off and Jamison Gibson-Park and Josh van der Flier drop to the bench.

Doris will wear the number seven jersey for his country for the first time since claiming two tries in a 33-17 World Cup warm-up win over Italy in August, with Conan in the centre of the back row and Baird at blindside.

“He is someone that is unbelievably professional, very diligent in his own preparation,” Farrell said of Doris, who will win his 38th cap.

“Therefore because he is so comfortable in his own skin, he is able to think outside the box as far as helping everyone else with the bigger picture stuff.

“We have seen that flourish massively over the last couple of years, but more so throughout the World Cup.

“He is a very calm, calculated type of individual that will have that reassurance on the rest of the group.”

Doris was selected as skipper ahead of recalled provincial team-mate Ryan.

Ryan has captained Ireland in the past but has to be content with just a return to the second row alongside Joe McCarthy, who starred in Marseille.

“James Ryan’s chomping at the bit to show his worth and start, and big Joe is ready to compete again,” said Farrell.

“Then obviously Calvin Nash and Jack (Crowley) get another shot at it. Ryan Baird has been playing outstandingly well, he’s obviously been very good for us off the bench, to start the game is a different challenge for him.

“Craig Casey has been jumping out of his skin and playing well, and deserves a start.

“For me, it’s a hell of a pack and a good team at that, so it excites me being able to be in that position.”

Kenny Logan is adamant Scotland should go into Saturday’s showdown with under-pressure France in bullish mood because they have proved on several occasions they can unsettle Les Bleus on home soil.

The Scots have won five of the last seven meetings between the teams at Murrayfield – and three of the last four Edinburgh clashes in the Six Nations.

Logan, who won 70 caps for Scotland, feels the Scots are perfectly capable of inflicting another defeat on the French, who lost 38-17 at home to Ireland in their Guinness Six Nations opener last Friday.

“Scotland have definitely got a chance of getting a result, all day long,” Logan – speaking to promote Prostate Cancer UK’s Big Golf Race – told the PA news agency.

“They’re at home, the French are under pressure, Scotland have got a game that can take the French on, they beat them in August – albeit in a World Cup warm-up – and they’ve beaten them several times in the last few years, so why would they not be confident?

“Scotland are a strong team so we should be looking at it thinking ‘we’re going to win this match’. They’ve got to have that confidence.”

Logan, 51, played for Scotland in an era when victories over France were rare but he feels Gregor Townsend’s side will benefit from memories of recent successes against this weekend’s opponents.

“It helps mentally when you’ve beaten a team because you get a lot of confidence from that,” he said.

“When they go into the game, they can say ‘right, we’ve beaten them three of the last four times we’ve played them here in the Six Nations’, and they also know they’ve played against their players in Europe and have played against France three times in the last year, so they shouldn’t be scared of them.

“We’re a team who can beat anybody on our day. Anybody.”

Scotland defeated Wales 27-26 in their opener in Cardiff last weekend – but only after almost squandering a 27-0 lead. Logan feels their second-half collapse will help focus minds for the French.

“After last week, when it felt like a defeat and they probably felt like they let themselves down, the team will have been more on edge this week in terms of knowing they’ve got to work hard to get the focus right,” he said.

“I think they just got a little bit carried away last week and their heads went a little bit but overall they will have learned a lot more than if they won by 30 points.

“That game will let them know they’ve got to play for 80 minutes, and keep their focus, which they will have to do against France.”

Kenny Logan was speaking to promote Prostate Cancer UK’s Big Golf Race, which launches on 28 February.

Scotland welcome France to Murrayfield in round two of the Guinness Six Nations on Saturday.

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

Chance for Scots to build momentum

Scotland opened a Six Nations with back-to-back wins for the first time last year, and they now have the chance to achieve the feat for a second campaign in succession following last weekend’s narrow 27-26 victory in Wales. Last year, after defeating Wales and England in the first two rounds, they came unstuck across a formidable double-header away to France and at home to Ireland. This time, their fixtures on match-day three and four look notably less daunting, with England at home followed by Italy away. If they can get the better of Les Bleus on Saturday, Scotland are entitled to fancy their chances of contending for the title.

Can wounded, Dupont-less French summon a response?

After the deflation of their World Cup quarter-final exit on home soil, France failed to get the positive Six Nations starter they were after when they were destroyed 38-17 at home to Ireland last weekend. In mitigation, they played more than half the match in Marseille with 14 men, but the French arrive in Edinburgh with their backs firmly against the wall and in need of a response. They will have to find a way to conjure it without their influential half-back pairing of Antoine Dupont (who has switched to sevens) and Romain Ntamack (injured).

Murrayfield not a happy French hunting ground

If France had their way, they would probably choose to head somewhere other than Edinburgh to try to get back on track. Les Bleus have lost five of their last seven matches at Murrayfield, including their last visit for a World Cup warm-up match in August, when they squandered a 21-3 half-time lead to lose 25-21 to the 14-man Scots. Scotland have won three of the last four Six Nations meetings with the French on their own patch.

Darge leads all Glasgow back-row

Scotland have made three personnel changes from the side that won in Wales, with two of them in the back-row, where they are deemed to have a wealth of options. Last weekend it was Edinburgh flankers Luke Crosbie and Jamie Ritchie who started alongside Glasgow’s Matt Fagerson. This weekend, Gregor Townsend has opted for the “cohesion” of an all-Glasgow back-row, with recently-appointed Rory Darge fit enough to start his first match in six weeks alongside Fagerson, who shifts to blindside, and Jack Dempsey, who is restored at number eight. Ritchie – who captained the team at the World Cup, drops out of the 23 entirely, with the more versatile Andy Christie preferred on the bench.

Another huge test for Kyle Rowe

At this time last year, when the iconic Stuart Hogg was still wearing the number 15 jersey, Kyle Rowe – battling back from an ACL injury and with just one substitute outing for the national team to his name – would have struggled to envisage himself as Scotland’s starting full-back in the Six Nations. Hogg’s retirement plus injuries to Blair Kinghorn and Ollie Smith have paved the way for him to do just that, however. The 25-year-old Glasgow back – who predominantly operates as a wing – handled his first start superbly in Wales last weekend, and he will be hoping for a repeat performance on Saturday against the highest-calibre opposition he will have faced in his career.

Dafydd Jenkins has highlighted the enormity of victory at Twickenham if Wales can end their long wait for a Six Nations away win against England.

It has only happened twice since the tournament began 24 years ago, with Exeter lock Jenkins bidding to emulate previous Wales captains Ryan Jones (2008) and Sam Warburton (2012) in toppling England on home soil.

Jenkins, the youngest Wales skipper since Sir Gareth Edwards in 1968, was a junior school pupil when Scott Williams’ late try secured a Triple Crown triumph at Twickenham during the 2012 campaign.

And he is geared up for a huge effort on Saturday after Wales showed glimpses of their potential via a spectacular second-half fightback against Scotland last weekend, even if they ultimately lost by a point from 27-0 behind.

“I wouldn’t say it is like any other game, because England and Wales is special,” Jenkins, 21, said.

“There’s massive history behind the game. It’s a must-win game for us because of the place we are in the tournament.

“It’ll be the best place to win. For a Welshman, there is no better place. If you win over there, you gain a lot of respect from them. It’s huge for us.

“There were a lot of emotions at half-time last week. We felt like we were letting a lot of people down.

“We did well to nearly get ourselves out of the hole but we didn’t. Hopefully, we won’t put ourselves in that position again.

“We definitely felt like we grew in terms of the performance – a lot of people stepped up in the second-half.”

While Wales victories are rare in the professional era at Twickenham, head coach Warren Gatland bucks the trend.

He was Wales boss in 2008 and 2012 and masterminded a 2015 World Cup win, while he also won a hat-trick of Premiership titles with Wasps, in addition to the club’s 2004 European Cup final success.

Gatland said: “We need to start a lot better than last week. We need to reduce the amount of turnovers.

“The second-half was reflective of how we played against Australia in the World Cup (Wales won 40-6), with a 10 or 11 per cent turnover rate. That makes a huge difference.

“A number of those things were in our own control, with penalties or lineouts that we weren’t accurate enough. We have worked hard this week in trying to rectify these things.”

Central to Wales’ victory bid will be fly-half Ioan Lloyd, who makes his first Wales start after three appearances off the bench in three years.

With Sam Costelow injured and Dan Biggar having retired from Test rugby, 22-year-old Lloyd now steps up for the biggest game of his life.

“We can see what a quality footballer and running threat he is,” Gatland added.

“He probably realises there is less space and not so many opportunities as a running threat at Test level. It maybe only happens once or twice a half.

“His game management is pretty important. Also, his communication with his outside backs and forwards, scanning and seeing what options are on.

“He is an instinctive player, so we need to allow him that opportunity to express himself, but it is also him being smart and saying that it’s not forcing it and not going after things when there isn’t that chance.”

Caelan Doris will captain Ireland for the first time in Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin.

The 25-year-old, who switches from number eight to openside flanker, has been selected to lead a starting XV showing six personnel changes from last Friday’s 38-17 round-one demolition of France.

Munster scrum-half Craig Casey will make only his fourth Test start, while centre Stuart McCloskey, prop Finlay Bealham, lock James Ryan and back-rowers Ryan Baird and Jack Conan also come in.

Regular skipper Peter O’Mahony, who missed training earlier in the week, is one of four established stars given the weekend off, in addition to Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne and Bundee Aki.

Jamison Gibson-Park and 2022 world player of the year Josh van der Flier drop to a much-changed bench, which also includes fly-half Harry Byrne and versatile back Jordan Larmour.

Skipper Doris last wore the number seven jersey for his country in last summer’s 33-17 World Cup warm-up win over Italy in which he scored two tries.

His positional move allows number eight Conan to make his first international start since suffering a foot injury in that match, with Baird lining up at blindside.

Tighthead Bealham, who this week became a father, joins loosehead prop Andrew Porter and hooker Dan Sheehan in the front row, while Joe McCarthy will partner recalled Leinster team-mate Ryan in the second row following his man-of-the-match display in Marseille.

Jack Crowley continues at fly-half, forming a partnership with his provincial team-mate Casey, whose last two starts also came against Italy.

Ulster’s McCloskey links up with Robbie Henshaw in midfield, with wings James Lowe and Calvin Nash and full-back Hugo Keenan retained in an unchanged back three.

Hooker Ronan Kelleher, lock Iain Henderson and props Jeremy Loughman and Tom O’Toole complete the bench.

Cian Healy, Conor Murray and Ciaran Frawley drop out of the matchday 23.

Rory Darge feels “refreshed” and ready to lead Scotland into Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations showdown with France after dismissing any concerns about being exposed to such a big match following a six-week injury lay-off.

The 23-year-old flanker has been sidelined since sustaining knee ligament damage while playing for Glasgow against Edinburgh on December 30 but – after being named national team co-captain by Gregor Townsend last month – he has been deemed fit enough to start against Les Bleus at Murrayfield.

Darge played down any notion that his lack of recent game time might be an issue.

“Really good,” he said, when asked at the pre-match captain’s run press conference on Friday how he was feeling.

“I’ve played a lot of rugby the last year and a half so a five-week break is not the end of the world.

“It’s not a complete break because I’ve been working hard in the gym and rehabbing but compared to the physical and mental toll of playing rugby every week, I just feel fresh and I’m really looking forward to playing.

“I’ve just been trying my best to get back as quickly as I can and in as good a condition as I can.

“With the physios, it’s sometimes quite dynamic in terms of the date you will be back. It’s dependent on ligament tests and things like that.

“Getting too caught up in it initially would have been the wrong thing to do, but now I’m back I’m obviously delighted. There are not many better games – it’s one of the ones you really want to play in.

“I’ve had issues with this ligament before, it is what it is, but I don’t have any concern about it. I’m used to coming back from injury.”

Darge has skippered Scotland once previously after leading the team in a World Cup warm-up match at home to Italy last July, but this weekend’s match is his first since he and Finn Russell were named as co-captains.

“I’m excited,” he said. “Gregor obviously gave me the opportunity last year and that was a special week.

“I remember the whole week really well.

“This time it’s obviously a Six Nations game at home against one of the best teams in the world, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Saturday’s match represents Darge’s fourth Six Nations start after he missed last year’s championship through injury. His first start for the national team came at home to the French two years ago, when he scored in a 36-17 defeat.

“I remember the anthems, that was a goosebump moment being my first Scotland start and first game at Murrayfield,” the back-rower recalled. “Then the try, in terms of moments that is probably right up there in my career.

“I don’t score many tries, it’s not a massive part of my game, but to score in front of a home crowd and my family was really special.

“Maybe two years ago, my first time involved in the Six Nations, there were more nerves involved whereas this one I’m just really looking forward to it.

“I’ve had the experience of it before, I love playing at Murrayfield in Six Nations, the anthems and everything are unbelievable. The build-up to the game really gets me up for it.”

Darge watched from the stand last weekend as Scotland kicked off their campaign with a hard-fought 27-26 win away to Wales and he is hoping to make it back-to-back victories – a scenario that would leave them sitting nicely ahead of their next two matches at home to England and away to Italy.

“That’s what we’re going out to try and do,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot physically.

“We can’t really look further than Saturday. I know that’s the easy answer, but it’s true.

“After that, it would be massively exciting (the possibility of competing for the title), but we really have to concentrate on Saturday.”

Wales have been warned they do not hold a monopoly on passion as Will Stuart called on England to prove that fighting spirit is also part of their genetic make-up.

The rivals collide at Twickenham on Saturday with Steve Borthwick’s new-look team aiming to build on their winning start to the Guinness Six Nations against Italy in Rome.

While it is assumed England’s opponents will always play with emotional intensity, spurred on by facing the tournament’s most unpopular team, scrum coach Tom Harrison bristles at the idea that the passion flows in one direction only.

“It’s an interesting assumption to presume Wales would have an extra desire than us,” Harrison said.

“There is rivalry both ways. This England is a special group. They’ve trained and gelled really well together.”

England are presenting their first appearance at Twickenham since beginning their post-2023 World Cup rebuild as the start of a new era.

Apart from seeking to build on the greater enterprise shown in attack against Italy and continue to bed in their new defensive system, they want to forge a reputation as a side that will not take a backwards step.

“We beat Wales with 12 men here in August and that’s partly what we want our DNA to be – never stop fighting and whatever the circumstances, to come out on top,” Stuart said.

“Loads is made of the rivalry with Wales but they’re a great side and keep battling. That’s part of the DNA we pride ourselves on as well.

“We’re massively excited to put a positive stamp on Twickenham and cement it as a hard place to come and play.

“When the atmosphere is electric here it’s the best place I’ve ever played in. It’s on us as players to get the crowd going by playing in a dominant way.

“It’s on us to provide performances to push the crowd to spur us on. It’s always a big occasion against Wales, but we have to focus on ourselves.”

Captain Jamie George has urged his players to be unafraid to show their passion as England look to reconnect with supporters after years of underachievement in the Six Nations.

For Stuart, the Bath tighthead prop, facing Wales at Twickenham will be a moment of intense pride, even if that emotion is visible only in smaller moments.

“I don’t know if I am the most outwardly shouty or passionate bloke, but inside there’s a lot there,” he said.

“You might occasionally get a shout after a scrum penalty or something like that. But apart from that it’s catching my breath and going again!

“I like to be as relaxed as possible until we start strapping at the hotel and then it’s headphones on and be with myself a little bit.

“Some people are pretty relaxed until kick-off. It’s different for everyone.”

Fierce rivals England and Wales continue their Guinness Six Nations campaigns with an eagerly-awaited clash at Twickenham.

England kicked off with a narrow victory over Italy in Rome, while Wales almost pulled off the biggest comeback in Six Nations history, scoring 26 unanswered points before going down 27-26 to Scotland.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points heading into Saturday’s encounter.

England’s magnificent seven

England have a strong record against Wales at Twickenham since losing to them in 2012. Centre Scott Williams’ late try clinched a Six Nations Triple Crown that day, but Wales have come unstuck on five subsequent Six Nations visits. The shining light from a Welsh perspective was their 2015 World Cup pool victory over England, but it is seven defeats on the bounce at English rugby headquarters following that 28-25 success, with England winning four Six Nations Tests, two World Cup warm-up games and a summer international. Wales can take heart from five of those reversals being by six points or fewer, but they face a tough ask to turn things around.

Half-century for George North

Wales are boosted by the return after injury of centre George North for their trip to south-west London. North, who wins his 119th cap, is the solitary player in Saturday’s match-day 23 to have been part of a winning Wales team at Twickenham, while he also clocks up 50 Six Nations games. Only four other players have reached a half-century in the competition for Wales – Alun Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams. North, who made his Six Nations bow against France in Paris 13 years ago, remains an integral part of head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.

Pump up the Twickenham volume

England return to headquarters for the first time since they were booed during a shock World Cup warm-up defeat against Fiji. Steve Borthwick’s team went on to finish third in the World Cup, and they host Wales on the back of an opening Six Nations victory over Italy. The Twickenham atmosphere in recent times has undoubtedly been flat, and changes introduced to the match-day experience include an increase in length of the players’ walk through the crowds from their bus to the changing room.

Ioan Lloyd in the spotlight

Former Bristol back Lloyd makes his first Wales start on Saturday, and it will be in the number 10 shirt after taking over from the injured Sam Costelow. The 22-year-old featured twice as a substitute during Wales’ 2020 autumn campaign, but it was more than three years until he reappeared on the international stage, replacing Costelow against Scotland last weekend and helping to orchestrate a spectacular second-half fightback. Lloyd is among several players in Wales’ match-day 23 never to have played Test rugby at Twickenham, but the visitors need him to thrive.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso to make a mark?

The Exeter wing pledged allegiance to England and made his debut off the bench against Italy, despite being born and raised in Cardiff. It prompted Wales boss Warren Gatland to remark last month that his decision had not gone down well across the border, although Gatland also insisted that preparations for England had not involved the 21-year-old being mentioned, stating: “It doesn’t add any extra spice. Good luck to him. I hope things go well for him.”

The Republic of Ireland and England will kick-off the next edition of the Nations League against each other in their first match competitive meeting since 1991.

The nations were drawn together in Paris on Thursday and UEFA has confirmed the pair will open Group B2 in Dublin on September 7.

The return fixture in England will take place on matchday six on November 17, with the pool completed by Finland and Greece.

These will be the first competitive fixtures between the Republic and England since a Euro 92 qualifier at Wembley. They have met in four friendlies since then, most recently in November 2020 at Wembley.

Jamie George has urged his England team to put their passion on full display when one of rugby’s great rivalries is renewed at Twickenham on Saturday.

Wales are the opponents in round two of the Guinness Six Nations and new captain George is determined to match their zeal for the jersey when he leads the team out on home soil for the first time.

England are hoping to improve engagement with their supporters through changes to the matchday experience at Twickenham, such as increasing the length of the players’ walk through the crowds from their bus to the changing room.

On their last appearance at the ground in August they were booed off by their own fans having lost to Fiji for the first time in their history in a deflating Rugby World Cup send-off.

George is keen for England to find their own inspiration rather than looking to emulate Celtic fury, but he knows that results will ultimately shape the relationship between team and supporters.

“We don’t want to replicate anything, we want to do things our way. We can build emotion and motivation through different ways,” the Saracens hooker said.

“Something we have talked about a lot as a group is passion and not being afraid to show passion. I’ve certainly been encouraging of that this week.

“If people want to use that passion and emotion, as long as we are controlled and clear about what we are doing rugby-wise, I don’t see why we shouldn’t do that.

“We don’t want to replicate anyone else’s emotion – we are never going to try to do things another team’s way. We want to be authentic.”

England have lost 50 per cent of their Six Nations matches at Twickenham over the last three years as part of a significant period of underachievement in the tournament pre-dating Steve Borthwick’s arrival as head coach.

“First and foremost, we’ve identified that our win rate there hasn’t been good enough. The most intimidating atmospheres come off the back of the most intimidating teams,” George said.

“If we want to be the the type of team we want to be and create an intimidating environment to play in at Twickenham then we have to be the sort of team that we want to be.

“I think there’s going to be a great buy-in and a great atmosphere at Twickenham. Now the responsibility is on us as players to go and back that up.”

Borthwick has named an unchanged matchday 23 to the one announced for the 27-24 victory over Italy after prop Ellis Genge recovered from a foot injury to take his place on the bench.

Wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso made his Test debut in Rome on Saturday and he continues as a replacement against the nation of his birth.

The 21-year-old wing sensation has pledged allegiance to England despite being born and raised in Cardiff, prompting Wales boss Warren Gatland to remark that his decision had not gone down well across the border.

“Manny came on and did really well against Italy. He has been an incredibly calm, composed and mature character,” Borthwick said.

“He’s trained very well and in the little time I’ve known him he doesn’t seem to get fazed. I only have good things to say about him.”

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend assured Jamie Ritchie he still had a part to play in the Six Nations after the recently-deposed captain was omitted from the 23-man squad for Saturday’s Murrayfield showdown with France.

The 27-year-old Edinburgh flanker was informed last month that he would not be continuing as skipper due to no longer being guaranteed a place in the back-row amid intense competition for places, with Rory Darge and Finn Russell taking over as co-captains.

Ritchie started last weekend’s 27-26 victory away to Wales but he is the only player to have dropped out of the team for this weekend’s match, apart from Luke Crosbie and Richie Gray, who both sustained tournament-ending injuries in Cardiff.

Glasgow back-row duo Jack Dempsey and Darge – fit again after six weeks out with a knee injury – replace Edinburgh pair Crosbie and Ritchie, with Grant Gilchrist stepping in for fellow lock Gray. Saracens back-row Andy Christie has got the nod to be the substitute back-row option.

Asked to clarify that Ritchie was not absent due to injury, Townsend said on Thursday: “No, just selection.

“Once we knew Luke was going to be ruled out and Rory was available we had a good look at the back-row and what the best blend would be and we’ve gone with a Glasgow back-row (of Matt Fagerson, Darge and Dempsey).

“The cohesion they have, knowing each other’s games and most importantly the blend they have. Rory’s an out-and-out seven who can carry the ball well – he’s got an all-round game – but we feel the carrying strengths of Matt and Jack give us a better mix this week.

“Andy was close to starting and also close to starting last week. He’s been in really good form but we feel, off the bench, he can cover all three positions and add to our carrying.”

When it was put to him that Ritchie had endured a pretty spectacular fall from grace after going from World Cup captain just six months ago to not making the 23, Townsend pointed out: “He was vice-captain last week and part of a very good performance in those first 45 minutes.

“He helped Finn with his leadership, really helped the team in the week and then played well.

“I felt he wasn’t able to get his strengths out because of the way the game was being refereed. Wales managed to get a number of penalties in the tackle area, we weren’t getting any.

“I’m sure Jamie would have had a bigger influence if the game had been refereed differently.

“It’s really just about the blend this week. Jamie responded outstandingly well as a person and team-mate but also in the way he’s trained and played in the last couple of games. He’ll be in the mix again for the game against England.”

Scotland and France met in three dramatic encounters last year. The Scots have won five of their last seven Murrayfield meetings with Les Bleus.

Townsend is expecting a response from the French following their 38-17 defeat at home to Ireland last weekend.

“We know them as well as any team we’ll come up against,” he said. “This will be the fourth game in a year.

“We’ve had some cracking games with them in the last 12 months and we’ll have to be at our best level physically, in defence and in the contact area, because they have a lot of jackalers in their team.

“They were up against a really good Irish team and they were down a man for the majority of the game.

“From the French perspective, they know they didn’t play their best rugby so I would imagine we’ll get a reaction from that.

“They came back at one stage – even with 14 on the field – but we know that with 15 on the field they are a quality team, still a top-three, top-four team in the world.”

Wales boss Warren Gatland says that Twickenham is a stadium he has “loved going to” and does not find the home of English rugby an intimidating venue.

Wales have lost on their last seven Twickenham visits, while it is 12 years since they won a Six Nations game there.

Gatland’s record, though, is impressive, masterminding a European Cup and three Premiership final victories there with Wasps, in addition to memorable Wales triumphs in the 2008 and 2012 Six Nations tournaments, plus a 2015 World Cup win.

Saturday’s Six Nations encounter is also England’s first appearance at Twickenham since Fiji beat them in a World Cup warm-up game last summer and Steve Borthwick’s team were booed off.

“The first four times I went there, we won – three Premiership finals and a Heineken Cup final. I don’t find it intimidating at all!” Gatland said.

“It is great when you come in through the gates and everyone is outside and you’ve got the fans there. It is a great stadium to enter.

“I love the atmosphere, and it is even more special if you can walk away with a win. That is not easy to do.

“It is a stadium that I have loved going to. For me, it doesn’t hold any trepidation.

“For us, it is about starting well and stopping the crowd singing ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ too early. Silence them a bit – that becomes an important factor.”

Wales launched their Six Nations campaign with a 27-26 home defeat against Scotland, although they scored 26 unanswered points and threatened a record tournament fightback.

Gatland has made seven changes from that match, including selecting a new front-row, while centre George North returns from injury for his 50th Six Nations appearance and Ioan Lloyd makes a first Wales start as fly-half.

England were tested by Italy in Rome before securing a 27-24 win in their opener, and Borthwick has named an unchanged team, with Cardiff-born Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso again among the Red Rose substitutes.

Pre-Six Nations speculation proved intense about where Feyi-Waboso’s international future could lie – England or Wales.

Asked if Feyi-Waboso’s selection provided any added spice this weekend, Gatland gave an emphatic response, adding: “We haven’t even spoken about him.

“No, it doesn’t add any extra spice. None of our tactics have mentioned his name or anything.

“There are a lot of players from both countries who are dual-qualified. Good luck to him. I hope things go well for him.

“I think it is two teams going through similar transitions in terms of the squad. It is a great game, it is the tradition and the history of it.

“From my experience, seeing the players interact afterwards and seeing players on Lions tours, everyone talks about hating the English, but I have always seen just how close the Welsh and English players get on.

“That is something I am looking forward to, the respect I have, too. I had a great four years in London – I loved my time there and coached some great players. I go there really looking forward to the challenge.”

North is the only player in Gatland’s matchday 23 to have featured in a successful Wales team at Twickenham, and with 119 caps, he has more than twice as many as any of his team-mates on Saturday.

“I think his 50th game in the Six Nations is a fantastic achievement,” Gatland said.

“What he brings to the squad is that experience, calmness and a voice. He communicates really well with the group and is really well respected.

“I think he’s still got a few more years left in him as well. He has had his ups and downs with injury as well, but he looks in pretty good nick.

“I just hope that (midfield) combination with him and Nick (Tompkins) can flourish like it did in the World Cup.”

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