Here are the rugby evening headlines for Wednesday, January 26.
Alun Wyn Jones’ captaincy advice to Dan Biggar
New Wales captain Dan Biggar has revealed the advice injured Alun Wyn Jones gave to him on being named skipper for the Six Nations title defence.
The Wales fly-half, who could hit the 100-cap milestone this spring, spoke with the injured Lions captain and Ospreys stalwart last week.
“When Wayne asked me to do the job, I said to Wayne that I didn’t want to change who I was as a person around the team room and on the training pitch, and Al sort of echoed that, really, and said just be your own man,” Biggar explained.
“I’ve worked with Al for a number of years now, so to pick up, even it is one or two small bits which Al has in the way he conducts himself around the place, it is going to be of benefit to me.”
Jones, the most-capped player in Test rugby union history, has undergone two shoulder operations since being injured during Wales’ Autumn Nations Series opener against New Zealand in October, although a comeback similar to last summer’s against-the-odds recovery has not been ruled out by Pivac. You can read more about that here.
Wales heavyweights including Ken Owens, Leigh Halfpenny, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi are expected to miss the whole competition, while George North and Taulupe Faletau are only considered possibilities – at best – for the latter part of it, meaning Pivac’s squad is without plenty of experience.
“In my position, we are really encouraging other senior boys and even some of the younger lads to really take ownership of speaking up in meetings and training, so it is not just one voice all the time and white noise,” Biggar added. “That’s a big part of the next 10 days, just growing people to be comfortable speaking in front of players and management.”
As for Wales’ title chances, he said: “From our point of view, there are lots of key experienced players missing, but that also gives an opportunity to a lot of young lads who have come into the squad to step up and really stake a claim. We were written off last year. We are coming into the tournament as defending champions, so there is certainly a bit of a swagger in the group.”
Wales begin the Six Nations away to Ireland on February 5.
Ireland ‘know the truth’ about Wales
Ireland coach Andy Farrell has dismissed the impact of Wales’ struggling regions on the national team.
There are fears the lack of form players are showing for the four Welsh domestic sides could now catch up with Wayne Pivac’s team as they look to defend their Six Nations crown.
Wales have been written off by the bookies, with a fourth-placed finish the expected outcome.
But Farrell says the reality will be different.
“We all know the truth, we all know how the Welsh come together. They’re a proud rugby nation and they certainly lift when they come together. They have some world class players within their side that will push them on to be their brimming best in a couple of Saturdays time.
Johnny Sexton focused on forcing way into Ireland team
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is raring to go for the Six Nations after overcoming injury and a bout of coronavirus.
The influential fly-half suffered knee and ankle damage during his country’s statement win over New Zealand in the autumn and was then struck down by a Covid-19 infection.
Sexton starred on his first start since the All Blacks triumph, helping Leinster beat Bath 64-7 in the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday after coming off the bench in his province’s 89-7 win over Montpellier the previous weekend.
“I had a frustrating couple of months, post the New Zealand game,” said the 36-year-old.
“But thankfully over the last few weeks I was able to step up in training and get back on the field unscathed.
“I was back from the knee injury ready to go and then obviously picked it (Covid) up and was sick for a week or so with it.
“Then obviously it takes a little bit of time to get back fully fit, and then a couple of games were cancelled.
“The first game back was a European game so I blew the lungs out on that, it was a shock to the system but I felt much better last week and hopefully now we’ll train hard this week and it will be another good step in my preparation.
“I know I need to train well to earn my place in the team and my focus is getting as fit and ready as possible to challenge for that spot.”
Italy in contact with ex-internationals over availability
Italy head coach Kieran Crowley says he has spoken directly with Harlequins wing Louis Lynagh and Saracens fly-half Alex Lozowski about their availability for the Azzurri.
And Crowley also confirmed there had been contact with Wasps wing Paolo Odogwu, whose father is of Italian descent, on the same subject.
Uncapped Lynagh, son of rugby great Michael Lynagh, qualifies for Italy via his mother. He is also eligible for Australia and England.
Lozowski, who has an Italian grandmother, could take advantage of new World Rugby rules surrounding eligibility. He won the last of his five England caps in November 2018, and could now switch countries as he has completed the required stand-down period from international rugby of three years.
“Paolo has been contacted, and the other two I have spoken to personally,” Crowley said at the Guinness Six Nations virtual media launch.
“We have discussed it and they’ve made decisions at the moment that I respect 100 per cent and I support them 100 per cent. I will keep in contact with them.
“If they declared themselves available for Italy, certainly we would be looking at them. They are all quality players.
“I am open to anyone being available. We will keep the lines of communication open, not only with those three, but there are a number of others as well. They are playing for clubs in England and if they suddenly make themselves available for Italy, how does that affect their contractual status, which is their livelihood?”
Townsend savouring Scotland opener against England
Gregor Townsend believes a mouth-watering opener at home to England will focus the minds of his Scotland players as they go in search of Six Nations success.
The Scots have high hopes of making a significant impact at this year’s tournament, with some big results over the past 18 months allied to strong competition for places fuelling the feelgood factor.
Head coach Townsend feels his team can draw additional motivation from the fact their first Six Nations match in almost two years in front of supporters will be the Calcutta Cup showdown with the Auld Enemy at BT Murrayfield on Saturday week.
“I believe it’s the most eagerly awaited game we’ve had for a few years,” he said. “The Six Nations is a brilliant tournament, it’s a real privilege to be involved in it, and to have crowds back this year makes it even more special.
“We know this is the biggest game we face, it’s such a historic fixture. We’re playing for a famous trophy and it’s 151 years old. To have it first up adds to the buzz around the Six Nations. It will focus our minds next week.
“The games in November were excellent in terms of seeing fans back when we arrived at the stadium, the noise they generated when we came on to the field and how they helped us through those games. So to have them there for our biggest fixture of the year will be a great boost to us.
“We’ve also got three away games this year so we’ll also have to handle those occasions where the crowd are against us and for the home team. But everyone involved in rugby can’t wait to play in front of supporters again for this Six Nations.”
Scotland will be defending the Calcutta Cup after winning at Twickenham last year for the first time since 1983.
Duhan Van Der Merwe and Kyle Rowe have missed training this week due to illness, while Josh Bayliss has been absent through concussion, but Townsend is optimistic about having all three available in the lead-up to the England game.
France report good news on Dupont and Ntamack
France head coach Fabien Galthie says star men Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack “are doing well” after each testing positive for coronavirus.
Les Bleus’ preparation for the Guinness Six Nations has been severely disrupted by a host of withdrawals from Galthie’s 42-man squad.
In addition to world player of the year Dupont and fly-half Ntamack, Francois Cros, Gaetan Barlot, Anthony Jelonch, Cyril Baille, Bernard Le Roux and Pierre Bourgarit were also removed due to Covid-19.
“We keep in touch with all the players from afar, of course,” said Galthie, whose side begin the championship at home to Italy on February 6.
“We have good news concerning the players and their state of health and spirit and all are doing well.”
Toulouse scrum-half Dupont has not played since December 11 due to a combination of postponements, fatigue and injury.
The 25-year-old could be involved in his club’s game at home to Racing 92 on Saturday as he seeks to regain sharpness ahead of a likely return to international duty.
Speaking specifically about Dupont, Galthie – who expects to give further updates on his squad next week – said: “I have spoken to him: he is doing well. He resumed training two weeks ago.
“He wanted to play against Cardiff but the match did not go ahead. Then of course he tested positive for Covid. But he is fine, and is still training.”
Choirs to return to live Wales games after two-year hiatus
The much-loved choir and full band are set to return to Wales’ games at the Principality Stadium during the Six Nations following a two-year hiatus.
The choir gets the Welsh national anthem off to a start, accompanied by 74,000 singing fans at Wales fixtures.
Covid restrictions in place have prevented choirs attending any games at the stadium since 2020, when the nation went into lockdown and tournaments – up until last autumn’s Tests – were played behind closed doors.
The WRU say there are still tickets available for Wales’ first home game of the tournament against Scotland on Saturday, February 12, and are advising supporters to contact their local rugby club or WRU website wru.wales/tickets for tickets.
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