Wayne Pivac has not totally ruled out of the prospect of Alun Wyn Jones making another astonishing early return from injury to play for Wales in the Six Nations.

Jones was not included in the defending champions' squad last week as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

Dan Biggar was named captain for the tournament in the absence of the inspirational lock, who did the damage in a 54-16 thrashing against New Zealand in October.

Jones incredibly recovered from a dislocated shoulder to skipper the British and Irish Lions in South Africa last year.

Wales head coach Pivac says Jones is unlikely to play in the Six Nations, but there is a chance the 36-year-old could feature.

"Never say never," Pivac said, adding: "It's Alun Wyn Jones. I probably wouldn't enter the conversation if it was anyone else, but the guy has broken so many records.

"I honestly say that, I would never say never. But look, it'll be a long shot. Let's just say that.

"Al is working incredibly hard behind the scenes, as you know he would, to get himself in the best shape possible for either the Ospreys or Wales."

Stand-in captain Biggar echoed Pivac's sentiments as the holders prepare for their opening match against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5.

"I wouldn't put my mortgage on it," the fly-half said.

"I don't think any of us expected [Jones] to turn up in South Africa in the summer, and he managed to get on the plane.

"If there is anybody who has got a chance of being fit for some part of this tournament, then Al is probably the man. I wouldn't rule it out just yet."

George North still believes he could feature for Wales at the back end of the Six Nations as he prepares to return from a gruelling knee injury lay-off.

The star back, who has successfully converted from wing to outside centre with Wales, has the most international tries of all current players in the world game.

However, an anterior crucial ligament (ACL) blow has put his career on hold. Sustaining the injury last April forced North to miss the British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa, plus the autumn internationals.

He was not included in Wales' 36-player squad for the Six Nations this week, absent along with several other notable injury casualties, including captain Alun Wyn Jones.

Champions Wales start their Six Nations defence against Ireland in Dublin on February 5, a date which has come much too soon for North to be considered. His short-term priority is getting in shape with his club side, the Ospreys.

"Hopefully I'll be back into some sort of team training next week," North told Stats Perform.

Asked whether there was any hope of him being available to Wales during the championship, North said: "There's two big steps: getting back to training full time with the Ospreys, then playing for the Ospreys with a view to potentially, maybe, catching the end of it.

"But at the moment I'm just focusing on playing back for the Ospreys."

Wales have home games against France and Italy on March 11 and 19 to finish the campaign, and North may be pushing for selection by then.

He has been a key component of the Wales team since making his debut as a teenager, and passed 100 caps during the Six Nations last year.

The 29-year-old has been itching to get back into action, but his absence from the pitch has allowed North some valuable family time.

He married Olympic cyclist Becky James in 2019, and they had a second son, Tomi, in October of last year.

North describes his wife as "a superstar" for helping him through a difficult rehabilitation period, and the former Northampton and Scarlets star is relishing his return to action.

"I take great confidence in knowing a load of rugby boys that I know have had single or double ACLs and they're still playing now, with no issues," North said.

"Luckily, I'm in a good generation where the medical care is advancing so quickly, so I'm benefiting from that. For me now, the focus is just to get back.

North, who is a Land Rover ambassador, is evidently relieved to be finally "on the home straight", as he puts it. He compares his current routine to that of a demanding pre-season, with full contact training still to come.

"I'm finding already this is the most frustrating part," he said, "because obviously you're a lot closer than you were six months ago."

He can only encourage his Wales colleagues from a distance as the Six Nations looms, and with the likes of Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Navidi, Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric also sidelined, it will be a challenging campaign for coach Wayne Pivac. North prefers to look at the positives that might come from this testing time.

"With adversity, you get exciting results," said North, "and the younger boys coming through that we've picked are exciting boys, and I'm excited to see how the boys come together to push on.

"Any Six Nations is tough. Obviously, you want your main team out there the best you can, and injuries are a nightmare for any team."


:: George North is a Land Rover ambassador. Visit landrover.co.uk

Dan Biggar will captain injury-hit Wales for the first time in the Six Nations in the absence of Alun Wyn Jones.

Jones underwent shoulder surgery after doing damage in a 54-16 thrashing at the hands of New Zealand in October.

The lock will not feature in the Six Nations, so Biggar has the honour of leading his country and the fly-half is set to win his 100th cap if he features in all five matches.

Wayne Pivac has included three uncapped players in his 36-man squad, hooker Dewi Lake getting the nod along with back rows Jac Morgan and James Ratti.

Bradley Roberts and Christ Tshiunza are among five players who are in line to make their Six Nations debuts for the holders.

Jonathan Davies is set to play in his 100th Test when Wales start the defence of their title against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on February 5.

Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, George North and Leigh Halfpenny are among the other players who will not feature in the Six Nations due to injury.

Wales squad:

Forwards:  Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Dewi Lake, Bradley Roberts, Leon Brown, Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Ben Carter, Seb Davies, Will Rowlands, Christ Tshiunza, Taine Basham, Ellis Jenkins, Jac Morgan, Ross Moriarty, James Ratti, Aaron Wainwright.

Backs: Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Dan Biggar (captain), Rhys Priestland, Callum Sheedy, Jonathan Davies, Uilisi Halaholo, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Alex Cuthbert, Louis Rees-Zammit, Johnny McNicholl, Liam Williams.

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Dan Biggar fears a "huge step backwards" if there are no crowds allowed at matches moving into 2022.

While crowds at sporting events have yet to be capped in England, matches in Wales and Scotland are now limited when it comes to capacity, amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

Wales' first minister Mark Drakeford has not put any timescale on when the restrictions will be lifted, with the Six Nations set to start on February 5.

Scotland will formally review their measures on January 11, while France – where over 18,000 people were in hospital with COVID-19 as of December 30 – has imposed restrictions on travellers from the United Kingdom, with their government insisting that all sportspeople must be fully vaccinated by mid-January in order to enter the country.

Italy, likewise, is experiencing unprecedented levels of new recorded cases of the virus as the Omicron variant spreads across Europe.

But Wales fly-half Biggar believes banning spectators would be a frustrating move that will only damage the game.

"It would be a huge, huge step backwards if there are no crowds moving forwards for clubs and the Six Nations which is obviously such a showpiece event," he told reporters.

"You saw it in the autumn, getting crowds back. Everyone coming to games now has to have a passport, they'll be double or triple-jabbed, and it's an outdoor event so I don't see why they wouldn't be allowed in.

"As long as it's safe, that's the most important thing.

"I hope for an event like the Six Nations and for the game up and down the UK moving forward we get some sort of sensible outcome.

"As long as everyone is safe and jabbed then I think it makes sense to keep crowds in. I think you would have seen a different [Northampton against Harlequins] game if the stadium had been completely empty.

"We played a lot of games with no crowds but if you look at the first handful of games they almost felt like training games.

"It felt like it did not really matter whether you won or lost because it felt like a training match and like the intensity was knocked out of it. You lose any advantage of playing at home and bits and pieces like that.

"I think it would be a huge step backwards if crowds were to go. I think the rest of the lads in Wales are pretty frustrated with it. That's normal frustration isn't it?

"We are probably getting into different things with politics now but I think everything should be aligned."

Wales, the defending Six Nations champions, start their campaign against Ireland on February 5, with their first home game scheduled for February 12, against Scotland.

Ospreys hooker Ifan Phillips underwent a leg amputation after a motorbike collision, he revealed on Sunday.

Phillips, 25, is a former Wales Under-20 international who had trained with Wayne Pivac's senior squad.

The incident occurred on December 5 in Swansea, and Phillips said doctors were unable to save his leg.

South Wales Police said at the time that two motorbikes collided.

Phillips posted a picture to Instagram of himself smiling in a wheelchair and said support in the past fortnight had been "truly overwhelming" and his "spirits are high".

Phillips offered "heartfelt thanks" to those who helped at the scene of the collision and those at Morriston Hospital in Swansea who helped him afterwards.

He wrote: "On the 5th of December I was rushed in to Morriston Hospital following a motorbike accident. I went into theatre on arrival but following ongoing surgery it was not possible to save my leg. As a result I had to have an above the knee amputation."

Phillips said donations to a fund set up to support his recovery would help both with his rehabilitation and "hopefully getting a prosthetic leg which will enable me to experience new opportunities".

Italy were drawn to face England and Germany in a tough 2022-23 Nations League group on Thursday.

The Azzurri beat England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley in July and the two sides will do battle again in Group A3 of the Nations League.

They will also face Germany and Hungary home and away in matches that will take place next June and September 2022.

Holders France are in Group A1 along with Croatia, Denmark and Austria.

World champions France were crowned champions when they came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 at San Siro in October.

Spain were drawn in Group A2 and will come up against Portugal, Czech Republic and Switzerland in the third edition of the UEFA competition.

Belgium, who squandered a two-goal lead to lose against France at the semi-final stage of the Nations League two months ago, will take on Netherlands, Poland and Wales.

Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Ukraine and Armenia are in League B Group 1.

Russia, Iceland, Israel and Albania will do battle in Group B2, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland and Romania in Group B3.

Group B4 will see Serbia, Sweden, Norway and Slovenia lock horns as they strive to secure promotion.

Four of the six matchdays will be in June due to the scheduling of the World Cup in Qatar later in 2022.

The four group winners in League A will advance to the Nations League Finals in June 2023. The group winners in the other three leagues will all be promoted for the 2024-25 edition.

Roberto Mancini admitted Italy would rather not have to do battle with Portugal for a place in the 2022 World Cup if they get past North Macedonia.

The European champions were on Friday drawn to face North Macedonia in a semi-final next March after missing out on automatic qualification for the tournament in Qatar.

Italy will come up against either Portugal or Turkey in a decisive showdown if they avoid a semi-final upset.

Euro 2016 champions Portugal were consigned to a play-off spot in dramatic fashion as Aleksandar Mitrovic's last-gasp strike saw Serbia through as Group A winners.

Italy boss Mancini is confident his side will qualify, but gave an honest reaction to the prospect of trying to deny Cristiano Ronaldo what could be his last trip to a World Cup.

He said: "We are always confident and positive. Macedonia had a good qualifying group, we will have to play a great match. Then we will see what happens in the final.

Asked about the prospect of coming up against Portugal, he said: "We would have liked to avoid them, in the same way Portugal would have gladly avoided Italy."

The draw also threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine.

Russia will host Poland, with the winners playing either Sweden or the Czech Republic. 

Italy or Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after the two most recent European champions were drawn in the same play-off path.

Roberto Mancini led Italy to a Euro 2020 triumph earlier this year, yet the Azzurri failed to qualify automatically for next year's World Cup, with Switzerland progressing instead.

Portugal, Euro 2016 winners, also fell short, finishing three points behind Serbia in Group A.

And now one of the heavyweights will fail to appear in Qatar, with both teams drawn together in Path C of the play-offs, which will take place in March.

Italy were drawn in a semi-final against minnows North Macedonia, who are aiming to make their first appearance at a World Cup, while Portugal will face Turkey.

Should they progress, Portugal will have home advantage in the Path C final to determine which team progresses to Qatar. While Cristiano Ronaldo could well be fighting to play in his final World Cup, the Azzurri will be aiming to avoid missing out on the tournament for a second successive time.

Path A threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine, who went unbeaten in a qualifying group that also included reigning world champions France, respectively.

In Path B, Russia will host Poland and Sweden will play the Czech Republic. 

The winner of Russia v Poland will host the Path B final.

Play-offs draw in full

Path A

SF1 – Scotland v Ukraine

SF2 – Wales v Austria

F1 – Winner SF2 v Winner SF1

Path B

SF3 – Russia v Poland

SF4 – Sweden v Czech Republic

F2 – Winner SF3 v Winner SF4

Path C

SF5 – Italy v North Macedonia

SF6 – Portugal v Turkey

F3 – Winner SF6 v Winner SF5

A last-gasp penalty from Rhys Priestland denied 14-man Australia a memorable comeback against Wales at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Smarting from a 32-15 defeat to England last time out, the Wallabies were up against it when Rob Valetini's red card and a 10-point deficit left them staring at a potentially heavy defeat.

However, Wales – who survived a scare against Fiji after despite Eroni Sau's red card – were pegged back and it required steely nerves from Priestland beyond the 80-minute mark to secure a 29-28 win.

Australia began in brilliant fashion as Andrew Kellaway collected a grubber and touched down, although Dan Biggar quickly reduced the deficit with a penalty, but the match swung firmly Wales' way when Valetini was shown red for a dangerous high tackle that left Adam Beard bleeding, Biggar then kicking a further three points.

Although James O'Connor's penalty put the 14 men ahead, Kurtley Beale was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on and Ryan Elias scored Wales' first try after good work at the resulting lineout.

O'Connor and Biggar exchanged further penalties and the latter converted after Nick Tomkins intercepted a pass and scored a simple try, with a TMO check allowing it to stand.

Then came the threat of a late surprise. Nic White finished a fine move involving Beale, and although Biggar's boot stretched Wales' lead again, Filipo Daugunu touched down in the corner with O'Connor's kick striking the post to spare the hosts.

Beale's kick then put Australia ahead with two minutes to play, but after winning a penalty inside the visitors' 22 in the 81st minute, Priestland kept his nerve to send Cardiff into raptures.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has questioned whether Gareth Bale should have played for Wales during the international break.

Bale has not played for the LaLiga club since August after suffering a knee injury against Real Betis.

The former Tottenham forward made his 100th senior international appearance for Wales in the 5-1 win over Belarus, but picked up a calf injury in that game and is now expected to miss several more weeks.

"He had recovered [from the knee injury]. Wales thought he was fit enough to play," Ancelotti told reporters at a media conference ahead of Sunday's trip to Granada.

"Perhaps they shouldn't have played him, but we have to make sure he recovers now because he could be a very useful player for the rest of this season and we hope to have him back soon.

"Gareth is an important player for Wales and he likes playing for his national team, but he also wants to play for Real Madrid. You can see when he trains with the effort and work he puts in. Of course, if he wants to play for his national team, he has to play well for Real Madrid and train well too."

Ancelotti was also asked about Eden Hazard, who was recently described as "sad in footballing terms" by Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez.

The former Chelsea attacker has made just four starts for Real Madrid this season, and Ancelotti understands his frustration.

"Of course, Hazard, like most players who don't play often, is unhappy," he said. "To be honest, I would be unhappy if he wasn't. You want players to try and fight for a first team spot.

"He's had a stomach bug and needs two or three days rest. It's not Covid. It's like a stomach flu."

The former Everton boss also wanted to make clear his frustration at the number of games his team has to play before the winter break, with nine games scheduled in a 31-day period.

"The players, clubs and managers have all come out and said there are too many games," Ancelotti exclaimed. "Something has to change. The way football is working right now isn't good for the sport, and changes have to be good changes, not decisions that lack common sense."

The 62-year-old was also asked about the recent appointment of Xavi at Barcelona, saying: "I'm sure Xavi is going to bring something different to the club.

"I'm sure we are going to be fighting them for the title, and I'd like to discover if there is anything different with this Barcelona side as soon as possible."

Josh Adams has been passed fit to start for Wales and Pete Samu replaces Michael Hooper in the Australia team for Saturday's Test at the at Principality Stadium.

Adams missed the 38-23 defeat of Fiji last weekend due to a calf injury, but the winger will face the Wallabies.

Uilisi Halaholo and Nick Tompkins are Wayne Pivac's centre pairing, while the fit-again Aaron Wainwright is back at number eight.

Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis return to the starting line-up for what will be the final Test of the year for both sides.

Samu comes into the Australia team in the absence of Hooper, who suffered a foot injury in the loss to England at Twickenham last Saturday.

Props Taniela Tupou and Allan Alaalatoa return after missing the defeat to the Red Rose due to concussion, while Tolu Latu starts at hooker and Filipo Daugunu gets the nod on the wing alongside Andrew Kellaway.

Centre Lalakai Foketi is set to make his debut off the bench, with James Slipper taking over as skipper.

 

Wales team: Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins, Uilisi Halaholo, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins (captain), Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Ben Carter, Christ Tshiunza, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Johnny McNicholl.

Australia team: Kurtley Beale, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Filipo Daugunu, James O'Connor, Nic White; James Slipper (captain), Tolu Latu, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini.

Replacements: Folau Fainga'a, Angus Bell, Allan Alaalatoa, Will Skelton, Lachlan Swinton, Tate McDermott, Lalakai Foketi, Tom Wright.

Aaron Ramsey and Kieffer Moore insisted Wales will not fear facing any of their potential opponents on home soil in the World Cup play-offs for Qatar 2022.

Wales finished second in Group E to earn home advantage in March's play-offs after they fought back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Belgium on Tuesday.

Kevin De Bruyne had put Belgium ahead early in the game before Moore equalised just after the half hour.

Moore's goal was his eighth for Wales since making his international debut in September 2019 – more than any other Wales player in that time.

"It's so important to get a home draw," Moore told Sky Sports.

"If you look at the teams that have come in second, the likes of Portugal and Italy - it's been a bit nervy. But nights like this, I'd back us to take on anyone.

"We left everything out there. We gave everything for that performance because we knew we needed a result.

"The noise after that goal, it was just incredible. I can't explain it, I was lost for words. It's some feeling, I'll say that. The Red Wall [Wales fans] are amazing.

"We knew that Belgium would try and keep as much possession as much as possible so we knew we had to be compact, be tight and not let them through us so that we could get them on the counter-attack."

Wales have lost just two of their last 20 World Cup qualifying matches (won nine, drawn nine) and are unbeaten in their last seven heading into the play-offs next March.

They have also finished in the top two of a World Cup qualifying group for the first time since qualification for the 1966 World Cup, when they finished second (only the first-placed teams qualified that year).

Wales captain Ramsey hailed the willingness of his team-mates put their heads where it hurts against Belgium to clinch a play-off spot.

He added: "Full credit to the boys, they put in a massive shift again against top opposition.

"We always believed we could get a result, especially with our fans behind us. It's another good night for us.

"We build our foundations on everybody putting in a shift for each other, putting their bodies on the line, and we managed to do that again tonight.

"There's some big, big teams still in it but it was so important that we had a home tie. You could see the atmosphere tonight – it's a special place to come and play. Hopefully that will give us an extra edge in that first play-off."

Wales boss Robert Page acknowledged his side suffered from the absence of the injured Gareth Bale against Belgium, with hopes of reaching first World Cup since 1958 now tantalising within reach.

He said: "We're always going to miss Gareth but there's so much he brings to this team off the pitch too, just having him around the dressing room. He wanted to be with us tonight, he's a proper captain.

"When the crowd is behind us like it was tonight, we'll take on anyone. We're not done yet; we're dreaming of a World Cup but it's definitely achievable."

Kieffer Moore secured a home World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final for Wales as Belgium were held to a 1-1 draw at Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday.

Robert Page's side were already assured of a play-off spot, but they headed into the final Group E game desperate to be among the six top seeds.

Although Kevin De Bruyne put an under-strength Belgium – already assured of a place in the tournament in Qatar next year as group winners – in front, Moore equalised in the first half.

Neither side could fashion a winner, but Wales sealed second place and face a home play-off tie in March when they will hope to have captain Gareth Bale – absent here – back to full fitness.

De Bruyne silenced the Wales fans when he opened the scoring 12 minutes in, the stand-in captain finding the bottom-right corner with a measured finish after a poor attempted clearance from Chris Mepham.

Wales took that setback on the chin, capitalising on slack defending to equalise when Arthur Theate missed his kick as he tried to deal with Dan James' cross and Moore finished clinically with his left foot 13 minutes before half-time.

Thorgan Hazard struck the post when he met a pinpoint De Bruyne corner with a sublime volley from just outside the penalty area as Belgium finished the first half strongly.

An unmarked Connor Roberts spurned a chance to put Wales in front when he sliced a long way wide after a James cross fell nicely for him early in the second half.

Dante Vanzeir came on to make his debut as Roberto Martinez made a triple substitution before the hour-mark.

Neco Williams almost won it when he cut in from the left and brought a fine save from Koen Casteels, but a point was enough for Wales to achieve their objective.

 

Australia captain Michael Hooper will be absent for the Wallabies' final Autumn Nations Series game against Wales on Saturday. 

Hooper was forced off injured during the second half of Australia's 32-15 loss to England at Twickenham last weekend, which followed a 15-13 defeat to Scotland. 

The Wallabies confirmed on Twitter that scans carried out on the flanker revealed he had suffered a midfoot sprain and would be unavailable to take on Wales at the Principality Stadium. 

The news came after Hooper was revealed to be one of four players in contention for the World Rugby Men's 15s Player of the Year award. He is up against Antoine Dupont, Maro Itoje and Samu Kerevi in the fan vote. 

Australia have only won two of their past 10 away Tests against European teams, losing eight. However, one of those victories came against Wales in Cardiff in 2017. 

Gareth Bale will not start when Wales face Belgium in Cardiff for their final World Cup Group E qualifying match as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.

Wales are already assured of a place in the play-offs going into Tuesday's game due to their Nations League results.

But they need at least a point against Belgium to be sure of finishing second to Roberto Martinez's men in the pool, which would give them the best chance of a home draw in the play-off semi-finals. 

The Czech Republic are still in with a chance of catching Wales.

Real Madrid attacker Bale won his 100th cap from the start as Wales thrashed Belarus 5-1 on Saturday before being taken off at half-time in a planned substitution.

But if Bale, who has only appeared three times for Madrid this season, is to play any part against Belgium, it will be as a substitute and even that depends on how well he responds to training on Monday, which he completed individually away from the rest of the squad.

"He was never going to start against Belgium and we knew that coming into camp," said Wales boss Rob Page.

"The plan was always for him to get a half in the first game and then come on and maybe have an impact in the second game.

"He is going to be stiff. He has not played for a couple of months and to throw him in for that game was a big ask from a physical point of view.

"He's done his own recovery and we'll leave it to the last minute to see if he can any play minutes. He is getting there, slowly but surely.

"We will get him back to full fitness. It is frustrating for him. He made a tremendous effort to get fit for the game and he takes credit for that."

Wales captain Bale may not face his Madrid team-mates Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard as the Belgium duo are not expected to travel for the match, with their country's place in Qatar already secured.

Belgium's progression to the World Cup was sealed with a win over Estonia, who are the Czech Republic's last opponents at the same time as Wales and Belgium do battle.

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