Wasps flanker Thomas Young could make Six Nations debut for Wales in Italy clash

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Thomas Young is shining in the Premiership with Wasps this season.

Thomas Young looks set to make his Six Nations debut for Wales in Saturday’s clash against Italy.

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.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland is due to name his team on Thursday ahead of departure for Rome.

Young, son of Wasps rugby director and former Wales prop Dai Young, has been among the 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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Mako Vunipola leads our star players from opening weekend of Six Nations action

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England and Wales lit up the first weekend of the Six Nations with blistering wins away.

Elsewhere, Scotland survived a late barrage against Italy to secure victory at Murrayfield.

Here, we pick out the top performers from the weekend’s action.

MAKO VUNIPOLA (England)

Hands down the best player of the weekend. The Saracens man purred with confidence and made a staggering 27 tackles at the Aviva Stadium. For all the stars on show in the Irish capital, Vunipola shone brightest with a stellar defensive display. There was so much impact in those tackles and his hard carries also put Ireland on the back foot throughout the contest. With little game time coming into the fixture, he delivered brilliantly against Tadhg Furlong and further underlined why he is one of England’s most important players.

HENRY SLADE (England)

A joy to watch. The Exeter man produced his best performance in an England shirt to date, with solid decision making on the ball and some tight defensive work at the heart of his blistering display. The 25-year-old outpaced the Ireland backs for his first try and then intercepted Johnny Sexton’s forced pass to extend the scoreboard late in the game. Slade’s ability to stretch the defence with his accurate passing and his deft kicks take the pressure of Owen Farrell and will be vital in tough fixtures that lie ahead against Wales and Scotland.

BLAIR KINGHORN (Scotland)

The Edinburgh full-back started at No11 in the absence of the injured Sean Maitland and capped off a fine performance with a hat-trick. In fact, he became the first Scotland player to score a treble in the championship since Iwan Tukalo against Ireland in 1989. His stunning showing creates a selection headache for boss Gregor Townsend who will have Maitland to call upon when he returns from a hamstring injury next week. But judging by Kinghorn’s performance in loose and open place it will be hard to drop him, especially with his pace, game management skills, exceptional footwork and overall consistency in attack and defence.

JUSTIN TIPURIC (Wales)

The Ospreys man produced another totemic display to halt an imposing French defence and help his side to a late victory. Tipuric showed commitment to put pressure on Camille Lopez when he attempted a snap drop goal attempt on 68 minutes. He was a menace at line-out time, denying Les Bleus’ from building any form of attacking platform. The 29-year-old finished the game with 18 tackles, but even that astonishing statistic does not do justice to the overall impact he brings to Warren Gatland’s side as well as adding serious balance to a superb back-row.

LOUIS PICAMOLES (France)

France’s early flourish may be one of the few positives when Jacques Brunel and his management team review the video on Monday, but the other no doubt was the performance of Picamoles. The 32-year-old made 10 tackles and 14 carries in a virtuous display at Stade de France. He was a major part of the Les Bleus’ side as he attempted to cut down the impact of Wales’ forwards. If France can build on their first half performance against Wales then they could find that consistency needed to excel in a vital World Cup year.

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Six Nations 2019: Breaking down the good and bad points for all six sides

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England were hugely impressive in victory against Ireland last weekend.

England and Wales lit up the first weekend of the Six Nations with blistering wins away.

Elsewhere, Scotland survived a late barrage against Italy to secure victory at Murrayfield.

Here, we break down the good and bad points from the weekend’s action.

ENGLAND

One good: Their energy, chasing game, physicality, consistency and decision-making all paid off in a commanding win over Ireland. Henry Slade and Mako Vunipola led the way for perhaps England’s best display under Eddie Jones. Could this be the turning point for the Red Rose ahead of September’s World Cup?

One bad: Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler were both forced off in the second half with injuries. Although the extent of their injuries is not confirmed, both players will be key to Jones’ title prospects as the weeks progress.

IRELAND

One good: It’s tough to find many positives after falling to such a comprehensive defeat to England. A sole positive could be the return of Rob Kearney to full-back for next weekend’s trip to Scotland – his positioning and experience will be vital in Murrayfield.

One bad: The Men in Green were bullied in the physical stakes, inaccurate and limited in their attacking exploits. Their inconsistency late in the contest is a serious reality check in a critical World Cup year. Serious improvements will be needed next Saturday.

WALES

One good: Although the game was littered with errors, Wales’ win came from their ability to seize on French mistakes. George North may milk the headlines for his two tries, but it was Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi who set the tone in the engine room.

One bad: Being slow out of the blocks for the first 40 minutes – in which they shipped 16 points – will disappoint Warren Gatland. A lack of control at 9 and 10 will also be a concern, with the relationship between Gareth Anscombe and Tomos Williams sure to blossom if Gatland opts for the same selection against Italy or England.

FRANCE

One good: A bright start will fill Jacques Brunel and his management team with some level of confidence ahead of their trip to face England at Twickenham. Les Bleus looked somewhere close to their best in tough conditions,  with some sharp attacking play in the first half, but could not keep up the momentum after the break.

One bad: The defeat raises another question about France’s ability to hold out for the full 80 minutes. Leading for 70 minutes, a moment of madness from lock Sebastien Vahaamahina allowed Wales to race in for a late try and go on to secure the win.

SCOTLAND

One good: The Scots showed dominance and sharp decision making in the first hour to score five tries and lead 33-3. Hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn looked potent, becoming the first Scotland player to score a Six Nations hat-trick since 1989.

One bad: Gregor Townsend will be disappointed with the complacency shown in the closing stages of the game, with Italy crossing for three tries following Simon Berghan’s yellow card on 70 minutes.

ITALY

One good: Scored 17 points in the final 10 minutes to take the gloss off what looked like an otherwise commanding win for the Scots. If Italy can replicate that late form from Murrayfield then they could be in with a shout of a first Six Nations win in four years.

One bad: It is a work in progress to get the structures right for the Azzurri, but some loose passing and poor tackle reads makes it hard to see Conor O’Shea’s outfit to progress any time soon.

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