Six Nations: Conor O'Shea ready for "learning process" to continue as Italy take on Wales

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Conor O’Shea is ready for Italy’s “huge learning process” to continue when they tackle Six Nations opponents Wales on Sunday.

The Azzurri look set to finish bottom of the Six Nations table for a 13th time in 19 seasons, having suffered three successive defeats ahead of this weekend’s Cardiff clash and then hosting Scotland next Saturday.

But Italy boss O’Shea is undeterred as he continues with the job of what he calls “fixing Italian Rugby.”

They have had their moments this season, notably against England, and seen players like full-back Matteo Minnozzi and flanker Sebastian Negri leave an impressive mark on the tournament.

Ultimately, though, Italy have conceded 136 points and 18 tries across their three games, suggesting that another whitewash beckons.

“We have to perform to our maximum all the time and understand we will be under massive pressure,” O’Shea said.

“This is all part of a huge learning process with a huge group of young guys who will learn what’s needed. This isn’t the PRO14 – this is another level.

“I am really proud of the impact players like Matteo Minnozzi and Sebastian Negri and others have made during this championship.

“Piece by piece our job is fixing Italian Rugby, and piece by piece we are going to put together a side which will learn, which will get better and which will get fitter.

Toby Faletau is set to lead Wales for the first time.

Toby Faletau is set to lead Wales for the first time.

“We will grow and grow. It isn’t easy, but if sport was easy then everybody would be able to do it.

“We will work on Sunday to see whether we can get ourselves into a position that an energy moment will go our way at the right time. And then you never know.”

Much has been made in some quarters of Wales head coach Warren Gatland making 10 changes for Italy’s visit, with flanker James Davies being handed a Test debut and centre

Owen Watkin and hooker Elliot Dee featuring for the first time in a Six Nations starting XV.

But Gatland has also called up three British and Irish Lions Test players in George North, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau, who captains a Wales team seeking a 12th successive victory over Italy.

O’Shea added: “It’s great when you have got the ability to bring in that quality.

“And I am looking forward to watching Elliott Dee play because I’ve watched him playing for the Dragons and I really like him as a player.

“They are an outstanding side. Gats is such an intelligent bloke. He’s made changes, but the spine of the team is so strong.

“The spine the whole way through has a massive amount of experience. They will have no issues.”

The teams:

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau (c), 7 James Davies, 6 Justin Tipuric, 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Leigh Halfpenny

Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward

Date: Sunday, March 11
Venue: Principality Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

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Six Nations: Mike Phillips on Dylan Hartley's absence and the man who ticks all the boxes for Wales

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Owen Farrell, right, will take over the captaincy duties for England from Dylan Hartley

It’s a move I’ve been wanting to see for weeks, but injury has finally forced Eddie Jones’ hand with Dylan Harltey.

It’s been pretty obvious that he didn’t deserve his place in the side, let alone the captaincy, and now Jamie George finally has the opportunity to make that shirt his own. I think it’s going to have a really positive impact on the side.

As for who wears the armband, there is no better man in that squad than Owen Farrell. I got to know him when we toured with the Lions, and he is a really good bloke. He’s confident in a non-arrogant way, and a brilliant player. He is a leader of men, and someone you would go into battle for – I can only see him doing a fantastic job and hopefully being the skipper for a long time. He’ll be facing Mathieu Bastareaud this week and will be relishing that challenge – and I would back him every time the big Frenchman tries to run down his channel.

Jones has made a lot of changes in the side but when you look at some of the players, you can’t say it’s a big surprise. I like Mike Brown as a player but at international level he might have had his day. Anthony Watson is a class act and is a player for the future. Same goes for Ben Te’o, he’s such a powerful player with the ability to offload in the tackle and can bring something different to the centre.

France will be looking for a bit of consistency after their win over Italy. They had their off-field problems after the Scotland game and that almost typifies the lack of discipline they have been showing in games too. We’ve seen them give away so many silly penalties and they just can’t afford to do that against England.

Guilhem Guirado will be hoping for some consistency from his French side

Guilhem Guirado will be hoping for some consistency from his French side.

I just don’t see France having enough in this one and I think England will run out winners by 10 points.

In Dublin the question for me is, can Scotland back up their win over England? They put in a great performance last time out and have received all the praise for that, while the players have been all over Instagram having a laugh and enjoying themselves, but that can’t be it for them. They can’t just win one game and everyone be happy about it.

I remember when we (Wales) lost in the World Cup semi-final and came home to a heroes’ welcome and everyone had nothing but good things to say about us. But we lost. I was anything but happy because I knew we had messed up the chance to play in the World Cup Final.

Scotland need to have the mentality that it is all about winning every game, and that starts against Ireland.

We know what Ireland can do, and to be in with a chance of winning, Scotland’s pack has to perform. Wales couldn’t manage it last time out, but you have to get on top of Ireland’s forwards. It’s a difficult thing to do but if Scotland can manage it, they have the backs that can cause trouble.

Huw Jones has been one of the leading lights for Scotland.

Huw Jones has been one of the leading lights for Scotland.

In truth, I don’t see that happening because Ireland have been too well-organised and well-coached to this point, and I see them winning by about eight points.

Finally, a new-look Wales, and it needed to be. It’s great to see changes, and even though they have shown a lot of positives in the last couple of games they have lost them both.

In James Davies, we are finally seeing the man who has arguably been the best player in Wales with Scarlets for the last few years get his chance on the international stage.

He is a fantastic talent and I don’t know why it hasn’t come sooner – it’s a bit annoying really because he has got everything as a player; great handling and offloading, tackling, jackalling – he ticks every box and I can’t wait to see him run out against Italy.

George North is back in too, and I want to see him with his hands on the ball as much as possible. When I played with him and Alex Cuthbert we always wanted them coming in off nine, ten and 12, getting involved and that’s exactly what George has to do this weekend.

Mike Phillips smashes his way over against Italy

Mike Phillips smashes his way over against Italy.

I always enjoyed playing against Italy, and there was time when it was a pretty decent battle but in the last couple of years they have really gone downhill.

I used to love hearing their anthem, especially away from home, and then taking on the likes of Sergio Parisse who I had some great battles with down the years. We played against each other from under-21 level and we were always having our little fights but there was a professional respect between us.

Now you look at Italy and things are a bit of a mess. It’s a no-win situation playing them now because if you win by 50 points it’s expected, win by less and it’s disappointing, lose to them and it’s the end of the world.

That said, this should be a comfortable day for Wales, with a win by 40 points.

The Mike Phillips Rugby Academy in Dubai is run in conjunction with Just Play. Currently aimed at 3-11-year-olds you can register your child to be coached by Mike and the team by calling 04 348 3869 or visit http://justplay.ae/rugby/

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Six Nations: can Jamie George shine and other burning questions

Alex Broun 8/03/2018
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It’s the penultimate round of the Six Nations and depending on what happens in Dublin and Paris, the winner could be decided by Saturday night.

We take a look at the three matches and try to answer some of the burning questions including if Ireland can wrap it up with a week to spare, how will new Wales captain Taulupe Faletau fare and which version of France will turn up for Le Crunch?

FRANCE v ENGLAND

Can Jamie George take his chance to cement his spot?

Dylan Hartley’s injury has opened the door for British & Irish Lions No2 Jamie George and Eddie Jones will be hoping the Saracens hooker gives his pack a lot more mobility, so absent against the Scots.

Jones will be expecting George to play more as a flanker in open play, while still being solid in the set-piece, and get to the ruck quicker than the bulky Chris Robshaw, Courtney Lawes and Nathan Hughes. Sticking with the same back-row is a gamble by Jones and could easily backfire.

Will Les Bleus fire up for Le Crunch?

There is no game in rugby that France get up for like taking on England. French rugby is at a very low ebb, no one needs to be reminded of that, and with Jacques Brunel deciding not to call on the “Edinburgh eight”, Les Bleus go into the game out of form and under-strength.

But don’t expect a cake walk. France captain Guilhem Guirado, the top tackler in the tournament, will throw himself into everything and the impressive flanker Marco Tauleigne will have a field day at the breakdown if given time and space. It will be close and a home win is not impossible.

Conor Murray has been superb for Ireland

Conor Murray has been superb for Ireland

IRELAND v SCOTLAND

Can Ireland wrap up the Six Nations with a week to spare?

Whatever happens in Dublin, if Ireland beat Scotland by a whisker or a rout, England won’t be able to catch them if they can’t match that result in Paris against France. So if Joe Schmidt’s team get a bonus-point win by scoring four tries, very possible with winger Jacob Stockdale in the form that he is, Eddie Jones’ men must do the same to remain in contention.

The idea of heading to Twickenham next weekend with the title already in the bag, and in the hunt for a Grand Slam, is very appealing to Irish eyes indeed.

Can Scotland win away from home?

Scotland looked formidable against England, they also played very well against France before that. Both of those games were in Edinburgh. When they last played away from home, they were thrashed by Wales, losing by 27 points in week one.

That’s not to say Ireland shouldn’t be concerned. Scotland have a history of upsets against Ireland. The Scots last win in Dublin came in 2010, Ireland’s farewell game at Croke Park and a Triple Crown decider. They walked away with a narrow 23-20 win. Ireland should overlook Scotland at their peril.

Wales new captain, Taulupe Faletau

Wales’ new captain Taulupe Faletau

WALES v ITALY

How will Taulupe Faletau fare as captain?

The big No8 is back from injury and been immediately entrusted with the captaincy. It’s a great honour for the quietly spoken 27-year-old as Wales’ coach Warren Gatland looks to the future.

Gatland has made 10 personnel changes and one positional switch including the return to the starting line-up of George North. Lock Cory Hill is the only survivor in the pack from those who started against Ireland.

Wales clearly already have on eye on the Rugby World Cup next year and this is a good chance for Gatland to see how his fringe players shape up and whether Faletau is a long-term option as skipper, especially with regular captain Sam Warburton’s ongoing fitness issues.

Will Italy ever be competitive?

This is the 19th year since Italy joined the Six Nations and the Azzurri are on track for their 13th wooden spoon.

As attractive as their rugby may be, and they do certainly know how to score tries (seven to date this year), they simply cannot compete with any of the other five nations. Even France with all their issues easily accounted for them 34-17 in week three.

The real problem for coach Conor O’Shea, and the Six Nations, is Italy don’t seem to be getting better. They continue to unearth talent like impressive flanker Sebastian Negri and ful-lback Matteo Minozzi but those rough gems are not enough to truly call it the Six Nations.

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