George North still believes he could feature for Wales at the back end of the Six Nations as he prepares to return from a gruelling knee injury lay-off.

The star back, who has successfully converted from wing to outside centre with Wales, has the most international tries of all current players in the world game.

However, an anterior crucial ligament (ACL) blow has put his career on hold. Sustaining the injury last April forced North to miss the British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa, plus the autumn internationals.

He was not included in Wales' 36-player squad for the Six Nations this week, absent along with several other notable injury casualties, including captain Alun Wyn Jones.

Champions Wales start their Six Nations defence against Ireland in Dublin on February 5, a date which has come much too soon for North to be considered. His short-term priority is getting in shape with his club side, the Ospreys.

"Hopefully I'll be back into some sort of team training next week," North told Stats Perform.

Asked whether there was any hope of him being available to Wales during the championship, North said: "There's two big steps: getting back to training full time with the Ospreys, then playing for the Ospreys with a view to potentially, maybe, catching the end of it.

"But at the moment I'm just focusing on playing back for the Ospreys."

Wales have home games against France and Italy on March 11 and 19 to finish the campaign, and North may be pushing for selection by then.

He has been a key component of the Wales team since making his debut as a teenager, and passed 100 caps during the Six Nations last year.

The 29-year-old has been itching to get back into action, but his absence from the pitch has allowed North some valuable family time.

He married Olympic cyclist Becky James in 2019, and they had a second son, Tomi, in October of last year.

North describes his wife as "a superstar" for helping him through a difficult rehabilitation period, and the former Northampton and Scarlets star is relishing his return to action.

"I take great confidence in knowing a load of rugby boys that I know have had single or double ACLs and they're still playing now, with no issues," North said.

"Luckily, I'm in a good generation where the medical care is advancing so quickly, so I'm benefiting from that. For me now, the focus is just to get back.

North, who is a Land Rover ambassador, is evidently relieved to be finally "on the home straight", as he puts it. He compares his current routine to that of a demanding pre-season, with full contact training still to come.

"I'm finding already this is the most frustrating part," he said, "because obviously you're a lot closer than you were six months ago."

He can only encourage his Wales colleagues from a distance as the Six Nations looms, and with the likes of Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Navidi, Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric also sidelined, it will be a challenging campaign for coach Wayne Pivac. North prefers to look at the positives that might come from this testing time.

"With adversity, you get exciting results," said North, "and the younger boys coming through that we've picked are exciting boys, and I'm excited to see how the boys come together to push on.

"Any Six Nations is tough. Obviously, you want your main team out there the best you can, and injuries are a nightmare for any team."


:: George North is a Land Rover ambassador. Visit landrover.co.uk

England captain Owen Farrell is a doubt for the Six Nations after suffering an injury in training.

The versatile Farrell has not played since November after undergoing ankle surgery he required due to damage done during a 32-15 victory over Australia at Twickenham.

Farrell was due to feature for Saracens in their European Challenge Cup clash with London Irish on Sunday, but the 30-year-old has suffered another setback.

Sarries said in a statement: "Owen was back in full training having recovered from the ankle injury he sustained against Australia during the Autumn internationals. 

"We will have a further update after he sees a specialist early next week."

Farrell's place in the England side has been called into question, but Eddie Jones this week firmly backed his skipper after naming his squad for a Six Nations tournament that the Red Rose start against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5.

"We believe Owen can get into his best form very quickly and we believe he will be right to play against Scotland," the England head coach said.

“We are hopeful he's going to play this weekend. He has got a good training week with us next week and we will know whether he is right to play. We will just have to wait and see how he goes over the next couple of weeks.

"He's the best person to captain the team. Very clearly, he's the best person in my judgement to captain the team.

"If he's fit and eligible for selection, he will captain the team. If he's not then we will make an adjustment to that."

Courtney Lawes would appear to be the most likely player to take over as captain after leading his country in a win over South Africa in the absence of Farrell.

Uncapped duo Michael Lowry and Mack Hansen have been named in Ireland's Six Nations squad, but James Lowe misses out due to injury.

Versatile back Lowry and wing Hansen were on Wednesday included in Andy Farrell's 37-man squad.

Flyer Lowe has been ruled out of the tournament due to a muscle injury, but fly-half Joey Carbery is included despite suffering a fractured elbow last month.

Cian Prendergast will take part in a pre-Six Nations training camp in Portugal as a development player.

Ireland face defending champions Wales in their first match of the tournament at the Aviva Stadium on February 5.

Head coach Farrell said: "In November we challenged the group to get up to speed quickly so that the team could perform at international level.

"The same will apply for this Six Nations campaign, we need to be at our best against Wales on the opening weekend.

"We have a strong squad with competition for places across the board, there is a nice blend of experienced internationals and guys who have had their first taste of this level in the past 12 months.

"The games in November gave us a good foundation to build on and areas where we know we will have to improve. It will be an exciting Championship with so many strong squads and impressive performances across the board during the autumn."

 

Ireland squad:

Backs: Bundee Aki, Robert Baloucoune, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Craig Casey, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Jamison Gibson Park, Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, James Hume, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, Michael Lowry, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Johnny Sexton (captain).

Forwards: Ryan Baird, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Gavin Coombes, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Peter O’Mahony, Tom O’Toole, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Dan Sheehan, Nick Timoney, Kieran Treadwell, Josh van der Flier.

Dan Biggar will captain injury-hit Wales for the first time in the Six Nations in the absence of Alun Wyn Jones.

Jones underwent shoulder surgery after doing damage in a 54-16 thrashing at the hands of New Zealand in October.

The lock will not feature in the Six Nations, so Biggar has the honour of leading his country and the fly-half is set to win his 100th cap if he features in all five matches.

Wayne Pivac has included three uncapped players in his 36-man squad, hooker Dewi Lake getting the nod along with back rows Jac Morgan and James Ratti.

Bradley Roberts and Christ Tshiunza are among five players who are in line to make their Six Nations debuts for the holders.

Jonathan Davies is set to play in his 100th Test when Wales start the defence of their title against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on February 5.

Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, George North and Leigh Halfpenny are among the other players who will not feature in the Six Nations due to injury.

Wales squad:

Forwards:  Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Dewi Lake, Bradley Roberts, Leon Brown, Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Ben Carter, Seb Davies, Will Rowlands, Christ Tshiunza, Taine Basham, Ellis Jenkins, Jac Morgan, Ross Moriarty, James Ratti, Aaron Wainwright.

Backs: Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Dan Biggar (captain), Rhys Priestland, Callum Sheedy, Jonathan Davies, Uilisi Halaholo, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Alex Cuthbert, Louis Rees-Zammit, Johnny McNicholl, Liam Williams.

:  

Eddie Jones has named six uncapped players in England's training camp ahead of the Six Nations.

A group of 36 players will meet in Brighton next Monday for a five-day camp before heading to continue their preparations for the tournament at Pennyhill Park.

Orlando Bailey, Alfie Barbeary, Ollie Chessum, Tommy Freeman, Ollie Hassell-Collins and Luke Northmore have been called up for the first time.

England face Scotland in their first Six Nations match at Murrayfield on February 5.

Red Rose head coach Jones said: "Selecting this squad has been a difficult task, we've got plenty of good young players coming through and some of our more experienced are rediscovering their best form.

"We think this 36 for the first training week reflects a good balance of that experience and up-and-coming talent.

"In Brighton we’ll focus on getting the fundamentals of our game in play right and developing the cohesion of the team.

"The Six Nations is going to be the most competitive we've ever seen. All the countries performed well in the autumn, so we need to be at our best and improve with every game."

Ben Youngs is poised to become England's most-capped player during the tournament, as the scrum-half is just two appearances away from Jason Leonard's record tally of 114.

England squad:

Forwards: Alfie Barbeary, Jamie Blamire, Ollie Chessum, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Joe Heyes, Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marler, Bevan Rodd, Sam Simmonds, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart.

Backs: Mark Atkinson, Orlando Bailey, Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman, George Furbank, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Jonny May, Luke Northmore, Jack Nowell, Raffi Quirke, Harry Randall, Henry Slade, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Ben Youngs.

Former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has agreed to replace Grant Fox as an independent New Zealand selector.

Fox will step down from the role after the Steinlager Series next year, having been a selector for a decade.

Schmidt will take up his position with the All Blacks and assist in selecting the squad for the Rugby Championship after finishing his part-time duties working with the Blues in the Super Rugby Pacific competition.

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster said Schmidt is a shrewd appointment.

Foster said: "Joe will bring a wealth of New Zealand and international experience into the role, so we are delighted to have him join us.

"He will work closely with me and ‘Plums’ [ fellow selector John Plumtree] on selections but his insights will be valuable in other areas as well, so we look forward to having him join us."

The experienced Schmidt said: "It's humbling to be involved and I'm looking forward to learning more about the players and the All Blacks environment and helping out as best I can."

Australia is the "preferred candidate" to host Rugby World Cup 2027 under revamped selection procedures announced Wednesday.

The World Rugby Council's move all but guarantees Australia will host the quadrennial event, but it will not be confirmed until a final vote is held next May. 

World Rugby bestowed the same "preferred" status on England to host the 2025 women's event and selected the United States for "exclusive targeted dialogue" for Rugby World Cup 2031. 

The new process follows the lead of the International Olympic Committee's adoption of a "preferred bid" model that led to Brisbane being awarded the 2032 Summer Olympics earlier this year. 

World Rugby said the system should help accelerate global growth and provide a more flexible approach for future hosts. 

"We must continue to keep up with the fast pace of change in our current world and provide value for our future host nations and unions," World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin said in a release. 

"Flexibility is a necessity to ensure good governance and to have successful sustainable men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups. We will do that while maintaining the personality of our events and our commitment to having players and fans at the heart of everything we do."

Australia last hosted the World Cup in 2003, with the hosts falling to Jonny Wilkinson and England in the final. 

"This is a huge step forward in our ambitions to host Rugby World Cup 2027 and for rebooting the game in Australia," Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said in a release. 

"Throughout this process, we've held the genuine belief the time was right to bring the Rugby World Cup back to our shores. The team at Rugby Australia have worked hard on this for a number of years and today's announcement is great reward for those efforts."

The 2023 event is set to be held in France. 

International players will be permitted to change allegiances, subject to meeting certain criteria, following the approval of the World Rugby Council.

The amendment to the sport's regulations governing national team representation will come into effect from January 1, 2022.

Following extensive discussions, the new process has been applied with the aim of benefitting players and the global competitiveness of rugby.

In order to meet the criteria, a player must either be born in the country to which they wish to transfer, or have a parent or grandparent who was born in that country.

Furthermore, a player hoping to make the switch must stand down from international rugby for a period of three years.

Players may only change union once and each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Regulations Committee in order to preserve integrity.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: "Approval of this landmark regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modelling and consultation across the game. 

"We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game.

"Any player who wishes to transfer will need to have a close and credible link to their new union, namely birth right or parent or grandparent birth right while meeting strong criteria, including a 36-month stand-down period. 

"We believe that this is the fairest way to implement progressive change that puts players first while also having the potential to support a growing, increasingly competitive international men's and women’s game."

A last-gasp penalty from Rhys Priestland denied 14-man Australia a memorable comeback against Wales at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Smarting from a 32-15 defeat to England last time out, the Wallabies were up against it when Rob Valetini's red card and a 10-point deficit left them staring at a potentially heavy defeat.

However, Wales – who survived a scare against Fiji after despite Eroni Sau's red card – were pegged back and it required steely nerves from Priestland beyond the 80-minute mark to secure a 29-28 win.

Australia began in brilliant fashion as Andrew Kellaway collected a grubber and touched down, although Dan Biggar quickly reduced the deficit with a penalty, but the match swung firmly Wales' way when Valetini was shown red for a dangerous high tackle that left Adam Beard bleeding, Biggar then kicking a further three points.

Although James O'Connor's penalty put the 14 men ahead, Kurtley Beale was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on and Ryan Elias scored Wales' first try after good work at the resulting lineout.

O'Connor and Biggar exchanged further penalties and the latter converted after Nick Tomkins intercepted a pass and scored a simple try, with a TMO check allowing it to stand.

Then came the threat of a late surprise. Nic White finished a fine move involving Beale, and although Biggar's boot stretched Wales' lead again, Filipo Daugunu touched down in the corner with O'Connor's kick striking the post to spare the hosts.

Beale's kick then put Australia ahead with two minutes to play, but after winning a penalty inside the visitors' 22 in the 81st minute, Priestland kept his nerve to send Cardiff into raptures.

Marcus Smith nailed a last-gasp penalty as England rounded out their November internationals with a 27-26 win over South Africa in a barnstorming Twickenham Test.

Making only a third Test start, the unflappable Smith made the decisive contribution in a match that looked like getting away from the White Rose after an enterprising performance was mixed with ill-discipline.

England outscored South Africa three tries to one but a penalty count of 18 allowed the Springboks to stay in the game and the visitors were leading until the last minute.

However, the win marks a measure of revenge for Eddie Jones' side, who were beaten in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final the last time these two sides went head-to-head.

England were dominant in the first half and Manu Tuilagi crossed after fine work from Smith opened the play for Henry Slade to make the long pass.

The nerveless Handre Pollard put South Africa on the board prior to Freddie Steward showing great power to bundle over from close range and extend England's lead.

But England's lack of composure at the breakdown meant the lead was only five points at the break, with Pollard nailing three more kicks to Smith's one, and more poor discipline saw South Africa inch ahead thanks to Pollard and Elton Jantjies kicks.

A fine breakaway score from Joe Marchant was answered by an unconverted score from Makazole Mapimpi after Will Stuart was sin-binned, and Frans Steyn kicked another penalty for South Africa.

But Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi saw yellow himself, before another penalty in front of the posts in the final minute allowed Smith to have the final say.


Smith, Steward offer bright glimpse of the future

Smith may only be in the infancy of his international career but he already looks an assured presence at this level.

Full-back Steward put in a fine performance at full-back too. The pair look a very exciting prospect for an England side who played with plenty of attacking intent and backed up a fine win over Australia last time out.

Young front row survives the test but penalties a worry

Much of the narrative ahead of this one was whether the inexperienced duo of hooker Jamie Blamire and prop Bevan Rodd could cope against South Africa's pack.

For the most part they passed the test superbly, but for all their endeavour England were guilty of giving away far too many cheap penalties. On another day, and against a player of the quality of Pollard who hurt them so badly in the World Cup final, it could have been far more costly.

England captain Owen Farrell is a major doubt for the start of the Six Nations after it was revealed he must undergo ankle surgery.

Farrell limped off during England's 32-15 victory over Australia at Twickenham last Saturday.

Saracens on Thursday revealed the England skipper will be out for 10 to 12 weeks, with an operation required.

The versatile Farrell faces a battle to be fit for the Red Rose's opening game of the 2022 Six Nations against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5.

Sarries also confirmed in a fitness bulletin that their England hooker Jamie George will be sidelined for eight to 10 weeks due to the knee damage he sustained in the win over the Wallabies.

The Premiership club were able to offer positive news of Elliot Daly, who is back in full training and available to return after recovering from a leg injury.

England head coach Eddie Jones has named Courtney Lawes as captain for the clash with South Africa on Saturday in the absence of Farrell.

Manu Tuilagi moves to inside centre to fill the void left by Farrell, with Joe Marchant starting on the right wing.

Rookie duo Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire will start in the front row, while hooker Nic Dolly could make his debut off the bench against the world champions.

Rookie duo Bevan Rodd and Jamie Blamire will start in the front row for England when they face world champions South Africa on Saturday.

Blamire, who has scored four tries in five games for his country, gets his chance from the start with Jamie George ruled out due to a knee injury and prop Rodd comes into the team alongside Kyle Sinckler.

Flanker Courtney Lawes captains the Red Rose for the second time in the absence of Owen Farrell, who suffered an ankle injury in the win over Australia last weekend.

Hooker Nic Dolly could make his debut off the bench as Eddie Jones' side go in search of revenge for the 2019 World Cup final defeat.

Joe Marchant gets the nod to start on the right wing, with Manu Tuilagi moving to inside centre.

Prop Joe Marler is among the replacements, having missed the defeat of the 32-16 of the Wallabies after testing positive for coronavirus.

England have not lost to the Springboks at Twickenham since 2014, when they were edged out 31-18.

 

England team: Freddie Steward, Joe Marchant, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Marcus Smith, Ben Youngs; Bevan Rodd, Jamie Blamire, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes (captain), Sam Underhill, Tom Curry.

Replacements: Nic Dolly, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Sam Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt, Raffi Quirke, Max Malins.

Josh Adams has been passed fit to start for Wales and Pete Samu replaces Michael Hooper in the Australia team for Saturday's Test at the at Principality Stadium.

Adams missed the 38-23 defeat of Fiji last weekend due to a calf injury, but the winger will face the Wallabies.

Uilisi Halaholo and Nick Tompkins are Wayne Pivac's centre pairing, while the fit-again Aaron Wainwright is back at number eight.

Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis return to the starting line-up for what will be the final Test of the year for both sides.

Samu comes into the Australia team in the absence of Hooper, who suffered a foot injury in the loss to England at Twickenham last Saturday.

Props Taniela Tupou and Allan Alaalatoa return after missing the defeat to the Red Rose due to concussion, while Tolu Latu starts at hooker and Filipo Daugunu gets the nod on the wing alongside Andrew Kellaway.

Centre Lalakai Foketi is set to make his debut off the bench, with James Slipper taking over as skipper.

 

Wales team: Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins, Uilisi Halaholo, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins (captain), Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Ben Carter, Christ Tshiunza, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Johnny McNicholl.

Australia team: Kurtley Beale, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Filipo Daugunu, James O'Connor, Nic White; James Slipper (captain), Tolu Latu, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini.

Replacements: Folau Fainga'a, Angus Bell, Allan Alaalatoa, Will Skelton, Lachlan Swinton, Tate McDermott, Lalakai Foketi, Tom Wright.

Australia captain Michael Hooper will be absent for the Wallabies' final Autumn Nations Series game against Wales on Saturday. 

Hooper was forced off injured during the second half of Australia's 32-15 loss to England at Twickenham last weekend, which followed a 15-13 defeat to Scotland. 

The Wallabies confirmed on Twitter that scans carried out on the flanker revealed he had suffered a midfoot sprain and would be unavailable to take on Wales at the Principality Stadium. 

The news came after Hooper was revealed to be one of four players in contention for the World Rugby Men's 15s Player of the Year award. He is up against Antoine Dupont, Maro Itoje and Samu Kerevi in the fan vote. 

Australia have only won two of their past 10 away Tests against European teams, losing eight. However, one of those victories came against Wales in Cardiff in 2017. 

England captain Owen Farrell and hooker Jamie George have been ruled out Saturday's Test against South Africa at Twickenham.

Farrell sustained an ankle injury during the 32-15 victory over Australia last Saturday after his Saracens team-mate George was force off with a knee problem.

Eddie Jones has brought Harry Elrington and Jack Singleton into his squad to face the world champions.

Prop Joe Marler will return for international duty on Friday after completing a 10-day isolation following his positive coronavirus test.

Farrell had missed the thrashing of Tonga after the skipper returned a positive COVID-19 test, but started at inside centre in the defeat of the Wallabies.

Jamie Blamire scored his sixth try in only four Tests after coming on to replace George and is poised to start when England do battle with the Springboks.

 

 

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