Didier Deschamps believes Ousmane Dembele can still become a more consistent contributor after recalling the forward for the start of France's World Cup qualifying campaign. 

Dembele has not played an international game since November 2018, when he came on as a substitute in a 2-0 Nations League defeat to the Netherlands. 

However, his form this season for Barcelona has led to the 23-year-old being included in Les Bleus’ squad for games against Group D rivals Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina 

Deschamps handed the player his full debut back in September 2016 and, after injuries wiped out the vast majority of the 2019-20 season, is pleased to see Dembele back performing again. 

Still, the France boss sees further room for improvement, pinpointing the need to have an even greater impact on games.

"He is a player who showed his qualities very early. He is still young," Deschamps told the media on Monday. 

"If we haven't seen him for a while, it's because he's not been spared from injuries. By the time he recovered he was injured again. 

"Now he is able to play again, he is able to make the difference and score goals. He could score more and be more effective. 

"It is not a question of changing him. He has been playing at the highest level for a long time. He is young. It would be good for him, for his club and for us if he could become more efficient.  

"Of course, this is something that needs to be worked on. As you mature, you may make better choices. All forwards have moments when they are less efficient than others."

Dembele has scored nine goals and provided four assists for Barca in all competitions this season, his fourth at Camp Nou.  

His tally of 78 shots is already his highest for a campaign since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, with his conversion rate sitting at 11.54 per cent.   

He barely featured last term but was more clinical in 2018-19, when he had 14 goals and eight assists in 42 appearances. That season, he converted shots at a rate of 20.29 per cent, with 45.45 per cent success from 'big chances', where Opta expects a player to score.  

Dembele has had 15 'big chances' and created a further seven under Ronald Koeman for Barca, who made it five wins on the spin in LaLiga at the weekend with a 6-1 thrashing of Real Sociedad, in which the Frenchman one of the goals.  

"Ousmane has and always had this ability to create chances and make the difference. He is not always decisive in the area. That's where it's most difficult," Deschamps continued.  

"The important thing is his ability to make the difference.  Yes, he can be more consistent from the beginning to the end of the game. 

"I'm not saying he can't progress or improve. I prefer to look at the qualities anyway. They all have little flaws that can be erased with time.   

"Sometimes they don't, but that doesn't stop them from being good. We are talking about a player who has been at the top level for several years and he is still very young."

France coach Fabien Galthie accused Wales' players of making sure Paul Willemse was sent off in Saturday's dramatic Six Nations encounter and urged the authorities not to impose a heavy sanction on the second-rower.

Wales were denied a famous Grand Slam by a last-gasp Brice Dulin try as Les Bleus kept their own championship hopes alive with a breathless 32-30 triumph in Paris.

That was despite France having to play out the final 12 minutes with 14 men after referee Luke Pearce judged Willemse made contact with the eyes of Wyn Jones.

Galthie, speaking through a translator at the post-match news conference, said: "If you watch the Wales players, it feels like they specialise in making sure opponents get red cards.

"Their body language is quite clear, I hope the referees are going to take that into consideration. I don't think he deserves a sanction.

"If you watch the video there is clearly no contact, or if there is it's clearly very limited. It's absolutely not voluntary. I believe we need to share this, I don't see why he should be sanctioned."

Oppositive number Wayne Pivac was keen not to be drawn into a back-and-forth over the incident.

"I don't really have any comment to that," said Pivac. "The match officials are running the game and they have plenty of replays.

"As you saw, it went on for some time. They went through their process and that's what the officials are there to do."

While it was heartbreak in the French capital for Wales, the hosts still have a rearranged fixture against Scotland to play.

To deny Wales the trophy, Galthie's men have to secure a bonus-point win over Scotland and triumph by at least 21 points.

Gael Fickou hopes the best is still to come for France in this year's tournament.

"The pinnacle? I hope it will be next week," the versatile centre said. "Scotland have a great team who are playing very well. We know it will be a complicated match.

"But we will do it step by step. Already, we must try to win it. And then we'll see what happens. We know it will be difficult, but we believe in it."

For Pivac, coming so close to a Grand Slam but falling short left the New Zealander feeling "numb".

"[It's] just desperately frustrating. The players got so close. We have to be proud of them," Pivac added.

"It's quite a numb feeling. The boys had put in such a fantastic effort, the game went pretty much to plan in the first half.

"We were urging them on, but to go from a potential Grand Slam to waiting another six days is frustrating."

So near and yet so far for Wales, who saw a Six Nations Grand Slam slip from their grasp when France conjured up a magical finish in Paris to keep their tournament hopes alive.

Les Bleus looked dead and buried when they trailed 30-20 in the second half, only to produce a late, late show that means the identity of the 2021 champions remains unknown, at least for a few more days.

Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise that a crazy contest in the French capital ended in such astonishing fashion, though.

The two teams had played the game as if it was on fast forward in the opening quarter, sharing four tries during a frenetic first half that finished all-square, allowing all – playing and watching – to draw breath.

Wales, however, seized control after the break, Josh Adams' try – along with the boot of Dan Biggar – helping establish a double-digit lead. Another Six Nations sweep seemed a sure-fire certainty when Paul Willemse was sent off, the lock punished for making contact with an opponent's eyes.

The dismissal left France down to 13 at the time, prop Mohammed Haouas already sitting watching from the sidelines while spending 10 minutes in the sin bin.

Yet rather than accept the inevitable, the red card instead galvanised Les Bleus. As Wales became the team to lose their discipline, leading to yellow cards for Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams, the hosts worked up a head of steam to come roaring back.

Charles Ollivon's converted try cut the gap to three and, on the final play with the clock having ticked beyond the 80th minute, France retained and recycled possession long enough to eventually create space out wide for Brice Dulin to dart over, in the process breaking Wales' hearts.

A championship devoid of fans due to the coronavirus pandemic had served up a visual treat for all those watching on from afar.

"I thought we were pretty good for 80 minutes, it was just those dying seconds," Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones told BBC Sport.

"Our ill-discipline probably brought a lot of pressure on. Credit to France for the way they played in the last 15 minutes, but when we look back at it, probably the ill-discipline brought all that pressure on, as well as good French play."

Wyn Jones knows what it is like to secure Grand Slam glory, having done so three times previously in his international career. Now he has experienced the disappointment of coming up just short. A game that was under control got out of hand, a situation that is never good to be in when France are the opponents.

The second-rower completed all 22 attempted tackles in the game, making him the first player with 20 or more in a Six Nations match this year with a 100 per cent success rate. He so nearly had the perfect outcome, too.

"We have been privileged to get on with the tournament and get a triple crown, but there was obviously more at stake today," he added.

They still may be crowned winners yet, with France – who scored four tries against Wales for the first time in the Six Nations – needing another bonus-point triumph in their rearranged game against Scotland to have a chance of leapfrogging into top spot.

Wales will watch on with great interest but, whatever the outcome at Murrayfield, they have come a long way in the campaign, one that followed on from a tough 2020 which included a six-Test losing streak, leaving coach Wayne Pivac under pressure.

Still, that will be little comfort in the immediate aftermath. A Grand Slam was seemingly theirs, only for Dulin to touch down and hand the Welsh with a result that will be tough to stomach.

Raphael Ibanez paid tribute to France's unbreakable belief after they kept their hopes of Six Nations glory alive with a last-gasp win over Wales.

French hopes of a comeback victory appeared to have been dashed when they had lock Paul Willemse sent off and a try chalked off in one fell swoop by the TMO with 67 minutes gone.

That left Fabien Galthie's side a man down and 10 points behind a Wales side who looked destined to complete a Grand Slam in Paris.

However, the visitors lost both Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams to the sin bin in quick succession before Charles Ollivon crossed the line and Romain Ntamack converted to reduce the deficit to three.

And Brice Dulin broke Welsh hearts in the 82nd minute as he made the hosts' extra man tell, touching down after the ball had been worked quickly to the left.

Reflecting on the drama, team manager Ibanez told the BBC: "It was an incredible finish. Mixed emotions. It was a fantastic battle for the whole game and obviously, we got the win but it's just incredible for the boys, a massive effort.

"At times during the game, we were under massive pressure. Wales scored their opportunities, we missed a few opportunities, made a few mistakes during the game.

"But in the end what really matters in sport is just to believe and that's what the boys did until the end thanks to magnificent tries."

Asked if he thought France's hopes of winning had gone when Willemse was dismissed, Ibanez heaped further praise on the players' character.

He added: "Yeah, but you still have to believe in yourself when you start the game of rugby. 

"The intensity, the battle was just immense. Credit to Wales, they fought until the end, but the boys showed so much character. 

"I think, in the end, it's going to give a lot of confidence to the boys for the next game."

That next game pits France against Scotland at Stade de France on Friday, with the hosts knowing that a bonus-point win by a margin of 21 points would see them crowned champions.

On refocusing for that challenge, Ibanez said: "It's pretty simple. We're still in it and the next game will define our Six Nations. 

"We still have a chance to win the Six Nations so let's celebrate tonight in the changing room and then tomorrow we are going to regroup and work hard as we did this week."

Brice Dulin scored a try with the final play after the 80-minute mark to earn France a thrilling 32-30 victory over Wales at the Stade de France that denied their opponents a Grand Slam and keeps their own Six Nations title hopes alive.

Wales led 30-20 with 10 minutes to play in Paris and had a one-man advantage after Paul Willemse was sent off, but Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams were both sin-binned in quick succession and that sparked a remarkable turnaround.

Dulin touched down in the 82nd minute to secure a victory that leaves France needing another bonus-point win at home to Scotland next Friday – a fixture pushed back due to a coronavirus outbreak in their camp – to finish above Wales.

The incredible late drama followed an equally lively first half in which four tries were shared, but Wales' failure to see out the job means their fate is no longer in their own hands.

Zinedine Zidane is baffled by Karim Benzema's continued absence from the France squad after the striker scored twice to help Real Madrid record a 3-1 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday.  

The Frenchman managed a brace inside the opening 30 minutes to put Los Blancos 2-0 up, then turned provider for Marco Asensio's late third after Santi Mina had pulled one back for the hosts.  

Benzema has scored in each of his last six games in all competitions (nine goals), equalling his best scoring streak for Madrid (also six games between January and February 2016). 

It was his fifth LaLiga brace of the season, just one behind the six he achieved in 2011-12. 

Benzema has not represented his country since 2015 after being investigated in relation to an alleged attempt to blackmail his international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.  

"For people who like football, seeing Karim is a luxury because we enjoy him and his team-mates do too," Zidane told a media conference.

"How can we understand why Karim doesn't go with the national team? There are many who don't understand it. 

"But it's better for me as the coach of Madrid that he stays. He has done a great job for us." 

The result moved Madrid above Barcelona into second, three points behind Atleti, but Diego Simeone's men can restore the six-point advantage over their neighbours if they overcome Deportivo Alaves on Sunday. 

Madrid's unbeaten LaLiga away run now stands at 10 games – the first time they have achieved this since May 2016 when they went 11 without defeat on the road – and Zidane was pleased with how his side navigated a potentially tricky fixture.   

"It's not easy. You can't think you're going to score four, five or six goals," he added. 

"It's getting more and more complicated. In the end, I'll stick with the game we played, suffering in the second half but controlling the game. There was a rival and we controlled them well. We deserved the triumph.  

"We have to continue with what we are doing. We are in a good moment and we enter the final stretch where everything is played." 

Madrid host Eibar in LaLiga on April 3 following the international break.

Wales need a victory against France in Paris to reclaim the Six Nations crown, and complete a Grand Slam in the process.

Wayne Pivac's team have enjoyed a sensational turnaround in fortunes this year and last week's 48-7 thrashing of lowly Italy made it four wins from four.

With France subsequently losing to England at Twickenham, Wales will wrap up the title with a win on Saturday, while even a losing bonus point could be enough, though that may still leave the door open for Les Bleus to snatch glory should they win their postponed fixture against Scotland.

England are well out of the race, but their captain Owen Farrell is eyeing up a points landmark when the 2020 champions take on Ireland in Dublin.

Scotland, meanwhile, round off what will ultimately go down as a frustrating campaign against Italy.

We use Opta data to preview the round-five, Super Saturday encounters.

 

SCOTLAND V ITALY

FORM

Scotland have won their last five Six Nations games against Italy – the previous 10 clashes between the sides had seen them share five wins each.

Italy have lost 52 of 54 away games in the Six Nations, with their only two victories on the road coming in Scotland in 2007 and 2015.

That victory at Murrayfield in 2015 was Italy's last in the competition. Their losing streak now stands at 31 games, and they will pick up the wooden spoon for the 16th time in Six Nations history.

ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have the best tackle success rate (92 per cent) of any side in this year's competition. Hamish Watson leads the way in that regard, completing all 44 of his attempted tackles – he has made 133 consecutive tackles in the tournament without missing one, the second-longest such run in Six Nations history, behind Lionel Nallet's 154 for France.

Italy's Sebastian Negri has made 127 post-contact metres in the 2021 Six Nations, the most of any forward in the championship.

IRELAND V ENGLAND

FORM

England have won their last two meetings with Ireland in the Six Nations and could win three in a row against them for only the second time, after doing so between 2012 and 2014.

Ireland lost to France in their last home game, only once before have they suffered defeat in back-to-back home games in the Six Nations – in 2010 versus Scotland at Croke Park and 2011 versus France at the Aviva Stadium.

Jones' England have won their last four Tests against Ireland, preventing them from scoring any first-half points in their last two meetings and scoring an average of 4.3 tries per game in that run.

ONES TO WATCH

CJ Stander announced his retirement this week, with the 31-year-old set to hang up his boots at the end of the season. This will be his final appearance for Ireland, having won his 50th cap in the 27-24 win over Scotland in round four.

Owen Farrell, son of Ireland coach Andy, is the top scorer in the Six Nations this year (44) and is just six points away from 500 in the championship. Only Ronan O'Gara (557) has reached that milestone exclusively in the Six Nations (since 2000).

FRANCE V WALES

FORM

Wales are bidding to win a sixth Six Nations title (since 2000), only England (seven) have won the championship more often. If they win this match it would be their fifth
Grand Slam – no other side has more than three.

Recent history is on Wales' side heading to the Stade de France. They have won three of their last four away games against Les Bleus in the Six Nations (L1), triumphing in their last trip to Paris (24-19 in 2019) despite trailing by 16 points at half-time – the biggest comeback for a team in the competition. 

Indeed, pre-tournament favourites France have won only two of their last nine Six Nations games against Wales (L7) after winning nine of the previous 12 (L3).

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont already has four try assists in this Six Nations, only five players have ever recorded more in an edition of the championship, with Frederic Michalak
(seven in 2006) the only Frenchman to do so.

Louis Rees-Zammit is the joint top try scorer in the 2021 Six Nations (four, level with England's Anthony Watson). Shane Williams (six in 2008) is the only Welsh player to score more than four in an edition of the tournament.

France will face Scotland in a potentially decisive delayed Six Nations fixture on March 26.

The match was postponed from February 28 following a coronavirus outbreak in the French squad.

But it has found a new date in Paris next Friday, outside of the international window, tournament organisers confirmed.

It is reported the Premiership will allow key Scotland players to feature in the match, with France's Top 14 potentially following suit.

The game could yet decide the destination of this year's Six Nations title.

France are third heading into the final scheduled weekend of the competition and they host unbeaten leaders Wales this Saturday.

Victory for Wales would seal a Grand Slam triumph, but a France win could give them the opportunity to snatch glory against Scotland six days later.

In France, they still speak joyously of Philippe Saint-Andre's wonder try at Twickenham, that majestic blue wave that swept from one end of the great stadium to the other, resulting in a score under the posts.

What a score that was, voted many years as Twickenham's 'try of the century', Blanco to Sella to Camberabero to Saint-Andre. The punch of the air, the high fives, the hugs. The wanton joie de vivre of it all.

But it came in a losing cause, on the final day of the 1991 Five Nations, in a championship decider. Some consolation, but a consolation nonetheless.

It was Geoff Cooke's team who lifted the trophy, Will Carling the beaming captain, the champagne spraying in England's dressing room.

France were a joy to watch, those great names still resonate, and they were so close to sashaying and side-stepping their way to a glorious Grand Slam.

So close. They finished second. The first losers.

Thirty years on from that March classic and there was nothing at Twickenham on Saturday that will be remembered quite so fondly as that vintage Saint-Andre moment, but there was so nearly an outcome that could have banished many bleak French memories from trips to London. Instead, England added to that long list.

Before Maro Itoje burrowed over in the 76th minute, this was poised to be a tale of a great French win, after a captivating clash. It would have been a third win in three games in this year's championship, talk would have turned to the Grand Slam.

Delightful tries from Antoine Dupont and Damian Penaud, stemming from that great Gallic brand of running rugby, were of the sort Blanc, Sella and co would have been proud.

Suspicions of a Twickenham hex hanging over Les Bleus were about to be banished. England had won nine of their 10 previous home games against France in the Six Nations, including the last seven in a row, but their dominance was about to be halted by a French side with bulldog spirit to match their silky skills.

Fabien Galthie was on the brink of getting one over on Eddie Jones, who was facing the prospect of his Red Rose losing a third match in four.

It would have been an eighth win in their last nine Six Nations games for France.

And then along came Itoje. England were over.

Weren't they?

France clung to the hope Teddy Thomas had held Itoje up. Referee Andrew Brace felt Thomas may have done just that, but the TMO knew better.

After what felt like an age, the try was given and French hearts broke. They lost 23-20.

What an achievement it would have been for Galthie's side to cross La Manche and return to Marcoussis triumphant.

Last month's major COVID-19 outbreak in their camp was worrying from a health perspective but came in tandem with questions about conduct and protocol too, with Galthie eventually exonerated despite leaving the squad bubble to watch his son play a rugby game, and no blame apportioned.

This France side re-emerged and played with verve from the first minute - Dupont crossed after just 65 seconds following lovely work from Thomas - before Anthony Watson replied as England reined in their visitors.

France struck again in the 32nd minute, electric play from the backs in blue ending with Penaud dancing in on the right.

Owen Farrell and Matthieu Jalibert kept the score ticking along from the kicking tee, then with time running out Itoje had the determining say.

"We are playing lovely rugby," France back-rower Gregory Alldritt told ITV after the final whistle. "We are enjoying playing all together on the pitch.

"We will go back to work on Monday and have a big, big game next week and we need to prepare for this game."

France went down in this game, but they are not out. The Six Nations title could yet be heading to Paris, even if the Grand Slam will not.

Wales, now the only team left in contention for a clean sweep of wins, will aim to complete a perfect campaign in Paris next Saturday night.

Given how they took this game to England, and how close they came to a famous victory, expect Galthie's men to rise again for the challenge of the arriving Red Dragons.

This was England's day in the end, but you still got the feeling this might be a French side who in the near future won't have to settle for consolation prizes or being the first losers. That Wales game will be titanic, and revealing.

France boss Fabien Galthie said his team "lost control" against England as Maro Itoje's late try allowed the hosts to snatch a 23-20 victory at Twickenham.

In a sizzling Six Nations match, France went ahead through Antoine Dupont after just 65 seconds and led 20-13 early in the second half.

They were looking like earning a first victory in the championship in London since 2005 until England came back strongly in the closing stages.

Itoje crossed in the 76th minute, with a TMO verdict showing he had just managed to ground the ball.

Galthie told broadcaster France 2: "In the second period, we lost control of the match. We backed off. We held the line until Maro Itoje scored.

"The English ended up stronger, they managed to occupy the field more than we did. The team had a big game. 

"We were ahead until three minutes from the end, but that's not enough."

France had won their opening two matches before a COVID-19 outbreak in the squad caused the clash with Scotland to be postponed.

Talk of a Grand Slam would have abounded had they held on against England, but it was not to be.

Galthie added in a news conference: "The two teams delivered a great match, before a denouement that must be digested.

"It played out once again in the final minutes. But above all, I am proud of my players, of their solidarity.

"It's a game that makes you grow. We didn't win but they felt we could win it. There are two, three key moments that perhaps would have allowed us to finish it more comfortably.

"In the end, the English dispossessed us of the ball because we conceded penalties, lost balls. But that's good. The team learns."

France face Grand Slam-chasing Wales next Saturday in Paris, knowing a victory over the Red Dragons would keep hopes alive of winning the championship.

Galthie added, according to Le Figaro, that France would react "by keeping the positives".

"We will digest this result together and switch to Wales now," he said. "That match starts right away. It depends on our ability to share and experience together the frustration to plan for the match that awaits us next Saturday."

Eddie Jones was left wishing Twickenham had been packed full of fans to see England's gutsy Six Nations win over France.

The hosts ended France's dreams of a first Grand Slam since 2010 as Maro Itoje's late try secured a hard-earned 23-20 victory on Saturday.

It was a fine response from the Red Rose after disappointing losses to Scotland and Wales either side of a routine win over Italy.

But head coach Jones wanted to share in the glory with England's supporters, with coronavirus restrictions depriving them of the opportunity to witness a fine performance first-hand.

"I just wish there were 82,000 fans here," Jones told ITV, having seen his side fight back from Antoine Dupont's try after just 65 seconds.

"It was a good, tough game of rugby with good fight from both teams and a bit of drama at the end.

"Since the Scotland game we have played with a lot of fight and energy.

"We thought France would come out hard early. They haven't had a game for a while and they were fresh. We had to be with them at half-time - that was our big job.

"We thought we would get them in the second half and we did.

"We've felt since the autumn we have to change our game a bit because the laws are moving to make the game faster.

"Our plan is to go to the 2023 World Cup as a good set-piece team and a team that can move."

England conclude their 2021 Six Nations campaign in Dublin next weekend.

Maro Itoje's late try ended France's Six Nations Grand Slam hopes as England secured a hard-fought 23-20 victory at Twickenham.

Fabien Galthie's men still have two games to play in this year's competition after a coronavirus outbreak led to their match with Scotland being postponed.

But next weekend they will host a Wales side seeking to wrap up the Grand Slam – a feat now out of reach for Les Bleus, who have not managed it since 2010, after a painful loss in London.

England, beaten by Scotland and Wales either side of a routine win over Italy, have been reduced to also-rans but refused to play that part on Saturday.

Despite taking the lead through Antoine Dupont's try after just 80 seconds, France were pegged back as Anthony Watson responded in kind and the reliable Owen Farrell added eight first-half points with the boot.

However, Damian Penaud applied the finish to a stunning France try before half-time, with Matthieu Jalibert and Owen Farrell exchanging penalties before Itoje stole the headlines at the death.

With nine wins from 10 previous home meetings with France in the Six Nations, including seven in a row, the history books heavily favoured England, but it did not look that way early on.

The visitors surged into the lead as the ever-alert Dupont touched down at the end of a sweeping move that had left England all at sea.

Eddie Jones' team immediately applied the pressure and got back on level terms as some swift and precise passing found Watson wide on the right, and he marked his 50th cap with a score from which Farrell converted.

Farrell kept his cool to slot two penalties and put England 13-7 up inside 20 minutes, but France cut the arrears with a Jalibert three-pointer before reclaiming the lead ahead of the break.

It was a fine try that secured that half-time advantage, Penaud collecting a brilliant pass from Jalibert following an eye-catching Gael Fickou dummy to squeeze through in the corner after Galthie's men had sprung superbly from a lineout.

The second half was more of a tactical battle, with far fewer instances of flair and creativity; Jalibert and Farrell each splitting the posts before England had the decisive say in the closing minutes.

Itoje bundled over the line, the try awarded after a review as it was determined he had grounded the ball, breaking French hearts in the process.

What's next?

France may be unwanted guests at someone else's Grand Slam party when they host Wales on Saturday, while England face a stern test as they travel to Dublin to take on Ireland.

Iain Balshaw expects "seething" England to unleash their fury on Six Nations title contenders France after the Red Rose were stunned by "calamitous" refereeing errors in the loss to Wales.

The defending champions' hopes of retaining their title were shattered by a 40-24 in Cardiff last month, but it might have been a very different story if French official Pascal Gauzere had not awarded Wales two controversial first-half tries.

Gauzere admitted he should not have allowed scores from Josh Adams and Liam Williams to stand at the Principality Stadium, but that was no consolation to the holders.

France travel to Twickenham on Saturday with two wins out of two, but former England wing Balshaw said they should beware the wounded animal.

The World Cup winner told Stats Perform News: "England's discipline really let them down against Wales, but they did a lot of good things in that match.

"If the referee had not made those two calamitous errors then it is a totally different game, as the pressure would be on Wales to chase the game. That said, it was a big worry to see the way England capitulated from 24-24.

"When England had ball in hand I thought we looked very good and dangerous every time, but it is frustrating when you see them kick so often and obviously discipline has been a problem.

"Clive Woodward always used to tell us we must keep the penalty count under 10, otherwise the likelihood of winning goes down considerably.

"You want to see running rugby, because we looked very dangerous when we had ball in hand. I honestly don't think we are far away. I think France know England will be seething and desperate to right some wrongs at Twickenham."

Balshaw says England fans should remember it is not long since Owen Farrell was lifting two trophies, and underlined that ensuring they peak at the 2023 World Cup in France is paramount.

"People are obviously frustrated with results, but it really isn't doom and gloom. Scotland played the match of their lives in a storming performance and things might have gone differently against Wales. If they beat France then it is a very different story," said the ex-Bath and Gloucester flyer.

"If you look at the last 18 months, we have been in a World Cup final, won the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup. You will get bumps in the road, but the main goal is the next World Cup and I honestly believe we are in good shape."

France legend Serge Betsen believes "winner" Shaun Edwards would make a great England head coach but warned "leave him with us and sort your own problems out!".

Edwards has made a big impact since he was appointed Les Bleus' defence coach in May 2019 following a hugely successful spell with Wales under Warren Gatland.

The Englishman's influence in the Fabien Galthie era has been clear to see and France travel to Twickenham on Saturday with high hopes of ending an 11-year wait for a Six Nations title, having beaten Italy and Ireland before a coronavirus outbreak in their camp led to the clash with Scotland being postponed.

Betsen knows all about Edwards' coaching ability after working under the former rugby league star at Wasps and the ex-France flanker thinks he should be a contender to take charge of his country when Eddie Jones' reign ends.

"Shaun Edwards demands the highest standards every day," said Betsen, who won 63 caps. "He is passionate, emotional, he is a winner and wants to share the recipe of how to manage players. Also, it is very important to French people that he has made an effort to improve his French.

"He has got something very special. He had great success with Wales, he knows what he needs to do and how to go about doing it. 

"He would deserve the opportunity to coach England and he would bring incredible passion as a proud Englishman.

"I am surprised Shaun has not been employed by England, but maybe people don't know what he is about. Obviously I am happy as a Frenchman, though, leave him with us and sort your own problems out!"

The Red Rose go into Le Crunch smarting from a 40-24 defeat to Wales that shattered their hopes of retaining the title.

Pascal Gauzere admitted he was wrong to award Wales two first-half tries in that loss for the defending champions in Cardiff, but Betsen says the French official was not to blame for England's defeat.

He said: "The referee admitted to making mistakes and we all make mistakes. As players, we also make a lot of mistakes.

"Last November nobody said anything when England benefited from refereeing decisions when they won the Autumn Nations Cup final against France.

"You have to respect the decisions of the referee and can only control your own performance."

France resume their bid to win a first Six Nations title since 2010 with a trip to face wounded England at Twickenham, and Wales should made it four wins out of four this weekend.

A coronavirus outbreak in the French camp led to their clash with Scotland being postponed, but they will be back in action against the Red Rose on Saturday a month after beating Ireland.

Wales shattered England's hopes of retaining the title with a 40-24 win at the Principality Stadium and will be expected to stay perfect when they face Italy in Rome, also on Saturday.

Scotland will look to reignite their title challenge when they face Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

We use Opta data to preview the round-four encounters.

 

ITALY v WALES

FORM

Wales have won their last 15 Tests against Italy, and a 16th would represent their longest ever winning run against a single opponent in Test rugby (they won 15 in a row against France from 1908 to 1927).

A win over England secured Wales' fifth Triple Crown of the Six Nations era, They completed the Grand Slam in each of their previous four Triple Crown-winning campaigns since 2000 (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019).

Italy's losing run in the competition stands at 30 games and they have lost 19 in a row at home, stretching back to a defeat of Ireland eight years ago.

ONES TO WATCH

Azzurri fly-half Paolo Garbisi has made more kicks in play (29) and recorded more kicking metres (1,142m) than any other player in this year's Six Nations.

Josh Adams marked his first match of the tournament by scoring a controversial try against England and the Wales wing will fancy his chances of touching down again in Rome.

 

ENGLAND v FRANCE

FORM

England have won nine of their 10 home games against France in the Six Nations, including the last seven in a row. Their only defeat came in February 2005, going down 18-17.

France have won seven of their last eight games in the Six Nations and will look for a fourth consecutive victory in the competition this weekend.

Les Bleus have scored the opening try of the game in 15 of their most previous 18 matches in this tournament, including their last eight in a row.

ONES TO WATCH

Wing Anthony Watson will win his 50th cap for England. He has the best average gain per carry rate (10.1 metres) of anyone to make 10 or more carries in the 2021 Six Nations and has also made the most post-contact metres (141).

France lock Paul Willemse has not missed any of his 34 tackles in the Six Nations this year and has made the joint-second most dominant tackles with four, England's Tom Curry (5) the only player to have made more.

SCOTLAND v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have lost just three of their last 19 games against Scotland in the Six Nations, winning all the rest. Each of the men in green's defeats came by a margin of five points or fewer.

Scotland have lost their last two Test matches at Murrayfield. They have not been beaten in more consecutive games at their traditional home venue since losing four on the bounce between November 2014 and March 2015.

Gregor Townsend's side are the only team to average fewer than 10 missed tackles (8.5) per game in the Six Nations in 2021 and as a result boast the best tackle success rate of 92 per cent.

ONES TO WATCH

Hamish Watson has been an influential performer for Scotland, winning three turnovers and getting through a huge amount of work in the back row.

Ireland back-row Tadhg Beirne has recorded the most ruck arrivals (117) in the tournament, hitting the most rucks of anyone in both attack (87) and defence (30).

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