Jamie George scored two first-half tries as England cruised to a 33-0 bonus-point victory against Italy at Stadio Olimpico for their first win of the 2022 Six Nations.

England fell to a late 20-17 loss to Scotland in their opening match but any risk of back-to-back defeats to begin a campaign for the first time since 2005 never looked likely.

The visitors crossed over three times in the first half, with George at the double after Marcus Smith had opened the scoring inside nine minutes.

Elliot Daly and Kyle Sinckler further punished sloppy Italy, who have now lost each of their past 34 matches in the Six Nations and have still yet to beat England in the competition.

 

Italy took a shock early lead in last week's loss to France, though they were on the wrong end of an early try against England as Smith linked up with Max Malins and dived over.

England did not have to wait long for a second try, with George burying his way over from close range to finish off a move he started from a lineout.

Maro Itoje had a try ruled out for obstruction, but England were out of sight before half-time as George collected Smith's offload and grounded after dodging a couple of tackles.

Daly, brought on for Jack Nowell in the first half after the wing failed a head injury assessment, added a fourth for England when racing in down the left early in the second half.

England introduced Ben Youngs for the scrum-half's 114th cap, equalling Jason Leonard's Test record, while Ollie Chessum was handed his senior debut.

Italy pushed hard for a consolation try without finding one, and it was left to Sinckler to have the final say with a simple finish following a costly Leonardo Marin error.

Stuart Broad has hit out at his omission from England's squad for the upcoming Test series against the West Indies, from which James Anderson is also absent.

England's all-time leading Test wicket-takers Broad and Anderson have been left out of the squad for next month's tour after a dismal Ashes series led to the departure of head coach Chris Silverwood.

Interim managing director of cricket Andrew Strauss, interim coach Paul Collingwood, and head scout James Taylor made up a three-man selection committee ahead of the series, which begins in Antigua on March 8, and have settled on a 16-man squad that does not include either of the seamers.

Despite Strauss contending that there was a way back for both bowlers, who have taken 1,177 Test wickets between them, Broad has used his newspaper column to hit out at the decision.

"I have to confess that I wasn't expecting the phone call I received from Andrew Strauss on Tuesday that started with him saying: 'I've got some bad news'," Broad wrote in the Daily Mail.

"I am waking up more confused and angrier with each passing day. I feel gutted. 

"Do I need to prove myself again? In my mind, I've nothing to prove. I am a proven performer, so it is now about the English cricketing summer and targeting the home series against New Zealand in June."

 

The 35-year-old pace bowler, whose tally of 73 career Test wickets against the West Indies is only beaten by Anderson's 87 amongst active players, also moved to defend his recent England performances and denied that any behind-the-scenes unrest had contributed to the decision.

"I could take being dropped if I had let my standards slip but being overlooked when they haven't is another thing," Broad's column continued.

"I am struggling to put things into context. It's hard to do so when all you've had is a five-minute phone call.

"If I had spoken to one person who had said they agreed with the decision to leave myself and Jimmy out, I could perhaps begin to understand. 

"Do I believe I warrant a place in England's best team? Of course, I do.

"People will ask if there has therefore been some fall-out behind the scenes, a bit of a rumble during the Ashes, but I can categorically say that is not the case. Hence, neither Jimmy nor I saw this coming. We were blindsided."

England's last series win in the West Indies came back in 2003-04.

France and Ireland face off at the Stade de France on Saturday in a contest that may well determine exactly where the Six Nations title ends up next month.

Pre-tournament favourites France kicked off their campaign with a routine victory over Italy, while a much-fancied Ireland proved far too strong for reigning champions Wales.

Both sides picked up bonus points to lead the way at the top, setting up a mouth-watering encounter in the French capital as Ireland aim to stretch their nine-match winning run.

Wales have a chance to respond to last week's disappointment when they host a Scotland side who should be full of confidence following their Calcutta Cup win over England last time out.

The final match of the weekend takes place in Rome as perennial whipping boys Italy take on England with the aim of ending their long-running losing streak in the competition.

Ahead of the second round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.

WALES v SCOTLAND

FORM

Wales have lost just two of their 11 home matches against Scotland in the Six Nations, though one of those losses did come in the last such meeting two years ago at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.

The last three encounters between the sides in the competition have been decided by a margin of seven points or fewer. Indeed, four of the last six clashes have seen the side losing at half-time come back to win the match.

Scotland are on their longest away winning streak in the championship, having won four on the spin – not since between 1925 and 1927 have they won five in a row on their travels. However, Wales have won nine of their last 11 Six Nations home matches.

ONES TO WATCH

Taine Basham was a rare shining light for Wales in their heavy loss to Ireland, the tournament debutant crossing over late on to prevent his side from losing to nil on a day to forget in Dublin. Basham also made 22 tackles, which is the most of any player on the opening weekend, missing none in the process.

A number of Scotland players impressed in the late win over England, not least Darcy Graham. The diminutive wing set up Ben White for the opening try, won the crucial turnover in injury time and beat six defenders – the most of any player in round one.

 


FRANCE v IRELAND

FORM

France and Ireland have played each other 100 times previously, with France victorious on 58 occasions, Ireland prevailing 35 times and seven games drawn. In the Six Nations, Les Blues edge the win record 11 to nine from their 22 previous encounters, the other two matches finishing level.

Ireland have lost their last two meetings with France in the competition, having been beaten in just one of the previous eight. Ireland's win rate of 41 per cent against Les Blues in the Six Nations is their lowest against any side.

After recovering to see off Italy last week, France are aiming to win their opening two Six Nations games for the third year in a row, this after managing it just twice in their previous eight campaigns.


ONES TO WATCH

France head coach Fabien Galthie, back involved after missing the Italy match with coronavirus, has put his faith in youth by handing Yoram Moefana his first Six Nations start. The 21-year-old impressed in his cameo role against Italy by playing a part in his side's last two tries.

Ireland will have to make do without injured skipper Johnny Sexton, who passed the 500-point mark in the Six Nations last week, so all eyes will be on Joey Carbery – the only change from the Wales game – at fly-half. The Munster number 10 is tasked with pulling the strings on his first tournament start.

 

ITALY v ENGLAND

FORM

England are the only side Italy have never managed to beat in the Six Nations, losing all 22 of their previous showdowns. England's 80-23 win in this fixture 21 years ago remains the most points scored and biggest winning margin in any fixture in the competition's history.

Italy have lost their last 33 matches in the competition – the longest losing streak by any team in the Five or Six Nations – in an unwanted run that stretches back to a win over Scotland in 2015.

Eddie Jones' visitors have lost their last two Six Nations matches, but only once over the last 15 editions have they lost three in a row, while not since 2005 have they lost their opening two games to a campaign.


ONES TO WATCH

Italy's Michele Lamaro (21 tackles) was one of just three players to make 20 or more tackles during the opening weekend, along with Basham (22) and Nick Tompkins (21). However, he also missed four tackles, which was the joint-most of any player, level with Dan Biggar.

Ben Youngs, who made the most kicks in play of any player in round one (17), is one of six players to make way for England. Should the experienced scrum-half make it off the bench, he will become England's joint-most capped player of all time alongside Jason Leonard with 114.

Aston Villa winger and Jamaica international, Leon Bailey, is in contention to return to the team’s line-up ahead of its match-up with a resurgent Newcastle on Sunday.

The 24-year-old, who moved to the club from Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen last summer, has not featured for the team since December when he was forced to leave the field after sustaining a thigh injury against league leaders Manchester City.

Aston Villa manager Stephen Gerrard had insisted that the player would not be rushed back into action but confirmed earlier this week that Bailey was back in full training and likely to feature soon.

“He’s back in the group and back in full training. He’ll continue to be pushed in the coming days. He has an outside chance of being involved at the weekend, but we’ll assess that in the coming days,” Gerrard said.

Bailey has had a stop-start season to life with the Villans after sitting out the early weeks of the club’s campaign with injury issues and then picking up a thigh injury, during a high-octane cameo against Everton in September.

He has a goal and two assists in nine Premier League games this term and has started on four occasions.

England have made six changes to their starting line-up for Sunday's Six Nations clash with Italy in Rome.

Joe Marchant moves to outside centre, while Ben Youngs, who is one cap away from equalling Jason Leonard's national record of 114, has been dropped for Harry Randall at scrum-half.

Jack Nowell is on the wing ahead of Elliot Daly for his first England start in 1,065 days, while Alex Dombrandt comes in at eight and Charlie Ewels starts as lock alongside Nick Isiekwe.

Will Stuart and Jamie George start in the front row, the latter replacing Luke Cowan-Dickie, who drops to the bench after a costly mistake in the defeat to Scotland last week.

"We've set ourselves the target of playing really well and lighting up Rome," said coach Eddie Jones. "We've made some changes and this is the best side to face Italy. We want to start fast and take the game to them.

"It's been a difficult week, but the players have bounced back well, trained hard and are ready to put on a good performance on Sunday."

Kieran Crowley makes three changes to the Italy side that lost 37-10 to France.

Federico Mori is in at 14 for Tommaso Menoncello, with Braam Steyn replacing Sebastian Negri at flanker and Pietro Ceccarelli starting in the front row ahead of Tiziano Pasquali.

England are the only side yet to lose to Italy in the Six Nations, having won all of their previous 22 meetings.

The Azzurri are on a championship-record 33-match losing streak and have not won at home since beating Ireland 22-15 at the Stadio Olimpico in 2013.

However, Jones' men are at risk of losing their opening two rounds of the same Six Nations competition since 2005, when they were beaten by Wales and France.


England team: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Marcus Smith, Harry Randall; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Alex Dombrandt, Tom Curry. 

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Ollie Chessum, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Elliot Daly.

Italy team: Edoardo Padovani, Federico Mori, Juan Ignacio Brex, Marco Zanon, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Braam Steyn, Michele Lamaro, Toa Halafihi.

Replacements: Epalahame Faiva, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, David Sisi, Sebastian Negri, Giovanni Pettinelli, Alessandro Fusco, Leonardo Marin.

Andrew Strauss called for England's bowlers to step up after the omission of James Anderson and Stuart Broad against the West Indies but suggested the pair could feature later in the year.

England's interim managing director Strauss, interim coach Paul Collingwood and head scout James Taylor made up the three-man selection panel for the series, which starts in Antigua on March 8, and opted for a host of changes to the side.

Joe Root will once again lead his country, despite a 4-0 Ashes hammering by Australia in December and January, with Collingwood acting as interim coach following the departure of Chris Silverwood.

Anderson and Broad, who have managed 1,177 wickets in 321 Tests between them, were the most notable names left out of the touring party for the three-Test series in the Caribbean.

Lancashire pair Saqib Mahmood and Matthew Parkinson, along with Yorkshire's Matthew Fisher, were all included as the trio eye red-ball international debuts.

Strauss challenged the bowlers of the new-look squad to deliver in the absence of their evergreen stars, insisting that both the fresh faces and the more experienced players – such as Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Ben Stokes – must step up.

"This is an opportunity to refresh and look forward," Strauss told BBC Sport in an interview published on Wednesday. "We've brought some new blood into the bowling resources. 

"But we're also asking some of our existing bowlers to play a slightly different role to the one they've played before and show a bit more leadership."

 

Strauss reiterated the omission of Broad and Anderson does not signal the end for the duo, while he denied the pair's stature could be intimidating to captain Root and his younger players.

"They've earned the right to have that stature," he added.

"But we also have to think that there is life beyond them as well and we need to develop some of the other bowlers and allow them to play more of a leadership role, rather than just a followership role.

"No-one is saying Broad and Anderson won't feature this summer and beyond.

"My job is to give the new director of cricket and coach options from which to pick and we can learn more about the options we do have on this tour.

"The new coach and director of cricket will look at selection for the summer and Broad and Anderson will be very much in the mix."

Former opener Strauss also confirmed that Root will come in at number three, while the uncapped Durham batter Alex Lees will partner Zak Crawley at the top of the order amid England's ongoing battle problems.

"A lot of our batting problems have come at the top of the order," Strauss continued.

"Alex Lees comes in as a mature cricketer who knows his game well and it's an opportunity for him to stake his claim with Zak Crawley.

"Joe Root has said very categorically that he wants to bat at three and take that responsibility on.

"That's quite a fundamental shift in itself and creates a bit of space in the middle order for some of the less experienced players to play better and more consistently."

England have left out their all-time leading wicket-takers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, for the upcoming Test series against West Indies.

In the wake of head coach Chris Silverwood departing after a dismal Ashes series, England will be led in the Caribbean by captain Joe Root and interim coach Paul Collingwood.

There has been a push to freshen up their red-ball squad for the three-match tussle, starting in Antigua on March 8, and that has meant Anderson and Broad losing their places.

The selection panel, consisting of interim managing director of cricket Andrew Strauss, Collingwood and head scout James Taylor, named a 16-man squad on Tuesday.

As well as Broad and Anderson, six other players who featured in Australia have been left out: Dom Bess, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Dawid Malan and openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed, who both endured poor stints Down Under.

Strauss contended this was by no means definitely the end of the road in Tests for Broad, 35, or Anderson, who turns 40 in July. Between them, the pair have taken 1,177 wickets in 321 Tests.

 

"In respect of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, I want to emphasise this does not mean the end for them as England players," said Strauss, who captained both seamers during his playing career.

"We feel that it is important to look at some exciting new bowling potential and give some added responsibility to other players who have featured previously.

"No one doubts the quality and experience that James and Stuart bring to the England set-up. It will be up to the new managing director and permanent head coach to decide on whether they will be involved this summer and beyond."

However, Strauss also explained that England are looking to "start a new cycle" after a run of poor results in the longest format.

"We felt that it was time to draw a line after the Ashes defeat, look forward and give some impetus with an influx of new players," he said.

"This selection of this squad is the start of a process and a journey to get England Test cricket back to where it needs to be, and the hard work starts now."

Durham opener Alex Lees and Yorkshire seamer Matthew Fisher have earned maiden call-ups, while Lancashire's Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson will be aiming to make their Test debuts.

Wicketkeeper Ben Foakes has also been included in Buttler's absence, having not featured since playing against India in March 2021.

England squad:

Joe Root (captain), Jonny Bairstow, Zak Crawley, Matthew Fisher, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Alex Lees, Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland have dropped plans to stage World Cup 2030 and will instead focus on a bid for Euro 2028.

A joint announcement from the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic confirmed the decision following "an extensive feasibility study".

The committee chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Julian Knight, had previously derided the World Cup bid as a "giant, expensive vanity project".

The joint statement on Monday confirmed: "The feasibility study included an analysis of the economic impact, the political football landscape and likely costs of hosting major international tournaments. On balance, the five associations have decided to focus solely on an official bid to host UEFA Euro 2028, and have agreed not to bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

"Hosting a UEFA Euro offers a similar return on investment, with the European tournament carrying a far lower delivery cost and the potential of the benefits being realised sooner.

"It would be an honour and a privilege to collectively host UEFA Euro 2028 and to welcome all of Europe. It would also be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the true impact of hosting a world-class football tournament by driving positive change and leaving a lasting legacy across our communities.

"We believe the UK and the Republic of Ireland can offer UEFA and European football something special in 2028 – a compact and unique five-way hosting collaboration that will provide a great experience for the teams and the fans."

England, which last hosted a major tournament when it staged the Euros in 1996, failed in a bid for the 2018 World Cup, which took place in Russia.

London and Glasgow were among the host cities for Euro 2020, with the semi-finals and final taking place at Wembley Stadium.

Paul Collingwood will lead England in their Test series against West Indies following Chris Silverwood's sacking.

The ECB has made big changes following a humbling 4-0 Ashes defeat to Australia, with Silverwood and assistant Graham Thorpe following managing director Ashley Giles out of the door.

But Collingwood, another assistant, has remained in place and will take charge for the three Tests, as he did for last month's T20I tour.

After the ECB confirmed his short-term appointment on Monday, Collingwood said: "I am genuinely excited to be leading the Test team for the tour of the Caribbean. I can't wait to get started.

"Having a challenging Test series against the West Indies straight off the back of the Ashes disappointment gives us a chance from now to reset and rebuild.

"Playing Test matches for England is the highest accolade in the game. My objective is to give players clarity, direction and encouragement for them to start building something special.

"I have spoken to Joe Root and Ben Stokes, and both are excited and passionate to take the team forward in this new cycle. Although they know it won't be easy, they have the desire and bravery to do things differently to ensure the team can prosper.

"We have an opportunity to get back on track."

The England squad is set to be named later this week, with Collingwood to join them in Antigua on February 25 following a break in Barbados.

Scotland made a winning start to the Guinness Six Nations as Finn Russell's late penalty secured a narrow 20-17 victory over England at Murrayfield.

The hosts led the 140th Calcutta Cup clash 10-6 at half-time after Ben White crossed for a try on his debut.

However, England's Marcus Smith went over after the break – taking his personal tally to 17 points – to put Eddie Jones' side in control at 17-10 up.

But there was to be a late twist with the hosts awarded a penalty try after Luke Cowan-Dickie was penalised, before Russell held his nerve to secure back-to-back wins over England for the first time since 1984.

Jones claimed earlier in the week that Scotland were "red-hot" favourites to beat England who, missing the likes of Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes through injury, fielded seven players boasting 10 or fewer caps.

Nevertheless, the visitors controlled possession and territory throughout the first half, with Smith breaking the deadlock in the 17th minute.

The hosts responded almost immediately with Darcy Graham embarking on a powerful surge, before offloading for White – on while Ali Price received treatment for a head injury – to cross just minutes into his Test career.

The right boot of Smith kept England within touching distance at 10-9 behind, and he gratefully received Ben Youngs' offload 13 minutes into the second half; powering to the line after a solid spell of pressure.

But momentum swung in favour of Scotland, who were awarded a penalty try after the TMO ruled Cowan-Dickie deliberately knocked Russell's punt into touch with Graham lurking.

With Cowan-Dickie subsequently sin-binned, the hosts capitalised on their numerical advantage with the boot of Russell edging them back in front, and they held on despite a late surge from their opponents.

The Six Nations is upon us for 2022, as Wales bid to defend their crown.

Wales won in 2021 without completing the Grand Slam, just the second time they have tasted victory without beating all five opponents, as their success came at the expense of France, who were frustrated by Scotland at the last.

Wayne Pivac's men are by no means favourites this time, however. They come into this Championship without Alun Wyn Jones, their captain and a great of the game, while George North leads a glut of star names also absent through injury.

Should Wales triumph, they would match a feat previously achieved only by England, while France are looking to end a long drought of success in the tournament.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform digs into some of the most intriguing facts ahead of the Six Nations.

Wales set England's record in their sights

The past 11 editions of the Six Nations have been won by either England, Ireland or Wales.

England and Wales have won the Championship four times each during that period.

If Wales defend their title successively, they would become the second team, after England, to win the competition seven times since the turn of the century, when it became the Six Nations.

But Pivac has some big names missing – none more so than Jones. Saturday's match against Ireland will be first time since 2006 that Wales have played in the Six Nations without him, while only Sergio Parisse (also 15) has appeared in as many editions of the Championship as Jones.

Can France finally strike gold?

In total, 86 tries were scored in the 2021 edition, the most in a single edition of the tournament. However, despite the free-scoring nature of the games, eight matches were decided by margins of five points or fewer, more than in any other previous Championship.

 

France were on the wrong end of one such fine margin, as they saw their hopes of winning the tournament for the first time since 2010 dashed in a postponed meeting with Scotland, which was played after the rest of the schedule had been completed.

Les Bleus' 11-year wait to win the Six Nations is the longest such stretch in their history, having joined the tournament in 1947.

France's squad is stacked full of talent, though. After recovering from COVID-19, Antoine Dupont is in line to play against Italy this weekend – only Wales' Louis Rees-Zammit (nine) made more clean breaks than the scrum-half last year (eight), with three other French players in the top 12 by that metric.

Dupont beat a defender on 13 occasions and topped the charts for offloads (nine) and try assists (five), ranking second for kicks in play (41) after Scotland's Finn Russell (47).

Romain Ntamack missed much of last year's tournament due to a jaw injury but is also set to feature.

Time for Scotland to step out of the shadows?

Scotland have never won the Six Nations, but they impressed in 2021. They enjoyed more possession (58 per cent) and territory (55 per cent) than any other side, as well as managing the best tackle success rate (91 per cent), and their tally of 9.8 entries into the opposition 22 per game was also the highest.

Duhan van der Merwe beat 31 defenders, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's record for the most in a single edition of the Six Nations (30 in 2000) – it was also the first time that a Scotland player has ended a campaign as the outright top try scorer (five tries; excluding years with joint top-scorers).

 

Van der Merwe also tallied both the most metres carried (482) and the most post-contact metres (208) of any player. Hamish Watson, meanwhile, has now completed 149 tackles in a row in the Six Nations, having not missed one since 2019. Only Lionel Nallet (154) has made more consecutive tackles without missing in the history of the tournament.

England and Ireland out to prove their quality

England have won three of the six editions of the Six Nations since Eddie Jones took charge at the beginning of 2016, with only Bernard Laporte (four) having coached his team to more Championship wins this century.

Jones' team had the best lineout success rate (95 per cent) in the 2021 tournament, losing just three of 58 throws. Luke Cowan-Dickie landed 32 of 32 throws, the most ever by a player in an edition of the tournament not to miss a throw.

Yet that proficiency in the lineout was not enough to propel England to success, as they won only twice to finish a disappointing fifth. 

Ireland finished third, on the other hand, despite losing their first two games.

Andy Farrell's team converted 94 per cent of their kicks last year, the best rate of any nation, missing just one penalty goal attempt and one conversion (29 of 31). In fact, it was the best ever success rate by a team to attempt 25 or more kicks at goal in an edition of the tournament, with captain Johnny Sexton the top points scorer (65).

 

Italy just making up the numbers?

Italy lost all five games again last year, picking up a 16th wooden spoon. They have lost 32 successive Tests in the competition, the longest run in Five/Six Nations history.

The wooden spoon has been theirs in each of the past six years, this after finishing bottom of the Championship just once in the four campaigns before that.

The 2022 Six Nations campaign begins with a mouth-watering contest between defending champions Wales and a well fancied Ireland side at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. 

Wales won the championship for a sixth time last March, narrowly missing out on a Grand Slam with defeat to France in their final game, but they enter this year's tournament as outsiders in the eyes of many.

Much like Ireland, France will be eyeing top spot after going 12 years since their most recent triumph – Les Bleus' longest-such run since joining the Five Nations in 1947 – with their campaign beginning at home to an Italy side without a win in 32 games in the competition.

A relatively inexperienced England side do battle with perennial dark horses Scotland at Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup, meanwhile, with the hosts looking to record back-to-back wins in this fixture for the first time since 1984.

Ahead of the opening round, Stats Perform previews the upcoming matches with help from Opta.


IRELAND v WALES

FORM

Ireland have won four of their last five meetings with Wales, though their solitary defeat in that run came in the most recent match between the sides in last year's Six Nations when going down 21-16.

Wales have lost their last four away games against Ireland, their worst-such run since losing four in a row between 2002 and 2006, but never before have they lost five in a row away to Ireland.

Ireland have won 27 of their last 29 Tests at the Aviva Stadium, including their last six in a row, with their only defeats coming against England in 2019 and France in 2021 – both in the Six Nations.


ONES TO WATCH

Johnny Sexton will win his 102nd international cap for Ireland this weekend and remains a key player for his country. The 36-year-old recorded the best goal kicking success rate of any player (minimum of three kicks) in last year's Six Nations, finding the target from 25 out of 26 (96 per cent).

Wales are without a long list of players due to injury, most notably skipper Alun Wyn Jones. It's set to be the first Six Nations the Dragons have played without Jones since 2006, with fly-half Dan Biggar being left with big shoes to fill in his first game as captain.

 

SCOTLAND v ENGLAND

FORM

Scotland have won five of their last six Test matches, with their solitary defeat in that run coming against the world champions South Africa in November.

England have won 15 of their last 18 Tests, including their last five in a row, although their three defeats in that spell all came in last year's Six Nations – just the fourth time they had lost more than twice in an edition of the tournament since 2000 (also lost three in 2005, 2006 and 2018).

This will be the 140th Test between the rival nations in a fixture that dates back to the first ever rugby international back in 1871. Scotland have won on 44 occasions, compared to 76 victories for England, with the other 19 ending all square.


ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have named a near-identical XV to the one that ended last year's Six Nations, Duhan van der Merwe among them. The British and Irish Lions wing beat 31 defenders in the 2021 edition, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's record for the most in a single Six Nations (30 in 2000).

In the absence of Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry will captain England at the age of just 23, making him the youngest player to do so since Will Carling in 1988.

 

FRANCE v ITALY

FORM

France and Italy have met on 45 occasions, with Les Bleus winning 42 of those matches. That 93 per cent win rate is their highest against any nation they have faced more than five times.

Italy have lost 23 of their last 24 away games with France in Test rugby, including their last 14 in a row. The Azzurri's only victory in France came in Grenoble in 1997.

France have won 12 of their last 13 Test matches at home, although their solitary defeat in that run came in their most recent Six Nations game against Scotland. They have not trailed at half-time in a home game since February 2018, going into the break ahead (17 times) or level (twice) in each of their last 19 such games.

ONES TO WATCH

Captain and recently crowned World Rugby Player of the Year Antoine Dupont will be looking to pick up from where he left off in 2021. He was directly involved in eight tries during the last Six Nations, more than any other player, scoring three and assisting a Championship-high five.

Sebastian Negri made 64 carries and 68 tackles during the 2021 tournament, his combined tally of 132 carries and tackles being the second most of any player in the Championship, behind only Taulupe Faletau (140). Italy could do with more of the same here to help avoid another loss.

 

Joe Root will continue as England's Test captain at least for the upcoming tour of the West Indies, interim managing director Andrew Strauss has confirmed.

Root's position as skipper was thought to be under threat in the wake of England's crushing 4-0 Ashes series defeat to Australia.

That embarrassment proved the final straw for much-maligned head coach Chris Silverwood and managing director Ashley Giles, who were both dismissed this week.

There have been plenty of calls from fans and pundits alike for Root to also be removed from his position, though it would appear he is safe for the time being.

In his first news conference since temporarily taking over from Giles, Strauss said: "Having spoken to [Root], it is absolutely clear the extent of his commitment to taking this England cricket team forward. He has got incredible motivation and energy to do that.

"He is bruised, hugely disappointed by what went on in the Ashes – that goes without saying and many others are in the same boat – but he has the respect of the players, they all play for him and obviously he sets a magnificent example both on and off the field.

"I'm very happy to give him my support, and make sure that we've got the right sort of structure around him to take the pressure off him and allow him to do his job on the pitch."

Graham Thorpe, who operated as Silverwood's assistant, has not been so fortunate.

A statement confirmed the former England batsman "has left his position" with immediate effect.

Strauss said: "I'd like to thank Graham for his work over many years on the England coaching staff and wish him the best for the future."

England are due to begin their three-Test tour of West Indies on March 8.

Eleven months on from playing the roles of party poopers against the same opponents, France will this weekend set out on a journey that Fabien Galthie and his men will hope ends with the Six Nations trophy being held aloft at the Stade de France on March 19.

Les Blues denied Wales Grand Slam glory with an enthralling 32-30 victory in Paris in the Dragons' final match of an otherwise perfect 2021 campaign, snatching the win through an injury-time Brice Dulin try, but they ultimately fell short by finishing four points adrift in second.

Now on their longest run without winning the championship since joining the Five Nations in 1947, with their most recent triumph coming in 2010, France will consider anything other than first place this time around a real disappointment.

But if that is to happen, then Galthie's side have a number of obstacles to navigate, not least beating defending champions Wales – now one shy of England's record of seven Six Nations crowns – in Cardiff in the fourth round of fixtures.

Wales have been Six Nations champions four times in the last 10 years, yet few are giving them much of a chance this time around after failing to push on in the second half of 2021.

Wayne Pivac's side are without inspirational skipper Alun Wyn Jones and do not exactly have history on their side, having won back-to-back championships just once – doing so in 2012 and 2013 – but the Dragons do at least play three of their five matches on home soil.

 

A fast start is imperative but a first-round trip to in-form Ireland presents the reigning champions with arguably their toughest assignment of the tournament. Champions in 2018, four barren years would feel like a lifetime should Ireland miss out again.

Andy Farrell's charges are certainly not lacking momentum thanks to a strong end to the last campaign. Eight wins in a row, including a famous triumph over New Zealand in November – only their third win in that fixture in 33 meetings – has them riding the crest of a wave.

A lack of playing time at club level for certain players could hamper Ireland in their opener, however, setting up an intriguing game to kick things off on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.

While it is clear what can be expected from France, Ireland and Wales, fellow heavyweights England enter this latest edition as something of an unknown quantity due to injury absentees, skipper Owen Farrell among them.

Tom Curry will have to step up and lead an inexperienced England side that contains seven players with 10 caps or fewer in their starting XV to face Scotland. It will make for a challenging six weeks from Eddie Jones' perspective, but one he will be relishing in his seventh Six Nations with the Red Rose.

 

England are one of two sides, along with Ireland, yet to collect the Wooden Spoon. That cannot be said of Italy, who have propped up the table in each of the last six years, that after finishing bottom only once in the previous four campaigns.

Another disappointing 2021 saw Italy lose all five matches as their losing run in the tournament stretched to 32 games, the longest such streak in either Five or Six Nations history.

Italy's place in future competitions continues to be debated, with a possible promotion and relegation system being touted by some, but for now the Azzurri will simply be focused on proving their doubters wrong by ending a long-running losing streak that stretches back to 2015.

While there are some promising signs at age-group level, it is hard to see past Italy claiming an unwanted 17th Wooden Spoon this time around, particularly with trips to Paris, Dublin and Cardiff to prepare for.

Exactly who Italy will battle it out for to avoid bottom spot is a tougher question to answer than predicting an overall winner, with Scotland one of those whose campaign could go either way.

Experienced but too inconsistent, Gregor Townsend's perennial dark horses need to find a way to string together a run of victories to remain in contention right until the end. 

The hallmarks of a great team were there 12 months ago when enjoying more possession (58 per cent) and territory (55 per cent) than any other side, as well as managing the best tackle success rate (91 per cent), but there are still a number of issues that need to be ironed out.

That is a running theme throughout, though, and all adds to the unpredictability and excitement.

With fans back inside grounds, scores to be settled and no shortage of subplots, it is easy to see why this year's Six Nations is the most anticipated in several years.

Khadijah Shaw got a belated birthday president on Thursday when she scored in Manchester City Women’s 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur to secure a place in the final of the WSL Continental Cup where they will face champions, Chelsea.

In the semi-final encounter played at the Academy Stadium Jess Park put City up 1-0 in the 21st minute before Shaw doubled the lead in the 27th after she tapped into an empty net after Caroline Weir’s shot took a deflection following a terrific run from Lauren Hemp.

Shaw, who celebrated her 25th birthday on Monday, January 31, actually had a chance to open the scoring when she surged into the box early in the game but she shot past goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer but wide of the far post.

Hemp sealed the victory in the 71st minute to send City into the final set for March 5.

 

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