The British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa is set to go ahead as planned later this year after proposals to stage matches elsewhere were rejected.

Due to continued complications surrounding the coronavirus crisis, questions were raised over whether the Lions would be able to travel to South Africa for the eight-match trip.

But rather than host matches in the UK and Ireland, or take up Australia's offer to play games Down Under, it has been decided to press ahead with the original itinerary

The Lions and SA Rugby released a joint statement on Tuesday to confirm an agreement is in place over the staging of the tour, which begins on July 3 and continues into early August.

"After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board's intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021," said Lions chairman Jason Leonard.

"We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan."

However, the original plan for the Lions to play five warm-up matches against provincial teams, an invitational side and second-string South Africa A before the three-Test series with the Springboks could still change.

"We appreciate the Lions' faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander in the same statement. 

"We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

"There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. 

"But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners."

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney acknowledged the preferred contingency plan of staging the tour in the UK had become increasingly unviable.

"It was always the preferred option to go to South Africa," he said. "We had to develop a whole range of different scenarios given the potential outcomes and one of those was a UK series.

"It's quite controversial as it's not the spirit of the Lions, but as fall-back option, we thought it was a strong one. If they can't host it, the agreement's off and we've probably run out of time to host it in the UK, so you play in 2025."

Lions coach Warren Gatland is due to announce a squad for the tour at the start of May, with the first warm-up match to be played on home soil on Murrayfield against Japan on June 26.

Wales captain Gareth Bale insists he is not distracted by uncertainty over his future and expects to return to Real Madrid at the end of the season as planned.

The 31-year-old rejoined Tottenham on a season-long loan from Madrid last September after falling out of favour at the Santiago Bernabeu under Zinedine Zidane.

Bale has had a mixed time of things since returning to north London, the forward having scored 10 goals and assisted three more in 25 appearances.

There had recently been talk of Bale staying on at Spurs after hitting form, but he was criticised by Jose Mourinho last week and played no part in Sunday's win at Aston Villa.

And with a year still to run on his Madrid contract, the forward believes he will be back in the Spanish capital after representing Wales at the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament.

"It's no distraction," he said at a news conference on Tuesday previewing Wales' opening World Cup 2022 qualifier against Belgium.

"The main reason I obviously came to Spurs was I wanted to play football, I wanted to be match fit. The original plan was only to do a season.

"After the Euros, I have a year left at Real Madrid. My plan is to go back."

Wales' preparations for Wednesday's clash with Belgium, the world's number one ranked nation, have been disrupted by a number of injury withdrawals.

Having already lost Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey from their initial 31-man squad, Tottenham's Ben Davies and fellow defender Tom Lockyer pulled out on Tuesday.

It is a big blow for Rob Page as he once again takes caretaker charge of Wales in the absence of Ryan Giggs, who remains under investigation due to an allegation of assault, which he denies.

"It's not great news for us, two defenders getting injured prior to camp," Page said. "We've assessed them and they're no good. It's not ideal preparation. We’ve got to react to that and pick a team that we think will win us the game.

"I think they're quite significant injuries. It's a shame. But we have to deal with it."

Page also took charge of Wales' three fixtures in November – a friendly draw against the United States, followed by Nations League wins against the Republic of Ireland and Finland.

Skipper Bale has been impressed by Page's work in the last two camps but is eager for the situation regarding Giggs to be resolved before the Euro 2020 finals.

"Pagey has done an incredible job. He's addressed the situation amazingly well and kept the consistency," Bale said.  "There are no excuses. We've had another good couple of days and we're fully focused. We're ready to go.

"I think my influence has been the same. We're just trying to keep it the same. Nothing has changed. Going into the Euros, ideally things are sorted, but we understand the situation. The FAW [Football Association of Wales] will be in charge of that, not the players."

Asked about his fitness, having been benched against Dinamo Zagreb and not used at all versus Villa three days later, Bale said: "I didn't play Sunday but I've had a couple of days' training. 

"It's been a quick turnaround. Same for every country. Everyone is in the same boat – we're ready to go.

"It's probably the most match fitness I've had. I'm feeling fresh and ready to go."

Wales have won their opening group match in just five of their 18 World Cup qualifying campaigns, although they have done so in two of the previous three.

The Dragons are unbeaten in four games against Belgium, famously beating their next opponents 3-1 in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

But Belgium enter the match in Leuven in great form, winning 23 of their past 24 qualifying matches since going down 1-0 to Wales in June 2015, and Bale is predicting a tough opening Group E test.

"We know Belgium is a great team and we know we're going to be the underdogs," he said. "But you don't need to be the best team to win a game.

"This is why football is so great. What we showed that night [at Euro 2016] was more heart, desire, belief. When we pull on the Welsh shirt, we believe we have more passion than anyone.

"I think beating a big nation in a qualifier gives us confidence to grow. When you enjoy winning, it breeds more."

France coach Fabien Galthie accused Wales' players of making sure Paul Willemse was sent off in Saturday's dramatic Six Nations encounter and urged the authorities not to impose a heavy sanction on the second-rower.

Wales were denied a famous Grand Slam by a last-gasp Brice Dulin try as Les Bleus kept their own championship hopes alive with a breathless 32-30 triumph in Paris.

That was despite France having to play out the final 12 minutes with 14 men after referee Luke Pearce judged Willemse made contact with the eyes of Wyn Jones.

Galthie, speaking through a translator at the post-match news conference, said: "If you watch the Wales players, it feels like they specialise in making sure opponents get red cards.

"Their body language is quite clear, I hope the referees are going to take that into consideration. I don't think he deserves a sanction.

"If you watch the video there is clearly no contact, or if there is it's clearly very limited. It's absolutely not voluntary. I believe we need to share this, I don't see why he should be sanctioned."

Oppositive number Wayne Pivac was keen not to be drawn into a back-and-forth over the incident.

"I don't really have any comment to that," said Pivac. "The match officials are running the game and they have plenty of replays.

"As you saw, it went on for some time. They went through their process and that's what the officials are there to do."

While it was heartbreak in the French capital for Wales, the hosts still have a rearranged fixture against Scotland to play.

To deny Wales the trophy, Galthie's men have to secure a bonus-point win over Scotland and triumph by at least 21 points.

Gael Fickou hopes the best is still to come for France in this year's tournament.

"The pinnacle? I hope it will be next week," the versatile centre said. "Scotland have a great team who are playing very well. We know it will be a complicated match.

"But we will do it step by step. Already, we must try to win it. And then we'll see what happens. We know it will be difficult, but we believe in it."

For Pivac, coming so close to a Grand Slam but falling short left the New Zealander feeling "numb".

"[It's] just desperately frustrating. The players got so close. We have to be proud of them," Pivac added.

"It's quite a numb feeling. The boys had put in such a fantastic effort, the game went pretty much to plan in the first half.

"We were urging them on, but to go from a potential Grand Slam to waiting another six days is frustrating."

So near and yet so far for Wales, who saw a Six Nations Grand Slam slip from their grasp when France conjured up a magical finish in Paris to keep their tournament hopes alive.

Les Bleus looked dead and buried when they trailed 30-20 in the second half, only to produce a late, late show that means the identity of the 2021 champions remains unknown, at least for a few more days.

Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise that a crazy contest in the French capital ended in such astonishing fashion, though.

The two teams had played the game as if it was on fast forward in the opening quarter, sharing four tries during a frenetic first half that finished all-square, allowing all – playing and watching – to draw breath.

Wales, however, seized control after the break, Josh Adams' try – along with the boot of Dan Biggar – helping establish a double-digit lead. Another Six Nations sweep seemed a sure-fire certainty when Paul Willemse was sent off, the lock punished for making contact with an opponent's eyes.

The dismissal left France down to 13 at the time, prop Mohammed Haouas already sitting watching from the sidelines while spending 10 minutes in the sin bin.

Yet rather than accept the inevitable, the red card instead galvanised Les Bleus. As Wales became the team to lose their discipline, leading to yellow cards for Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams, the hosts worked up a head of steam to come roaring back.

Charles Ollivon's converted try cut the gap to three and, on the final play with the clock having ticked beyond the 80th minute, France retained and recycled possession long enough to eventually create space out wide for Brice Dulin to dart over, in the process breaking Wales' hearts.

A championship devoid of fans due to the coronavirus pandemic had served up a visual treat for all those watching on from afar.

"I thought we were pretty good for 80 minutes, it was just those dying seconds," Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones told BBC Sport.

"Our ill-discipline probably brought a lot of pressure on. Credit to France for the way they played in the last 15 minutes, but when we look back at it, probably the ill-discipline brought all that pressure on, as well as good French play."

Wyn Jones knows what it is like to secure Grand Slam glory, having done so three times previously in his international career. Now he has experienced the disappointment of coming up just short. A game that was under control got out of hand, a situation that is never good to be in when France are the opponents.

The second-rower completed all 22 attempted tackles in the game, making him the first player with 20 or more in a Six Nations match this year with a 100 per cent success rate. He so nearly had the perfect outcome, too.

"We have been privileged to get on with the tournament and get a triple crown, but there was obviously more at stake today," he added.

They still may be crowned winners yet, with France – who scored four tries against Wales for the first time in the Six Nations – needing another bonus-point triumph in their rearranged game against Scotland to have a chance of leapfrogging into top spot.

Wales will watch on with great interest but, whatever the outcome at Murrayfield, they have come a long way in the campaign, one that followed on from a tough 2020 which included a six-Test losing streak, leaving coach Wayne Pivac under pressure.

Still, that will be little comfort in the immediate aftermath. A Grand Slam was seemingly theirs, only for Dulin to touch down and hand the Welsh with a result that will be tough to stomach.

Raphael Ibanez paid tribute to France's unbreakable belief after they kept their hopes of Six Nations glory alive with a last-gasp win over Wales.

French hopes of a comeback victory appeared to have been dashed when they had lock Paul Willemse sent off and a try chalked off in one fell swoop by the TMO with 67 minutes gone.

That left Fabien Galthie's side a man down and 10 points behind a Wales side who looked destined to complete a Grand Slam in Paris.

However, the visitors lost both Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams to the sin bin in quick succession before Charles Ollivon crossed the line and Romain Ntamack converted to reduce the deficit to three.

And Brice Dulin broke Welsh hearts in the 82nd minute as he made the hosts' extra man tell, touching down after the ball had been worked quickly to the left.

Reflecting on the drama, team manager Ibanez told the BBC: "It was an incredible finish. Mixed emotions. It was a fantastic battle for the whole game and obviously, we got the win but it's just incredible for the boys, a massive effort.

"At times during the game, we were under massive pressure. Wales scored their opportunities, we missed a few opportunities, made a few mistakes during the game.

"But in the end what really matters in sport is just to believe and that's what the boys did until the end thanks to magnificent tries."

Asked if he thought France's hopes of winning had gone when Willemse was dismissed, Ibanez heaped further praise on the players' character.

He added: "Yeah, but you still have to believe in yourself when you start the game of rugby. 

"The intensity, the battle was just immense. Credit to Wales, they fought until the end, but the boys showed so much character. 

"I think, in the end, it's going to give a lot of confidence to the boys for the next game."

That next game pits France against Scotland at Stade de France on Friday, with the hosts knowing that a bonus-point win by a margin of 21 points would see them crowned champions.

On refocusing for that challenge, Ibanez said: "It's pretty simple. We're still in it and the next game will define our Six Nations. 

"We still have a chance to win the Six Nations so let's celebrate tonight in the changing room and then tomorrow we are going to regroup and work hard as we did this week."

Brice Dulin scored a try with the final play after the 80-minute mark to earn France a thrilling 32-30 victory over Wales at the Stade de France that denied their opponents a Grand Slam and keeps their own Six Nations title hopes alive.

Wales led 30-20 with 10 minutes to play in Paris and had a one-man advantage after Paul Willemse was sent off, but Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams were both sin-binned in quick succession and that sparked a remarkable turnaround.

Dulin touched down in the 82nd minute to secure a victory that leaves France needing another bonus-point win at home to Scotland next Friday – a fixture pushed back due to a coronavirus outbreak in their camp – to finish above Wales.

The incredible late drama followed an equally lively first half in which four tries were shared, but Wales' failure to see out the job means their fate is no longer in their own hands.

Wales need a victory against France in Paris to reclaim the Six Nations crown, and complete a Grand Slam in the process.

Wayne Pivac's team have enjoyed a sensational turnaround in fortunes this year and last week's 48-7 thrashing of lowly Italy made it four wins from four.

With France subsequently losing to England at Twickenham, Wales will wrap up the title with a win on Saturday, while even a losing bonus point could be enough, though that may still leave the door open for Les Bleus to snatch glory should they win their postponed fixture against Scotland.

England are well out of the race, but their captain Owen Farrell is eyeing up a points landmark when the 2020 champions take on Ireland in Dublin.

Scotland, meanwhile, round off what will ultimately go down as a frustrating campaign against Italy.

We use Opta data to preview the round-five, Super Saturday encounters.

 

SCOTLAND V ITALY

FORM

Scotland have won their last five Six Nations games against Italy – the previous 10 clashes between the sides had seen them share five wins each.

Italy have lost 52 of 54 away games in the Six Nations, with their only two victories on the road coming in Scotland in 2007 and 2015.

That victory at Murrayfield in 2015 was Italy's last in the competition. Their losing streak now stands at 31 games, and they will pick up the wooden spoon for the 16th time in Six Nations history.

ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have the best tackle success rate (92 per cent) of any side in this year's competition. Hamish Watson leads the way in that regard, completing all 44 of his attempted tackles – he has made 133 consecutive tackles in the tournament without missing one, the second-longest such run in Six Nations history, behind Lionel Nallet's 154 for France.

Italy's Sebastian Negri has made 127 post-contact metres in the 2021 Six Nations, the most of any forward in the championship.

IRELAND V ENGLAND

FORM

England have won their last two meetings with Ireland in the Six Nations and could win three in a row against them for only the second time, after doing so between 2012 and 2014.

Ireland lost to France in their last home game, only once before have they suffered defeat in back-to-back home games in the Six Nations – in 2010 versus Scotland at Croke Park and 2011 versus France at the Aviva Stadium.

Jones' England have won their last four Tests against Ireland, preventing them from scoring any first-half points in their last two meetings and scoring an average of 4.3 tries per game in that run.

ONES TO WATCH

CJ Stander announced his retirement this week, with the 31-year-old set to hang up his boots at the end of the season. This will be his final appearance for Ireland, having won his 50th cap in the 27-24 win over Scotland in round four.

Owen Farrell, son of Ireland coach Andy, is the top scorer in the Six Nations this year (44) and is just six points away from 500 in the championship. Only Ronan O'Gara (557) has reached that milestone exclusively in the Six Nations (since 2000).

FRANCE V WALES

FORM

Wales are bidding to win a sixth Six Nations title (since 2000), only England (seven) have won the championship more often. If they win this match it would be their fifth
Grand Slam – no other side has more than three.

Recent history is on Wales' side heading to the Stade de France. They have won three of their last four away games against Les Bleus in the Six Nations (L1), triumphing in their last trip to Paris (24-19 in 2019) despite trailing by 16 points at half-time – the biggest comeback for a team in the competition. 

Indeed, pre-tournament favourites France have won only two of their last nine Six Nations games against Wales (L7) after winning nine of the previous 12 (L3).

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont already has four try assists in this Six Nations, only five players have ever recorded more in an edition of the championship, with Frederic Michalak
(seven in 2006) the only Frenchman to do so.

Louis Rees-Zammit is the joint top try scorer in the 2021 Six Nations (four, level with England's Anthony Watson). Shane Williams (six in 2008) is the only Welsh player to score more than four in an edition of the tournament.

France will face Scotland in a potentially decisive delayed Six Nations fixture on March 26.

The match was postponed from February 28 following a coronavirus outbreak in the French squad.

But it has found a new date in Paris next Friday, outside of the international window, tournament organisers confirmed.

It is reported the Premiership will allow key Scotland players to feature in the match, with France's Top 14 potentially following suit.

The game could yet decide the destination of this year's Six Nations title.

France are third heading into the final scheduled weekend of the competition and they host unbeaten leaders Wales this Saturday.

Victory for Wales would seal a Grand Slam triumph, but a France win could give them the opportunity to snatch glory against Scotland six days later.

Wayne Pivac has brought lock Adam Beard back into the starting XV for Saturday's crunch clash with France as Wales aim to seal Grand Slam success.

Wales head to Paris to face the only side who can deny them the Six Nations title, with Les Bleus having two matches still to play.

But France, whose match against Scotland was postponed after a spate of coronavirus positives among Fabien Galthie's squad, saw their own hopes of a Grand Slam evaporate after a last-gasp 23-20 loss to England at Twickenham last weekend.

With ultimate glory still in sight for Wales, who also achieved the feat in 2019, Beard has been recalled in place of Cory Hill for the Stade de France showdown against the unchanged hosts. 

"We are all looking forward to Saturday and to the finale of the Six Nations," said Pivac, whose side beat Italy 48-7 last time out.

"We are four from four but know this will be a great challenge against a very good French side.

"We know we need to step up from our previous performances and we want to end the tournament with a performance we know we are capable of.

"We have had great continuity in selection throughout the tournament and that is shown once again with the selection for Saturday."

Featuring alongside Beard in the second-row will be Alun Wyn Jones, who has his sights set on a record fourth Grand Slam on what will be the 35-year-old's 148th appearance for his country.

While France's starting line-up is the same as against England, there are three changes on the bench, where Damien Aldegheri, Cyril Cazeaux and Cameron Woki have been replaced by Uini Atonio, Swan Rebbadj and Arthur Vincent.

France: Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Damian Penaud; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Romain Taofifenua, Paul Willemse, Dylan Cretin, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Uini Antonio, Swan Rebbadj, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Romain Ntamack, Arthur Vincent.

Wales: Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Tomos Williams, Callum Sheedy, Willis Halaholo.

Wayne Pivac says Wales have used the "pain" of their results in 2020 to inspire them on to being on the brink of a Six Nations Grand Slam.

Wales thrashed Italy 48-7 on Saturday to make it four wins from four in this Six Nations campaign, and they face France next week looking to complete a clean sweep.

It represents a huge turnaround in fortunes for Wales boss Pivac, who struggled in his first year with the team after replacing Warren Gatland.

"It's chalk and cheese," Pivac told reporters when asked to compare Wales' form from last year with their recent upturn.

"We know the pain we went through in the autumn with the results. But we're seeing the players coming through from the autumn now and doing well.

"We’re pleased to be four from four and able to talk about the opportunity of a Grand Slam."

Along with Wales, France have been the standout performers so far in the tournament, and Pivac is anticipating a stern test, albeit one which may be helped by a lack of fans in Paris.

"We'll review the performance and we know we'll be in for a massive game," he added.

"We've been on the receiving end of the result both times against France. No fans neutralises it a bit.

"We've been to Paris in the autumn so that's a good thing. If you asked the side if we'd take four from four and travelling to France for the Grand Slam, I think you'd know the answer."

Wales' victory was their 16th successive win against Italy, which marks their longest such run against any opponent in Test rugby.

Pivac's side had a bonus point wrapped up by half-time, though captain Alun Wyn Jones saw room for improvement.

"We were pretty clinical, particularly in the first half. We're a tad frustrated with the second half but it's a case of job done and plenty to work on," he told SC4.

"The excitement I feel every time I pull on this red jersey is insurmountable, so I'm looking forward to getting back to it on Monday and preparing for next weekend."

Maro Itoje's late try ended France's Six Nations Grand Slam hopes as England secured a hard-fought 23-20 victory at Twickenham.

Fabien Galthie's men still have two games to play in this year's competition after a coronavirus outbreak led to their match with Scotland being postponed.

But next weekend they will host a Wales side seeking to wrap up the Grand Slam – a feat now out of reach for Les Bleus, who have not managed it since 2010, after a painful loss in London.

England, beaten by Scotland and Wales either side of a routine win over Italy, have been reduced to also-rans but refused to play that part on Saturday.

Despite taking the lead through Antoine Dupont's try after just 80 seconds, France were pegged back as Anthony Watson responded in kind and the reliable Owen Farrell added eight first-half points with the boot.

However, Damian Penaud applied the finish to a stunning France try before half-time, with Matthieu Jalibert and Owen Farrell exchanging penalties before Itoje stole the headlines at the death.

With nine wins from 10 previous home meetings with France in the Six Nations, including seven in a row, the history books heavily favoured England, but it did not look that way early on.

The visitors surged into the lead as the ever-alert Dupont touched down at the end of a sweeping move that had left England all at sea.

Eddie Jones' team immediately applied the pressure and got back on level terms as some swift and precise passing found Watson wide on the right, and he marked his 50th cap with a score from which Farrell converted.

Farrell kept his cool to slot two penalties and put England 13-7 up inside 20 minutes, but France cut the arrears with a Jalibert three-pointer before reclaiming the lead ahead of the break.

It was a fine try that secured that half-time advantage, Penaud collecting a brilliant pass from Jalibert following an eye-catching Gael Fickou dummy to squeeze through in the corner after Galthie's men had sprung superbly from a lineout.

The second half was more of a tactical battle, with far fewer instances of flair and creativity; Jalibert and Farrell each splitting the posts before England had the decisive say in the closing minutes.

Itoje bundled over the line, the try awarded after a review as it was determined he had grounded the ball, breaking French hearts in the process.

What's next?

France may be unwanted guests at someone else's Grand Slam party when they host Wales on Saturday, while England face a stern test as they travel to Dublin to take on Ireland.

Wales are a win away from clinching a Six Nations Grand Slam after easing to a 48-7 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico. 

In control from the opening minutes, Saturday's clash was over as a contest inside a quarter of an hour. The scoring deluge continued throughout, Wales running riot as they crossed for seven tries in an emphatic bonus-point triumph. 

It means they are 10 points clear of France, who face England later on Saturday and have a postponed game with Scotland in hand, with the two unbeaten sides set to meet at the Stade de France next week.  

Dan Biggar booted Wales into a third-minute lead following an Italy infringement at the breakdown. 

Luca Bigi was then sin-binned for offside and Wales took immediate advantage from the scrum, Biggar's long pass finding Josh Adams, who surged over in the left-hand corner. 

Biggar converted from the sideline but was errant from the tee after Taulupe Faletau strolled over on the opposite wing with the Italy defence stretched, making it 15-0. 

Ken Owens drove over from a rolling maul, Biggar rediscovering his form with the boot in converting, and the hooker crossed again from close range for his second, in the process clinching the try-scoring bonus after 30 minutes.

Louis Rees-Zammit saw a try chalked off for a forward pass, but there was no denying George North as he sprinted in under the sticks after a neat offload from Jonathan Davies. 

Monty Ioane provided something for Italy to cheer, collecting his own chip down the left wing and dotting down for a try that Paolo Garbisi converted. 

Adams missed out on a double as he failed to ground the ball properly but, after Marco Riccioni was yellow carded for foul play, Callum Sheedy crossed for his first Wales try. 

Rees-Zammit's interception try added further gloss to the final scoreline, and Wales will hope to display the same kind of ruthlessness in their decisive encounter in Saint-Denis.

Sweet 16 for Wales

Wales' victory was their 16th successive win against Italy, which marks their longest such run against any opponent in Test rugby, surpassing a 15-match streak against France from 1908 to 1927.

Franco forlorn as Italy streak continues

Shots of Italy coach Franco Smith with his head in his hands were frequent as Wales scored at will in the first half. The Azzurri's winless run in the competition now stands at 31 games, the longest in the history of the Five or Six Nations. They have not won a home match in the competition since beating Ireland in 2013.

France resume their bid to win a first Six Nations title since 2010 with a trip to face wounded England at Twickenham, and Wales should made it four wins out of four this weekend.

A coronavirus outbreak in the French camp led to their clash with Scotland being postponed, but they will be back in action against the Red Rose on Saturday a month after beating Ireland.

Wales shattered England's hopes of retaining the title with a 40-24 win at the Principality Stadium and will be expected to stay perfect when they face Italy in Rome, also on Saturday.

Scotland will look to reignite their title challenge when they face Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

We use Opta data to preview the round-four encounters.

 

ITALY v WALES

FORM

Wales have won their last 15 Tests against Italy, and a 16th would represent their longest ever winning run against a single opponent in Test rugby (they won 15 in a row against France from 1908 to 1927).

A win over England secured Wales' fifth Triple Crown of the Six Nations era, They completed the Grand Slam in each of their previous four Triple Crown-winning campaigns since 2000 (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019).

Italy's losing run in the competition stands at 30 games and they have lost 19 in a row at home, stretching back to a defeat of Ireland eight years ago.

ONES TO WATCH

Azzurri fly-half Paolo Garbisi has made more kicks in play (29) and recorded more kicking metres (1,142m) than any other player in this year's Six Nations.

Josh Adams marked his first match of the tournament by scoring a controversial try against England and the Wales wing will fancy his chances of touching down again in Rome.

 

ENGLAND v FRANCE

FORM

England have won nine of their 10 home games against France in the Six Nations, including the last seven in a row. Their only defeat came in February 2005, going down 18-17.

France have won seven of their last eight games in the Six Nations and will look for a fourth consecutive victory in the competition this weekend.

Les Bleus have scored the opening try of the game in 15 of their most previous 18 matches in this tournament, including their last eight in a row.

ONES TO WATCH

Wing Anthony Watson will win his 50th cap for England. He has the best average gain per carry rate (10.1 metres) of anyone to make 10 or more carries in the 2021 Six Nations and has also made the most post-contact metres (141).

France lock Paul Willemse has not missed any of his 34 tackles in the Six Nations this year and has made the joint-second most dominant tackles with four, England's Tom Curry (5) the only player to have made more.

SCOTLAND v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have lost just three of their last 19 games against Scotland in the Six Nations, winning all the rest. Each of the men in green's defeats came by a margin of five points or fewer.

Scotland have lost their last two Test matches at Murrayfield. They have not been beaten in more consecutive games at their traditional home venue since losing four on the bounce between November 2014 and March 2015.

Gregor Townsend's side are the only team to average fewer than 10 missed tackles (8.5) per game in the Six Nations in 2021 and as a result boast the best tackle success rate of 92 per cent.

ONES TO WATCH

Hamish Watson has been an influential performer for Scotland, winning three turnovers and getting through a huge amount of work in the back row.

Ireland back-row Tadhg Beirne has recorded the most ruck arrivals (117) in the tournament, hitting the most rucks of anyone in both attack (87) and defence (30).

Ryan Giggs' absence from the Wales dugout will continue at the start of their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign following his November arrest for an alleged assault.

Giggs, who denies any wrongdoing, stepped aside temporarily for Wales' previous fixtures in late 2020 but the legal matter is yet to be resolved, with his bail extended in February to May 1.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) confirmed on Wednesday that it and Giggs "mutually agreed" he should stay away for their three matches later this month.

As he did for the November internationals, Giggs' assistant Robert Page will take charge of fixtures with Belgium, Mexico and Czech Republic.

Therefore, Giggs will miss the start of Wales' qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup, with the Belgium and Czech Republic games falling into that category.

An FAW statement read: "The Football Association of Wales (FAW) and Ryan Giggs have mutually agreed that he will not be involved in the upcoming international camp.

"Robert Page will take charge for the next three matches against Belgium, Mexico and the Czech Republic and will be supported by Albert Stuivenberg as was the case during the last international window in November.

"The squad for these upcoming matches will be announced on Monday March 15."

Giggs, who was appointed as Chris Coleman's successor in January 2018, was arrested on November 1, 2020 after police were called following reports of a disturbance. A woman in her thirties had sustained "minor injuries", a Greater Manchester Police spokesperson said at the time.

The former Manchester United player denied the allegations and was released on bail, which has since been extended twice.

Kieran Hardy has been released from the Wales squad after suffering a hamstring problem and Dan Biggar is also nursing an injury following the Six Nations victory over England last weekend.

The scrum-half scored a try in the leaders' 40-24 win at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, but also sustained an injury.

Hardy has returned to the Scarlets to continue his rehabilitation, with a weekend off to come before a trip to face bottom side Italy at Stadio Olimpico a week on Saturday.

Wales attack coach Stephen Jones said: "It's unfortunate [for Hardy] after having a wonderful performance against England.

"We've got three scrum-halves left who are good to go."

 Jones also confirmed fly-half Biggar is carrying an injury, but is "very optimistic" he can face the Azzurri.

Aaron Wainwright and Owen Watkin have been released to play for the Dragons and the Ospreys respectively this weekend. The duo will return to link up with the national team after featuring for their regions.

Wales wrapped up the Triple Crown with a defeat of the defending champions and lead France, who have a game in hand against Scotland, by five points.

France and Wales are set to do battle at Stade de France on March 20.

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