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Six Nations – Weekend Preview, Stats & Tips

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Selections

Wales v Ireland: Saturday, February 4 (2.15pm)

Warren Gatland is back in the Wales hot seat after replacing Wayne Pivac – and his opening
task could not be more daunting as they face an Ireland side sitting top of the world rankings.

Gatland, who coached Wales between 2008-2019, suffered a setback with the news that full-
back Leigh Halfpenny will miss the Six Nations opener
Halfpenny was due to win his 98th cap and make a first Wales start for 19 months – but he has
suffered a back spasm and will not be fit to face the Irish.
Assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys confirmed Cardiff back Liam Williams will replace
Halfpenny in the number 15 shirt and he said: “Unfortunately, Leigh had a back spasm this
morning and Liam will be playing.
“I think it’s more disappointing for him as a person. He is an unbelievable professional and an
unbelievable person.
“He has got to pick himself up again. You feel for him that he’s got to pull out at this late stage.
“Liam is good to go.”
Ireland, meanwhile, will be missing Tadhg Furlong due to calf and ankle issues which have
sidelined him in recent weeks. He should be fit within the next seven days though.
Connacht’s Finlay Bealham will start in place of Furlong at tighthead in Cardiff, with Tom
O’Toole providing cover from the bench.
Andy Farrell has been lifted by the news that captain and fly-half Johnny Sexton is ready to lead
the side having overcome his cheekbone issue.
Ireland head to Cardiff from their pre-tournament camp in Portugal as marginal title favourites
ahead of 2022 Grand Slam winners France.
The Irish have not won a Six Nations match at the Principality Stadium since 2013 and suffered
a 21-16 defeat there in their opening fixture of the 2021 championship.
But Farrell’s Ireland should make a strong start to the tournament, winning both halves.
Wing James Lowe returns from a calf injury after missing the November fixtures – and we expect
him to be too hot to handle for the hosts, so are backing him in the anytime try scorer market.

Wales’ last three results

  • England 23 Wales 9
  • Wales 9 France 13
  • Wales 21 Italy 22

Ireland’s last three results

  • Ireland 57 Italy 6
  • England 15 Ireland 32
  • Ireland 26 Scotland 5

England v Scotland: Saturday, February 4 (4.45pm)

The Calcutta Cup clash will be Steve Borthwick’s first match as England head coach since
replacing Eddie Jones – and he will be hoping to get off to a winning start at Twickenham.

Scotland will be entering this contest with confidence, however, as they have won their last two
meetings and are chasing a third consecutive win for the first time since 1972.
This will be Gregor Townsend’s sixth Championship in charge of Scotland, who secured a 20-17
win at Murrayfield last time out thanks to a late Finn Russell penalty.
Manu Tuilagi has been dropped by Borthwick, with Joe Marchant taking the 31-year-old’s place
in the England line-up.
Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell will resume their playmaking axis, while wing Ollie Hassell-
Collin has been handed his first cap in a rejigged back line.
Ben Curry will be awarded his first cap against major opposition following his debut in an
underwhelming victory over the United States nearly two years ago.
Borthwick said: “There are few fixtures in the rugby calendar that excite both players and
supporters alike more than the annual Six Nations meeting of the Auld Enemy as they battle for
the honour of lifting the Calcutta Cup.
“Another packed Twickenham will witness the start of the next chapter of English rugby in one of
the most keenly contested tournaments in the world. There is no doubt that this England team
shares the supporters’ sense of eager anticipation.
“To a man, the players are determined to play with the commitment, fight and desire that is at
the very heart of representing England, the sort of passion that our tremendous supporters
rightly expect.”

Scotland have decided against throwing Zander Fagerson straight back into action, opting to
give the 2021 British and Irish Lions squad member more time to get up to speed after a
hamstring injury.
Edinburgh flanker Luke Crosbie is the least experienced player in the 23 with two caps, while
influential duo Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe are both in the XV despite recent fitness
concerns.
Crosbie’s Edinburgh team-mate and wing Duhan van der Merwe will likely be the main man
England need to shackle if they are to conquer the Scots – but he seems a good shout for the
anytime try market.

England’s last three results

  • England 23 Wales 19
  • England 15 Ireland 32
  • France 25 England 13

Scotland’s last three results

  • Scotland 17 France 36
  • Italy 22 Scotland 33
  • Ireland 26 Scotland 5

Italy v France: Sunday February 5 (3pm)

Italy welcome France, who won the Grand Slam in 2022, to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday and
all eyes will be on full-back Ange Capuozzo.

Capuozzo is quickly becoming a superstar in the sport after his performances for Italy in 2022.
He caught the eye in last year’s Six Nations, scoring twice against Scotland before setting up
the winning try against Wales, and then built on those displays in the Autumn Nations Series.
In November, Capuozzo touched down on two occasions as the Azzurri recorded their first-ever
victory over the Wallabies – and he could shine in this year’s Six Nations.
Italy will no doubt want to get the ball into his hands as much as possible, which will benefit the
full-back as he seeks to put defences under pressure.

He has already shown his nose for the line in his brief Test career so far and will be a threat at
the top of the charts this year.
Italy are an improving outfit and seem far less try-shy than in previous seasons, with Capuozzo
at the heart of their renaissance.
France will be confident of getting off to a winning start, though, opening up their 2022
campaign by beating the Azzurri 37-10 at Stade de France.
Italy do have what it takes to beat Les Bleus, however, having taken them down twice before in
the Six Nations, in 2011 and 2013.
The hosts head into Sunday’s showdown having won five of their last seven Tests – and they
could be leading at half-time, only to be reeled in after the interval as France move through the
second-half gears.
France captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont will be in the thick of the action too so backing
him in the anytime tryscorer market, along with Capuozzo, seems sensible.

Italy’s last three results

  • Ireland 57 Italy 6
  • Italy 22 Scotland 33
  • Wales 21 Italy 22

France’s last three results

  • Scotland 17 France 36
  • Wales 9 France 13
  • France 25 England 13


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