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.

Aaron Ramsey has been appointed Wales captain after Gareth Bale announced his retirement from football in the aftermath of last year's World Cup campaign.

Former Real Madrid forward Bale retired from professional football at the age of 33 in January, having led Wales into their first World Cup campaign since 1958 in Qatar last year.

Having won a record-breaking 111 caps for his country, Bale will be succeeded by the man joint-seventh in their all-time appearance list – former Arsenal and Juventus midfielder Ramsey.

Ramsey moved to France in search of regular minutes following a frustrating loan spell at Rangers last term, and has made 21 league appearances since joining Nice on a free transfer last August.

The 32-year-old already has experience of captaining Wales after being named skipper by Gary Speed in 2011, though Chris Coleman opted to hand the armband to Ashley Williams one year later.

The announcement came as boss Rob Page named a 24-man squad for Wales' opening Euro 2024 qualifiers against Croatia and Latvia later this month, with the team looking to qualify for a third-consecutive edition of the tournament.

Page named four uncapped players in his squad for those fixtures, namely midfielders Jordan James and Ollie Cooper, Fulham youngster Luke Harris and striker Nathan Broadhead.

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.

Warren Gatland saluted the "excellent" Rhys Webb after the Wales scrum-half marked his international return with a man-of-the-match display against Italy.

Starting in his first Test since October 2020 - and first Six Nations match for six years - Webb played an instrumental role as Gatland's side prevailed 29-17 in Rome to claim a welcome first win of this year's tournament.

The Ospreys scrum-half assisted two of Wales' four tries in their bonus-point victory. His clever kick bounced kindly for Rio Dyer to go over early on, before his quick burst paved the way for Taulupe Faletau to cross in the second half.

Gatland felt Webb "played outstandingly well" during an important triumph for the visitors, who would have slipped outside the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time with defeat at Stadio Olimpico.

"His decision-making was excellent, he didn't force anything and kept us on the front foot," the Wales coach told S4C.

"I thought we deserved to win and with the bonus point which was great. 

"There's still a massive amount of growth in this team in terms of them going forward. A lot of players will have learned a lot about themselves - it wasn't a bad Italian side.

"The second half wasn't as good as the first. It would be nice to be in the coaching box and think the game wasn't going down to the wire, but the boys scrambled well."

Flanker Jac Morgan added: "We've worked hard over the last few weeks, and it's nice to get the win."

Wales' campaign will conclude with a match against France in Paris next week.

Wales claimed a much-needed first victory of this year's Six Nations after seeing off Italy 29-17 in Rome.

Warren Gatland's side arrived at Stadio Olimpico having only scored three tries in the tournament, but Rio Dyer, Liam Williams and Taulupe Faletau all crossed as they also earned the bonus point.

The result brought welcome relief for Wales, who could have lost their top-10 status in the world rankings with defeat in what was the likely wooden spoon decider.

Meanwhile, Italy continued their dismal record on home soil, where they have now suffered 25 successive defeats since beating Ireland 10 years ago.

Owen Williams kicked Wales in front and extended their lead to 10 points in the ninth minute when Rhys Webb's punt bounced fortuitously for Dyer to cross.

Tommaso Allan reduced the deficit but Liam Williams put the visitors back in control, the full-back evading five challenges before going over.

The hosts looked to respond and Juan Ignacio Brex was just unable to ground after a brilliant break from Paolo Garbisi. 

Wales subsequently pulled further clear as they were awarded a penalty try when Lorenzo Cannone collapsed the maul after Ken Owens drove his side over the line.

Despite the numerical disadvantage after Cannone was sin-binned, Italy made a bright start to the second half with Sebastian Negri collecting Allan’s punt to touch down.

But their momentum was halted when Pierre Bruno was also sent to the bin for a dangerous challenge on Wyn Jones, the winger fortunate to escape a red card after narrowly avoiding contact to the head.

Wales capitalised with the extra man to secure the bonus point, Webb bursting away before offloading for Faletau to go over. 

Italy had the final word, Brex crossing after a neat move but, despite a late rally, they could not deny their opponents victory.

Ireland travel to Scotland with their Grand Slam fate in their own hands in the penultimate round of Six Nations action, while Wales and Italy battle it out in a possible wooden spoon clash in Rome.

Andy Farrell's Ireland have defeated Wales, France and Italy in this year's edition – each secured with a bonus point – and are now two wins away from completing a clean sweep for a third time in the six team format.

Scotland, beaten by reigning champions France last time out, can get their own championship hopes back on track with victory over the leaders at Murrayfield in Sunday's standalone fixture.

That comes a day after Wales lock horns with Italy at Stadio Olimpico seeking their first victory since Warren Gatland returned as head coach. The Azzurri are themselves winless this tournament, but they are above Wales by virtue of collecting a losing bonus point.

England and France face off in this weekend's other fixture locked on 10 points apiece, with the winner still having a shot of finishing top of the pile heading into the final weekend of action.

Stats Perform previews the three games with the help of some standout Opta data.


ITALY V WALES 

FORM

Italy have finished bottom of the standings seven years running, but there is real hope of stopping the rot at Wales' expense.

Kieran Crowley's side won their most recent meeting with Wales, coming out on top 22-21 in Cardiff last year to snap a seven-year winless sequence in the tournament.

However, they have not beaten Wales at home since 2007 and are winless on their own patch in the competition in 24 outings since defeating Ireland in March 2013.

Gatland has again shuffled his pack in the hope of ending Wales' six-match losing run in the Six Nations – their worst run since losing seven on the spin between 2002 and 2003.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Ange Capuozzo was Player of the Match in this fixture last year, but he will miss Italy's remaining two matches through injury.

That opens a space for Harlequins fly-half Tommaso Allan, who ranked second for passes across Italy's first two games prior to being overlooked against Ireland.

Gatland has made six changes from the loss to England, with Rhys Webb coming into the side for his first Six Nations start since 2017.

Experienced figure Webb is back in the number nine jersey with a point to prove and a chance to hold down a place in the side ahead of the Rugby World Cup.


ENGLAND V FRANCE

FORM

England have defeated Wales and Italy, both by margins of 10-plus points, since losing to Scotland in Steve Borthwick's first game in charge.

The Red Rose are seeking a third straight win in the championship for the first time since 2020, while not since 2009-2010 have they won three in a row by double-figure margins.

France tasted defeat in their most recent away outing, going down 32-19 in a pivotal showdown with Ireland, but they have won their seven Six Nations games either side of that.

However, the home team on the day has won each of the past six tournament meetings between these sides, with France's most recent victory at Twickenham coming in 2005.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Borthwick has made a big decision in leaving out captain Owen Farrell – the first time he has been dropped for England since the 2015 World Cup – with Marcus Smith recalled.

Smith starred for Harlequins in their rout of Exeter last weekend after being released by Borthwick and he will be looking to transfer that club form onto the international stage.

Jonathan Danty comes in for his first start of the tournament for France as one of three changes, but it is Thibaud Flament who will have England's attention.

The 25-year-old, who has previously spent time living in England, has made the most tackles of any player in this year's Six Nations with 58 to his name.


SCOTLAND V IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have lived up to their pre-tournament favourites tag with three wins from three in 2023, while going further back they have won 10 of their past 11 Six Nations games.

Farrell's side have also won each of their last five games at Murrayfield, preventing their opponents from scoring more than one try in four of those five victories.

But Scotland have performed well this year, the only blemish coming in defeat to France last time out, and they have won three of their past four home games in the tournament.

Ireland may have had the better of this fixture in recent times, but seven of the last eight matches between the sides in Edinburgh have been decided by single-figure margins.

ONES TO WATCH

Stuart Hogg has been handed another start in a Scotland side showing two changes – Jonny Gray and Jack Dempsey coming in – for what will be his 100th Test appearance.

That makes the full-back, who is also his country's record try-scorer, one of four men to reach triple figures in a Scotland shirt after Ross Ford, Chris Paterson and Sean Lamont.

It could also be a milestone day for Johnny Sexton, who has recovered from a knock to return to an Ireland side that also contains fit-again Garry Ringrose and Tadhg Furlong.

Ireland captain Sexton requires eight points to overtake former team-mate Ronan O'Gara (557) as the top scorer in the history of the Six Nations.

Warren Gatland told Wales to "be brave" as he made six changes to his starting XV for Saturday's Six Nations tussle with fellow strugglers Italy.

The match in Rome, a likely Wooden Spoon decider, will see Rhys Webb make his first Test start since October 2020, stepping in at scrum-half to replace Tomos Williams.

Rio Dyer replaces wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who Gatland backed to be a useful impact replacement, with full-back Liam Williams also coming in.

Dafydd Jenkins, Jac Morgan and Wyn Jones come into the pack, with former captain Alun Wyn Jones among those missing out.

After defeats to Ireland, Scotland and England, head coach Gatland is determined Wales give a better account of themselves against the Azzurri at Stadio Olimpico.

Gatland said: "We feel that having watched Italy and how they'll tend to play from everywhere, including their own 22, getting guys on the ball is going to be pretty important.

"We've been disappointed with the results so far and for me it's hard to take as it's the first time I've lost three games in the Six Nations with Wales. We've had a lot of things going on off the field as well, but there are no excuses.

"The message to the players has been that we have to be smart in terms of the way we play, but we've also got to be brave and make sure that when the opportunities are on we shift the ball. We have to keep scanning and looking at options and if there's a chance to move the ball then be brave and do that."

Teams:

Italy: Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Padovani, Juan Ignacio Brex,Tommaso Menoncello, Pierre Bruno, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Simone Ferrari, Niccolo Cannon, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (captain), Lorenzo Cannon.

Replacements: Luca Bigi, Federico Zani, Marco Riccioni, Edoardo Iachizzi, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Fusco, Luca Morisi.

Wales: Liam Williams, Josh Adams, Mason Grady, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer, Owen Williams, Rhys Webb; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens (captain), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins, Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Rhys Davies, Tommy Reffell, Tomos Williams, George North, Louis Rees-Zammit.

Alex Cuthbert will miss Wales' two remaining Six Nations games due to a foot injury.

The wing came off the bench during defeats to Ireland and Scotland.

Cuthbert was ruled out of the 20-10 loss to England at the Principality Stadium last time out after doing damage to his foot.

The 32-year-old Ospreys flyer will play no part in a trip to face Italy at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday or Wales' final match of the tournament against France at Parc des Princes on March 18.

Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams started on the wings in the defeat to England in Cardiff, the former scoring the only try for Warren Gatland's side.

Wales are bottom of the table without a point from three matches, facing a battle to avoid the Wooden Spoon.

England boss Steve Borthwick has told his players they must "accelerate" their progress after a 20-10 victory over Wales in Cardiff.

In Borthwick's third game as head coach, his team followed up victory over Italy last time out by getting the better of a Wales side who endured a disrupted build-up to their week three Six Nations challenge.

A contract dispute with the Welsh Rugby Union meant there was doubt until midweek that Saturday's game would even go ahead, amid talk of possible strike action.

Borthwick was hugely impressed by how Wales contributed so much, but it was his England who triumphed thanks to tries from Anthony Watson, Kyle Sinckler and Ollie Lawrence.

Captain Owen Farrell struggled with his kicking again, but England did enough.

They have won eight of their last 10 meetings with Wales in the Six Nations, but this result ended a run of two consecutive losses on the road against the Welsh.

England's last six victories over Wales had come by margins of six points or fewer, so by those standards this was a relative drubbing. In reality, it was nip and tuck until the final minutes.

Borthwick told BBC One he was "really proud of the team and what they did".

"That was a tough Test match. There wasn't much in it really," he said. "I think you've got to give those Welsh players such enormous credit and incredible respect.

"We've got quite a number of young men in there. There were a number of guys who played well. Now we've got to push on. There were bits in that performance that we can really push on with in this rebuilding.

"We need to accelerate. We've got two big games to finish the championship. For now, we've got to make sure we enjoy that win."

England have France at home on March 11, followed by Ireland away seven days later, taking on the teams ranked second and first in the world rankings.

It will be a lot clearer after those games where England stand, as they continue to build towards the Rugby World Cup under their new coach, who replaced the sacked Eddie Jones in December.

Farrell described England's showing as "a step forward", accepting his repeatedly wayward kicking was to blame for the visitors not pulling away.

"But it was a good test for us," he added. "We stuck in there, and we fought to the end and took control of the last 20 minutes I thought.

"There's bits starting to show, but we're laying some foundations at the minute and we want to keep building on it all."

Lawrence's try in the 75th minute put the game out of Wales' reach, with it having been on a knife edge to that point.

It meant England scored three tries away to Wales in Cardiff for just the second time in 12 Six Nations matches and for the first time since 2001.

Wales coach Warren Gatland saw good reason to be positive about his team's performance, even though they suffered a third successive loss in the championship.

Gatland said: "I can't be critical of the effort. We spoke in the changing room about being tough on ourselves, about some of the errors we made, things we can fix up and be better at.

"If we look at the mistakes we made that shifted the momentum back to England, they were at pretty critical moments.

"The message at half-time was to just stay in this arm wrestle and we'll get opportunities. The unfortunate thing is we turned the ball back over on too many occasions, dropped a couple of high balls and that was pretty frustrating, and a couple of penalties as well.

"Still for us there's work to do, but I thought there was improvement in some areas."

England made it back-to-back Six Nations wins as they overcame a beleaguered Wales 20-10 at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Wales, whose preparations for the game were hampered after a dispute with the Professional Rugby Board and Welsh Rugby Union, have now suffered three straight defeats in this year's competition.

Captain Owen Farrell got England up and running with an early penalty from 45 metres, before winger Anthony Watson – making his first international start in almost two years – went over to cap a wonderful team move.

Farrell was unable to add the conversion from the touchline, which helped Wales reduce the deficit to five through Leigh Halfpenny's penalty.

Farrell squandered the chance to extend England's lead as he struck a penalty just wide of the posts, before Wales stunned the visitors within a minute of the second half when Louis Rees-Zammit intercepted a pass 40 metres out and raced over.

That try was converted by Halfpenny to put Wales ahead, yet England responded almost immediately as Kyle Sinckler powered over from close range, with Farrell adding the extra points.

Wales pushed hard to claw their way back into the game, but England's victory was sealed with five minutes remaining when Ollie Lawrence went over in the corner. 

Wales fail to end tough week on a high

Wales boss Warren Gatland said the threat of strike action by his players had taken the team "to the brink of disaster" this week.

The worst case scenario was avoided, however, after an agreement was reached with the Welsh Rugby Players' Association on several key issues, including wages and changes to the 60-cap rule that governed international selection.

The saga evidently took a toll on Wales' players, who fought hard but just lacked the quality and energy required to overcome Steve Borthwick's side.

England maintain fine run over Wales

England have now won eight of their past 10 Six Nations meetings with Wales. Their six previous victories before this all came by margins of six points or fewer. 

This latest win moves them onto 10 points in the Six Nations table, five adrift of leaders Ireland. 

Key Opta Facts: 

- Watson scored his first try for England since March 2021 (v France) - he has now scored five tries in his last five Six Nations starts and five in six matches against Wales.

- Sinckler has scored just his second ever Six Nations try in what is his 28th appearance in the competition - both of his tries have come away from home (also v Italy in Rome in 2022).

- Alun Wyn Jones played in his 16th Six Nations match against England; no other player has featured more than 13 times against England in the Championship.

- England have won a Six Nations game against Wales in Cardiff for the first time since 2017 (21-16), with their tally of just 10 points conceded being their lowest in the Welsh capital since 2003 (26-9).

What's next?

Wales face Italy in Rome's Stadio Olimpico in a fortnight – the same day England take on France at Twickenham.

Ireland will be expected to stay in the hunt for a Grand Slam when they resume the Six Nations against Italy while Scotland's title credentials will face a stern test in Paris.

Andy Farrell's Ireland side showed why they are the top-ranked team in the world by halting France's long winning streak with a 32-19 victory at the Aviva Stadium before the break.

The leaders ought to make it three wins out of three at the expense of Italy at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday before third-placed England take on wounded Wales at the Principality Stadium.

Scotland followed up their win over England by hammering Wales and will be braced for a response from defending champions France in what should be an entertaining contest at Stade de France on Sunday.

Stats Perform previews the three tussles with the help of some standout Opta data.

 

ITALY v IRELAND

FORM

The Ireland juggernaut will take some stopping, with their winning run now at seven matches.

They have come out on top in 19 of their past 21 Tests, losing only to France and New Zealand last year in that period. Farrell's ruthless men have averaged 4.4 tries per game in those 21 matches.

In his 32 Tests in charge, Farrell has a 78 per cent win rate – the best of any Ireland head coach to have been at the helm for two or more games.

Italy have lost each of their 23 home games in the Six Nations since beating Ireland in Rome in 2013. After almost pulling off a shock against France in the opening round, they suffered a 31-14 loss to England last time out.

ONES TO WATCH

Italy powerhouse Sebastian Negri has made 30 carries in the Six Nations this year, the joint-most along with Scotland playmaker Finn Russell. He must play a big part if the Azzurri are to trouble Ireland.

Garry Ringrose will win his 50th cap for Ireland. On the six occasions the centre has faced Italy, he has scored three tries – two of those coming in his past two trips to Rome. 

Ringrose has been more defenders than any other Ireland player in the tournament so far, doing so eight times.

WALES v ENGLAND

FORM

The start of Warren Gatland's second spell as Wales head coach has not gone to plan, losing twice and having to contend with a dispute over contracts that resulted in the threat of strike action from players this weekend.

Gatland has made nine changes after it was confirmed the game will go ahead in Cardiff, where Wales will attempt to avoid starting the tournament with three straight defeats for only the third time – having previously done so in 2003 and 2007.

England got their first win under head coach Steve Borthwick against Italy and will be looking to avoid a third successive away loss to Wales.

The Red Rose have won seven of their last nine meetings with Wales, though, with the previous six of those coming by a margin of no more than six points.

ONES TO WATCH

Gatland has dropped big names such as Dan Biggar, Liam Williams and George North after the heavy loss to Scotland.

Josh Adams is among the players who have retained his place, though, and the wing could help to lift the gloom. The flyer and Ken Owens have made four dominant tackles apiece in the tournament, with only seven players have produced that many. 

Alex Dombrandt will start at number eight once again for England, having made more effective contributions at defensive rucks than any other player in the Six Nations with seven. 

He has won two jackal turnovers and slowed down a further five rucks, so he can make his presence felt again.

FRANCE v SCOTLAND

FORM 

Scotland put on another show to see off Wales, turning on the style at a raucous Murrayfield after winning a thriller against England.

They won on their most recent visit to the French capital, defeating Les Bleus 27-23 in 2021. Scotland have not won back-to-back games in Paris since 1967-1969.

France have won 18 of their past 19 Test matches on home soil, including nine in a row. Their only loss during that time was that one at the hands of Scotland. 

A victory this weekend would give them a 10th straight home win for the first time since 1986-1989.

ONES TO WATCH

Damian Penaud finished superbly to score for France in their loss to Ireland. 

The wing has beaten 15 defenders in his two appearances in this tournament and another livewire display could be on the cards.

Russell produced a masterclass against Wales and Scotland will need him to pull the strings once again. 

The fly-half has made three line-break assists and also laid on three tries in the tournament so far and there should be more to come.

Warren Gatland is keen to "draw a line in the sand" ahead of Wales' Six Nations clash with England, saying the threat of strike action had taken the team "to the brink of disaster" this week.

Saturday's fixture at the Principality Stadium was in serious doubt as Wales players considered making themselves unavailable amid a dispute with the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) and Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). 

On Wednesday, however, PRB chair Malcolm Wall confirmed an agreement had been reached with the Welsh Rugby Players' Association on several key issues, including wages and changes to the 60-cap rule that governed international selection.

Wales coach Gatland was forced to delay naming his team due to the uncertainty, and he says the effects of Saturday's game not taking place would have been dire. 

"Looking back now, few people realise just how close we came to the brink of disaster," Gatland wrote in a column for The Telegraph. "What took me by absolute surprise was the level of frustration and anger that boiled over from the players on Monday morning.

"Learning the extent of their frustration was one of the hardest things I had to deal with. I have always prided myself on putting the demands of the players first.

"I was caught in the middle. You want to support the players as much as possible, but you've got to be very careful about how much of the line you cross from that perspective.

"I'm not sure that they had thought about the potential consequences or the long-term effects of the game not going ahead. It would have had such an impact on all rugby in Wales, and potentially led to one or two of the regions going under.

"What hurt me most was hearing a couple of emotive comments from players, second hand, that I didn't care about them. That was the hardest thing because I have always been about putting the players first and looking after them. I just think it was the emotions of the time."

Gatland was eventually able to name his team on Thursday, as Wales look to respond to defeats against Ireland and Scotland in their first two Six Nations contests.

While the 59-year-old is acutely aware of the impact this week's events have had on Wales' preparations, the team are now keen to move on.   

"I am pretty sure I would have easily got a team if I had walked up St Mary Street and asked who was up for beating England. But thankfully we never got that far," Gatland said.

"On Thursday morning I finally named the team. I said it had been a challenging week and we needed to draw a line in the sand and focus entirely on playing against England.

"In fairness to the boys, given what has been going on, they have trained hard and been good in the sessions. It has probably been a welcome distraction to them and I have to take my hat off to them.

"The difficult thing to assess is what impact the mental stress of this week has had on the players. One thing I can promise the Welsh supporters is that the players know how much it means to you. Armageddon or not."

Wales captain Ken Owens said the ordeal had made Welsh rugby "a laughing stock" as he urged the players to pull together in order to get a much-needed result in Cardiff.

Courtney Lawes is poised to make his England return at the Principality Stadium, while Dan Biggar drops to the bench as Warren Gatland has made nine changes to his team for the Six Nations clash on Saturday.

Lock Lawes has been named among the replacements after recovering from injury and is set to make his first appearance for the Red Rose since captaining his country for the series victory in Australia last year.

Anthony Watson has got the nod to start on the left wing ahead of Ollie Hassell-Collins in the only change to the team that beat Italy 31-14 before the weekend off.

That means Marcus Smith is on the bench once again, with captain Owen Farrell staying at fly-half.

Warren Gatland has wielded the axe following a 35-7 hammered at the hands of Scotland, fly-half Biggar among those to lose his place. George North, Liam Williams and Wyn Jones miss out altogether.

Centre Mason Grady will make his senior bow, Owen Williams comes in at number 10 and the fit-again Louis Rees-Zammit is back on the wing.

It was confirmed on Wednesday that the game will go ahead following a threat of strike action from Wales players, who will attempt to get up and running following defeats to Ireland and Scotland.

Wales team: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, Mason Grady, Joe Hawkins, Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Williams, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (captain), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Christ Tshiunza, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar, Nick Tompkins.

England team: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence, Anthony Watson, Owen Farrell (captain), Jack van Poortvliet;  Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Jack Willis, Alex Dombrandt.

Replacements: Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Ben Curry, Alex Mitchell, Marcus Smith, Henry Arundell.

Wales' Six Nations clash with England will go ahead this weekend after strike action was avoided following crunch talks on Wednesday.

Professional Rugby Board (PRB) chair Malcolm Wall confirmed an agreement had been reached with Welsh Rugby Players' Association (WRPA) chief executive officer Gareth Lewis over a series of key issues that had led to a realistic threat of the fixture not taking place.

The settlement of a significant contract dispute came after the PRB agreed a reduction to the 60-cap rule that governs international selection and revised the fixed-and-variable contract offer for players.

Only 25 international caps will be required for players before being able to play freely outside of Wales, and still be available for the national side, while Lewis will attend all PRB meetings.

A new contract agreement, under the newly proposed new Professional Rugby Agreement (PRA), will contain a fixed-only option, as well as a fixed-variable deal that Wales' professional sides will work under.

"We have listened to our players and have been able to resolve the three issues presented, quickly and efficiently," said Wall after the announcement.

"The six-year framework we have agreed has always had the players' best interests at heart and we have been happy to allay their understandable concerns with the adjustments described.

"Negotiations at PRB will continue in earnest as we seek to sign our new six-year PRA as soon as possible and we continue to be grateful to our professional players for their understanding and patience at this most critical time for the game in Wales."

Warren Gatland delayed his squad announcement on Tuesday amid ongoing discussions, with Wales players reportedly keen to have matters sorted by the following day.

Those plans came to fruition after negotiations between the four Wales professional sides and WRPA representatives at Principality Stadium, and a further meeting among international and club players.

"I'm grateful to PRB members for the meaningful consultation that has taken place over the past days and weeks and for the compromises they have made in getting to this point," said WRPA's Lewis.

"The impasse that was reached this week is of course regrettable for all parties but, having now been granted a place within PRB, the players' voices can now be heard which will avoid any repeat of situations like this in the future.

"The players are now keen to put this matter behind them and concentrate on preparations for one of the biggest matches in the international sporting calendar in Cardiff on Saturday."

Welsh Rugby Union interim chief executive officer Nigel Walker added: "The PRB has been agile and receptive to the players' requests and the players have, equally, been responsible and reasonable in their dealings with the PRB which is a credit to all parties.

"We will all now put this matter behind us and I know the nation will also unite as one behind the team when they face England.

"The game is on and, whilst there is still some detail to discuss and some fine tuning to be done in our negotiations at PRB, this is undoubtedly been a linchpin moment from which we can build."

Wales are bottom of the table after losing to Ireland and Scotland at the start of Gatland's second spell as head coach.

Tom Curry will not make his England comeback against Wales on Saturday due to a leg injury and has been replaced in the squad by his twin brother Ben.

Curry had hoped to return for the Six Nations battle at the Principality Stadium this weekend after a spell on the sidelines due to a hamstring tear.

But the back rower, who played for Sale Sharks in a win over Northampton Saints on Saturday, will not feature in Cardiff after withdrawing from the squad.

Ben Curry has been drafted in by head coach Steve Borthwick, while Ben Earl has been omitted after coming off the bench in the round-two win over Italy.

Fit-again lock Courtney Lawes is poised to make first England appearance since captaining his country in the series victory in Australia last year. Wing Ollie Hassell-Collins misses out with a knee issue.

Warren Gatland delayed naming his team on Tuesday amid uncertainty over potential strike action from Wales players, but the head coach said he was confident the issues would be resolved and the game would go ahead.

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