Rugby World Cup 2023 team guides: Pool D – England, Argentina, Japan, Samoa, Chile


England, Argentina and Japan are all in Rugby World Cup 2023’s Pool D

We look at everything you need to know from Rugby World Cup Pool D, as 2003 champions England, Argentina, Japan, Samoa and Chile clash…

Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool D fixtures

  • Saturday September 9: England vs Argentina (8pm, Marseille)
  • Sunday September 10: Japan vs Chile (12pm, Toulouse)
  • Saturday September 16: Samoa vs Chile (2pm, Bordeaux)
  • Sunday September 17: England vs Japan (8pm, Nice)
  • Friday September 22: Argentina vs Samoa (4.45pm, Saint-Etienne)
  • Saturday September 23: England vs Chile (4.45pm, Lille)
  • Thursday September 28: Japan vs Samoa (8pm, Toulouse)
  • Saturday September 30: Argentina vs Chile (2pm, Nantes)
  • Saturday October 7: England vs Samoa (14.45pm, Lille)
  • Sunday October 8: Japan vs Argentina (12pm, Nantes)

England’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Quarter-finals

1991: Runners-up

1995: Fourth place

1999: Quarter-finals

2003: Champions

2007: Runners-up

2011: Quarter-finals

2015: Pool Stages

2019: Runners-up

Key player

Maro Itoje. When England reached the Rugby World Cup final in 2019, second row Itoje was a player playing out of his skin, excelling at each and every aspect of Test rugby. His form has been patchy since, but with selection question marks all around Steve Borthwick’s side, if Itoje can reach his top levels, he could lead England far.

Maro Itoje was a pivotal performer in England's run to the 2019 World Cup final, and will be seeking to return to those levels

Maro Itoje was a pivotal performer in England’s run to the 2019 World Cup final, and will be seeking to return to those levels

Head coach

Steve Borthwick. England head coach since December 2022, Borthwick was also previously England forwards coach under Eddie Jones between 2016-2020, before coaching Leicester Tigers as head coach between 2020-2022, winning the 2021 Premiership title.

The 43-year-old has had just one Six Nations campaign to date, which saw no improvement on Jones’ displays as they finished fourth after defeats to Scotland, France and Ireland. They also suffered World Cup warm-up defeats to Wales and Ireland.

Steve Borthwick took over from Eddie Jones as England head coach, but has not started well in the role

Steve Borthwick took over from Eddie Jones as England head coach, but has not started well in the role

England’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (19): Dan Cole, Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Bevan Rodd, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart, Theo Dan, Jamie George, Jack Walker, Ollie Chessum, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, George Martin, Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Lewis Ludlam, David Ribbans, Billy Vunipola, Jack Willis.

Backs (14): Danny Care, Alex Mitchell, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell (c), George Ford, Marcus Smith, Elliot Daly, Ollie Lawrence, Joe Marchant, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Henry Arundell, Max Malins, Freddie Steward.

Argentina’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Pool Stages

1991: Pool Stages

1995: Pool Stages

1999: Quarter-finals

2003: Pool Stages

2007: Third place

2011: Quarter-finals

2015: Fourth place

2019: Pool Stages

Key player

Julian Montoya. The Argentina skipper is a crucial leader for this Pumas squad, and pivotal to their scrum, lineout and maul efforts as a hooker. For Argentina to be a threat in this World Cup, their set-piece and discipline needs to be able to hold up and compete.

Leicester Tigers hooker Julian Montoya is Argentina's current captain

Leicester Tigers hooker Julian Montoya is Argentina’s current captain

Head coach

Michael Cheika. Argentina head coach since March 2022, Australian Cheika – Wallabies head coach between 2014 and 2019 – will depart the role after the World Cup, with Felipe Contepomi taking over.

Cheika has brought a noticeable improvement to Pumas displays, leading Argentina to a 2-1 series win over Scotland in July 2022, in addition to victories over Australia home and away, the All Blacks on Kiwi soil and Pool D opponents England at Twickenham.

Former Australia head coach Michael Cheika has improved the Pumas, overseeing wins vs New Zealand, Australia, England and Scotland

Former Australia head coach Michael Cheika has improved the Pumas, overseeing wins vs New Zealand, Australia, England and Scotland

Argentina’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Francisco Gómez Kodela, Joel Sclavi, Thomas Gallo, Eduardo Bello, Julián Montoya (c), Agustín Creevy, Ignacio Ruiz, Matías Alemanno, Tomás Lavanini, Guido Petti, Facundo Isa, Pablo Matera, Juan Martín González, Santiago Grondona, Marcos Kremer, Rodrigo Bruni, Pedro Rubiolo.

Backs (15): Gonzalo Bertranou, Tomás Cubelli, Lautaro Bazán Vélez, Santiago Carreras, Nicolás Sánchez, Santiago Chocobares, Lucio Cinti, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Matías Moroni, Emiliano Boffelli, Mateo Carreras, Rodrigo Isgró, Juan Cruz Mallía, Martín Bogado, Juan Imhoff.

Japan’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Pool Stages

1991: Pool Stages

1995: Pool Stages

1999: Pool Stages

2003: Pool Stages

2007: Pool Stages

2011: Pool Stages

2015: Pool Stages

2019: Quarter-finals

Key player

Kazuki Himeno. Just as Michael Leitch was an outstanding back-row forward and leader for Japan in 2015 and 2019, in 2023 the star man is No 8 Himeno. The 29-year-old’s performances have been so strong he spent a season playing for the Highlanders in New Zealand in Super Rugby, and is a superb carrier of the ball and breakdown operator.

Japan back-row Kazuki Himeno is a superbly talented player

Japan back-row Kazuki Himeno is a superbly talented player

Head coach

Jamie Joseph. Japan head coach since 2016, New Zealander Joseph will be departing after the World Cup in France. He led the Brave Blossoms to stunning World Cup victories over Ireland and Scotland as hosts in 2019 and to a historic quarter-final place, where they suffered defeat to eventual winners South Africa.

Jamie Joseph oversaw a stunning 2019 World Cup campaign for Japan on home soil, but they have largely struggled since

Jamie Joseph oversaw a stunning 2019 World Cup campaign for Japan on home soil, but they have largely struggled since

Japan’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Keita Inagaki, Craig Millar, Sione Halasili, Koo Ji-won, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Asaeli Ai Valu, Shota Horie, Atsushi Sakate, Kosuke Horikoshi, Jack Cornelsen, Warner Dearns, Uwe Helu, Amanaki Saumaki, Pieter Labuschagne, Shota Fukui, Kazuki Himeno, Michael Leitch, Ben Gunter

Backs (15): Naoto Saito, Yutaka Nagare, Kenta Fukuda, Lee Seung-sin, Rikiya Matsuda, Jumpei Ogura, Ryoto Nakamura, Tomoki Osada, Shogo Nakano, Dylan Riley, Siosaia Fifita, Semisi Masirewa, Jone Naikabula, Lomano Lemeki, Kotaro Matsushima.

Samoa’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Not invited

1991: Quarter-finals

1995: Quarter-finals

1999: Quarter-final playoffs

2003: Pool Stages

2007: Pool Stages

2011: Pool Stages

2015: Pool Stages

2019: Pool Stages

Key player

Steve Luatua/UJ Seuteni. We’ve split Samoa’s key player into two, an outstanding forward and an outstanding back. World Rugby’s new eligibility laws, which mean players who do not represent a nation for a three-year period can return to play for the country of their birth or that of a parent/grandparent, has seen a number of talented players from the Pacific islands return to squads.

Flanker Luatua picked up 15 All Blacks caps until 2016, and is a fabulous operator who could grace any forward pack, while La Rochelle’s European champion Seuteni is one of the best centres in the world.

Samoan centre UJ Seuteni was outstanding as La Rochelle beat Leinster in Dublin to win the 2023 European Cup

Samoan centre UJ Seuteni was outstanding as La Rochelle beat Leinster in Dublin to win the 2023 European Cup

Head coach

Seilala Mapusua. Samoa head coach since August 2020, Mapusua picked up 26 Test caps as a centre for Samoa between 2006 and 2013.

It has been some time since Samoa have picked up a marquee victory in Test rugby, but with some of the players now available to Mapusua via World Rugby’s new eligibility laws, and Pool D not being a toughest group by any means, a quarter-final spot is not beyond the realms or aims.

Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua picked up 26 Test caps as a centre for Samoa between 2006 and 2013

Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua picked up 26 Test caps as a centre for Samoa between 2006 and 2013

Samoa’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (18): Michael Alaalatoa (co-c), Paul Alo-Emile, Charlie Faumuina, Jordan Lay, Seilala Lam, Sama Malolo, Luteru Tolai, Brian Alainuuese, Theo McFarland, Sam Slade, Chris Vui (co-c), Sootala Faasoo, Miracle Fai’ilagi, Fritz Lee, Steven Luatua, Alamanda Motuga, Taleni Seu, Jordan Taufua.

Backs (14): Ere Enari, Melani Matavao, Jonathan Taumateine, Christian Leali’ifano, Lima Sopoaga, Alai D’Angelo Leuila, Tumua Manu, Duncan Paiaaua, UJ Seuteni, Nigel Ah Wong, Ed Fidow, Neria Fomai, Benjamin Lam, Danny Toala.

Chile’s Rugby World Cup record

1987: Not invited

1991: Did not enter

1995: Did not qualify

1999: Did not qualify

2003: Did not qualify

2007: Did not qualify

2011: Did not qualify

2015: Did not qualify

2019: Did not qualify

Key player

Martin Sigren. The skipper is one of only three players in the squad who plays outside of Chile, with the 27-year-old back-row currently a Doncaster Knights player. The 26-year-old has spoken about his nation’s ‘remarkable qualification’ and will lead the side with enormous passion.

Doncaster Knights back-row Martin Sigren will captain Chile in their maiden Rugby World Cup

Doncaster Knights back-row Martin Sigren will captain Chile in their maiden Rugby World Cup

Head coach

Pablo Lemoine. Chile head coach since 2018, Lemoine picked up 48 caps for Uruguay as a prop between 1996 and 2010, and leads Chile into their first ever Rugby World Cup after beating Canada (54-46 on aggregate) and then the USA (52-51 on aggregate) in qualifiers.

Former Uruguay prop Pablo Lemoine has been head coach of Chile since 2018, as they beat Canada and the USA to qualify

Former Uruguay prop Pablo Lemoine has been head coach of Chile since 2018, as they beat Canada and the USA to qualify

Chile’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards (17): Javier Carrasco, Salvador Lues, Matías Dittus, Iñaki Gurruchaga, Esteban Inostroza, Augusto Bohme, Tomás Dussaillant, Diego Escobar, Javier Eissmann, Pablo Huete, Santiago Pedrero, Augusto Sarmiento, Alfonso Escobar, Raimundo Martínez, Clemente Saavedra, Martín Sigren (c), Ignacio Silva.

Backs (13): Lukas Carvallo, Marcelo Torrealba, Benjamín Videla, Rodrigo Fernández, Santiago Videla, Pablo Casas, Matías Garafulic, José Ignacio Larenas, Domingo Saavedra, Franco Velarde, Nicolás Garafulic, Iñaki Ayarza, Francisco Urroz.



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Ireland vs England: Teams and talking points ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup warm-up Test in Dublin


Ireland captain James Ryan admits to some nerves for the team ahead of the match against England

James Ryan admitted lack of competitive rugby in recent months for many of the Ireland team means there will be nerves for the hosts going into Saturday’s Rugby World Cup warm-up Test against England in Dublin.

It is a second preparatory international for world’s No 1-ranked team, who are regarded as one of the favourites to triumph at this year’s global gathering on the back of completing the Grand Slam in year’s Six Nations, but spluttered past Italy with a largely second-string selection a fortnight ago.

Since then, Andy Farrell’s squad have been on a week-long training camp in Portugal as they fine-tune themselves for next month’s tournament in France and skipper Ryan knows there is expectation on Ireland as they face an England side aiming to shake off two patchy performances against Wales.

“I think there’s a bit of nerves heading into this game,” Ryan, who deputises as captain with Jonny Sexton suspended, said.

“It’s the first game for a lot of us of this summer and playing England at home, there’s always a little bit of pressure. The lads are keen to make a statement with selection and everything coming up.

“This has never been a warm-up game for us. It’s been very much a Test match, that’s the way we’ve prepared for this game all week. It’s obviously a lot of the guys’ first appearance of the summer, so it’s going to be tough but we’re not going to make any excuses.”

England head to Dublin on the back of a 19-17 win over Wales at Twickenham, which saw them rebound from the defeat in Cardiff the week before but still left Steve Borthwick’s side facing plenty of questions about the potency of their attacking game.

George Ford secured England's win over Wales at Twickenham

George Ford secured England’s win over Wales at Twickenham

George Ford, who kicked the winning points for England against Wales and starts at fly-half for the visitors on Saturday, acknowledged there are improvements to be made but insists they are working on getting it right ahead of their tournament-opener against Argentina on September 9 in Marseille.

“My experience is that of all departments of the game, it takes the longest to get the attack functioning,” Ford said. “We want to speed it up, we want to get there as quickly as possible.

“We know there’s an urgency that we need to start attacking better and causing problems and scoring tries – we understand that.

“The main thing is how we can be more potent when we’ve got the ball, how we can get the outside backs in space with the ball to create damage and cause chaos.”

An unfamiliar-looking Ireland team stuttered past Italy in their World Cup warm-up match two weeks ago

An unfamiliar-looking Ireland team stuttered past Italy in their World Cup warm-up match two weeks ago

Ryan believes Ireland have their own issues in attack to iron out as well after head coach Farrell labelled their 33-17 victory over Italy in Dublin on August 5 “clunky”.

“We must have been distracted a little bit by something,” Ryan said, reflecting on that game. “We were a little bit off. I just thought our attack wasn’t where it needed to be, it wasn’t as cohesive or as fluid as it usually is.

“In fairness, they put us under a lot of pressure defensively. They like to get off the line quickly and be aggressive in their defence, so maybe we got a little bit spooked by that at times and we weren’t as calm maybe and accurate as we needed to be off the back of it.

“There were a few lessons in the game and we need to be better because England have a couple of games now under their belt and they will definitely be looking at this fixture as one which is as big for us as it is for them.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has criticised the

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has criticised the “circus” surrounding his son Owen, with the England captain’s World Cup participation in doubt.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has criticised the “circus” surrounding his son Owen, with the England captain’s World Cup participation in doubt.

The build-up to this match has been overshadowed by the controversy around England captain Owen Farrell’s red card for a dangerous tackle on Taine Basham which was subsequently not upheld by an independent disciplinary panel.

Farrell still faces a wait to see if he will be able to take part in the World Cup though after global governing body World Rugby chose to appeal the panel’s decision and he has been withdrawn from the England squad for Saturday’s match.

Courtney Lawes will instead skipper the side and the flanker feels there are wider disciplinary issues England need to address after Henry Arundell, Freddie Steward and Ellis Genge were all sin-binned against Wales last week as well.

“We had a few silly cards that you really don’t want to get in Test match rugby,” Lawes said. “We’ve really been on the discipline from day one in camp, talking about how important it is at the World Cup.

Courtney Lawes says England have a talented squad that is capable of proving their critics wrong at the World Cup.

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Courtney Lawes says England have a talented squad that is capable of proving their critics wrong at the World Cup.

Courtney Lawes says England have a talented squad that is capable of proving their critics wrong at the World Cup.

“It was disappointing to get so many cards and give away so many penalties last week. It’s something we’re constantly working on and hammering down.

“We can’t afford those kinds of mistakes against Ireland. You’re not going to go a season without a card, but to the best of your ability you’ve got to be smart and streetwise with your actions.

“Even in those split seconds you’ve got to have a cool head and hopefully make the right decisions at the right time.”

Teams for Ireland vs England (5.30pm)

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Dan Sheehan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 James Ryan (captain), 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Cian Prendergast.

Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Finlay Bealham,19 Joe McCarthy, 20 Caelan Doris, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Keith Earls.

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 David Ribbans, 6 Courtney Lawes (captain), 7 Ben Earl, 8 Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ollie Chessum, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Danny Care, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Ollie Lawrence.



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Wales 20-9 England: Gareth Davies and George North help hosts to World Cup warm-up victory in Leigh Halfpenny’s 100th game

Marc Bazeley

@MarcBazeley

Gareth Davies and George North both scored tries, while Leigh Halfpenny kicked two goals and two penalties; Marcus Smith kicked England’s points; England head coach Steve Borthwick names his squad for the World Cup on Monday, with the sides clashing again at Twickenham next Saturday

Last Updated: 05/08/23 8:59pm


Gareth Davies goes over for Wales’ first try against England

Second-half tries from Gareth Davies and George North saw Wales kick off their Rugby World Cup preparations with a 20-9 victory over an out-of-sorts England at the Principality Stadium.

It was a battle of the kickers in the first 40 minutes, with three successful penalties from the boot of Marcus Smith compared to two from Wales’ Test centurion Leigh Halfpenny, giving the visitors a 9-6 lead at half-time.

But the hosts seized the initiative eight minutes into the second half when Gareth Davies was on hand to finish for a try and they surged further in front thanks to George North going over from close range just before the hour mark, with Halfpenny converting both.

Louis Rees-Zammit was unfortunate not to add a third try for the hosts before full-time when he was adjudged to have knocked on after a TMO review, but that did not take the shine off the result or the performance from Warren Gatland’s new-look team.

Inexperience no barrier as Wales youngsters seize opportunity

Halfpenny may have been making his 100th Test appearance for Wales, but the relative inexperience of the rest of Gatland’s team was shown by the fact the only other members of the starting XV with more than 50 caps were North and scrum-half Davies.

They were dealt an early blow too when hooker Ryan Elias was forced off six minutes in with a suspected hamstring injury, which will be of particular concern to Gatland given Ken Owens has already been ruled out of the World Cup due to a back problem.

Nevertheless, several of those players with only a handful of caps to their name came to the fore, with lively fly-half Sam Costelow, making his first Test start, and skipper in only his 10th appearance Jac Morgan playing key roles in the first try of the game.

Wales: Tries – Davies, North; Conversions – Halfpenny (2); Goals – Halfpenny (2).

England: Goals – Smith (3).

Having kept in touch with England thanks to Halfpenny’s goals in the first half, Wales took a 48th-minute lead after 22-year-old Costelow put a deft attacking kick to the right wing for Aaron Wainwright. The No 8 then sent fellow back-row Morgan racing away, who in turn fed support-runner Davies to finish.

Then it was the turn of the big guns to make their mark, with Dan Biggar – off the bench in place of Costelow – putting in a testing grubber kick which set in motion an attack finished by North on 59 minutes after he stepped a defender to create space and ghost over from close range.

Exciting winger Rees-Zammit, still only 22 but with 26 international caps already, was unfortunate not to add his 10th Test try when he chased down his own chip kick, knocking on while trying to ground the ball. Nevertheless, it was still a dominant display from Wales and a proud day for the 23-year-old Morgan, who was named player of the match as well.

Disjointed showing leaves England with plenty of questions

For England, meanwhile, the intrigue beforehand had been as to how Harlequins club-mates Smith and Danny Care would perform alongside each other in the halves, although in the 49 minutes they were on the field together there was not much to show for their partnership.

George North dives in for Wales' second try against England

George North dives in for Wales’ second try against England

Care’s kicking game was solid and his determination to get quick ball from the ruck encouraging, yet he was unable to make any of his trademark sniping runs before being replaced by Jack van Poortvliet, while in the first half Smith was always looking to run and put in some good kicks along with booting three penalties to put the hosts in front.

England’s best chance for a try arguably came when the fly-half and two other Quins team-mates, Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant, linked up in the 29th minute for an attack which opened Wales up. However, Max Mallins was unable to finish and Wales regathered the ball after a wayward offload.

Handling errors were a concerningly recurring theme for England in the match and they ended with those in double figures by full-time, ceding scrum dominance and the foothold they had given themselves in the first half by gaining more metres and dominating the territory.

What they said

Wales head coach Warren Gatland, speaking to Amazon Prime:

“I was a little bit apprehensive this morning because I wasn’t quite sure how things were going to go. I know the players have been working hard.

“I was looking for a performance and it was a good start today. It was a performance I was looking for and I thought the guys out there gave a performance today.”

England head coach Steve Borthwick, speaking to Amazon Prime:

“I thought in the first half we created lots of opportunities, but we turned over too much ball in the opposite 22 and you can’t do that in Test rugby. There are areas for improvement, but I thought the positive was how many entries we got into the opposition scoring zone.

“This game is one piece of information to help build a full picture [for selecting England’s World Cup squad], and I’ll make the decision in the next 24 hours.”

England did look the better side in the opening period, their sloppiness in possession aside, but as Wales stepped up their intensity in the second half, the visitors inexplicably dropped off.

“Credit to Wales in that 50-65 minute period, they were very, very good,” Borthwick said.

“Every one of these experiences will be positive for us as we build over the next few weeks to the World Cup.”

What’s next?

Wales and England do it all again on Saturday August 12 when they reconvene at Twickenham for the second Rugby World Cup warm-up clash against each other. First, though, England’s players face a nervous wait to see who will make Steve Borthwick’s 33-player squad for the global gathering when it is announced on Monday.



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Marcus Smith: Can fly-half grasp England World Cup audition against Wales on Saturday?

England name their 33-man World Cup squad on Monday, with head coach Steve Borthwick expected to include Marcus Smith among three fly-halves for the tournament; Saturday’s game against Wales is the 24-year-old’s first start since England’s record 53-10 loss to France at Twickenham in March

Last Updated: 04/08/23 1:10pm


Marcus Smith will start for England on Saturday for the first time since a humbling home defeat to France in the Six Nations

Marcus Smith is determined to make the most of his starting opportunity against Wales on Saturday as he looks to cement a spot in England’s 33-man Rugby World Cup squad.

Smith – originally seen as the most likely out of Owen Farrell, George Ford and himself to miss out – is expected to be named in England’s squad announcement on Monday, with head coach Steve Borthwick indicating he intends to take three fly-halves to France for the tournament which starts on September 8.

The 24-year-old Smith, who possesses an “incredible skill set” according to Borthwick, will make his first start for England on Saturday since featuring in the humiliating record 53-10 loss to France at Twickenham in the 2023 Six Nations earlier this year.

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“Every time you get an opportunity to play for England, you’ve got to show the best of yourself because you know how competitive it is to even be in this building, let alone play,” Smith told Sky Sports.

“With that comes a responsibility that we’ve got to deliver this weekend. If and when we do, fingers crossed for [the squad announcement] Monday.

“I don’t want to look too far forward. I’m very excited for the weekend, [Cardiff] it’s a special place to play and a big Test match against Wales – there’s nothing that comes bigger, especially in a World Cup year.”

England suffered a record 53-10 home loss at Twickenham to France in the Six Nations earlier this year

England suffered a record 53-10 home loss at Twickenham to France in the Six Nations earlier this year

Smith added to reporters: “France was a long time ago now and I’ve played a lot of rugby since then.

“It was a tough afternoon and I have learnt a lot of lessons. It has definitely put me in a much better position as a person and on the field as well as a player.

“I would not say I want to rectify it, but I am a very competitive person.”

Borthwick hails Smith’s ‘incredible skill set’

Borthwick hinted at Smith’s potential inclusion in his World Cup squad in Thursday’s press conference, saying: “Right now I have got a pretty clear framework.

“In those key positions you need to have depth, three players who can play in that position.”

Steve Borthwick has called on Marcus Smith and Harlequins team-mate Danny Care to make the most of their on-pitch partnership when they face Wales for England on Saturday.

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Steve Borthwick has called on Marcus Smith and Harlequins team-mate Danny Care to make the most of their on-pitch partnership when they face Wales for England on Saturday.

Steve Borthwick has called on Marcus Smith and Harlequins team-mate Danny Care to make the most of their on-pitch partnership when they face Wales for England on Saturday.

The England head coach added: “I rate Marcus exceptionally highly. He has an incredible skill set and an ability to find space. He recognises when there are defenders that he can pick off.

“He can either pull them out of the line and put other people through space or find space himself. I’ve been hugely impressed with Marcus throughout this camp but also in all my interactions with him.

“He’s a young man who has already achieved a lot in the game, but he’s got even more exciting things to achieve in the future.”

Borthwick also told Sky Sports that he is keen for his players to grasp their final chance to push their case for selection against Wales on Saturday, even if it doesn’t result in them making the initial 33-man group.

“I want to see them bring all of their talent, that they’ve got so much of, onto the pitch on Saturday night,” he said. “I’ve picked these players because of what strengths they have and what they can bring.

“There’s a number of places to be absolutely confirmed but I’m also well aware that over these next weeks before the tournament starts that things change. There are always bumps and bruises – there are players not named on Monday that could well feature within the tournament itself. There’s always opportunities.”

Ellis Genge will captain England against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday

Ellis Genge will captain England against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday

Danny Care joins Smith at half-back for the visit to Cardiff, while Ellis Genge captains an otherwise inexperienced side littered with fringe World Cup contenders.

“It’s the ultimate, captaining your country,” Genge said. “It fills me with joy and pride. And I get that from the messages from my family.”

Watch New Zealand vs Australia live on Sky Sports

England’s clash with Wales isn’t the only international being played out on Saturday, with Scotland hosting France and Ireland facing Italy among the northern hemisphere sides.

From the southern hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia will face off in the early hours of Saturday morning – live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event from 3.30am.

Tate McDermott will lead Australia out for the first time in the second Test against New Zealand on Saturday

Tate McDermott will lead Australia out for the first time in the second Test against New Zealand on Saturday

Australia will have a new captain and the All Blacks will field a new-look line-up when they meet in Dunedin in the second Bledisloe Cup Test.

Scrum-half Tate McDermott has been named to lead the Wallabies four months after he was left to consider his future when left out of coach Eddie Jones’ first squad of the season.

McDermott is the fourth captain the Wallabies have used in as many matches this season after Michael Hooper, James Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa.

Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in Melbourne.

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Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in Melbourne.

Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in Melbourne.

His elevation is due to Hooper’s continuing recovery from a calf injury and Alaalatoa’s Achilles tendon injury which saw him carried from the field in last weekend’s 38-7 first Test defeat to the All Blacks, seeing them retain the Bledisloe Cup for the 21st straight year.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has made 10 changes to his starting 15 for the second Test, handing debuts to back-rower Samipeni Finau and winger Shaun Stevenson.

Also live on Sky Sports Action on Saturday is Argentina’s clash with South Africa, with kick-off in Buenos Aires at 8.10pm UK time.



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Rochester netballers come up with inventive way to keep 2023 season on track

The bitumen netball courts in Rochester — a Victorian town ravaged by flood waters late last year — are a metaphor for the women who run netball there: Bloody tough.

Located just a few hundred metres from the Campaspe River, the courts and surrounds sat under contaminated floodwater for days.

Fences, signage, seating and children’s play equipment were destroyed or damaged, and the small wooden netball club rooms — which sit more than 1 metre above ground level — were inundated, ruining the flooring, toilets, showers and netball gear inside.

Once the water subsided and the sludge, silt and debris had been cleaned away, the courts — which are home to the Tigers, the netball club attached to the local football club, and a junior association — were “spongy and soft”, like a gymnastic mat.

After floods inundated the Rochester netball courts, the surfaces turned spongy and soft.()

Rochester Football/Netball Club netball president Katie Rasmussen and her sister-in-law, Jac Rasmussen, the president of the Rochester Netball Association, feared the worst.

“Almost every single person in Rochester was in disaster mode in the immediate aftermath — because all but a handful of houses were flooded, along with every business — but, as soon as the water went down, we headed to the courts and it looked bad … really bad,” Katie explained.

“I didn’t think there was any chance we’d be able to play netball here in the 2023 season, it was such a mess. You couldn’t even tell they were netball courts really.”

Once “outsiders could get into town again”, representatives from Netball Victoria and Emergency Recovery Victoria started co-ordinating the heavy-duty clean-up, which included calling in local volunteer CFA brigades. Next, a call was put out to the community on social media.

Myla Whipp and Remi Rasmussen observe the flood damage.()

“Even though people had so much going on in their own lives, trying to find somewhere to live, people turned up to help,” Katie said.

“There were a couple of volunteers there that day who I didn’t even know. They just rocked up with shovels and gloves. It was incredible.”

A race against the clock

Once cleaned, the extent of the damage to the playing surface was evident.

“We knew we’d have to replace lots of infrastructure, but the courts were our main concern,” Katie said.

“When you walked on them, they were really spongy, soft and bouncy. It was very strange.

A lot of infrastructure needed to be replaced at the courts, after it was covered in debris.()

“It felt like a worst-case scenario. Not being able to play at home would have been so hard. Everyone had been through so much.”

However, amazingly, the courts dried out in the days and weeks following the disaster and a recent audit by Netball Victoria gave the courts the tick of approval, meaning the Tigers were able to train on them and start their season. 

Rochester then hosted Kyabram in round one of the Goulburn Valley Football/Netball League, winning in three of five netball grades.

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“It’s kind of amazing to think the courts survived like they did,” said Jac, who heads up the junior association that feeds into the Tigers.

“The fences have been replaced, lots of damage is still visible, but they build stuff tough around here.”

Road to recovery

What didn’t survive the flood was the huge, pre-season tournament Rochester’s junior and senior clubs usually host in early March.

Attracting teams from across Victoria, the two-day event usually raises more than $5,000.

With key tournament organisers such as Katie, Jac and committee member Meagan Keating either not living in town after being made homeless by the flood or in caravans, and the rooms not being usable, it just proved too difficult.

The football/netball committee came up with a new membership category, to help raise money and keep the club afloat.()

“We were all stretched really thinly with what was going on in our own lives. So, while we had lots of offers of support and even to host the event somewhere else, we just decided to call it,” Katie said.

That left a huge hole in the netball budget. To help fill it, the joint football/netball committee came up with a new membership category for 2023 called “My Shout”, a way for those living outside Rochester to help.



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Simon Middleton: Women’s rugby kicking comments not derogatory, just an observation | ‘Female golfers use different tees to men’


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Simon Middleton has told Sky Sports his comments regarding place-kicking were not derogatory, pointing to female golfers teeing off differently to men

Simon Middleton has told Sky Sports his comments regarding place-kicking were not derogatory, pointing to female golfers teeing off differently to men

Simon Middleton has said his comments that place-kicking from the touchline in women’s rugby is “unfair” were just an observation and not derogatory, adding ‘female golfers tee off differently.’

Ahead of England’s Round 3 Women’s Six Nations clash vs Wales in Cardiff, Middleton said the parameters for goal-kicking in women’s rugby should be changed, adding: “If a try is scored [within five metres of the touchline], the option should be there, maybe not to bring it into the 15-metre line, but maybe 10 metres from the touchline.

“I think that could impact the game and change it positively. I think it is a bit of an unfair game for female kickers because so much about goal-kicking relies on power.”

Ahead of Saturday’s Round 4 clash between Ireland and England in Cork, Middleton exclusively told Sky Sports that his comments were just an observation, adding he still thinks a change would benefit the women’s game.

“Maybe it’s me being naïve, I don’t do social media and stuff like that, but there’s clearly been a strong reaction both ways to it,” Middleton said.

“For me, it’s just an observation made on 10 years of being in the game.

Middleton makes the point that he has been asked the same questions regarding women's place-kicking since 2015

Middleton makes the point that he has been asked the same questions regarding women’s place-kicking since 2015

“And it’s born out of being asked the same questions now about what we see, as I was back in 2015 and 2017. Which is why female kickers’ percentages from the touchline aren’t as good as male kickers.

“There’s a physical disparity, and lots of it can come down to technique, without a shadow of a doubt, but there is lots that can be factored in.

“It’s just an observation. If you think about how we can make the field a fairer playing field at times.

“Again, I use the analogy of women golfers as opposed to male golfers, using a different tee. There’s nothing derogatory or anything aimed in it at all.

Middleton's suggestion is place-kicking from the touchline and five metres in, should be moved 10 metres in from touch

Middleton’s suggestion is place-kicking from the touchline and five metres in, should be moved 10 metres in from touch

“It’s just how can we give players that practice religiously, what I would class as a fairer chance of executing their skill.

“We’re looking at everything all the time to try and improve the game, and if people don’t think it would improve the game, then that’s fine.

“It was literally just an observation, but caused a bit of a stir didn’t it?”

England skipper Marlie Packer played down the controversy,” saying: “There’s been some light-hearted stiff about in response, which is quite funny. And then there’s obviously some people that are very opinionated on it.

“I think when he said it, he was just putting it out there.

“The game is always evolving: tackle height, scrum laws, maul laws. We’re always looking for player safety but also to make the game more exciting.

England's Marlie Packer says Middleton was 'just putting it out there' with regards to his place-kicking comments

England’s Marlie Packer says Middleton was ‘just putting it out there’ with regards to his place-kicking comments

“Look, it’s just someone else’s opinion on something which might make it a bit more enjoyable, and a bit more people sitting on the edge of their seats kind of rugby.

“For me, we need to score close to the posts. Let’s help our teammate out, score close to the posts, and then we don’t even need to talk about this situation.

“Because the accuracy, the hard-work, the training they put into their kicking, you couldn’t question it. So let’s try and help each other out.

“So all the Tweets and articles people have written about it, leave them to it.”

England have picked up heavy victories over Scotland, Italy and Wales so far, and will likely do so again vs Ireland

England have picked up heavy victories over Scotland, Italy and Wales so far, and will likely do so again vs Ireland

Ireland are on a steep learning curve | Red Roses skipper Packer: Middleton was just putting it out there

The Red Roses next face an Ireland side who have gone from 2015 Grand Slam winners to failing to qualify for the most recent Rugby World Cup after losses to Spain and Scotland.

Ireland have suffered heavy defeats to Wales (31-5), France (55-3) and Italy (24-7) so far in this championship, and have been beset by off-field issues in recent times.

Head coach Greg McWilliams has most recently had to come out and deny the IRFU is sexist.

“Ireland are on a learning curve, and at times it feels a really steep one. We’ve been on it in the past,” Middleton said.

“But ultimately, our job is to be the best we can be. We’ve got players right across the squad who are looking to prove points, coming back from injury, looking to keep the shirt, to get the shirt.

“As a group, we want to be better every time we play. That’s our foundation.

The Ireland Women's side are in a very tough spot at the moment

The Ireland Women’s side are in a very tough spot at the moment

“We put some really good stuff together against Wales, but there was definitely some stuff we need to be better at.

“We’ve been focussed on that this week, and transferring our work in training to the game.

Middleton departs his role as Red Roses head coach at the end of the 2023 Six Nations, having been in position since 2015, leaving him with two games left in charge.

“I’m really enjoying it. I love competition anyway,” he added.

“It’s like anything in your job, you’ve got to put the hard yards in with training. The players and staff are exactly the same.

“Everything we do it for is competition. When we get in there’s such a buzz, and we have such a brilliant group together.

“We all went out last night, 49 of us, for a meal. And they were taking the mickey out of me and having a good laugh at me as I was struggling with a quiz desperately.

“I did remind them who picks the side, but it doesn’t bother them anymore! So I’m going to miss that. I’m going to really miss being around the group.

Middleton leaves his post at the conclusion of the 2023 Women's Six Nations next weekend, having been in charge since 2015

Middleton leaves his post at the conclusion of the 2023 Women’s Six Nations next weekend, having been in charge since 2015

“The thing that’s really pulling at me at the moment is I can see the game going upwards. It’s going to go massive.

“The ball is rolling and it’s only going to go faster. Last week, we had 8800 at Wales. Fantastic occasion, with stands full and the chair on the field.

“It’s a real great vibe, and you can’t not miss that.

“But I am good at leaving things behind. I’ll move on and whatever I’m doing next, I’ll enjoy. And I’ll certainly take a lot of memories with me.”



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Six Nations review: England exposed to the Farrells’ importance in testing campaign


Owen Farrell and Andy Farrell pictured after England’s loss to Ireland to end the 2023 Six Nations

Sky Sports News’ James Cole takes a look back on the 2023 Six Nations, assessing the state of play with each side ahead of the World Cup in France later this year…

Ireland

Ireland were, quite simply, head and shoulders above the rest in this year’s Six Nations.

Ireland’s Six Nations 2023 results

Saturday, February 4 Wales 10-34 Ireland
Saturday, February 11 Ireland 32-19 France
Saturday, February 25 Italy 20-34 Ireland
Sunday, March 12 Scotland 7-22 Ireland
Saturday, March 18 Ireland 29-16 England

The grand slam was a fitting end to an excellent campaign – and, indeed, an excellent 12 months. They’ve now won 10 Tests in a row, which including an historic series win in New Zealand.

Jonny Sexton seems to be getting better with age and may think twice about his decision to retire after the world cup.

Their back three have all taken their games to another level – James Lowe, Mack Hansen and Hugo Keenan are now a lethal combination. They’ve also got huge strength in depth in their squad to call upon.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was delighted to clinch the Grand Slam on home turf while England's Steve Borthwick admitted his side fell short.

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was delighted to clinch the Grand Slam on home turf while England’s Steve Borthwick admitted his side fell short.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was delighted to clinch the Grand Slam on home turf while England’s Steve Borthwick admitted his side fell short.

And as for head coach Andy Farrell, he has created an environment in which his players can express themselves and thrive.

Hansen said as much this weekend, suggesting the motivational skills of Farrell are unrivalled

“All the coaches [deserve credit] but Andy, he can just get you up for a game like no other,” Hansen said. “He just seems to say all of the right things and it just sounds cooler in his accent as well.

The RFU must be wondering why on earth they let Farrell go in 2016.

2023 Six Nations final standings

Team W D L SD BP P
Ireland 5 0 0 79 4 27
France 4 0 1 59 4 20
Scotland 3 0 2 20 3 15
England 2 0 3 -35 2 10
Wales 1 0 4 -63 2 6
Italy 0 0 5 -60 1 1

France

France were slow starters in this campaign and weren’t at their best – not until they produced one of their greatest ever performances to destroy England at Twickenham.

France’s Six Nations 2023 results

Sunday, February 5 Italy 24-29 France
Saturday, February 11 Ireland 32-19 France
Sunday, February 26 France 32-21 Scotland
Saturday, March 11 England 10-53 France
Saturday, March 18 France 41-28 Wales

Italy were beaten by just five points in Rome in the opening round, they then lost to Ireland and only just held off Scotland before everything finally clicked as they ran riot against England.

Weaknesses had been exposed against Ireland, but you sense this French side will peak when it matters.

France captain Antoine Dupont had another outstanding tournament

France captain Antoine Dupont had another outstanding tournament

In captain Antoine Dupont they have a freakish talent who can single-handedly turn a game, while their back three of Damian Penaud, Thomas Ramos and Etan Dumortier are clinical.

Add to that the fact have one of the biggest and most powerful packs in world rugby and it’s clear why they are bookies favourites to win the World Cup on home soil later this year.

Scotland

Scotland had an excellent campaign and one that has left Scottish supporters wondering why head coach Gregor Townsend’s future beyond the World Cup remains in doubt.

Scotland’s Six Nations 2023 results

Saturday, February 4 England 23-29 Scotland
Saturday, February 11 Scotland 35-7 Wales
Sunday, February 26 France 32-21 Scotland
Sunday, March 12 Scotland 7-22 Ireland
Saturday, March 18 Scotland 26-14 Italy

Finn Russell was scintillating throughout and now that he and Townsend have healed their differences, Scotland are hitting their straps.

Finn Russell was a standout performer for Gregor Townsend's Scotland side

Finn Russell was a standout performer for Gregor Townsend’s Scotland side

What’s more, Blair Kinghorn’s performance against Italy, which saw him bag a hat-trick, has shown also their depth at No 10.

Giant winger Duhan Van der Merwe has taken his game to another level, and the centre combination of Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu has been a big success.

Scotland hadn’t won their first two games in this competition since 1996, but they put that to bed with impressive wins over England and Wales. It’s just such a shame that they find themselves in a World Cup pool alongside South Africa and Ireland, from which only two will progress.

England

England are a side in transition and they’re running out of time to be competitive in France.

England’s Six Nations 2023 results

Saturday, February 4 England 23-29 Scotland
Sunday, February 12 England 31-14 Italy
Saturday, February 25 Wales 10-20 England
Saturday, March 11 England 10-53 France
Saturday, March 18 Ireland 29-16 England

New head coach Steve Borthwick has been quick to lay the blame on his predecessor Eddie jones – but Borthwick’s decision to drop Owen Farrell in favour of Marcus Smith against France backfired massively.

Steve Borthwick said England's heavy Six Nations defeat to France was 'painful'.

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Steve Borthwick said England’s heavy Six Nations defeat to France was ‘painful’.

Steve Borthwick said England’s heavy Six Nations defeat to France was ‘painful’.

England fans learnt the hard way just how crucial Farrell is to this side, whether at 10 or 12, which is something that Jones preached for years.

Up front, England’s pack restored some pride on the final weekend in Dublin but the lack of strength in depth – particularly at prop – is striking. Number 8 also remains an issue and calls for Zach Mercer to get a chance will grow.

Behind the scrum, Freddie Steward has been a revelation and was outstanding. His red card in Dublin was harsh and shouldn’t overshadow how well he has played.

Freddie Steward was controversially sent off for England in their final Six Nations game against Ireland

Freddie Steward was controversially sent off for England in their final Six Nations game against Ireland

In Ollie Lawrence, Borthwick has another ball carrying centre aside from Manu Tuilagi, while Jack Van Portvliet has usurped his Leicester team-mate Ben Youngs at No 9. When you look at it like that, Borthwick has made big strides in evolving this team.

The defeat to France aside, England have made progress, albeit they are still well short of the best.

Maybe one day they’ll reflect on that night Twickenham turned Les Bleus and conclude it was a tough but crucial lesson.

Wales

It was a turbulent campaign for Wales, both on and off the field.

Wales’ Six Nations 2023 results

Saturday, February 4 Wales 10-34 Ireland
Saturday, February 11 Scotland 35-7 Wales
Saturday, February 25 Wales 10-20 England
Saturday, March 11 Italy 17-29 Wales
Saturday, March 18 France 41-28 Wales

Head coach Warren Gatland’s reappointment brought much hope to Welsh fans but it didn’t materialise in this campaign.

The chastening defeat to Scotland was a reality check for many. Off the field, the contact row and threat of strike action before England’s visit to Cardiff divided the squad and the game itself.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland oversaw a turbulent Six Nations campaign on and off the field

Wales head coach Warren Gatland oversaw a turbulent Six Nations campaign on and off the field

On the pitch, Gatland continuously chopped and changed his teams during the campaign as he struggled to find the balance between evolution and revolution.

The emergence of young centres Joe Hawkins and Mason Grady is a big plus. Wales also have a plethora of talented back rowers but lacked cutting edge when it mattered.

That said, they’ll be hard to beat come the World Cup – and were they to meet England in the quarter-finals, you wouldn’t rule out Gatland masterminding another England downfall.

Italy

Italy may have ended up winless and with the wooden spoon but they showed they can now compete with the best.

Italy’s Six Nations 2023 results

Sunday, February 5 Italy 24-29 France
Sunday, February 12 England 31-14 Italy
Saturday, February 25 Italy 20-34 Ireland
Saturday, March 11 Italy 17-29 Wales
Saturday, March 18 Scotland 26-14 Italy

Had they been more clinical against Wales and Scotland, Kieran Crowley’s side could well have produced an upset.

They were also the better team in the second half against England, while they pushed both France and Ireland closer than anyone would have predicted.

Italy were much improved in this year's Six Nations

Italy were much improved in this year’s Six Nations

Italy are better now than ever before – but they must start taking their opportunities.

Unfortunately for them, they find themselves in a World Cup pool alongside New Zealand and hosts France. It’s hard to see them emerging from that one.



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Six Nations 2023: Warren Gatland says Ireland opener ‘a free hit’ for Wales as ‘buzzing’ England prepare for debut under Steve Borthwick


Ireland prop Finlay Bealham, Wales head coach Warren Gatland and England prop Ellis Genge are just some of the names in the news this week…

We hear from all four camps ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations opening weekend, as Wales host Ireland in Cardiff and England face Scotland at Twickenham…

Gatland: Ireland clash a ‘free hit’ for us | Farrell: ‘No such thing in Test rugby’

Wales boss Warren Gatland has claimed Saturday’s Six Nations opener between Wales and Ireland at the Principality Stadium is a “free hit” for the hosts.

Marginal title favourites Ireland kick off their campaign against Wales, and arrive as the world-ranked No 1 team following a spell of sustained success that saw them claim a Test series triumph against the All Blacks in New Zealand, beat South Africa and Australia and also land a Six Nations Triple Crown.

Wales have claimed four successive Six Nations victories at Ireland’s expense on home soil, while the Gatland factor also cannot be ignored.

His second stint as Wales head coach begins just over three years after the first one ended. When he last held the post between 2008 and 2019, Wales won four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and reached two World Cup semi-finals.

“I suppose the free hit for us is that the expectation and pressure is on them (Ireland) to win as favourites,” Gatland added.

“It hasn’t always been the easiest tag for Irish and Welsh teams in the past to carry going in as the favourites.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland says the past week has been 'a challenge', but insists focus for the players is wholly on their Six Nations opener against Ireland

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Wales head coach Warren Gatland says the past week has been ‘a challenge’, but insists focus for the players is wholly on their Six Nations opener against Ireland

Wales head coach Warren Gatland says the past week has been ‘a challenge’, but insists focus for the players is wholly on their Six Nations opener against Ireland

“You can get an upset because there is a huge amount of history and rivalry between those two nations and there has been a lot of close games.

“The secret, and I am sure Andy will be talking about this, is that you don’t run away from that, you look to embrace the expectations of being the No 1 team in the world.

“That is definitely the attitude I would be taking if I was in the Ireland camp. I’ve had that experience in the past with Wales, having to handle the favourites’ tag.

“There were probably one or two games in the autumn when they (Ireland) were under a little bit of pressure and they could have lost or it could have gone the other way, but they knew how to close the game down and manage it.

“We had that experience in 2018 and 2019 with Wales. We went through 14 matches unbeaten, and the thing about that is you’ve got a team that has composure, takes their moment and is able to manage games.

“That is probably the Irish team at the moment.”

The Welsh Rugby Union's acting chief executive, Nigel Walker admitted the organisation had been in denial, despite the warning signs, after allegations of sexism, misogyny and a toxic culture at the organisation were revealed

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The Welsh Rugby Union’s acting chief executive, Nigel Walker admitted the organisation had been in denial, despite the warning signs, after allegations of sexism, misogyny and a toxic culture at the organisation were revealed

The Welsh Rugby Union’s acting chief executive, Nigel Walker admitted the organisation had been in denial, despite the warning signs, after allegations of sexism, misogyny and a toxic culture at the organisation were revealed

Welsh Rugby Union chairman Ieuan Evans has vowed that an external taskforce will be established to help tackle the recent discrimination allegations

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Welsh Rugby Union chairman Ieuan Evans has vowed that an external taskforce will be established to help tackle the recent discrimination allegations

Welsh Rugby Union chairman Ieuan Evans has vowed that an external taskforce will be established to help tackle the recent discrimination allegations

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has backed “massive personality” Finlay Bealham to fill the void left by star prop Tadhg Furlong.

Australia-born Bealham will make his full debut in the championship at the age of 31 by deputising at tighthead on the back of some standout displays for Connacht and a series of impressive Test outings from the bench.

Farrell is hopeful Furlong (calf) will be back in contention for next week’s Round 2 clash with France but has full faith in his understudy, who has won 23 of his 27 international caps as a replacement.

“He’s not quite ready,” Farrell said of Furlong. “In fact, he’s progressing pretty well but he’s not quite there yet.

“He could possibly be there in the next few days or week or whatever, but we just think that Finlay deserves it as well.

Key man Tadhg Furlong (calf) has been ruled out injured for Ireland's opening Six Nations clash vs Wales in Cardiff

Key man Tadhg Furlong (calf) has been ruled out injured for Ireland’s opening Six Nations clash vs Wales in Cardiff

“He’s playing some outstanding rugby at this moment in time. The last game he played, he scored a hat-trick, he’s scrummaging very well, so he deserves a start.

“Tadhg will keep working away to hopefully be fit for the French game.

“Coming back from the autumn, or any camp he’s been in with us, he (Bealham) has had that trust.

“He’s a massive personality within our squad, he’s very popular, but coming out of the autumn and how that translates, going back to Connacht and his performances since then has been top-drawer.”

Connacht tighthead Finlay Bealham is the man to come in for Furlong, and head coach Andy Farrell says he deserves his place

Connacht tighthead Finlay Bealham is the man to come in for Furlong, and head coach Andy Farrell says he deserves his place

Farrell is happy the Principality Stadium roof will be closed for the encounter as he is eager for his in-form team to handle the loudest possible atmosphere.

However, the Englishman laughed off claims from rival Gatland that the clash is a “free hit” for Wales due to Ireland’s position at the top of the world rankings.

Farrell said: “A free shot in Test match rugby? Where do you get them from?

“We’d love to be able to buy one of those. Maybe I’ll buy him a free shot after the game.

Ireland boss Farrell says there is an extra layer of spice to the Six Nations this year

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Ireland boss Farrell says there is an extra layer of spice to the Six Nations this year

Ireland boss Farrell says there is an extra layer of spice to the Six Nations this year

“But there’s absolutely no doubt that Warren will expect his side to win…and so do I. I expect our side to win.

“His past record shows what he’s about in this competition. Finding a way to win has always been key to those teams, and we’re very aware of that.”

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Josh Adams, 13 George North, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Gareth Thomas, 2 Ken Owens (c), 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Adam Beard, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 6 Jac Morgan, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Taulupe Faletau

Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Alex Cuthbert

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexon, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Dan Sheehan, 3 Finlay Bealham, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Caelan Doris.

Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Bundee Aki.

Genge: Buzzing England squad excited under Borthwick | Gray keen to seize Six Nations chance: ‘Previous results vs England give us belief’

England prop Ellis Genge says he is “buzzing” to be back working alongside Steve Borthwick – but has vowed to “kick on and create something new” ahead of his country’s Six Nations opener against Scotland.

Under Borthwick’s tutelage at Leicester, Genge, 27, skippered the Tigers to last season’s Premiership title – nine years after they were last crowned kings of the English domestic game.

Borthwick transformed Leicester’s fortunes in just two seasons as head coach and he has now been tasked with reversing England’s slump following the dismissal of Eddie Jones.

Kevin Sinfield followed Borthwick from Leicester as defence coach, while Tigers tighthead Dan Cole, 35, is back in the England set-up after three years away.

New England head coach Steve Borthwick says he is as excited as the supporters for the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland

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New England head coach Steve Borthwick says he is as excited as the supporters for the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland

New England head coach Steve Borthwick says he is as excited as the supporters for the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland

“I probably did think that I wouldn’t be coached by him again, so I’m buzzing to be working back with Steve and Kev,” said Genge, who moved to his home-town club Bristol following Leicester’s championship triumph.

“But what’s unspoken is that we don’t want to rekindle that Leicester relationship. We want to kick on and create something new.

“We haven’t been speaking about the good old days, even though it was only last year. We’ve been trying to kick on and master what we’re trying to do here.”

Genge, capped 43 times by England, having made his debut in 2016, added: “When he (Borthwick) was captain for England, it probably didn’t end the way he wanted it to end.

“He spoke really well in the meeting the other day. When you hear a coach who has been in that role, numerous times, and ended up captain and then having it taken away from him, you know he really understands.

England loosehead Ellis Genge lauded praise on new head coach Borthwick and the start he has made to the job

England loosehead Ellis Genge lauded praise on new head coach Borthwick and the start he has made to the job

“A lot of coaches always say you’ve got to be better at this, got to be better at that. And Steve does that, but he looks at your super strength and says, ‘That is what I want you to be incredible at’.

“He doesn’t shout, he doesn’t bawl, he’s not one of those that’s going to hang you out to dry in front of people. Don’t get me wrong, he will do if he needs to. But most of the time he speaks calmly and he knows what he’s trying to get across and he makes a very good point of doing that.”

England second row Maro Itoje says Borthwick has made it clear that every player in the squad must fight for their shirt

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England second row Maro Itoje says Borthwick has made it clear that every player in the squad must fight for their shirt

England second row Maro Itoje says Borthwick has made it clear that every player in the squad must fight for their shirt

England will be back in front of the Twickenham crowd for the first time since they suffered a humbling 27-13 defeat to South Africa in November – Jones’ last match in charge.

Genge concluded: “I don’t think we’re a desperate team but we are extremely keen.

“Eddie is an absolutely world-class coach. Rightly or wrongly, the regime has been changed. Whether or not it was on the back of that performance against South Africa, I can’t speak on that.

“But what I can tell you is that we’ve had a great week’s preparation, and we’re excited to move forward.”

Borthwick has called on his players to keep fighting for their places and does not close the door on the possible inclusion of Manu Tuilagi in the future

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Borthwick has called on his players to keep fighting for their places and does not close the door on the possible inclusion of Manu Tuilagi in the future

Borthwick has called on his players to keep fighting for their places and does not close the door on the possible inclusion of Manu Tuilagi in the future

On the Scotland side, Richie Gray is relishing this year’s Six Nations as he admits there were times in recent seasons when he wondered if he would get to play in the tournament again.

The 33-year-old Glasgow lock has won 69 caps but has been on the periphery of the national team for much of Gregor Townsend’s five-and-a-half-year reign.

Gray has made only three Six Nations appearances under the current head coach, with the last of those coming at home to Wales in February 2021.

However, after making a positive impression following a surprise recall to the squad for the recent autumn Tests, he is in line to start Saturday’s Calcutta Cup match.

“Yeah, probably,” he said, when asked if he thought occasions such as this weekend’s Twickenham showdown were in the past for him. “For two years, maybe more than that, I wasn’t really getting in.

Scotland lock Richie Gray says he thought his Six Nations days might be over, adding there is belief they can beat England again

Scotland lock Richie Gray says he thought his Six Nations days might be over, adding there is belief they can beat England again

“With the strength and depth across the second row, it’s an area we’re really strong at, so there were a few moments when you go, ‘I might struggle to get back in here’.

“From that perspective, I’m very fortunate to be back here. I’m making the most of my time and enjoying it as much as I can as I’m very aware how quickly it can all pass by.”

Gray was among the substitutes two years ago when Scotland won at Twickenham for the first time since 1983.

Scotland boss Gregor Townsend has backed Luke Crosbie to bring his Edinburgh form to the national team in Saturday's Six Nations opener against England

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Scotland boss Gregor Townsend has backed Luke Crosbie to bring his Edinburgh form to the national team in Saturday’s Six Nations opener against England

Scotland boss Gregor Townsend has backed Luke Crosbie to bring his Edinburgh form to the national team in Saturday’s Six Nations opener against England

Townsend’s team have claimed the Calcutta Cup in four of the last five years and Gray feels they can draw confidence from memories of 2021 as they bid to ensure Borthwick gets off to a losing start.

“In 2021 we won down there, albeit in very different circumstances with no crowd, but we take belief from that,” he said. “Recent results against England have been favourable, but we’re under no illusions as to how big the challenge is.

“They’re under new management so will have a point to prove. They’ll also be hurting from the autumn and will come out all guns blazing, so we’ll need to match them.

“They’ve got quality across the board. If you look at Borthwick and how he played at Leicester with that traditional strong English pack who want to take you on up front. We’re aware of that as a pack of forwards, it will be a challenge. But one I hope and believe we can match.

“That’s the challenge, to do it when there are 80,000 getting behind their team. How do we react under that pressure? But I certainly believe we can.”

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Max Malins, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Jack van Poortvliet; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Ollie Chessum, 5 Maro Itoje, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Ben Curry, 8 Alex Dombrandt

Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Ollie Lawrence, 23 Anthony Watson.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White; 1 Pierre Schoeman, 2 George Turner, 3 WP Nel, 4 Richie Gray, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 6 Jamie Ritchie (c), 7 Luke Crosbie, 8 Matt Fagerson

Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 George Horne, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Harris



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Rugby Football Union apologises for ‘anger and concern’ over radical tackle-height change


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Sky Sports News’ James Cole visits Grasshoppers RFC to see what they make of the RFU’s decision to reduce the legal tackle height across community rugby from next season

Sky Sports News’ James Cole visits Grasshoppers RFC to see what they make of the RFU’s decision to reduce the legal tackle height across community rugby from next season

The Rugby Football Union will hold forums and workshops after it apologised for the “anger and concern” caused by its decision to lower the tackle height from next season.

It was announced last week tackling above the waist will be banned in community rugby in a move unanimously approved by Rugby Football Union Council members.

The legislation was brought in by the RFU in an attempt to support player welfare, notably reducing head impact exposure and will apply across the community game – clubs, schools, colleges and universities at both age-grade and adult levels – covering National One division and below in the men’s game and Championship One and below in the women’s game.

However, many clubs have been angered at what they see as a lack of consultation.

A group called the Community Club’s Union is trying to force a special general meeting of the RFU and a no-confidence vote in the board and chief executive Bill Sweeney.

The CCU says it has the backing of 278 clubs – many of whom agree with reducing the tackle height to increase safety but would prefer the limit to be set at chest/sternum.

The RFU says it will now begin a “series of forums and workshops with players, coaches, match officials and volunteers, to explain and develop the details of the domestic law variation.”

Ireland boss Andy Farrell says coaching will be crucial after the approval of a reduction in tackle height for the community game in England

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Ireland boss Andy Farrell says coaching will be crucial after the approval of a reduction in tackle height for the community game in England

Ireland boss Andy Farrell says coaching will be crucial after the approval of a reduction in tackle height for the community game in England

In its latest update on tackle height, the RFU said: “The RFU Board, Council and executive staff apologise for the anger and concern that has been created among the rugby community by announcing the decision to lower the tackle height from next season.

“In our desire to act quickly to reduce head impacts and concussions in the community game, which represents 99% of the rugby playing population in England, we have upset many of you who are the champions, volunteers, and ambassadors of our game. We fully acknowledge we got the engagement wrong, and we are truly sorry.

“In making our decision we were aware that France have lowered the tackle height, New Zealand will be doing so and World Rugby supports this approach.

“We, like the French, used the term “waist and below”; this has caused misunderstanding and confusion. We would now like the game to help us define how we describe a lower tackle height to reflect what the research is telling us in a way that is understood by all. Consequently, the risk of head injuries should be reduced if tackling below that optimum height.

“We will now begin a series of forums and workshops with players, coaches, match officials and volunteers, to explain and develop the details of the domestic law variation.

“A large body of scientific evidence* demonstrates the risk of head injury and concussion for players can be reduced by lowering the tackle height to prevent head on head contact. However, we also accept that the rugby community has other concerns that this change may bring and we need to listen, understand and respond to those concerns.

“We will start inviting players, coaches, match officials and volunteers to these forums from early next week, so that we can all work together.”

Johnny Sexton: Most concussions come from knees to the head

Backlash has not only come from the amateur game, with Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton making it clear he very much disagreed with the rule change and rather believed that it may only increase the number of concussions happening in the amateur game.

Ireland's Johnny Sexton says he does not agree with the new reduction in tackle height in the community game in England

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Ireland’s Johnny Sexton says he does not agree with the new reduction in tackle height in the community game in England

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton says he does not agree with the new reduction in tackle height in the community game in England

When asked whether it would make a difference, Sexton said: “Not at all. Definitely not.

“You can get a knee in the head. You can get a hip in the head. Most concussions come from those.

“There was a study done a few years ago and there were a lot of red cards given for high tackles and 100 per cent we need to get them out the game, but none of them resulted in concussions, whereas a lot of them came from knees to the head and hips to the head.

“I am not sure who puts these rules in place but I don’t agree with them, especially for a taller man like myself who likes to tackle hard.”

Youngs: More clarity needed

England and Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs has stressed the importance of finding the right ‘balance’ between improving safety within rugby and and preserving the best of the sport in order to continue attracting new players and fans.

“I take my son to grassroots rugby on a Sunday, he is only doing tag at the moment,” said Youngs. “I think it is really important that we probably get a little bit more clarity about where the tackle height is.

“I know we are saying hips but I think for junior levels, for youngsters, it is not natural for people to be diving at knees and hips. Naturally they are stood up a bit more so if we could get a bit more shoulders and below, and have a bit more clarity.

“The last thing we want to do is be putting people off the game. Not through injury but actually through the fact they are having to be sent off to the sideline every couple of minutes.

“Or if someone can’t quite get to grasp with being low enough and then they are put off rugby because they never get to play because they are constantly being told off by the ref or the coach.

England’s most capped men’s player Ben Youngs says he is excited for a fresh start under Steve Borthwick as England prepare to face Scotland in the Six Nations next weekend

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England’s most capped men’s player Ben Youngs says he is excited for a fresh start under Steve Borthwick as England prepare to face Scotland in the Six Nations next weekend

England’s most capped men’s player Ben Youngs says he is excited for a fresh start under Steve Borthwick as England prepare to face Scotland in the Six Nations next weekend

“I think we have got to get that balance really right and it is a fine line. I am all for making the game safer, of course I am. I am a father, I want my kids to be safe, but I also want them to play rugby.

“It is a contact sport, it is a great sport. It gives so much in terms of values, teamwork, camaraderie and all those bits and you have got to get the balance.

“Yes, there is a risk to my son running around but also there is a huge amount of benefits of working in a team and doing all that.

“A bit more clarity around it would be great and that isn’t me speaking as a professional rugby player, that is me speaking as a father who takes his son to Sunday rugby.”



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Six Nations 2023 Championship in focus: England under new head coach Steve Borthwick


A new era dawns for England under Steve Borthwick. Will it get off to a flying start?

England head into the 2023 Six Nations under new head coach Steve Borthwick seeking big improvements on the last two years.

In each of the last two Six Nations campaigns, England have lost three from five fixtures, finishing fifth in 2021 and third – but well off the top two of France and Ireland – in 2022.

England’s poor form, stagnant attack and undisciplined defence continued into the autumn, where they suffered defeats by Argentina and South Africa on home soil, as well as a draw vs New Zealand from a game they were totally outplayed in.

The consequence saw Eddie Jones given the boot, and in came Leicester Tigers head coach Borthwick, who has just these five Six Nations clashes as competitive fixtures before the Rugby World Cup in France in September.

Here, Sky Sports takes a closer look at how England are shaping up ahead of that opening match against Scotland in the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham…

Fixtures

  • Scotland – Twickenham – Saturday, February 4 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • Italy – Twickenham – Sunday, February 12 – 3pm (GMT)
  • Wales – Principality Stadium – Saturday, February 25 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • France – Twickenham – Saturday, March 11 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • Ireland – Aviva Stadium – Saturday, March 18 – 5pm (GMT)

What’s changed?

A lot. The main change has come right at the top, with Borthwick replacing Jones – the man he worked alongside with Japan and England for eight years between 2012-2020 – as head coach.

Other coaching changes have seen rugby league legend Kevin Sinfield join as defence coach, having worked with Borthwick at Leicester.

England head coach Borthwick discusses the importance of making every minute count in his new role

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England head coach Borthwick discusses the importance of making every minute count in his new role

England head coach Borthwick discusses the importance of making every minute count in his new role

The former Leicester Tigers coaching duo of Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield, Premiership champions last season, are now at the England helm

The former Leicester Tigers coaching duo of Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield, Premiership champions last season, are now at the England helm

South African Matt Proudfoot has departed as scrum coach, while Australian Brett Hodgson – rugby league coach with Hull FC until 2022 – departed too having never been involved at a Test after replacing predecessor Anthony Seibold as defence coach after the latter left for NRL side Manly Sea Eagles.

Training coordinator Danny Kerry was another to depart, while it was also confirmed Harlequins attack coach Nick Evans will join the England set-up. Previous attack coach Martin Gleeson was then also announced as a departure.

In playing terms, Owen Farrell has retained the captaincy, beating off Courtney Lawes and Ellis Genge, in what Borthwick termed “a straightforward” decision.

Borthwick called Farrell a 'fantastic leader' and said it was a 'straightforward' decision to keep him as captain

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Borthwick called Farrell a ‘fantastic leader’ and said it was a ‘straightforward’ decision to keep him as captain

Borthwick called Farrell a ‘fantastic leader’ and said it was a ‘straightforward’ decision to keep him as captain

Squad-wise, there is a return for 35-year-old Leicester tighthead Dan Cole after three years away, while established names like No 8 Billy Vunipola and wings Jonny May and Jack Nowell have been left out.

Five uncapped players are included in fly-half Fin Smith, wingers Ollie Hassell-Collins and Cadan Murley and hookers George McGuigan and Jack Walker.

Back-rows Ben Earl, Ben Curry and Alex Dombrandt, second-row Nick Isiekwe, centres Dan Kelly and Joe Marchant, and back-three duo Max Malins and Elliot Daly received recalls from Borthwick.

Sky Sports News' James Cole analyses Borthwick's selection decisions within his first Six Nations squad as England head coach

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Sky Sports News’ James Cole analyses Borthwick’s selection decisions within his first Six Nations squad as England head coach

Sky Sports News’ James Cole analyses Borthwick’s selection decisions within his first Six Nations squad as England head coach

What’s hot?

From Borthwick’s perspective, having skipper Farrell available despite his citing for a high tackle earlier this month (more on that below) is a big plus.

And like any sporting group, there does often seem to be a bounce or lift in performance once there is a change to the coaching group. There is a tangible sense that will occur with England.

Borthwick has arrived as a breath of fresh air after seven years of Eddie Jones. Will we see a new-coach bounce from England?

Borthwick has arrived as a breath of fresh air after seven years of Eddie Jones. Will we see a new-coach bounce from England?

England fans are believing again, the coaches are saying the right things, and the players are likely to respond in kind.

Sinfield’s presence as defence coach is a huge positive. An enormously influential figure, he is likely to have a huge impact.

England's new defence coach Sinfield has backed Borthwick and said his team will only look forward and not back

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England’s new defence coach Sinfield has backed Borthwick and said his team will only look forward and not back

England’s new defence coach Sinfield has backed Borthwick and said his team will only look forward and not back

England also have a lot of talented players – something that was never in question under Jones, but rather a frustrating facet to their failures under the Aussie.

Lastly, England’s start to the championship in 2023 could well be read as kind.

Scotland at Twickenham, Italy at Twickenham and a struggling Wales in Cardiff is how the first three rounds read. England may well be welcoming France to the home of English rugby in Round 4 on course for a Grand Slam…and momentum in the Six Nations is very often crucial.

What’s not?

The whole situation regarding Farrell’s availability for England’s Six Nations opener vs Scotland sits in distinctly murky waters.

Skipper Owen Farrell's availability for the start of the Six Nations, despite a citing, has come in unusual fashion

Skipper Owen Farrell’s availability for the start of the Six Nations, despite a citing, has come in unusual fashion

Farrell was cited for a high tackle made on Gloucester’s Jack Clement in Saracens’ Premiership clash on January 6 – a tackle he avoided a red card for, in a match he would go on to strike the winning drop-goal in.

The punishment marked the third time Farrell has been punished for a high tackle. He was banned for five weeks for a tackle on Wasps player Charlie Atkinson in 2020, with that sanction reduced from 10 weeks on account of off-field mitigating factors.

Back in 2016, Farrell was suspended for two weeks for an illegal challenge on Wasps’ Dan Robson during a European Cup semi-final.

James Cole explains why Farrell has not received a longer ban after being cited for a high tackle while playing for Saracens against Gloucester

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James Cole explains why Farrell has not received a longer ban after being cited for a high tackle while playing for Saracens against Gloucester

James Cole explains why Farrell has not received a longer ban after being cited for a high tackle while playing for Saracens against Gloucester

Farrell also avoided a citing in November 2018 for a shoulder charge high to the chest of South Africa centre Andre Esterhuizen while playing for England, as the offence was deemed worthy of a yellow card and not red. Farrell avoided a sin-binning for the incident during the Test as England held on to win by a point, 12-11.

As a repeat offender, Farrell was ineligible for the 50 per cent reduction this time around. And yet, the disciplinary panel reduced his six-week suspension by two weeks for mitigation such as conduct at the hearing. This despite Farrell arguing the offence was not a red card tackle.

Farrell was also offered World Rugby’s Coaching Intervention Programme, otherwise known as ‘tackle school’, to reduce his ban from four weeks to three weeks, availing of a 50 per cent reduction in any case.

Farrell's ban was cut in half, despite him being ineligible as a repeat offender, and one of the three fixtures his suspension covers is a Premiership game he would not have played anyway

Farrell’s ban was cut in half, despite him being ineligible as a repeat offender, and one of the three fixtures his suspension covers is a Premiership game he would not have played anyway

Upon the suspension being confirmed, the RFU then listed Saracens’ Premiership clash with Leicester on February 19, and not England’s opening Six Nations clash against Scotland on February 4, as the potential fourth fixture he would be banned for should he not attend tackle school, in a bizarre move, but explained away in terms that England’s squad had yet to be announced.

Where the real controversy arose, however, is that the third fixture listed in Farrell’s suspension – Saracens vs Bristol in the Premiership on January 28, a week before the Six Nations kicks off – is a game in which England internationals would not be taking part in anyway, as they would already be in Test camp.

Farrell will continue to lead England as captain, with Borthwick giving the Saracens man his full approval

Farrell will continue to lead England as captain, with Borthwick giving the Saracens man his full approval

To get around this, Borthwick and England confirmed the suspended Farrell will be released to Saracens for a game he was never going to play in, in order for his ban to count in the fixture, before returning to England camp and leading the side as captain vs Scotland – a game he is then consequently free to play in. It’s not a great look.

Further negatives are the hamstring injury to back-row Tom Curry, who is a big miss, and the fact that playmaking fly-half Marcus Smith only returned from an ankle injury picked up in November on January 15.

Lawes, Elliot Daly, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola all also suffered injuries of varying degrees a week before the players meet in camp.

Tom Curry's absence due to a hamstring injury is a big blow

Tom Curry’s absence due to a hamstring injury is a big blow

England’s form before now has also seen their attack stunted, discipline poor, and set-piece beaten. There is a lot of work to do.

Key player

Maro Itoje: If there is one player Borthwick – a former second row – is likely to build up, work closely alongside and place importance upon, it is Itoje.

Marcus Smith has been of huge importance to England, but his ankle injury and Farrell being named as captain means he is unlikely to be the focus, and as such Itoje is more likely to be a key man.

Maro Itoje, supremely talented but regularly indisciplined, is likely to be a central figure under Borthwick

Maro Itoje, supremely talented but regularly indisciplined, is likely to be a central figure under Borthwick

Supremely talented, and massively powerful, if Borthwick and Sinfield can rid Itoje of his maddening indiscipline, the squad as a whole are likely to improve in terms of their relationships with referees.

Whenever England experienced high points under Jones, Itoje was at the heart of it. He has all the tools to become a magnificent performer again.

Championship record

Six Nations since 2000: Seven-time winners (2000, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2020).

Overall: 29 outright wins (1883, 1884, 1892, 1910, 1913, 1914, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1937, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1980, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2020).

England 36-man squad for the 2023 Six Nations

Forwards (20): Ollie Chessum, Dan Cole, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Joe Heyes, Jonny Hill, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, George McGuigan, Bevan Rodd, Sam Simmonds, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Jack Walker, Jack Willis.

Backs (16): Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell (c), Tommy Freeman, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Dan Kelly, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Alex Mitchell, Cadan Murley, Henry Slade, Fin Smith, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Manu Tuilagi, Jack van Poortvliet, Ben Youngs.



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