Six Nations: Jonathan Davies calls on Wales to make lightning start against Italy

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Wales have three wins from three in the Six Nations.

Captain Jonathan Davies has stressed the importance of Wales making a fast start in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy.

And victory in his first game as Wales skipper would extend 60th birthday celebrations for Davies’ father.

Davies’ parents watched Wales beat France in Paris last week before travelling through Switzerland on the Glacier Express, and then heading to Rome.

“My dad was 60 on Tuesday, so they went from Paris through Switzerland on the Glacier Express,” Davies said. “I think they have had a great week, mum and dad.

“They have been a massive part of where I am today, so to have my family and loved ones out here is great.”

Davies leads a side showing 10 changes from the France game as Wales protect a 12-match unbeaten record against Italy.

The Azzurri, meanwhile, have not won a Six Nations Test on home soil since 2013, while their last victory in the tournament came four years ago.

Davies added: “It is important we start well. We can’t give Italy opportunities to get into the game.

“We are looking to start fast and keep going. The week has been great, and the boys are excited.

Wales are currently on a 12-match unbeaten run against Italy.

Wales are currently on a 12-match unbeaten run against Italy.

“They (Italy) always come out pretty fast, so it is about managing that start.

“It is about keeping to what we have worked on over the last few weeks, build momentum and pressure, and hopefully that hard work we put in at the start will pay off.”

A Wales win would make it 11 in a row against all opponents, equalling their all-time record run set between 1907 and 1910.

And Davies will be at the helm this weekend after taking over leadership duties from lock Alun Wyn Jones, who is among Wales’ replacements at Stadio Olimpico.

“It is a huge honour, but any time you put on the red jersey of Wales it is an honour in itself,” Davies said.

“There is added responsibility, but it is something I am looking forward to. I am very fortunate with the players we have – they know the standards needed.

“For me, it is making sure boys are in a good frame of mind, and know what we want to achieve.”

Wales have arrived in Rome straight from a training camp on the Cote d’Azur, and there are opportunities for several players to make an impact at the start of World Cup year.

Wasps flanker Thomas Young and Leicester wing Jonah Holmes both make Six Nations debuts, with Young emulating his father – former Wales prop Dai Young – in representing Wales on the tournament’s stage.

Centre Owen Watkin, scrum-half Aled Davies and flanker Aaron Wainwright are also among those looking to take a chance handed them by Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

“We had 31 players in Nice, so it is giving everyone an opportunity to show what they have,” Davies said.

“Looking at last year, there were a similar amount of changes, and so there is that pressure and responsibility of the group who will play here to make sure we deliver a performance to build momentum after last week.”

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Six Nations: Rory Best admits Devin Toner ankle injury a 'massive' blow to Ireland

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Devin Toner (c).

Rory Best has admitted losing Devin Toner to an ankle injury for the rest of the Six Nations is a “massive” blow to Ireland.

Leinster lock Toner has undergone ankle surgery for the issue suffered in Ireland’s 32-20 loss to England last weekend and will be sidelined for two months.

The dependable second-row has so far only missed six Test matches since Joe Schmidt took charge of Ireland in 2013, featuring more regularly than any other player under the Kiwi’s stewardship.

Ireland’s defence of their 2018 title took a hefty hit with that punishing loss to England in Dublin, and hooker Best has admitted Toner’s extended absence is another dent.

“Look it’s massive, he’s been a big part of what we’ve created here over the last while,” said Best.

“He’s a great player, and over the last 18 months, two years, he’s probably played some of the best Rugby of his career.

“So to lose a player like that, and the intellectual property he brings around the lineout.

“You all know him, the calmness he has is a great thing to have around the team environment. So he’ll be a loss, as any great player is.”

Toner is Ireland’s third frontline lock injury in this tournament, with British and Irish Lion Iain Henderson missing with a finger complaint and Munster powerhouse Tadhg Beirne out with knee trouble.

Ireland’s much-vaunted strength in depth at lock has taken something of hammering, though the fast-rising James Ryan remains in situ and will be partnered in Scotland on Saturday by Quinn Roux.

Connacht’s Roux will share the burden of calling Ireland’s lineouts at Murrayfield, while provincial team-mate Ultan Dillane can offer pace and power on the ball from the bench.

“When these things happen it gives an opportunity to somebody else,” said Best.

“I thought Quinn Roux was great when he came on against England, he showed a lot of physicality, he’s been playing very well for Connacht.

“This is a massive opportunity for him, and also a big opportunity for James Ryan to step up, and also lead in that second-row.”

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Ireland have never considered themselves the world's best team, says Jacob Stockdale

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Jacob Stockdale says Ireland remain a work in progress.

Jacob Stockdale has insisted Ireland have never considered themselves the world’s best Test team.

The Ulster wing has admitted he never wants to be on the receiving end of another hiding like England dished out to Joe Schmidt’s men in Dublin last weekend.

Stockdale had enjoyed a near-fairytale Test career until Saturday’s 32-20 Six Nations loss to England, where the stunning form that carried Ireland to last year’s Grand Slam and a victory over New Zealand came to an abrupt halt.

Now the 22-year-old wing has been at pains to point out the All Blacks installed Ireland as the world’s best team following the 16-9 November victory – and not anyone in head coach Schmidt’s camp.

Asked if there would be merit in reiterating that Ireland never branded themselves the world’s best, Stockdale replied: “Yes exactly; look we know we’re a good side and we want to make sure we don’t let ourselves down on the pitch.

“But we know we’re not the finished product, and I don’t think anybody here has ever claimed us to be.

“So we’re still trying to work and still trying to improve. You learn probably more from losing than you do winning. For me personally that’s a massive point – I don’t want that to ever happen again.

“So I’m going to work twice as hard to make sure it doesn’t. So there’s a lot to learn from last week and a lot to be excited about going forward.”

Wily New Zealand coach Steve Hansen hailed Ireland as the world’s best team after Schmidt’s men toppled the back-to-back world champion All Blacks in Dublin in the autumn.

Schmidt quickly batted aside that assertion, with his side still sat second in World Rugby’s official rankings – well aware Hansen was simply trying to shift some pressure in Ireland’s direction.

Stockdale assumed responsibility for Elliot Daly’s try in the England loss, where he fumbled a kick in behind to allow the Wasps flier to dot down.

The Lisburn native admitted to being stung by the defeat, but pledged that Ireland will refocus quickly – starting with Saturday’s trip to Murrayfield to face Scotland.

Stockdale has made a habit of picking off wide passes for interception tries, but admitted he can ill afford to take any risks given Scotland fly-half Finn Russell’s playmaking talents.

“It’s a tough one to analyse yourself when you’ve lost and you feel like nothing you did was good enough,” said Stockdale.

“Daly’s try where I tried to collect it and it bounced out of my hands, I was really disappointed with that. I felt like I could have collected it and obviously stopped that try.

“Outside of that I wouldn’t say I was happy with my performance but I thought there was a lot of good with what I did.

“I think once you start going looking for intercepts it can be a pretty dangerous game, because Finn Russell is a very smart player, he’s very intuitive.

“He’s definitely the kind of player that if he sees you going for it, he’ll let you think you’re going to have it, and then he’ll put the ball past you, or in behind you.

“You just can’t go chasing intercepts, and you just have to, hopefully, grab the one that becomes available throughout the game.

“For me it’s just about making sure that I defend well, connect with the backline and the forwards around me. And then if the opportunity arises then I definitely plan on taking it.”

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