Jonathan Davies set to lead Wales against Italy in Rome

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Jonathan Davies is expected to captain Wales in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy.

Regular skipper Alun Wyn Jones is set to be on the bench in a much-changed Wales team.

Head coach Warren Gatland will name his line-up on Thursday, with Wasps flanker Thomas Young poised to make his Six Nations debut in Rome.

The 26-year-old Wasps flanker, whose two previous caps were gained on tour against Tonga and Samoa in 2017, could make Wales’ matchday 23 following last week’s fightback victory over France.

Wales have a 31-man playing group at their Nice training base, and the likes of Young and Leicester back Jonah Holmes – a Test debutant earlier this season – might be involved in Rome.

The 24-19 win against France last Friday – secured after wiping out a 16-point interval deficit – was Wales’ 10th successive victory.

And if they beat Italy for a 13th time on the bounce, it will equal Wales’ all-time unbeaten record of 11 Tests set between 1907 and 1910.

Young, son of Wasps Rugby director and former Wales prop Dai Young, has been among the Gallagher Premiership’s strongest performers this season.

And the Stadio Olimpico encounter is likely to offer him an opportunity of leaving an impression early in World Cup year.

“He has been a consistent player,” Wales assistant coach and forwards specialist Robin McBryde said.

“He is a consistent performer for Wasps every week. He’s playing in a league where there are big men week-in, week-out, and the intensity is there.

“He’s had several man-of-the-match awards. In defence he makes intelligent decisions of when to compete for the ball, and in attack he links up with the backs. He is doing that here as well.

“Our training is a bit different to club level – the intensity and metres covered is up – but he has dealt with it.

“It is an opportunity for anyone down here to stake a claim and make a name for themselves. If anyone gets the opportunity, they have to take it and make the most.”

Wales again trained in glorious Cote d’Azur sunshine on Tuesday, and McBryde added: “It’s very reminiscent of Llandudno, so I feel at home!

“It has been good to recuperate after a tough match last Friday night. You couldn’t ask for better surroundings.

“But we have to be aware not to slip into holiday mode. We’ve got some hard work to do before Italy.

“Everybody realises the importance for the first two games and the momentum it can create by getting positive results.

“We can’t rest on our laurels. Italy are a tough nut to crack, and we have areas to improve on from last Friday.”

Gatland is keeping selection cards close to his chest, but it would be no surprise to see changes being made in the starting XV and on the replacements’ bench.

“Italy will be buoyed by the last 15 minutes when they came back strongly against Scotland (last Saturday),” McBryde said. “There wasn’t a lot in the game.

“They showed how dangerous they can be in attack against Scotland. They are comfortable at lineout time, so it will be a big test for us.”

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West Asia Premiership: Dubai Exiles relishing daunting Bahrain trip, says Stephen Ferguson

Matt Jones 30/01/2019
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Stephen Ferguson and Dubai Exiles are back on the charge as they search to secure a play-off berth.

Revitalised Dubai Exiles are heading into the lion’s den of Bahrain this weekend intent on “keeping the season alive” amid a resurgence in fortune.

Jacques Benade’s men leaped back into the top four last weekend with a gritty 32-27 triumph in the Dubai derby with Hurricanes at an emotionally-charged Sevens Stadium.

With West Asia Premiership dreams dashed a long time ago in light of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Harlequins being streets ahead of the rest this season, Exiles, Jebel Ali Dragons and Canes have long been locked into a battle to make the end of season play-offs for the West Asia Cup – which has become a coveted major trophy in the last three years.

Victory over their famous foes a week ago saw Exiles leapfrog Canes and Dragons into third spot, with just four points separating the trio.

Louie Tonkin’s Bahrain are on the cusp of claiming the title as they sit nine points ahead of second-placed Quins, but Exiles’ all-action Northern Irish lock Stephen Ferguson is relishing his side’s trip west.

Jacques Benade has seen his side decimated by injuries this term.

Jacques Benade has seen his side decimated by injuries this term.

“As you know, Louie has his boys well drilled and Bahrain at home are class,” said Ferguson, whose side have been back to something approaching their best in recent weeks after a season plagued by crippling injuries.

“The boys are excited to get over there and play in front of the biggest crowd of the season. We have some big boys back and are confident going over there that we can take something from the game.

“We always back ourselves and the last month we have been back playing rugby in patches like the days of old. If we can play 60-80 minutes of rugby like that then we’d be laughing.

“All that matters now is staying in the top four in both competitions and keeping the season alive with loads of silverware up for grabs.”

Exiles have won three of their last four games and even scored a shed load of points in a 57-31 defeat to Quins on January 11.

They came through a tough test last week against Mike Wernham’s Canes – with both sets of players paying tribute to Lourens Oberholzer, one of the Canes’ founding members in 1999, who had passed away at the end of January.

Ferguson added: “Last week was a cracker at The Sevens, the kids from the HSBC youth tournament stayed and the crowd was unreal, it was emotional as a Canes member recently passed and we had a minute’s silence. A great touch from all.

“The game was tough but someone had to win, another 10 minutes and it might have gone the other way. All credit to Canes, some thumping tackles and great tries scored.”

Dubai Exiles beat Abu Dhabi Harlequins to win the UAE Premiership final last term; they also won the Dubai Sevens.

Dubai Exiles beat Abu Dhabi Harlequins to win the UAE Premiership final last term; they also won the Dubai Sevens.

Despite the fact his side have one hand on the Premiership trophy – Bahrain would be crowned champions with any sort of win against their visitors and anything other than a Quins victory at Dubai Eagles – Tonkin is not planning a victory parade.

“We need to win the next two games. It’s very important for us to secure first place so we can secure home play-off matches,” said the Welshman.

The two sides played out a ferocious contest last March when Tonkin’s side survived a late fightback from Benade’s men to clinch the West Asia Cup – a maiden trophy in eight years – with a 47-25 triumph.

“It was a great game and a great occasion for Bahrain RFC – but speaking honestly everyone knows that they didn’t come to us that day with a full team which was disappointing,” added Tonkin. “We know they are a much stronger prospect this week.”

In other games, Quins will realistically look to cement runners-up spot and a home cup semi at Eagles, while Dragons and Canes meet in an intriguing encounter at The Sevens – both sides need victory to enhance their chances of finishing in the top four.

Fixtures

Thursday

20:00 Dubai Hurricanes v Jebel Ali Dragons

Friday

17:00 Bahrain v Dubai Exiles

19:00 Dubai Eagles v Abu Dhabi Harlequins

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Wales hand Tomos Williams debut for Six Nations opener against France

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Tomos Williams

Tomos Williams will make his Six Nations debut for Wales in Friday’s tournament opener against France.

The Cardiff Blues scrum-half, who featured in six Tests last year, has been preferred to Gareth Davies for the game in Paris.

Head coach Warren Gatland has announced two other changes from the side who beat South Africa in November, with Scarlets prop Rob Evans and Blues flanker Josh Navidi both gaining call-ups.

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