Scotland denied France glory in last year's Six Nations, with their dramatic victory in Paris meaning Les Bleus missed out on the title.

Now, France will be out for vengeance as they head to Edinburgh at the top of the standings with two victories from their opening two matches.

England, meanwhile, bounced back from their defeat to Scotland in round one with a hammering of Italy, and Eddie Jones' second-placed team host Wales at Twickenham. 

Wales lost convincingly to Ireland in their first game, yet defeated Scotland 20-17 last time out, though the defending champions are down in fifth place as it stands.

The final match of the weekend sees Ireland take on Italy in Dublin. The Azzurri are staring down the barrel of a 100th Six Nations defeat.

Ahead of the third round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.

SCOTLAND V FRANCE

FORM

Scotland have won four of their last six games against France in the Championship, including the last two in a row and a first win in Paris since 1999. They have not won three in a row against Les Bleus in the tournament since 1956-1958.

This will be the 99th meeting between Scotland and France in all competitions, with Les Bleus leading the head to head with 56 wins (L39, D3). However, honours are even across the last 10 clashes, with both sides picking up five wins each.

France opened their campaign with a pair of wins, something they also managed in 2021. The only time since 2011 when they have won their opening three games was in 2020, when they missed out on the title and a Grand Slam after a fourth-round defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Darcy Graham has beaten a Championship-high nine defenders so far. He is just ahead of French duo Gabin Villiere, Damian Penaud, and Marcus Smith.

France's Gregory Alldritt has made more carries (30) than any other player, while he has also gained 83 post-contact metres, the most of any forward and fourth most of any player, after Ireland's Mack Hansen (107), Scotland's Graham (86) and team-mate Penaud (84), as well as hitting 10 more defensive rucks (36) than anyone else.

ENGLAND V WALES

FORM

The last four Six Nations matches between these sides have been won by the home side on the day. Indeed, England have won their last four home games against Wales in the Championship, only once since 1930 have they enjoyed a longer such streak, a nine-game run between 1990 and 2006.

England have lost just two of their last 24 home games in the Six Nations (W21, D1), defeats to Ireland in 2018 and Scotland in 2021. Wales' last win at Twickenham in the Championship was in 2012. Since the start of the 2016 tournament, Wales have picked up just one away victory outside of Scotland or Italy, a 24-19 win in Paris in 2019.

England (49) and Wales (34) have made more maul metres than any other sides so far in this edition of the Six Nations.

ONES TO WATCH

Jones has named Ben Youngs on England's bench. If he comes on, Youngs will win his 115th Test cap, overtaking Jason Leonard as the country's most capped men's player. The scrum-half has been involved in five tries in his last six starts against Wales (three tries, two assists).

Alex Cuthbert is set to play for Wales for a 50th time.  He is looking to score his first try in the Six Nations since crossing against Italy in 2014.

 

IRELAND V ITALY

FORM

Ireland have won 21 of their 22 previous Six Nations matches against Italy, their sole defeat coming in 2013 (15-22), in what was the Azzurri's last home victory in the Championship.

Italy's next defeat will be their 100th in the Championship, they are currently on a record 34 match losing run, almost seven years since last claiming a victory (22-19 v Scotland, 28 Feb 2015).

Ireland hold a 100 per cent win rate against Italy at home in the Six Nations (W11), with the Azzurri the only side that has never won at the Aviva Stadium or Croke Park. Indeed, Ireland have scored 50 or more points in each of their last three home games against the tournament's whipping boys.

ONES TO WATCH

Hansen, Jamison Gibson-Park and Bundee Aki are three of just six players to both score and assist a try, the trio all scoring once and assisting one try after two rounds.

Italy's Federico Ruzza has won more lineouts (16) than any other player, including one steal, and team-mate Michele Lamaro has made the most tackles (41) in the tournament.

Rory Darge will make his first start for Scotland in their Six Nations clash with France on Saturday after Gregor Townsend was forced to reshuffle his pack.

The Glasgow Warriors flanker is named alongside Hamish Watson and Magnus Bradbury in an all-new back row, with the latter making his first Scotland start since 2020.

A slew of injuries have forced a clutch of players – including Cam Redpath, Rory Sutherland, Javan Sebastian, Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings – to drop out of contention.

Six more faces have been called up to the wider squad, though only prop Oli Kebble makes the matchday party from those added following Scotland's 20-17 defeat to Wales last time out.

Sam Skinner moves up to partner Grant Gilchrist at lock while WP Nel drops to the replacement bench in what is ultimately two direct changes to the starting line-up.

France meanwhile make just the one change to their starting XV, after Gabin Villiere was ruled out with a sinus fracture sustained against Ireland.

Jonathan Danty comes back into the side after dropping out for the 30-24 win over Andy Farrell's side, while Yoram Moefana moves over to the wing to cover the Toulon star Villiere's absence.

Les Bleus remain the only side unbeaten in this year's Championship, but now face consecutive matches on the road after enjoying home advantage in their first two games.

Both teams will be out to make metres, with Scotland duo Stuart Hogg (843) and Finn Russell (747) having accrued more kicking metres than any other players in the 2022 Six Nations so far.

However, it is France (2,261) who have made the most as a team, with three different players having made 500+ metres with the boot for them in Antoine Dupont (682), Melvyn Jaminet (564) and Romain Ntamack (501).

This will be the 99th clash between the two nations in all competitions, with France claiming victory on 56 occasions and Scotland winning 39 times.

However, the honours are evenly split across their last 10 meetings with both sides picking up five wins apiece during that period.

Scotland team:  Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Rory Darge, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury.

Replacements:  George Turner, Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Jamie Hodgson, Nick Haining, Ben White, Blair Kinghorn, Mark Bennett.

France team:  Melvyn Jaminet, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Yoram Moefana, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio, Cameron Woki, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements:  Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos.

Scotland have called up six new players to their Six Nations squad ahead of their meeting with France after a series of injuries and withdrawals.

Gregor Townsend's side sit fourth in the table after a 20-17 opening-round win over England preceded a loss to Wales by the same scoreline.

Scotland next face leaders France on Saturday at Murrayfield, but they will be without a host of familiar faces as more names were added to their growing absentee list.

Rory Sutherland, Javan Sebastian, Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings and Cam Redpath have all returned to their respective clubs after suffering injuries.

As a result, Glasgow Warriors pair Ollie Smith and Kiran McDonald could be in line for their first international caps after being drafted in.

Simon Berghan, Oli Kebble, Marshall Sykes and James Lang are the other four introductions to the camp, with Josh Bayliss also available after missing the opening two games due to concussion.

"This is a great opportunity for the new players to impress," Townsend said after the announcement of the alterations to his playing squad.

"There are often changes made to the squad throughout the championship and it is a challenge we are much better equipped to deal with given our current squad depth."

Forward Gray is set to miss the rest of the tournament with an ankle injury, but Townsend added that the rest of the absentees will be monitored before the final two games against Italy and Ireland.

Andy Farrell lamented the result but not the performance after his Ireland team just failed in a valiant comeback effort against France in the Six Nations.

Ireland, shorn of the injured Johnny Sexton, found themselves behind after just 67 seconds in Paris on Saturday, and at one point early in the second half they were 22-7 down.

Yet Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park led an Ireland fightback and, despite Cyril Baille's try, the visitors were within three points of France when Joey Carbery kicked a penalty heading into the closing stages.

It was not to be for Ireland, though, as the excellent Melvyn Jaminet converted a France penalty after having a try ruled out.

France have now won their past three Tests against Ireland, this after winning just one of the previous nine clashes between the sides (D2 L6), but Farrell was delighted with the spirit his team showed.

"We came here to win, came here to perform, but there's another class side in France that's going to have a big say in that, and they certainly did from the start – 10 points down after six minutes certainly wasn't in the script," he told ITV Sport.

"Getting to a stage early on in the second half when it was 22-7 just says everything about our side really, the character, the guts, the fitness levels and the want to go and play and get ourselves back in the game; I couldn't be more proud.

"It shows what we're about, that we've got the courage to go put our game out there when we're under pressure. To get in front and to make sure that we start well is something we need to look at.

"The forward lads going for as long as they did, digging in, all in all it comes down to one hell of a Test match. We didn't get the points here but the courage and the character was the bonus point here."

Saturday's result was the 15th time a Six Nations clash between these nations has been decided by seven points or fewer, more than any other match-up in the Championship since 2000.

France have scored at least 30 points in each of their past four Tests – including matches against Ireland and New Zealand – the first time they have managed that since a run of five games in 2003, and they are now the only unbeaten team in this edition of the Six Nations.

However, Gregory Alldritt insists Les Bleus' full focus is on preparations for their clash with Scotland on February 26.

"This tournament is the best in the world, every weekend is a really tough game," he told ITV Sport when asked about the possibility of completing the Grand Slam.

"We're not thinking of the Grand Slam, we're just taking it step by step and a huge away game in Scotland in two weeks, so we just need to prepare for this game and not think about the rest."

Ireland's comeback efforts proved fruitless as France held their own to claim a 30-24 win in an enthralling Six Nations tussle on Saturday.

Heading to the Stade de France without injured captain Jonny Sexton, Ireland endured a tough start – including Antoine Dupont scoring the fastest try they have conceded in the Six Nations – and Melvyn Jaminet's kicking kept them at arm's length in the first half.

Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park led an Ireland rally early in the second, but Cyril Baille's try saw France regain their composure.

Although that might have been followed by another score in a frantic finish, when TMO intervened, Les Bleus did just enough to hold on to their lead.

Ireland had been swiftly into the lead against Wales last time out but were on the wrong end of a fast start in Paris, as Dupont latched onto an offload with just over a minute played.

Jaminet added the extras and then another three French points from the tee soon after, but Ireland hit back when Sexton's replacement Joey Carbery hung the restart kick up for Mack Hansen to pounce and go over.

Another Jaminet penalty nosed France into a six-point lead, before two more pieces of Dupont brilliance resulted in two more successfully converted kicks before half-time.

Jaminet's penalty proficiency continued with a long-range effort early in the second half, yet the momentum quickly swung Ireland's way when Van der Flier forced his way over in the corner following a successful line-out.

The gap was down to a point by the 49th minute, Gibson-Park grounding underneath the sticks, but Ireland were their own worst enemies four minutes later – an error in the ruck allowing France to capitalise through Baille.

Although Ireland were handed more hope when Carbery chipped through a 30-yard penalty, France pushed back and Jaminet sent a penalty through the sticks to seal victory having failed to ground what seemed set to be a decisive try.

France and Ireland face off at the Stade de France on Saturday in a contest that may well determine exactly where the Six Nations title ends up next month.

Pre-tournament favourites France kicked off their campaign with a routine victory over Italy, while a much-fancied Ireland proved far too strong for reigning champions Wales.

Both sides picked up bonus points to lead the way at the top, setting up a mouth-watering encounter in the French capital as Ireland aim to stretch their nine-match winning run.

Wales have a chance to respond to last week's disappointment when they host a Scotland side who should be full of confidence following their Calcutta Cup win over England last time out.

The final match of the weekend takes place in Rome as perennial whipping boys Italy take on England with the aim of ending their long-running losing streak in the competition.

Ahead of the second round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.

WALES v SCOTLAND

FORM

Wales have lost just two of their 11 home matches against Scotland in the Six Nations, though one of those losses did come in the last such meeting two years ago at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.

The last three encounters between the sides in the competition have been decided by a margin of seven points or fewer. Indeed, four of the last six clashes have seen the side losing at half-time come back to win the match.

Scotland are on their longest away winning streak in the championship, having won four on the spin – not since between 1925 and 1927 have they won five in a row on their travels. However, Wales have won nine of their last 11 Six Nations home matches.

ONES TO WATCH

Taine Basham was a rare shining light for Wales in their heavy loss to Ireland, the tournament debutant crossing over late on to prevent his side from losing to nil on a day to forget in Dublin. Basham also made 22 tackles, which is the most of any player on the opening weekend, missing none in the process.

A number of Scotland players impressed in the late win over England, not least Darcy Graham. The diminutive wing set up Ben White for the opening try, won the crucial turnover in injury time and beat six defenders – the most of any player in round one.

 


FRANCE v IRELAND

FORM

France and Ireland have played each other 100 times previously, with France victorious on 58 occasions, Ireland prevailing 35 times and seven games drawn. In the Six Nations, Les Blues edge the win record 11 to nine from their 22 previous encounters, the other two matches finishing level.

Ireland have lost their last two meetings with France in the competition, having been beaten in just one of the previous eight. Ireland's win rate of 41 per cent against Les Blues in the Six Nations is their lowest against any side.

After recovering to see off Italy last week, France are aiming to win their opening two Six Nations games for the third year in a row, this after managing it just twice in their previous eight campaigns.


ONES TO WATCH

France head coach Fabien Galthie, back involved after missing the Italy match with coronavirus, has put his faith in youth by handing Yoram Moefana his first Six Nations start. The 21-year-old impressed in his cameo role against Italy by playing a part in his side's last two tries.

Ireland will have to make do without injured skipper Johnny Sexton, who passed the 500-point mark in the Six Nations last week, so all eyes will be on Joey Carbery – the only change from the Wales game – at fly-half. The Munster number 10 is tasked with pulling the strings on his first tournament start.

 

ITALY v ENGLAND

FORM

England are the only side Italy have never managed to beat in the Six Nations, losing all 22 of their previous showdowns. England's 80-23 win in this fixture 21 years ago remains the most points scored and biggest winning margin in any fixture in the competition's history.

Italy have lost their last 33 matches in the competition – the longest losing streak by any team in the Five or Six Nations – in an unwanted run that stretches back to a win over Scotland in 2015.

Eddie Jones' visitors have lost their last two Six Nations matches, but only once over the last 15 editions have they lost three in a row, while not since 2005 have they lost their opening two games to a campaign.


ONES TO WATCH

Italy's Michele Lamaro (21 tackles) was one of just three players to make 20 or more tackles during the opening weekend, along with Basham (22) and Nick Tompkins (21). However, he also missed four tackles, which was the joint-most of any player, level with Dan Biggar.

Ben Youngs, who made the most kicks in play of any player in round one (17), is one of six players to make way for England. Should the experienced scrum-half make it off the bench, he will become England's joint-most capped player of all time alongside Jason Leonard with 114.

Johnny Sexton will miss Ireland's Six Nations clash with France on Saturday due to a hamstring problem.

Ireland captain Sexton surpassed 500 points in the competition last week, as he helped Andy Farrell's team to a 29-7 defeat of reigning champions Wales in Dublin.

However, the 36-year-old will not feature in Paris after sustaining an injury in training on Wednesday, and James Ryan will captain Ireland instead.

Joey Carbery will replace Sexton in Farrell's line-up, which was announced on Thursday. It is the only change Ireland have made.

Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Jack Carty have come into the squad and will be on the bench, with Ryan Baird and James Hume dropping out.

France, meanwhile, have made two alterations to their side, with Francois Cros and Yoram Moefana replacing Dylan Cretin and Jonathan Danty respectively.

Antoine Dupont was one of 11 players to assist a try across the opening weekend and now has 12 assists to his name in the Six Nations, the most of any France player.

The scrum-half will again look to dictate the play as Les Bleus aim to win their opening two games in an edition of the Six Nations for the third year in a row, this after managing it just twice in their previous eight campaigns in the Championship.

This will be the 101st meeting between the nations, with France winning 58 times and Ireland triumphing on 35 occasions.

Les Bleus have the edge in the Six Nations, winning half of their 22 encounters, including the two most recent games.

They thrashed Italy 37-10 in their opening fixture to go top of the standings after round one.

 

Ireland team:  Hugo Keenan, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements:  Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray, Jack Carty, Robbie Henshaw.

France team:  Melvyn Jaminet, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Gabin Villiere, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Gregory Alldritt, Anthony Jelonch, Francois Cros, Paul Willemse, Cameron Woki, Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille.

Replacements:  Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos.

Anthony Martial revealed that Barcelona and Juventus both attempted to sign him in January, but the forward chose Sevilla as "the best option" for him and his family.

Julen Lopetegui's side brought the France international in on loan until the end of the season after limited opportunities under Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United.

Rangnick confirmed in December that the 26-year-old wanted away from Old Trafford due to a lack of chances – he had played the full 90 minutes of a game only once this season and featured for just eight minutes since the German's first game.

But the destination of Martial's move might have been different, with the former Monaco man revealing both Juve and Barca were interested in his services.

"Juventus tried to sign me," he told Diario de Sevilla in an interview released on Wednesday. 

"I was talking to my agent and told him that I preferred to go to Sevilla. It was the best option for me and my family.

"Barcelona spoke with my agent. But as I said, I spoke to my agent and told him: 'My priority is Sevilla'. And when I say something to someone, I don't change it, I keep my word.

"For me it was the right decision because I knew I was going to play and for me playing was the most important thing. 

"Other big clubs tried to convince me but I preferred to come to Sevilla because I knew that Sevilla was a very good club, a family club. For me it was the right decision."

The Bianconeri subsequently brought in Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina in a deal potentially worth €80million, with the Serbia star scoring on his debut against Hellas Verona on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Barca managed to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who terminated his contract with Arsenal, and Adama Traore on loan from Wolves to bolster his attacking ranks, which also include Ferran Torres after his arrival at the start of January.

The finances of Martial's loan were not revealed, but he confirmed he agreed to lower wages to secure a move to Spain as he looks to impress France boss Didier Deschamps ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

"Both Sevilla and I have made an effort so that I could come," he responded when asked about the finances behind the agreement. 

"I have less salary, but I also know that paying my salary is an effort for the club. So we've both made an effort. But I know that this effort will be good for both parties."

On World Cup selection, he added: "Yes. It is one of my goals. I want to do it because the last time I was not in the World Cup and France won it. So I'll do my best to be there this time."

Martial will be hoping to make an impact on Friday when Sevilla host Elche as Lopetegui's men look to cut the six-point gap on Real Madrid at the summit of the Spanish top flight.

Gabin Villiere scored a hat-trick as France recovered from a slow start to kick off their 2022 Six Nations campaign with a 37-10 bonus-point win over Italy at the Stade de France.

The pre-tournament favourites trailed to Tommaso Menoncello's try and were again behind with half an hour played after Anthony Jelonch had temporarily put them ahead.

But Villiere crossed over either side of half-time and Damian Penaud added a fourth, before Villiere completed his treble to confirm a 33rd successive loss in the competition for Italy.

Les Blues have now won 15 successive home Tests against Italy and join next opponents Ireland on five points after the first round of fixtures.

Italy responded superbly to falling behind to Melvyn Jaminet's fourth-minute penalty as Menoncello gathered Paolo Garbisi's cross-field kick and raced through for a debut try.

Garbisi added the extras but all of Italy's hard work was undone when Stephen Varney's offload was intercepted by Jelonch, who had a simple task in splashing over.

France did not initially push on, with Garbisi and Jaminet sharing a penalty apiece, though a Villiere try following a well-worked lineout ensured Les Blues led at the break.

Jonathan Danty had a try ruled out by TMO but there was no denying Villiere five minutes later, the Toulon wing darting for the line after France turned the ball over in the maul.

Penaud broke down the right, exchanged passes with Antoine Dupont and sealed a bonus point for France, with star man Villiere adding further gloss with a free run on the back of some sustained pressure.

Menoncello makes his mark

Kieran Crowley was taking charge of his first Six Nations match as Italy boss and his decision to hand Menoncello a debut on the wing paid almost instant dividends.

At 19 years and 170 days, Menoncello is the youngest try-scorer in Six Nations history, surpassing the record previously held by France's Gael Fickou (19y, 317d).

Hat-trick hero Villiere

Penaud tried to steal the limelight by crossing over for the third Test running in France colours, but this day undoubtedly belonged to Villiere.

Not only did he score three times, the 26-year-old also led the way for metres made (121) and was second only to Gregory Alldritt (21) with his 13 carries.

What's next?

France host Ireland in a huge showdown at the Stade de France next Saturday, while Italy are at home to England the following day.

The Six Nations is upon us for 2022, as Wales bid to defend their crown.

Wales won in 2021 without completing the Grand Slam, just the second time they have tasted victory without beating all five opponents, as their success came at the expense of France, who were frustrated by Scotland at the last.

Wayne Pivac's men are by no means favourites this time, however. They come into this Championship without Alun Wyn Jones, their captain and a great of the game, while George North leads a glut of star names also absent through injury.

Should Wales triumph, they would match a feat previously achieved only by England, while France are looking to end a long drought of success in the tournament.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform digs into some of the most intriguing facts ahead of the Six Nations.

Wales set England's record in their sights

The past 11 editions of the Six Nations have been won by either England, Ireland or Wales.

England and Wales have won the Championship four times each during that period.

If Wales defend their title successively, they would become the second team, after England, to win the competition seven times since the turn of the century, when it became the Six Nations.

But Pivac has some big names missing – none more so than Jones. Saturday's match against Ireland will be first time since 2006 that Wales have played in the Six Nations without him, while only Sergio Parisse (also 15) has appeared in as many editions of the Championship as Jones.

Can France finally strike gold?

In total, 86 tries were scored in the 2021 edition, the most in a single edition of the tournament. However, despite the free-scoring nature of the games, eight matches were decided by margins of five points or fewer, more than in any other previous Championship.

 

France were on the wrong end of one such fine margin, as they saw their hopes of winning the tournament for the first time since 2010 dashed in a postponed meeting with Scotland, which was played after the rest of the schedule had been completed.

Les Bleus' 11-year wait to win the Six Nations is the longest such stretch in their history, having joined the tournament in 1947.

France's squad is stacked full of talent, though. After recovering from COVID-19, Antoine Dupont is in line to play against Italy this weekend – only Wales' Louis Rees-Zammit (nine) made more clean breaks than the scrum-half last year (eight), with three other French players in the top 12 by that metric.

Dupont beat a defender on 13 occasions and topped the charts for offloads (nine) and try assists (five), ranking second for kicks in play (41) after Scotland's Finn Russell (47).

Romain Ntamack missed much of last year's tournament due to a jaw injury but is also set to feature.

Time for Scotland to step out of the shadows?

Scotland have never won the Six Nations, but they impressed in 2021. They enjoyed more possession (58 per cent) and territory (55 per cent) than any other side, as well as managing the best tackle success rate (91 per cent), and their tally of 9.8 entries into the opposition 22 per game was also the highest.

Duhan van der Merwe beat 31 defenders, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's record for the most in a single edition of the Six Nations (30 in 2000) – it was also the first time that a Scotland player has ended a campaign as the outright top try scorer (five tries; excluding years with joint top-scorers).

 

Van der Merwe also tallied both the most metres carried (482) and the most post-contact metres (208) of any player. Hamish Watson, meanwhile, has now completed 149 tackles in a row in the Six Nations, having not missed one since 2019. Only Lionel Nallet (154) has made more consecutive tackles without missing in the history of the tournament.

England and Ireland out to prove their quality

England have won three of the six editions of the Six Nations since Eddie Jones took charge at the beginning of 2016, with only Bernard Laporte (four) having coached his team to more Championship wins this century.

Jones' team had the best lineout success rate (95 per cent) in the 2021 tournament, losing just three of 58 throws. Luke Cowan-Dickie landed 32 of 32 throws, the most ever by a player in an edition of the tournament not to miss a throw.

Yet that proficiency in the lineout was not enough to propel England to success, as they won only twice to finish a disappointing fifth. 

Ireland finished third, on the other hand, despite losing their first two games.

Andy Farrell's team converted 94 per cent of their kicks last year, the best rate of any nation, missing just one penalty goal attempt and one conversion (29 of 31). In fact, it was the best ever success rate by a team to attempt 25 or more kicks at goal in an edition of the tournament, with captain Johnny Sexton the top points scorer (65).

 

Italy just making up the numbers?

Italy lost all five games again last year, picking up a 16th wooden spoon. They have lost 32 successive Tests in the competition, the longest run in Five/Six Nations history.

The wooden spoon has been theirs in each of the past six years, this after finishing bottom of the Championship just once in the four campaigns before that.

France talisman Antoine Dupont has recovered from coronavirus in time to captain Les Bleus in their Six Nations opener against Italy on Sunday.

World Rugby Player of the Year Dupont had withdrawn from his country's initial squad for the Championship having tested positive, yet he has now been cleared to return for matchday one.

The scrum-half, who is skipper in place of the injured Charles Ollivon, was the 2020 Player of the Championship and starred again in 2021 as France came agonisingly close to the title, leading the tournament with five try assists.

Four of those assists came in last year's meeting with Italy, becoming the first player to achieve that feat in a single game in Six Nations history.

Les Bleus are not quite clear of COVID-19 for this clash, however, as coach Fabien Galthie will be absent following his positive test, meaning general manager Raphael Ibanez is in charge.

He comes up against Kieran Crowley in his first Six Nations match as Italy coach in Saint-Denis.

Crowley has named a youthful Azzurri side, including two debutants in the XV in Tommaso Menoncello and Toa Halafihi.

Italy have only won one of 24 away Tests against France – back in March 1997 – and come into this match on a record 32-game losing run in the Six Nations.

 

France team: Melvyn Jaminet, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio, Cameron Woki, Paul Willemse, Anthony Jelonch, Dylan Cretin, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Francois Cros, Maxime Lucu, Yoram Moefana, Thomas Ramos.

Italy team: Edoardo Padovani, Tommaso Menoncello, Juan Ignacio Brex, Marco Zanon, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Tiziano Pasquali, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (captain), Toa Halafihi.

Replacements: Epalahame Faiva, Ivan Nemer, Giosue Zilocchi, Marco Fuser, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani, Callum Braley, Leonardo Marin.

The 2022 Six Nations campaign begins with a mouth-watering contest between defending champions Wales and a well fancied Ireland side at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. 

Wales won the championship for a sixth time last March, narrowly missing out on a Grand Slam with defeat to France in their final game, but they enter this year's tournament as outsiders in the eyes of many.

Much like Ireland, France will be eyeing top spot after going 12 years since their most recent triumph – Les Bleus' longest-such run since joining the Five Nations in 1947 – with their campaign beginning at home to an Italy side without a win in 32 games in the competition.

A relatively inexperienced England side do battle with perennial dark horses Scotland at Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup, meanwhile, with the hosts looking to record back-to-back wins in this fixture for the first time since 1984.

Ahead of the opening round, Stats Perform previews the upcoming matches with help from Opta.


IRELAND v WALES

FORM

Ireland have won four of their last five meetings with Wales, though their solitary defeat in that run came in the most recent match between the sides in last year's Six Nations when going down 21-16.

Wales have lost their last four away games against Ireland, their worst-such run since losing four in a row between 2002 and 2006, but never before have they lost five in a row away to Ireland.

Ireland have won 27 of their last 29 Tests at the Aviva Stadium, including their last six in a row, with their only defeats coming against England in 2019 and France in 2021 – both in the Six Nations.


ONES TO WATCH

Johnny Sexton will win his 102nd international cap for Ireland this weekend and remains a key player for his country. The 36-year-old recorded the best goal kicking success rate of any player (minimum of three kicks) in last year's Six Nations, finding the target from 25 out of 26 (96 per cent).

Wales are without a long list of players due to injury, most notably skipper Alun Wyn Jones. It's set to be the first Six Nations the Dragons have played without Jones since 2006, with fly-half Dan Biggar being left with big shoes to fill in his first game as captain.

 

SCOTLAND v ENGLAND

FORM

Scotland have won five of their last six Test matches, with their solitary defeat in that run coming against the world champions South Africa in November.

England have won 15 of their last 18 Tests, including their last five in a row, although their three defeats in that spell all came in last year's Six Nations – just the fourth time they had lost more than twice in an edition of the tournament since 2000 (also lost three in 2005, 2006 and 2018).

This will be the 140th Test between the rival nations in a fixture that dates back to the first ever rugby international back in 1871. Scotland have won on 44 occasions, compared to 76 victories for England, with the other 19 ending all square.


ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have named a near-identical XV to the one that ended last year's Six Nations, Duhan van der Merwe among them. The British and Irish Lions wing beat 31 defenders in the 2021 edition, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's record for the most in a single Six Nations (30 in 2000).

In the absence of Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry will captain England at the age of just 23, making him the youngest player to do so since Will Carling in 1988.

 

FRANCE v ITALY

FORM

France and Italy have met on 45 occasions, with Les Bleus winning 42 of those matches. That 93 per cent win rate is their highest against any nation they have faced more than five times.

Italy have lost 23 of their last 24 away games with France in Test rugby, including their last 14 in a row. The Azzurri's only victory in France came in Grenoble in 1997.

France have won 12 of their last 13 Test matches at home, although their solitary defeat in that run came in their most recent Six Nations game against Scotland. They have not trailed at half-time in a home game since February 2018, going into the break ahead (17 times) or level (twice) in each of their last 19 such games.

ONES TO WATCH

Captain and recently crowned World Rugby Player of the Year Antoine Dupont will be looking to pick up from where he left off in 2021. He was directly involved in eight tries during the last Six Nations, more than any other player, scoring three and assisting a Championship-high five.

Sebastian Negri made 64 carries and 68 tackles during the 2021 tournament, his combined tally of 132 carries and tackles being the second most of any player in the Championship, behind only Taulupe Faletau (140). Italy could do with more of the same here to help avoid another loss.

 

France head coach Fabien Galthie will miss the Six Nations favourites' opening game against Italy after a positive COVID-19 test.

The 52-year-old said he was experiencing only mild symptoms of the coronavirus, and the French Rugby Federation (FFR) stated Galthie would stay involved with the team from afar.

The FFR said: "Fabien Galthie tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, February 3, via an antigen test according to the established protocol. The result has been confirmed by a PCR test this Friday, February 4."

Galthie will be able to rejoin the squad from February 8, if he tests negative by then, or February 10.

France team manager Raphael Ibanez is set to stand in for Galthie when Italy visit the Stade de France on Sunday.

There were no more COVID-19 cases detected when the France squad were tested on Friday morning, the FFR said, with another round of testing planned for Saturday.

Galthie said: "This morning, I have tested positive for COVID-19. I'm feeling fine with mild symptoms. As a consequence, I'm isolating and will work remotely this week. Raphael Ibanez and all of my staff, in whom I have full confidence, will be my go-betweens on the pitch."

France cancelled their scheduled Friday news conference as a result of Galthie's test result.

Les Bleus, who finished second in last year's championship but have not won the Six Nations since 2010, are rated as favourites with the bookmakers for the title this time around.

Eleven months on from playing the roles of party poopers against the same opponents, France will this weekend set out on a journey that Fabien Galthie and his men will hope ends with the Six Nations trophy being held aloft at the Stade de France on March 19.

Les Blues denied Wales Grand Slam glory with an enthralling 32-30 victory in Paris in the Dragons' final match of an otherwise perfect 2021 campaign, snatching the win through an injury-time Brice Dulin try, but they ultimately fell short by finishing four points adrift in second.

Now on their longest run without winning the championship since joining the Five Nations in 1947, with their most recent triumph coming in 2010, France will consider anything other than first place this time around a real disappointment.

But if that is to happen, then Galthie's side have a number of obstacles to navigate, not least beating defending champions Wales – now one shy of England's record of seven Six Nations crowns – in Cardiff in the fourth round of fixtures.

Wales have been Six Nations champions four times in the last 10 years, yet few are giving them much of a chance this time around after failing to push on in the second half of 2021.

Wayne Pivac's side are without inspirational skipper Alun Wyn Jones and do not exactly have history on their side, having won back-to-back championships just once – doing so in 2012 and 2013 – but the Dragons do at least play three of their five matches on home soil.

 

A fast start is imperative but a first-round trip to in-form Ireland presents the reigning champions with arguably their toughest assignment of the tournament. Champions in 2018, four barren years would feel like a lifetime should Ireland miss out again.

Andy Farrell's charges are certainly not lacking momentum thanks to a strong end to the last campaign. Eight wins in a row, including a famous triumph over New Zealand in November – only their third win in that fixture in 33 meetings – has them riding the crest of a wave.

A lack of playing time at club level for certain players could hamper Ireland in their opener, however, setting up an intriguing game to kick things off on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.

While it is clear what can be expected from France, Ireland and Wales, fellow heavyweights England enter this latest edition as something of an unknown quantity due to injury absentees, skipper Owen Farrell among them.

Tom Curry will have to step up and lead an inexperienced England side that contains seven players with 10 caps or fewer in their starting XV to face Scotland. It will make for a challenging six weeks from Eddie Jones' perspective, but one he will be relishing in his seventh Six Nations with the Red Rose.

 

England are one of two sides, along with Ireland, yet to collect the Wooden Spoon. That cannot be said of Italy, who have propped up the table in each of the last six years, that after finishing bottom only once in the previous four campaigns.

Another disappointing 2021 saw Italy lose all five matches as their losing run in the tournament stretched to 32 games, the longest such streak in either Five or Six Nations history.

Italy's place in future competitions continues to be debated, with a possible promotion and relegation system being touted by some, but for now the Azzurri will simply be focused on proving their doubters wrong by ending a long-running losing streak that stretches back to 2015.

While there are some promising signs at age-group level, it is hard to see past Italy claiming an unwanted 17th Wooden Spoon this time around, particularly with trips to Paris, Dublin and Cardiff to prepare for.

Exactly who Italy will battle it out for to avoid bottom spot is a tougher question to answer than predicting an overall winner, with Scotland one of those whose campaign could go either way.

Experienced but too inconsistent, Gregor Townsend's perennial dark horses need to find a way to string together a run of victories to remain in contention right until the end. 

The hallmarks of a great team were there 12 months ago when enjoying more possession (58 per cent) and territory (55 per cent) than any other side, as well as managing the best tackle success rate (91 per cent), but there are still a number of issues that need to be ironed out.

That is a running theme throughout, though, and all adds to the unpredictability and excitement.

With fans back inside grounds, scores to be settled and no shortage of subplots, it is easy to see why this year's Six Nations is the most anticipated in several years.

It's officially a World Cup year, that means footballers all over the globe will be hoping to get themselves into contention for their own shot at glory in Qatar.

Back in November, Stats Perform began their one-year countdown to the biggest show in football by identifying 11 uncapped players who could potential break into their respective national squads before Qatar 2022 got under way.

With February now upon us, we have revisited those players to see how they have been faring and whether a trip to World Cup looks any likelier…

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 23, goalkeeper, Granada

Having been one of LaLiga's form goalkeepers during the early stages of the season, Maximiano has been a little rocky lately. Since the start of December, he has conceded 10 times (excluding own goals) in the league despite those chances only being worth 7.9 xG – that puts him at least partly at fault for 2.1 goals, the sixth-worst over that period.

 

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Clauss continues to show his worth in Ligue 1. Since December 1, his three assists have been bettered by only Dimitri Payet and Lovro Majer. Granted, the expected assists (xA) value of those was only 1.2, so there's an element of luck or benefiting from expert finishing, but he's still proving himself a good outlet both out wide and from set plays.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Torino managed to keep Bremer in January before they extended his contract by a year to 2024 on Wednesday. Not only does that protect his value to the club, it was also a just reward for his reliable form. Since December 1, his tally of 21 interceptions is the second-highest among Serie A defenders, as is his 28 aerial wins.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 22, centre-back, Lille

Lille stood firm as Newcastle United tried to prise Botman away in January. Over the past two months, the Dutchman has continued to look an imperious presence at the back – his duel success rate (76.5 per cent) is the highest among defenders with at least 300 minutes on the pitch, while only two of those to have engaged in more than 11 aerials can better his success rate (79 per cent) in the air.

Angelino (Spain) – 25, left-back, RB Leipzig

Spain certainly aren't short of quality options in this area of the pitch, but Angelino is still a standout from an attacking sense. Since early December, his 3.0 xA is the best in the Bundesliga, while only five players have played more key passes than him (16).

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It's not looking good for Puig. It was thought Xavi's arrival might finally be the break he needed, but he has played only 158 minutes of LaLiga football in the past two months, and that was a period that saw Barca under real stress amid an injury and COVID-19 crisis. With players returning to action, including Pedri, few would be surprised to see his minutes reduce even further.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

Nkunku continues to look to be in with a great chance of forcing himself into France reckoning. Since we last checked on him, the versatile midfielder has scored four non-penalty Bundesliga goals, bettered by only four players (all out-and-out strikers), and laid on three assists. Only five players have tallied more goal involvements over the same period.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, FC Dallas

Young talents leaving South American countries for MLS is becoming a recurring them – Velasco is the latest. The young winger became Dallas' record signing on February 1, reportedly costing $7million. He has not played much in recent months due to the Argentinian football calendar, so it will be intriguing to see if he kicks on when MLS starts again at the end of the month.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

The first success story on this list! Cowell was given his international bow in December as the USA beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0. He did only feature for 12 minutes, and it was a partly experimental squad, but a cap is a cap.

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

Gouiri is another who continues to plug away to good effect. He slowed a little, and his return of five goal involvements (three assists, two goals) in the specified period is bettered by as many as eight players, though only Payet has as many as seven. The exciting forward is still doing well, though he could do with another minor boost.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 19, forward, Granada

With the Uruguayan season finishing in early December, Arezo has not played much since his form was last examined – though he did get one more goal to take his seasonal tally to 15 in 29 games for River Plate (URU). That form earned him his shot in Europe, with Granada pulling off a potentially major coup in bringing him to Spain for about €3million. He awaits a first senior cap, though Uruguay are back in an automatic qualification spot.

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