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Abrahams puts faith in Siwan as captain

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WALES Women head coach Warren Abrahams has confirmed Siwan Lillicrap as his captain to lead the side into the rescheduled Women’s Six Nations in April.

Abrahams, who was appointed as head coach in November said, “I’m delighted to name Siwan as captain.

It’s been amazing to see her leadership both on and off the field in recent months, together with some other good leaders around her, through what has been a tough time for everyone.

Siwan is a fantastic role model, not only for our current group of players but also in terms of the legacy this group of players will leave for the next generation of Wales Women internationals and the community game.

“Siwan has had her fair share of injury setbacks recently but always supported the group whole-heartedly. It took her a number years to break into the side – that hunger to represent her country is as evident now as ever.”

Lillicrap, who has held the captain’s arm band since November 2019 said, “It’s a huge honour as always to put on the Wales jersey and to lead the team is incredibly special to me, especially at this time. The girls have put in so much work on and off the field over the past year without any international fixtures and to have some Six Nations matches to look forward to and aim for now means so much to us all.

“We are grateful to have this opportunity and the privilege of representing and leading your country never diminishes. It’s something you can never assume or take for granted. We’ve all been challenged in new ways in recent months and I know I’ve worked hard to prove myself to Warren as a player and captain which makes it even more meaningful.”

Wales will travel to France on the weekend of April 3, host Ireland the following weekend and contest a third, ‘play-off’ match on the weekend of April 24 in a format similar to the Autumn Nations Cup.

Abrahams believes the side is in as good as place as possible five weeks out from their opening game.

“We all feel incredibly lucky to be working towards some competitive, Six Nations matches. We are pushing ourselves as a management team and we are squeezing every drop out of our weekly coaching sessions and other ways we can grow as a squad. Every team has had to re-evaluate following the effects of the pandemic on sport and I believe the teams that come out best after all this will be the ones who are best equipped to adapt to the different pressures and challenges.

“It is fantastic to watch the contribution our players are making to their Allianz Premier 15s clubs. They are benefitting from top quality coaching and game-time there and we are grateful for that too.”

Former USA women’s sevens coach Abrahams insists he isn’t looking any further than the trip to France on the weekend of April 3.

“Everything is tailored towards that first game in France now. It’s very exciting to be training as a group but there’s no better feeling than representing your country and to be able to look forward to being part of a competitive Six Nations match is what we are all passionate about. But first we have to get the work done and believe in ourselves. We are encouraged by the physical progress and performance improvements the players are making both within our environment and for their clubs and they are taking ownership of aspects of the analysis work on our opposition. Whether or not we will have any crowds on the day, France will be a formidable opponent that we need to respect but at the same time it’s anyone’s game on the day. The match will give is a fantastic idea of where we are and after that we will concentrate on welcoming Ireland to Wales.”

Abrahams has extended his training squad with a view to developing depth in readiness for Rugby World Cup in September. Along with the return from injury of internationals Lleucu George, Kerin Lake and Ffion Lewis, he has added five uncapped players in 17 year old Gloucester-Hartpury forward Sisilia Tuipulotu, props Laura Bleehen, Gwenllian Jenkins and Madi Johns and Exeter scrum-half Megan Davies and welcomed back Mel Howley (née Clay) after a year out due to the birth of her son along with international forwards Carys Phillips and Bethan Dainton thanks to their good form for Worcester Warriors and Harlequins respectively in the Allianz Premier 15s.

Abrahams added, “It’s vital we continue to develop the squad with the Rugby World Cup just around the corner. We are pleased with the attitude the players have shown throughout this period and we are excited for the next phase.”

Wales Women training squad:

Forwards: Laura Bleehen, Abbie Fleming, Alisha Butchers, Gwen Crabb, Bethan Dainton, Georgia Evans, Cerys Hale, Cara Hope, Mel Howley, Molly Kelly, Gwenllian Jenkins, Natalia John, Manon Johnes, Madi Johns, Kelsey Jones, Beth Lewis, Siwan Lillicrap, Robyn Lock, Carys Phillips, Shona Powell-Hughes, Donna Rose, Caryl Thomas, Sisilia Tuipulotu, Teleri Wyn Davies

Backs : Keira Bevan, Megan Davies, Alecs Donovan, Lleucu George, Beth Huntley, Bryonie King, Courtney Keight, Jade Knight, Kerin Lake, Caitlin Lewis, Ffion Lewis, Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones, Jasmine Joyce, Kayleigh Powell, Paige Randall, Jess Roberts, Gemma Rowland, Lauren Smyth, Elinor Snowsill, Niamh Terry, Meg Webb, Robyn Wilkins, Flo Williams

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A 48-7 victory over Italy leaves Wales a win from the Grand Slam

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IT was always going to be a tough game for the Italian side, but now it is official, Wales are one win away from the Grand Slam!

Wales scored seven tries through Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens (2), George North, Callum Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit as they secured a comfortable Six Nations win in Rome.

The unbeaten tournament leaders reeled off a third successive bonus-point victory to increase pressure on their rivals for silverware. Italy meanwhile are staring down the barrel at another Wooden Spoon – they haven’t won a Six Nations match since 2015.https://www.youtube.com/embed/QI4FARxZcKk?feature=oembed

STILL A BIT OF WORK TO DO

The Welsh captain, Alun Wyn Jones, who is just one win away from winning his fourth Six Nations Grand Slam told S4C: “We were pretty clinical, particularly in the first half.

“We’re a tad frustrated with the second half but it’s a case of job done and plenty to work on.

“The excitement I feel every time I pull on this red jersey is insurmountable, so I’m looking forward to getting back to it on Monday and preparing for next weekend.”

Jones added: “It’s job done, but there’s still a bit to work on.”

Another heavy defeat will again raise the inevitable questions about Italy’s position in the Six Nations and whether there should be relegation.

The facts speak for themselves.

Today marked a 31st successive defeat for the Azzurri in the competition, with their last victory coming against Scotland in 2015.

Italy have not managed a home Six Nations win for eight years, with 20 successive losses.

Italy have conceded 187 points and 26 tries in four games this year.

Line-ups
Italy: Trulla, Bellini, Brex, Canna, Ioane, Garbisi, Varney; Fischetti, Bigi (capt), Zilocchi, Cannone, Sisi, Negri, Meyer, Lamaro.

Replacements: Fabiani for Ioane (7-18), Lovotti for Fischetti (65) Riccioni for Zilocchi (33), Lazzaroni for Cannone (52), Mbanda for Meyer (26-36), Violi for Varney (63), Mori for Garbisi (54) Padovani for Trulla (44).

Wales: L Williams; Rees-Zammit, North, J Davies, Adams; Biggar, G Davies; W Jones, Owens, Tomas Francis, Hill, AW Jones (capt), Navidi, Tipuric, Faletau.

Replacements: Dee for Owens (54), Carre for W Jones (57), Brown for Francis (45), Ball for AW Jones (54), Wainwright for Faletau (51), L Williams for G Davies (52), Sheedy for Biggar (52), Halaholo for North (46)

Match officials
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Touch judges: Pascal Gauzere (France) & Christophe Ridley (England)

TMO: Tom Foley (England)https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1370764974163947527&lang=en-gb&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.herald.wales%2Fsport%2Fa-48-7-victory-over-italy-leaves-wales-a-win-from-the-grand-slam%2F&theme=light&widgetsVersion=e1ffbdb%3A1614796141937&width=500px

MATCH ANALYSIS

Surely it was discipline that was the main problem for Italy.

Mistakes and an incredible ability to give away stupid penalties, as a series of needless errors allowed the visitors to build an insurmountable lead early on.

It all started with Paolo Garbisi sending the ball dead from the kick-off before Luca Bigi infringed at the breakdown. The captain then cynically stopped a Gareth Davies quick tap and was duly yellow carded. Against 14 men, Wales built up an advantage they would not relinquish as the visitors won the game before it had really started. It was not a good example from the skipper and is symptomatic of where the Italians are currently at.

Arguably since before the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour, the back has struggled for form, leading many to question whether that was it for the Welsh centurion. Although he is only 28, it must be remembered that North has been around at the top level for a long time and there is only so much the body can take in modern day rugby. However, the move into the midfield seems to have given him a new lease of life.

To the surprise of many, Callum Sheedy did not start against Italy after his superb performance versus England. Instead, it was the much criticised Dan Biggar who continued at fly-half and produced a significantly improved display before giving way to the Bristol playmaker in the second period. Sheedy was also excellent when he came on and it leaves Wayne Pivac with a decision to make going forward. No doubt, Biggar will start next week against France – albeit the head coach is not afraid of making a big call – but the 25-year-old is certainly not far off the first XV.

Much has been said and written about the Azzurri’s continued presence in the Six Nations and based on the evidence in this fixture, they really shouldn’t be playing in a competition of this stature. Franco Smith’s charges were never at the races with Wales racing into a 22-0 lead midway through the half without really breaking a sweat. Italy hardly threatened on attack – especially during the first half – and it looked like it was a case of men against boys for large periods of this Test. The result means they have now lost 31 matches on the trot, which is the longest losing streak in the history of the Championship, and they last tasted victory in a Round Three clash against Scotland in 2015. The time is now ripe for tournament organisers to reconsider their participation.

Although Italy were never in this encounter, Wales deserve plenty of credit as they impressed for the entire game and made full use of the opportunities which were presented to them.

Pivac will be delighted with the clinical fashion with which his players went about their business and they had their bonus point in the bag by the half-hour mark after Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau and Ken Owens (2) crossed for tries. Despite leading 27-0 at the interval, Wales did not take their foot of the pedal with North also crossing the whitewash soon after the restart and although Monty Ioane scored a try for the hosts, that was a mere blip as Wales continued to dominate and sealed their win with five-pointers from Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit.

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Six Nations: North set for 100th cap against England

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GEORGE North is set to become the youngest player in the world to reach the 100-cap milestone for his country on Saturday, February 27, when Wales take on England at Principality Stadium (KO 16.45 BBC & S4C).

North, 28, made his international bow in November 2010 and has amassed 42 tries in his 99 appearances.

North will line-up in the centre alongside Jonathan Davies on Saturday, outside of half-back pairing of Kieran Hardy and Dan Biggar. Josh Adams, Louis Rees-Zammit and Liam Williams comprise the back-three.

Wales name an unchanged front-five with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis packing down in the front-row and Adam Beard partnering captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row.

Josh Navidi returns to the side to line-up alongside Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.

“We’ve had a great two weeks leading into this game and we are looking forward to Saturday,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.

“We continue to build and we know there is plenty left in us in terms of improvements from the opening two rounds. We are 2/2 but we want to continue to improve performance wise.

“Saturday is a great milestone for George, it is a huge achievement at his age and we are looking forward to seeing him in action.”

Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones and Leon Brown provide the front-row cover for Wales with Cory Hill and James Botham completing the forward contingent. Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy and Uilisi Halaholo provide the back-line cover.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY ENGLAND (SATURDAY FEBRUARY 24, KO 16.45)

1. Wyn Jones (32 Caps)

2. Ken Owens (79 Caps)

3. Tomas Francis (54 Caps)

4. Adam Beard (23 Caps)

5. Alun Wyn Jones (CAPT) (145 Caps)

6. Josh Navidi (25 Caps)

7. Justin Tipuric (82 Caps)

8. Taulupe Faletau (83 Caps)

9. Kieran Hardy (3 Caps)

10. Dan Biggar (89 Caps)

11. Josh Adams (29 Caps)

12. Jonathan Davies (85 Caps)

13. George North (99 Caps)

14. Louis Rees-Zammit (6 Caps)

15. Liam Williams (68 Caps)

Replacements:

16. Elliot Dee (34 Caps)

17. Rhodri Jones (19 Caps)

18. Leon Brown (14 Caps)

19. Cory Hill (29 Caps)

20. James Botham (4 Caps)

21. Gareth Davies (59 Caps)

22. Callum Sheedy (6 Caps)

23. Uilisi Halaholo (1 Cap)

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Wales looking for third win in a row against England

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WALES have won their first two games in the Six Nations Championship and on Saturday, February 27, they put that record on the line against great rivals England.

Having already beaten Ireland and Scotland, the Triple Crown will be on the line for Wales, a feat they last achieved in 2019 when they won the Grand Slam.

That will be incentive enough for Wayne Pivac’s men but to do it against England will make it that little bit sweeter.

With France’s game against Scotland on Sunday in doubt, it will also give the home side a great chance to extend their lead at the top of the table.

Wales do not have any fresh injury concerns going into the England game and it will likely provide a selection headache for Pivac.

George North could be set to make his 100th appearance for Wales if he plays against England, and is currently second in the list of all-time try scorers for his home country.

England lost their opening game of the tournament against Scotland but got back to winning ways with a resounding 41-18 win over Italy.

The 2020 Six Nations and Autumn Cup Champions will be eager to rediscover their winning form which brought them that success but they will not find it easy against Wales.

What happened the last time England visited the Principality Stadium?
Wales last welcomed England to the Principality on February 23, 2019, and it was a game which saw Wales earn a 21-13 victory.

Cory Hill and Josh Adams scored Wales’ tries in that match while Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe added the rest of the points from the boot.

Tom Curry scored England’s only try in that match while Farrell had a 100% success rate with his kicks.

What happened when the sides met in 2020?

It was an absolute classic last year with England triumphing by 33 points to 30 at Twickenham.

Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Manu Tuilagi got the tries for England on that day while Owen Farrell had again had a 100% record with the boot.

Justin Tipuric bagged two tries for Wales while Dan Biggar scored their other as the men in red came up short on this occasion.

Of course, the last two meetings between the two sides were played in front of capacity crowds but that will not be a factor this time around, owing to the current coronavirus pandemic.

Could that be a factor in the game or will both sides treat us to an excellent display of rugby?

After the England game, Wales travel to Italy on Saturday, March 13, while England will host France on the same day.

A win for either side this weekend will be crucial; a win for Wales and it sets them up for the Grand Slam while a win for England will reignite their hopes of retaining the Six Nations Championship.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 16:45 and can be seen on S4C as well as the BBC.

ENGLAND
Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, George Martin, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins.

WALES
Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Kieran Hardy; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Uilisi Halaholo.

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