England captain Owen Farrell was "surprised" by Freddie Steward's red card during his team's 29-16 defeat to Ireland in the final round of the Six Nations.

Steward received the contentious red right at the end of the first half after the fullback's shoulder connected with the head of Hugo Keenan.

It was Steward's first red card in what was his 22nd match in Test rugby for his country, and was England's first Six Nations red card since Charlie Ewels was sent off against Ireland last year.

"I was surprised if I am honest," Farrell said after the game. "But it is not up to us, we don't make the rules, we don't put them in place, we don't hear what goes on on the ref mic and the process that they go through. That is the decision they came to and you have to accept it.

"I thought the game was a brilliant contest. I thought it was a brilliant Test match and the way that we reacted after we got that red card was very good.

"I thought we fought for each other and unfortunately we didn't get out the right side of the result which is very disappointing in an England shirt but the reaction to things that didn't go our way – and the card being one of them – especially after last week I thought was brilliant."

England head coach Steve Borthwick would not be drawn on the incident, only explaining his thought process when it happened.

"To be honest, my thinking was, 'Red card, we are down to 14, what is the significance, what do we need to make from a tactical adjustment point of view?'" he said. "Whenever a referee goes through a disciplinary process like that, I'm thinking as a coach, 'Right, if it goes this way, what is the significance?' That is where my head turned to."

He did though eventually add: "If we are talking about tackle height, we can have a conversation about tackle height. That is fine. What was clear there was that Freddie was not trying to make a tackle.

"There will be a disciplinary procedure. It is not right for Owen and me to be talking about the incident. The decision happened and quite rightly the England team respects the decision.

"The players were magnificent on the pitch. They respect the decision that happened, and we talk about how we adapt thereafter. He [Steward] wasn't trying to make a tackle so it's not about tackle height."

Johnny Sexton says winning a Grand Slam in his final Six Nations campaign is "like living in a dream" and has vowed there is more to come from Ireland heading into the Rugby World Cup.

Ireland defeated England 29-16 at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday to make it five wins from five in this year's tournament and finish seven points ahead of France.

Sexton, who will retire after this year's World Cup in France, kicked nine points to become the competition's outright all-time leading points scorer with 566 to his name.

Ireland were far from perfect on the day, with England within one point of their opponents after an hour despite being reduced to 14 men, but Sexton could not have been happier.

"You could not make this up, it is like living in a dream," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. "We did not play our best but what a team. What a group of coaches.

"We did nothing that they told us, in fact the exact opposite, but we made things hard for ourselves.

"England are a top-class team. To get a win on St Patrick's weekend is unbelievable. We did not quite nail it, but we did enough.

"It is the best tournament to play in, the best country to play for. We are so proud to be Irish."

 

Ireland have now won their last 14 Tests, but in an ominous warning to their World Cup rivals, Sexton said: "It does not feel like the end for us.

"There is plenty left in this team. We need to improve on today and we will be back."

Ireland were helped by a contentious red card issued to Freddie Steward right at the end of the first half after the fullback's shoulder connected with the head of Hugo Keenan.

The hosts were four points better off at that point in Dublin thanks to the first of Dan Sheehan's two tries and Sexton's record-breaking penalty.

Robbie Henshaw and Sheehan appeared to put Ireland completely out of reach before Jamie George's score gave England a glimmer of hope.

But Rob Herring got the party in full swing with a bonus-point clinching try late on to seal the Grand Slam in style for the world's top-ranked nation.

"It means so much to everyone. To be able to do a St Patrick's weekend and win a Grand Slam is always going to be special," Ireland head coach Andy Farrell told ITV Sport.

"It was squeaky bum time at 10-9. The pressure that France put on in the last couple of games, we knew it was win at all costs.

"It was a proper old-fashioned Test match. We were disappointed with some aspects of our game but we've a bonus-point win. That's where we're at at the moment."

Sexton led the Irish celebrations by lifting the trophy in front of a delirious home crowd, and Farrell hopes there could yet be an even bigger send-off for the all-time great.

"Hopefully there's bigger fish to fry for Johnny with the World Cup," Farrell said. "It's unbelievable for him to have this moment and lift the trophy.

"He wanted to lift it with someone else and I said he mustn't. He deserves it. What a way for him to go out of the Six Nations."

Ireland sealed a third Six Nations Grand Slam with a 29-16 win over 14-man England on a day captain Johnny Sexton also became the tournament's outright all-time leading points scorer.

France put the pressure on Ireland by moving into top spot with victory over Wales earlier on Saturday, but Andy Farrell's side responded at the Aviva Stadium in the final fixture of the tournament.

Ireland were helped by a contentious red card issued to Freddie Steward on the stroke of half-time, at which point the first of Dan Sheehan's two tries and Sexton's record-breaking penalty had given the hosts a four-point advantage. 

Robbie Henshaw and Sheehan appeared to put Ireland completely out of reach before Jamie George's score gave England a glimmer of hope, but Rob Herring got the party in full swing in Dublin with a bonus point-clinching try late on.

 

 

France kept their Six Nations title hopes alive with a 41-28 victory over a spirited Wales at Stade de France.

Les Blues boosted their championship quest by earning a bonus point to displace Ireland at the summit of the table, and they will be crowned champions if the latter fail to beat England later on Saturday.

Damian Penaud scored twice while Jonathan Danty, Uini Atonio and Gael Fickou also crossed for the hosts, who claimed their 17th win in 18 Tests.

Meanwhile, George North, Bradley Roberts, Tomos Williams and Rio Dyer went over for the visitors but, despite the bonus point, they have now lost their last five meetings with France.

Wales had scored the fewest points in this year’s championship, but they made a purposeful start in Paris, as a lengthy spell of pressure culminated in North going under the posts in the eighth minute. 

But France responded just two minutes later. Romain Ntamack embarked on a dangerous burst before offloading to Antoine Dupont, who found the unmarked Penaud for his 25th international try. 

After Thomas Ramos kicked the hosts into the lead, they stretched their advantage in similar fashion six minutes before the break. This time, Danty was on his own to cross in the corner after his team-mates brilliantly worked the ball from left to right.

France built on their momentum by crossing twice within 10 minutes of the restart. A neat move culminated in Atonio's first international try, before Fickou rounded off a series of sharp passes that carved open the Wales defence.

The last six meetings between these sides in the Six Nations had been decided by five or fewer points, and Wales ensured a degree of respectability on the scoreline with Roberts and Williams cutting the deficit to 34-21. 

Les Bleus thwarted any hopes of a dramatic turnaround as Penaud went over in the corner, yet the visitors had the final word with Dyer racing away in the dying moments.

Stuart Hogg conceded Scotland were fortunate to come away from their final Six Nations match with victory over bottom side Italy.

Scotland claimed a bonus-point win at Murrayfield to all but secure third place, bar a bonus-point win and a huge margin of victory for England against Grand Slam-hunting Ireland later on Saturday. 

While the 26-14 scoreline may suggest the hosts dominated the contest, there were just six points in it at half-time and a five-point difference in the closing stages.

Italy pushed for a try that would have earned them a shock result in Edinburgh, but Blair Kinghorn's superb third try at the death killed off the visitors' hopes.

Scotland's all-time record try scorer Hogg, who was working as a pundit for BBC Sport after being ruled out of the contest through injury, accepts lessons must be learned by his side.

"It was very frustrating to watch. For Scotland, we were in control for large periods and then last 10 minutes was harum-scarum," he said.

"We can count ourselves lucky. That last try doesn't reflect the scoreline. It's a Scotland win, five points in a Test match and that's all you can ask for.

"We'll learn a hell of a lot from that and it'll stand us in good stead going forward. If you're not on it for 80 minutes, you aren't going to win Test matches."

Duhan van der Merwe superbly reached over for the first try, either side of a couple of Tommaso Allan penalties, before Kinghorn crossed over twice either side of half-time.

Allan chased down a grubber and then added three more points from the boot to set up a tense conclusion, but Kinghorn's brilliant breakaway third got Scotland over the line. 

Scotland have won their last eight Six Nations matches against Italy, with that their longest winning run against any nation in the tournament.

Jack Dempsey, whose 23 tackles without missing one was the second-highest return of any player in this year's tournament, told BBC Sport: "It was a bit scary towards the end. 

"Credit to the front row at the end there with a great scrum to get us our of trouble. But yeah, it was knee-shaky stuff. Honestly, I was just waiting for the whistle to go."

Scotland are set for their highest finish since 2018, having won three out of their five games for the fifth time in the past seven editions of the tournament.

As for Italy, they have collected the wooden spoon for eight years running and have won just one of their past 42 Six Nations games, coming against Wales 12 months ago.

After putting in another brave showing, head coach Kieran Crowley is hopeful Italy's time will come.

"We keep turning up at the office and hopefully a bounce will go our way one day," he said. "It was one hell of a game – they gave it everything, we gave it everything.

"It's not for lack of effort. We're playing an up-tempo game – we have to keep putting our players under that pressure in training and learn to execute a little bit better."

Blair Kinghorn scored three tries as Scotland rounded off their Six Nations campaign with a 26-14 bonus-point win over Italy to all but seal third place in this year's championship.

Gregor Townsend's side had lost successive games to France and Ireland, having opened up with back-to-back wins for the first time, but they ended their tournament on a high.

Duhan van der Merwe and Kinghorn crossed over in the first half, though Scotland's advantage stood at just six points at the interval as Tommaso Allan twice kicked over.

Kinghorn marked his return to the side with another try early in the second half and, while Allan did reduce the deficit to five points, Kinghorn's late third snatched a bonus point.

 

Van der Merwe brilliantly grounded the ball in the left corner mid-leap to get Scotland off the mark, but a couple of Allan penalties either side ensured Italy had the lead.

Marco Riccioni was shown a yellow card after another collapsed scrum and that proved a big moment as Kinghorn crashed over a minute later and this time converted.

Despite some last-ditch defending, Ben White was able to spin the ball to Kinghorn to stretch over in the 43rd minute for another converted try as Scotland moved well in front.

However, Allan collected Paolo Garbisi's grubber to open Italy's try count and, having missed the conversion, found the sticks from a penalty to bring Scotland within five points.

That set up a gripping conclusion, but Italy's hopes of snatching a second win in 42 Six Nations games ended when Van der Merwe played in star man Kinghorn on the counter.


Scotland get the job done

Despite what the scoreline may suggest, this was a far from vintage performance from Scotland and it could so easily have been Italy who came away with the victory.

Townsend's side ultimately came out on top, though, with this their eighth successive Six Nations win against Italy, who finish with the wooden spoon for an eighth time running.

Scotland now look certain to finish third for the first time since 2018, bar an improbable big margin of victory for England in their showdown with Grand Slam-chasing Ireland later on Saturday.

Kinghorn does it again

This was the first game Scotland had started without either Finn Russell or Stuart Hogg in their side since the opening game of the 2012 edition.

Ollie Smith and Kinghorn were brought in, and boy did the latter make the most of the chance, with his hat-trick taking him level with team-mate Huw Jones at the top of the tournament try chart.

It is the second time Kinghorn has scored two or more tries in a single game for Scotland, the other occasion also coming against Italy on the opening day of the 2019 tournament when also scoring a hat-trick.

Ireland can make it a glorious farewell to the Six Nations for record-chasing captain Johnny Sexton as they chase a Grand Slam on Saturday, with England their visitors.

It will be Ireland's title and a clean sweep of wins if they get the better of Steve Borthwick's team at the Aviva Stadium, while Sexton's next points will make him the leading scorer in championship history. He stands level for now with former team-mate Ronan O'Gara on 557 points.

Celebrations could already be in full swing in Dublin before kick-off in the unlikely event of Wales upsetting France in Paris earlier in the day.

France are the only team who can deny Ireland Six Nations glory now, trailing by four points going into the final round of matches.

Bonus points could yet be a factor in the final reckoning, but Ireland will be optimistic they can take that out of the equation by getting the better of an England side who were thrashed last week by Les Bleus.

Scotland face Italy in the day's opening game, before attention turns to the race for the trophy.

Here, Stats Perform runs down key aspects to look at in the three games, with the help of some standout Opta data.

FRANCE v WALES

FORM

Fabien Galthie's France team were so impressive at Twickenham last week they brought a tear to the coach's eye. That 53-10 drubbing in London showed France at their best, and they have won each of their last three Six Nations matches against Wales.

The tide has turned in the rivalry, given France had lost seven of the previous eight battles between the sides in the competition. After last year's Grand Slam, France will believe they can ramp up pressure on Ireland by getting the win at the Stade de France, having won nine of their last 10 Six Nations home matches, including each of the last four.

Wales stopped a six-game run of defeats in the Six Nations by beating Italy 29-17 last time out, to the relief of coach Warren Gatland. It was their longest run without a Six Nations victory since a seven-game sequence in 2006 and 2007, when they lost six and drew one.

There are areas where Wales are still doing well. For instance, they have conceded the joint-fewest turnovers of any side in this year's Six Nations (44, level with Ireland), and only Ireland (30) have won more turnovers than Wales (23). However, it would be a surprise if France do not ramp up the pressure on Ireland with a comfortable win and perhaps a bonus point into the bargain.

ONES TO WATCH

France will look to wings Damian Penaud and Ethan Dumortier to trouble Wales. Five players in this year's Six Nations have a 50 per cent or better tackle evasion rate among those who have faced 20 or more attempted tackles, and Penaud (79 per cent) and Dumortier (51 per cent) are among them.

For Wales, Taulupe Faletau will win his 100th cap and become the eighth man to reach that landmark for the team. Veterans George North and Alun Wyn Jones are among those coming into the starting XV, with Gatland giving the old-stagers a chance to potentially sign off their Six Nations careers in style.

IRELAND v ENGLAND

FORM

Ireland have won their last two Six Nations clashes with England, scoring exactly 32 points in each of those games, and the men in green have bagged 13 wins from their last 23 encounters with this weekend's opponents.

After finishing strongly last year, Ireland are on a seven-game winning run in the Six Nations, and an eighth win in a row would be a record for the team.

That would be cause for celebration alongside the Grand Slam, which would be a third for Ireland in the Six Nations era after 2009 and 2018 clean sweeps. They are chasing a fifth Six Nations title in all, and a seventh Triple Crown in this six-team era.

England's defeat to France last time out was their heaviest ever in the championship, so they have recalled Owen Farrell after dropping the captain, as coach Borthwick looks for a major response.

This game could yet be tight. Ireland (37) and England (34) have conceded the fewest penalties in this year's Six Nations, and they have achieved the highest share of territory per game (England – 60 per cent, Ireland – 59 per cent). Something has to give.

ONES TO WATCH

Sexton scored seven points against Scotland last weekend to move level with O'Gara, so his first kick at goal on Saturday will be a big moment. The record has been in his sights since the start of his final Six Nations, and the 37-year-old should clinch it on home soil.

Dan Cole is poised to win his 100th Test cap for England. He starts among the replacements, ready to become just the fourth player to reach a century for the England men’s team, after Jason Leonard, Ben Youngs and captain Farrell.

SCOTLAND v ITALY

FORM

The days of this fixture being a wooden spoon decider are gone for now, with Scotland much improved in recent years. Italy, too, are a stronger side than they have been for a good while, so they will be frustrated to have lost four from four so far.

Scotland have won each of their last seven Six Nations matches against Italy, their longest winning run against any nation in the championship. Their last Six Nations loss to the Azzurri was a 22-19 setback at Murrayfield in 2015, which was Italy's seventh win over the Scots in the championship. Italy have had just six wins against all other teams in the championship combined.

Italy's recent record in the Six Nations is truly dire, losing 40 of their last 41 games, with the exception among those defeats coming on the final weekend of last year's championship, when they won 22-21 in Wales.

ONES TO WATCH

Scotland's Matt Fagerson has made the most tackles of any player in the 2023 championship (70), while team-mates Jonny Gray (37), Jack Dempsey (32) and Luke Crosbie (32) are the only players to have made 30-plus tackles without missing one. Fagerson, Gray and Dempsey feature this weekend. Their prowess could be key as Scotland look to cope without injured backs Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg.

Italy's Juan Ignacio Brex and Paolo Garbisi are two of three players to have provided a championship-high six break assist passes in this year's championship, matching Ireland's Mack Hansen.

Caelan Doris and Dan Sheehan have been passed fit to start Ireland's Grand Slam decider against England at the Aviva Stadium on the final weekend of Six Nations action.

The pair were two of five Ireland players to sustain injuries in last week's 22-7 victory over Scotland, which made it four wins from four for Ireland in this year's tournament.

While Garry Ringrose and Iain Henderson had already been ruled out for Saturday's meeting with England, Doris and Sheehan have been named in Andy Farrell's starting line-up.

Centre Robbie Henshaw and lock Ryan Baird come in for Ringrose and Henderson, while Jamison Gibson-Park takes over from Conor Murray as Farrell makes three changes.

Johnny Sexton starts his final Six Nations game ahead of retiring later this year, and the Irish captain needs one point to become the competition's outright all-time leading scorer.

Ireland will clinch a third Grand Slam in the Six Nations era – the others coming in 2009 and 2018 – and their fifth title overall if they defeat England in Dublin on Saturday.

Fourth-place England are looking to respond from a record home loss against France last time out and have made four changes to their starting XV.

Wing Henry Arundell is set to make his first start while Owen Farrell, the son of Ireland's coach, has been recalled at fly-half in place of the benched Marcus Smith.

Manu Tuilagi is also given a first start under Steve Borthwick in place of the injured Ollie Lawrence, and David Ribbans is brought in for Ollie Chessum in the other alteration.

Dan Cole is among England's replacements and will make his 100th Test appearance should he feature, making him just the fourth player to do so for the Red Rose.

England have lost their past two games against Ireland, conceding 32 points on both occasions, and have lost 13 of the past 23 encounters in the tournament.

 

Ireland XV:  Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (c), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Ryan Baird, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements:  Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Tom O'Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Ross Byrne, Jimmy O'Brien.

England XV:  Freddie Steward, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Many Tuilagi, Henry Arundell, Owen Farrell (c), Jack van Poortvliet; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, David Ribbans, Lewis Ludlam, Jack Willis, Alex Dombrandt.

Replacements: Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Ben Curry, Nick Isiekwe, Alex Mitchell, Marcus Smith, Joe Marchant.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is confident his side can cope without injured backs Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg against Italy this weekend.

Townsend's side welcome bottom team Italy to Murrayfield on Saturday in their concluding fixture of a mixed 2023 Six Nations campaign.

After kicking off with back-to-back wins for the first time in their tournament history, Scotland have since tasted defeat to strong France and Ireland sides.

Townsend has made four changes from last weekend's 22-7 loss to Ireland, with Ollie Smith and Blair Kinghorn set to start in place of Russell and Hogg.

Richie Gray is replaced by Sam Skinner at lock and openside flanker Hamish Watson is in for the benched Matt Fagerson.

Asked if his back-line can step up in the absence of two key men, Townsend said: "Absolutely. We had a similar situation in the summer when players stepped up in attacking roles.

"They also stepped up in general play and in terms of our defence. We've got that experience when going up against a top team, and that's what we're going up against this week."

Scotland have not started without either Russell or Hogg in a home Six Nations game since the opening match of the 2012 edition against England.

Townsend's men are third heading into the final round of games, nine points better off than Italy, who require a win to have any hope of avoiding an eighth straight wooden spoon.

Kieran Crowley has also made four changes from last week's 29-17 home loss to Wales, with 21-year-old Zebre winger Simone Gesi in line for his debut. 

Alessandro Fusco makes his first start of the year at scrum-half, while Edoardo Iachizzi and Marco Riccioni also return

"We were disappointed with the performance against Wales," Crowley said. "We addressed that in the week and are looking forward to Saturday's match against a very good side."

Teams:

Scotland: Ollie Smith, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Blair Kinghorn, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Jack Dempsey.

Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, Ali Price, Ben Healy, Cameron Redpath.

Italy: Tommaso Allan, Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Simone Gesi, Paolo Garbisi, Alessandro Fusco; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Marco Riccioni, Edoardo Iachizzi, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro, Lorenzo Cannone.

Replacements: Marco Manfredi, Federico Zani, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolo Cannone, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Garbisi, Luca Morisi.

France will welcome Uini Atonio back from suspension for the final game of their Six Nations campaign against Wales, who have made six changes for their trip to the Stade de France.

Atonio was given a three-week ban following a high tackle on Ireland hooker Rob Herring in last month's 32-19 defeat in Dublin – the only loss of France's campaign.

That reverse in Ireland means France have only a slim chance of defending their title on Saturday, as they need to post a bonus-point win over Wales before hoping England can upset Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

Coach Fabien Galthie described Atonio – who will win his 50th cap against Wales – as an "indisputable starter" after bringing him in for Dorian Aldegheri, who has a groin injury.

Meanwhile, Romain Taofifenua will replace injured lock Paul Willemse in the hosts' only other change from their crushing 53-10 win over England at Twickenham last week.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has made six changes ahead of the game, in which Taulupe Faletau will win his 100th cap.

Fly-half Dan Biggar, centres George North and Nick Tompkins and lock Alun Wyn Jones are among those recalled after last week's win over Italy in Rome.

Louis Rees-Zammit and Aaron Wainwright have also been brought in, with Jac Morgan and injured full-back Liam Williams among those to make way.

"I think France last weekend put in probably one of the best performances I've seen in a long, long time," Gatland said.

"They're the number two team in the world. They bring a really physical approach to the way they play and they've tended to start well.

"We've got to go out there and start well, make sure we're in that arm wrestle with them and give ourselves that opportunity."

Teams:

France: Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Ethan Dumortier, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio, Thibaut Flament, Romain Taofifenua, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Reda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Bastien Chalureau, Seckou Macalou, Maxime Lucu, Yoram Moefana, Melvyn Jaminet.

Wales: Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams, George North, Nick Tompkins, Rio Dyer, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Tomos Williams, Owen Williams, Leigh Halfpenny.

England fly-half Marcus Smith believes they have a "free swing" at Ireland, and also thinks Steve Borthwick's side have time to find form before the Rugby World Cup.

After a chastening 53-10 defeat at Twickenham at the hands of France on Saturday – a record home defeat for them – England could be set to win just two of their five Six Nations games for the third tournament running.

Smith – who replaced Owen Farrell in the team for that game – acknowledged England are going through a bad run, but has challenged his team-mates to use it as motivation as they prepare to face an Ireland team in Dublin who can clinch a Grand Slam.

"We're in a tough period at the minute and it's perfect for us," Smith said. "We've got to get better quickly because the challenge doesn't come much greater than Ireland away in Dublin.

"There's only one way to go now and that's to stand up and fight as hard as we can and play as hard as we can for the shirt.

"We've spoken about sticking together because there's going to be a lot of noise and a lot of pressure on us. We've got to become tighter as opposed to splinter.

"This is a big test of our togetherness as a squad and of our resolve. There's no better week for this than a free swing at Ireland."

The Rugby World Cup is less than six months away, and Smith pointed to the "characters" in the team as reason for optimism ahead of the tournament in France.

"I believe we've still got time," he said. "With the characters we've got in the group we can turn things around very quickly.

"We'll look at our individual performances and team performance because, with where we want to go in the next six months and in the years ahead, that wasn't good enough."

Injured Wales pair Liam Williams and Scott Baldwin are absent from Warren Gatland's 32-man squad for their final Six Nations fixture in France on Saturday.

Full-back Williams sustained a shoulder injury in Saturday's 29-17 win over Italy in Rome – the first victory of a troubled campaign for Wales.

Hooker Baldwin, meanwhile, suffered a pectoral problem in Italy and will join Williams on the sidelines, with his Ospreys team-mate Sam Parry being called up to the squad.

Keiran Williams has also been released from the squad after sustaining a groin injury while featuring for the Ospreys earlier this month.

Wales are training in Nice ahead of their trip to the Stade de France, with the team announcement scheduled for Thursday.

Opponents France retain a slim chance of defending their title, but they need to post a bonus-point victory over Wales before hoping Ireland are on the receiving end of an upset at home to England.

Full Wales squad:

Forwards: Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens, Sam Parry, Bradley Roberts, Leon Brown, Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Rhys Davies, Dafydd Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Jac Morgan, Tommy Reffell, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau.

Backs: Kieran Hardy, Rhys Webb, Tomos Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Patchell, Owen Williams, Mason Grady, Joe Hawkins, George North, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams, Rio Dyer, Leigh Halfpenny, Louis Rees-Zammit.

Ireland will be without Garry Ringrose and Iain Henderson for Saturday's Grand Slam decider against England in the Six Nations after the duo suffered injuries in Sunday's win in Scotland.

Andy Farrell's side are on the brink of a first Grand Slam since 2018 after following up wins over Wales, France and Italy with a 22-7 triumph over Scotland at Murrayfield.

However, Ireland's latest win was marred by a serious-looking head injury sustained by Ringrose, with the centre requiring an oxygen mask as he left the field on a stretcher.

Henderson, meanwhile, will also miss the final game of Ireland's campaign as he undergoes surgery on a forearm fracture, a medical update revealed on Monday.

"Garry Ringrose is doing well today and has returned to Dublin," the update read. "He will take no further part in this year's Championship.

"Iain Henderson is due to undergo surgery today on a fractured forearm sustained in the first half of yesterday's game. 

"The uncapped Ross Molony is added to the squad to provide additional second row cover."

Ireland said Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher will be monitored ahead of Saturday's contest at the Aviva Stadium after both men sustained shoulder injuries, with Ulster’s Tom Stewart called up to the squad as cover.

Ireland's victory over Scotland was their seventh in succession in the Six Nations – their joint-best run in the Championship alongside a seven-game winning sequence between 2004 and 2005.

France still retain an outside chance of defending their title, however, and will be hoping to pile the pressure on Ireland with a bonus-point victory over Wales before Farrell's men meet England.

Full Ireland squad:

Forwards: Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Gavin Coombes, Tadhg Furlong, Caelan Doris, Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Ross Molony, Peter O'Mahony, Tom O'Toole, Andrew Porter, Cian Prendergast, James Ryan, Roman Salanoa, Dan Sheehan, Tom Stewart, Josh van der Flier.

Backs: Bundee Aki, Ross Byrne, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Ciaran Frawley, Jamison Gibson Park, Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, James Lowe, Stuart McCloskey, Conor Murray, Jimmy O'Brien, Johnny Sexton, Jacob Stockdale, Nick Timoney, Kieran Treadwell.

Ollie Lawrence has been left out of England's final squad of this year's Six Nations after sustaining a hamstring injury in Saturday's thrashing by France.

Lawrence had started his country's last three Tests, but the centre has been replaced by Guy Porter as Steve Borthwick named his 36-man training camp squad for the trip to Ireland next weekend.

There are returns for George Ford, Jonny Hill and Ollie Hassell-Collins, while Will Collier is also called up and Manu Tuilagi returns from suspension.

Borthwick's men will be hoping to put in a vastly improved performance at the Aviva Stadium after they were on the end of their record home defeat at the hands of France, going down 53-10 at Twickenham.

England hooker Jamie George apologised to fans after the game, with many leaving early after seeing their team concede seven tries to Les Bleus.

"I want to apologise because I'm one of [the fans] really," he said. "I would be gutted if I'd turned up to Twickenham to see an England team play like that.

"We are sorry and we need to make sure that we get better and learn from this experience because it's clear we have a long way to go."

Ireland are on course for a Grand Slam after they beat Scotland 22-7 at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Full England squad:

Forwards: Ollie Chessum, Dan Cole, Will Collier, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Tom Dunn, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Jonny Hill, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Lewis Ludlam, David Ribbans, Bevan Rodd, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Jack Walker, Jack Willis.

Backs: Henry Arundell, Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman, George Ford, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Max Malins Joe Marchant, Alex Mitchell, Cadan Murley, Guy Porter, Henry Slade, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Manu Tuilagi, Jack van Poortvliet, Anthony Watson, Ben Youngs.

Andy Farrell joked Ireland may have to borrow players from a local side's Under-12s to face England after losing five more to injury in their Six Nations victory over Scotland.

Ireland claimed a well-earned 22-7 victory at Murrayfield on Sunday to take their Grand Slam hopes down to next weekend's final game against England.

Farrell's men have now won seven matches in a row in the competition – their joint-best ever run – but their latest victory may have come at a cost.

The visitors lost three of their starting forward pack inside the first 25 minutes, with Caelan Doris, Dan Sheehan and Iain Henderson making way.

Replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher was next to exit the field, leaving prop Cian Healy at hooker and flanker Josh van der Flier the lineout thrower

Garry Ringrose then sustained a serious-looking head injury late on, potentially leaving Farrell with a major selection problem for the visit of England in six days' time.

"We'll go again. We'll have a good squad," Farrell told BBC Sport. "If we get any more injuries in the week we might have to have a look at Old Belvedere Under-12s! 

"We'll lick our wounds and go again. England will be dangerous, but it'll be one hell of a weekend on St Patrick's Day."

 

There was little between the sides after a tense first half in which Mack Hansen cancelled out Huw Jones' try, with that the Scotland centre's tournament-high fourth of 2023.

Ireland's quality eventually told, though, as James Lowe crossed over with 56 minutes played and Jack Conan powered over to put the game out of the home side's reach.

"It was an amazing Test match," Farrell said. "There was a bit of organised chaos at half-time, but everyone had a smile on their face. 

"We didn't get the try early on, then lost Caelan. It's a monumental effort, but that's what these boys expect of each other. They've earned the right to take it to the last weekend.

"The lads can do anything at this moment in time. How we looked after each other was the most impressive thing."

Scotland would have had a second try in the first period if not for a superb Hugo Keenan challenge to stop Duhan van der Merwe from reaching the line.

Just one point separated Scotland and Ireland at half-time for the seventh time in nine Tests at Murrayfield, but Ireland found a way to make it six wins in a row in this fixture.

Johnny Sexton, who kicked seven points to draw level with compatriot Ronan O'Gara in the all-time list of Six Nations points scorers, is proud of the way his side dug in.

"It was an incredibly tough game," he told BBC Sport. "Anytime you come to Murrayfield you know you're in a Test match. That was one of the toughest first halves I've played.

"We knew it would be tough, and we're delighted to come away with the win. Now we've got to get the bodies back together. 

"We'll be playing against an English team that are hurting and one that we have huge respect for. The Irish people will get behind us next week, so we're looking forward to that."

A second defeat in a row for Scotland brings and end to their campaign, and head coach Gregor Townsend accepts Ireland were the better side over the 80 minutes.

"I'd rather talk about the first half than the second half, because the second half was disappointing," he said. "We created chances in that first half.

"It was a real high energy performance – what you'd call a proper Test match. Both teams were a little fatigued at the start of the second half, it was there for us to lift the energy.

"We didn't; we weren't accurate enough. Ireland grew in confidence and were clearly the better team in the second half. We're disappointed with the fact we didn't kick on.

"What we wanted today was a complete, 80-minute performance. We only got it for 40. We know we'll have to play well next week. Italy come here with nothing to lose."

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