Six Nations 2021: Wales have Beard to help scratch Grand Slam itch

By Sports Desk March 18, 2021

Wayne Pivac has brought lock Adam Beard back into the starting XV for Saturday's crunch clash with France as Wales aim to seal Grand Slam success.

Wales head to Paris to face the only side who can deny them the Six Nations title, with Les Bleus having two matches still to play.

But France, whose match against Scotland was postponed after a spate of coronavirus positives among Fabien Galthie's squad, saw their own hopes of a Grand Slam evaporate after a last-gasp 23-20 loss to England at Twickenham last weekend.

With ultimate glory still in sight for Wales, who also achieved the feat in 2019, Beard has been recalled in place of Cory Hill for the Stade de France showdown against the unchanged hosts. 

"We are all looking forward to Saturday and to the finale of the Six Nations," said Pivac, whose side beat Italy 48-7 last time out.

"We are four from four but know this will be a great challenge against a very good French side.

"We know we need to step up from our previous performances and we want to end the tournament with a performance we know we are capable of.

"We have had great continuity in selection throughout the tournament and that is shown once again with the selection for Saturday."

Featuring alongside Beard in the second-row will be Alun Wyn Jones, who has his sights set on a record fourth Grand Slam on what will be the 35-year-old's 148th appearance for his country.

While France's starting line-up is the same as against England, there are three changes on the bench, where Damien Aldegheri, Cyril Cazeaux and Cameron Woki have been replaced by Uini Atonio, Swan Rebbadj and Arthur Vincent.

France: Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Damian Penaud; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Romain Taofifenua, Paul Willemse, Dylan Cretin, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Uini Antonio, Swan Rebbadj, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Romain Ntamack, Arthur Vincent.

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

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Tomos Williams, Callum Sheedy, Willis Halaholo.

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    Dan Biggar fears a "huge step backwards" if there are no crowds allowed at matches moving into 2022.

    While crowds at sporting events have yet to be capped in England, matches in Wales and Scotland are now limited when it comes to capacity, amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

    Wales' first minister Mark Drakeford has not put any timescale on when the restrictions will be lifted, with the Six Nations set to start on February 5.

    Scotland will formally review their measures on January 11, while France – where over 18,000 people were in hospital with COVID-19 as of December 30 – has imposed restrictions on travellers from the United Kingdom, with their government insisting that all sportspeople must be fully vaccinated by mid-January in order to enter the country.

    Italy, likewise, is experiencing unprecedented levels of new recorded cases of the virus as the Omicron variant spreads across Europe.

    But Wales fly-half Biggar believes banning spectators would be a frustrating move that will only damage the game.

    "It would be a huge, huge step backwards if there are no crowds moving forwards for clubs and the Six Nations which is obviously such a showpiece event," he told reporters.

    "You saw it in the autumn, getting crowds back. Everyone coming to games now has to have a passport, they'll be double or triple-jabbed, and it's an outdoor event so I don't see why they wouldn't be allowed in.

    "As long as it's safe, that's the most important thing.

    "I hope for an event like the Six Nations and for the game up and down the UK moving forward we get some sort of sensible outcome.

    "As long as everyone is safe and jabbed then I think it makes sense to keep crowds in. I think you would have seen a different [Northampton against Harlequins] game if the stadium had been completely empty.

    "We played a lot of games with no crowds but if you look at the first handful of games they almost felt like training games.

    "It felt like it did not really matter whether you won or lost because it felt like a training match and like the intensity was knocked out of it. You lose any advantage of playing at home and bits and pieces like that.

    "I think it would be a huge step backwards if crowds were to go. I think the rest of the lads in Wales are pretty frustrated with it. That's normal frustration isn't it?

    "We are probably getting into different things with politics now but I think everything should be aligned."

    Wales, the defending Six Nations champions, start their campaign against Ireland on February 5, with their first home game scheduled for February 12, against Scotland.

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    Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

    To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

    Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

    Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

    Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

    Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

    Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

    No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

    The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

    Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

    He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

    Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

    Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

    Another year, more records for Brady

    At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

    England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

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    Phillips, 25, is a former Wales Under-20 international who had trained with Wayne Pivac's senior squad.

    The incident occurred on December 5 in Swansea, and Phillips said doctors were unable to save his leg.

    South Wales Police said at the time that two motorbikes collided.

    Phillips posted a picture to Instagram of himself smiling in a wheelchair and said support in the past fortnight had been "truly overwhelming" and his "spirits are high".

    Phillips offered "heartfelt thanks" to those who helped at the scene of the collision and those at Morriston Hospital in Swansea who helped him afterwards.

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    Phillips said donations to a fund set up to support his recovery would help both with his rehabilitation and "hopefully getting a prosthetic leg which will enable me to experience new opportunities".

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