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Guinness Six Nations: A round 1 primer and TV/streaming info

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Outside of the Rugby World Cup, the Guinness Six Nations Championship is the most prestigious international rugby tournament in the world.

Unlike the World Cup, the Six Nations Championship takes place every year and is contested between the same countries: France, England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The tournament takes place over seven weekends in February, March and sometimes April.

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The Six Nations Championship is the successor to the Home Nations Championship (1883–1909 and 1932–39) played between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The tournament became known as the Five Nations Championship after adding France (1910–31 and 1947–99) and then finally the Six Nations Championship with the addition of Italy (2000-present).

The tournament is round-robin style as each team plays the other five teams once per season. Home field alternates each season. For example, if France host England in 2018, England host France in 2019. There are 15 total matches in the championship. The team that finishes at the top of the miniature table at the end of the tournament wins the title.

Ireland won last year’s tournament in dominant fashion, claiming a Grand Slam title alongside a Triple Crown. England and Wales are the joint all-time leaders with 38 titles each. England holds the record for most outright titles with 28.

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Here’s a quick look at the upcoming matches.

France vs. Wales (Friday, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

France

Finished fourth in 2018 Six Nations Championship

  • Have not finished in the top two since 2011
  • Last title was 2010 (won outright)
  • 25 titles all-time
    • 17 outright, eight shared
  • Morgan Parra is the most seasoned member of the squad, leading France in caps (31) and points (158) in the tournament
  • Head coach: Jacques Brunel
    • Second year coaching France in Six Nations Championship
    • Coached Italy from 2011-16
  • Ranked No. 9 in the world

Wales

  • Finished second in 2018 Six Nations Championship
    • Won consecutive titles outright in 2012 and 2013 (have not won since)
  • Joint-record 38 titles all-time (England also have 38)
    • 26 outright, 12 shared
  • Led by Alun Wyn Jones
    • Team-high 48 career Six Nations Championship caps
  • Head coach: Warren Gatland
    • The most experienced coach in the tournament, coaching in his 12th and final Six Nations Championship for Wales
  • Ranked No. 3 in the world

Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny (concussion) has been ruled out of the team’s first two matches of the tournament.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland on Friday’s match: “I think if we can win that first game against France in Paris then we have a really good chance of winning the tournament.”
Gatland on the competitiveness of the tournament: “I remember back in the Five Nations where there was only talk of England or France winning it, but now we’re talking about five teams, and Italy are still good contenders. I think it is brilliant for the fans, sponsors and the sport.”

2018 Six Nations meeting: Wales 14 v. France 13 (Round 5, March 17)

Scotland vs. Italy (Saturday at 12:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Scotland

  • Finished third in 2018 Six Nations Championship
    o Joint-best finish in Scotland’s Six Nations Championship history (also finished third in 2001, 2006 and 2013)
    o Have not won the title since 1999, when the tournament was still the Five Nations Championship
  • 24 titles all-time
    o 15 outright, nine shared
  • Two-time Player of the Championship Stuart Hogg (2016, 2017) leads Scotland
    o Hogg: 34 caps (team high) and 92 points in Six Nations Championship career
  • Greig Laidlaw is also a leader for Scotland
    o Laidlaw: 32 caps, 349 points (team high) in Six Nations Championship career
  • Head coach: Gregor Townsend
    o Second year coaching Scotland in Six Nations Championship
  • Ranked No. 7 in the world
    Italy
  • Finished sixth in 2018 Six Nations Championship
    o Third straight sixth-place finish
  • Lost all five matches for third straight year
    o Have finished sixth in 13 of 19 seasons since joining the tournament in 2000
  • Have never won the Six Nations title
    o Highest finish was fourth place twice (2007 and 2013)
    o Fourth-place finish in 2013 came under current France head coach Jacques Brunel
  • Captain: 35-year-old flanker Sergio Parisse
    o Parisse: 65 caps in Six Nations Championship career (most on team)
  • Head coach: Ireland international Conor O’Shea
    o Third year as Italy’s head coach for the Six Nations Championship
  • Ranked No. 15 in the world

Scotland’s Stuart Hogg: “If you are not saying you are going to win the Guinness Six Nations, then what’s the point of being here? We truly believe we can do it.”

Italy head coach Conor O’Shea after poor results in recent Six Nations Championships: “We need to be mentally resilient and players like Sergio [Parisse] have proved we are by maintaining his enthusiasm, energy and belief every time he represents his country. We need this from everyone. It won’t be easy but we need everyone to keep believing.”

2018 Six Nations meeting: Italy 27 v. Scotland 29 (Round 5, March 17)

Ireland vs. England (Saturday, 2:30 a.m. ET on  NBCSN)

Ireland

  • Won 2018 Six Nations Championship outright
    o Won Grand Slam and Triple Crown
    o Looking to become first team in Six Nations era (since 2000) to win consecutive Grand Slams
  • Last team to accomplish feat: France in 1997 and 1998 Five Nations
  • 23 titles all-time
    o 14 outright, nine shared
  • Led by 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton
    o Sexton: 475 career points in the tournament, far more than any other player on the team
    o Sexton: 38 career Six Nations Championship caps
  • Jacob Stockdale made his Six Nations debut last year and led the tournament with seven tries, earning Player of the Championship honors
  • Head coach: Joe Schmidt
    o 2018 World Rugby Coach of the Year
    o Sixth and final Six Nations Championship appearance as Ireland head coach
  • Three titles in previous five appearances
  • Ranked No. 2 in the world
    o Defeated top-ranked New Zealand at the Autumn Internationals for the first time ever on Irish soil
    England
  • Finished fifth in 2018 Six Nations Championship
  • Joint-record 38 titles all-time (Wales also have 38)
    o 28 outright (most ever), 10 shared
    o Won 2016 and 2017 titles outright
  • As the most decorated team in tournament history, England entered last year’s event with high expectations coming off back-to-back Six Nations Championship titles, so their fifth-place finish was a major disappointment
  • Led by 2017 European Player of the Year Owen Farrell, who has 29 career caps in his Six Nations Championship career. Farrell has 477 career points in the tournament, by far the most on the team
    o Farrell, a star for Premiership side Saracens, will serve as England’s captain
  • George Ford, who leads the Premiership with 144 points this season playing for Leicester Tigers, is also on the squad
  • England’s squad vs Ireland is expected to be comprised entirely of Premiership players
  • Head coach: Eddie Jones
    o Fourth time coaching England at Six Nations Championship
    o Led England to Six Nations Championship titles in 2016 and 2017
  • Named World Rugby Coach of the Year in 2017
  • Ranked No. 4 in the world

The two teams that have dominated the Six Nations Championship over the last five years meet each other to open their 2019 campaigns. Ireland won consecutive titles in 2014 and 2015, answered by back-to-back England titles in 2016 and 2017, before Ireland reasserted their dominance with a Grand Slam and Triple Crown to go along with their Six Nations Championship title last season.

Ireland did not play their best in their opening match any of the last three seasons (drew in 2016, lost in 2017, beat France 15-13 in 2018 on go-ahead drop goal in 80th minute). Ireland’s Keith Earls: “We’re going to have to start strong, not like we did in the last couple of years where we kind of had a slow start or a Johnny Sexton kick getting us out of trouble. I suppose that puts a lot of pressure on us as well. We know the challenge that’s in front of us is massive.”

This is a matchup of the last two World Rugby Coach of the Year award winners (Eddie Jones – 2017, Joe Schmidt – 2018).

2018 Six Nations meeting: England 15 v. Ireland 24 (Round 5, March 17)

Guinness Six Nations: Wales equals wins record after Italy scare in Rome

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ROME (AP) — Wales equaled its all-time record for consecutive wins after overcoming a plucky Italy 26-15 in Six Nations rugby on Saturday.

Italy scored the only try of the first half to trail by 12-7 at halftime. Wales didn’t score a try until the 53rd minute and finished with only two. Italy scored a second try, too, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Wales from an 11th successive victory, tying the Welsh record set 109 years ago.

Italy extended its own record streak with a 19th straight defeat in the Six Nations since 2015. The 99-year-old tournament record became theirs outright last weekend in Edinburgh.

Wales’ winning streak started against Italy in the 2018 Six Nations.

Coach Warren Gatland made 11 changes after the fortuitous win over France in Paris last weekend, trying to build experience in a Rugby World Cup year.

That Wales finished with its least points and tries in Rome in six years didn’t worry Gatland, who was far more satisfied with starting the championship with two wins away from home before returning to Cardiff to face title rival England in two weeks.

But he warned, “If we play like that against England it could be embarrassing.”

Stand-in captain Jonathan Davies was frustrated.

“I can’t fault the boys’ effort,” he said. “That accuracy in the final quarter was probably what we lacked. But we came to a difficult place to play rugby and got the result. Italy made things tough for us.”

But a comfortable win at Stadio Olimpico was on the cards as Dan Biggar kicked Wales to a 12-point lead in the first half hour.

Then Italy struck from an attacking lineout as Dean Budd and captain Sergio Parisse surged. Sebastian Negri and David Sisi helped in getting flanker Braam Steyn over the line, and the game descended into the tight contest the Welsh feared.

Tommaso Allan converted Steyn’s try but hit the post with a penalty just before halftime. He nailed a penalty after the break to cut the deficit to two.

Wales sent on regular captain Alun Wyn Jones and finally hit back and pulled away with converted tries by Josh Adams and Owen Watkin to make the result safe with 10 minutes to go.

Italy coach Conor O’Shea rued what he believed to be a missed opportunity.

“We were very close in points for 50 minutes where we were fully in the match,” O’Shea said. “We had an opportunity in the second half but the energy at that time went in their favor.”

Wales flew down the right touch then attacked down the left, where fullback Liam Williams drew the last man to send Adams into the corner for their first try.

Wales thought it scored another 10 minutes later, but Jonathan Davies was adjudged by the TMO to have knocked on.

The second try came from a delicate chip by replacement flyhalf Gareth Anscombe for Watkin to pounce on.

Italy made the scoreline more respectable when Allan exploited a gap and teed up Edoardo Padovani into the right corner.

Right at the end, Wales flanker Thomas Young was denied a try on debut when a forward pass was caught in the buildup.

Italy already looks consigned to a fourth consecutive wooden spoon. Defending champion Ireland arrives in two weeks. But Steyn, who was a standout for Italy, believes any home match is winnable.

“The hardest challenges,” Steyn added, “are the best.”

Guinness Six Nations: England switch from underdog to favorite against France

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Praise can make you weak. Eddie Jones threw that comment at Ireland last week as a warning about living up to expectations.

Those expectations were then shattered by Jones’ England side as they smashed the Irish in Dublin to kick off the Six Nations.

Naturally, praise has been showered on England for producing its best rugby performance since 2012 when it thrashed New Zealand 38-21 at Twickenham.

Having been hailed far and wide for the remarkable all-round triumph, its England’s turn to cope with all of the pats on the back, to switch from underdog to favorite before France turns up on Sunday at Twickenham.

“By Sunday we’ll be at our best,” Jones promises.

To prove all the praise has had no effect won’t be easy, especially when England isn’t in hostile territory but back in the cozy comforts of home. Its victory has enlarged the target on its back, with four rounds to go.

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” hooker Jamie George says. “We must realize that we can’t just rest on that win, believing that because we’ve produced one good performance we’ll be winning the World Cup. We need to build on this.”

The good news — and bad news — is the next opponent is France.

France should have sunk Wales last week in the rain in Paris, but Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez missed 13 points off the tee, and Yoann Huget and Sebastian Vahaamahina gave away two converted tries. Wales, without really firing a shot, won by five points.

Instead of just replacing injured backs Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard, and prop Uini Atonio, and showing some faith, coach Jacques Brunel has prolonged the turmoil the team can’t escape by tearing it apart and asking new combinations to hit the ground running in a stadium where France hasn’t won in 12 years.

He’s brought Geoffrey Daymourou and Mathieu Bastareaud into the centers, apparently to counter the considerable threat of Manu Tuilagi. They are the only survivors of the backline which beat England last year in Paris. But two more centers are on the wings in Gael Fickou and Damian Penaud. Meanwhile, Huget has been moved to fullback, where the wing hasn’t started for France in almost six years.

Center Romain Ntamack and lock Paul Willemse, who made their debuts against Wales, have been demoted to the reserves.

The French pack was huge and surprisingly mobile against Wales but flanker Yacouba Camara has been given his first cap since the 2018 Six Nations, and lock Felix Lambey and tighthead prop Demba Bamba will make their first starts. Bamba will be marking Mako Vunipola. Of Bamba, Brunel says, “He’s come up against a few good players.” But not Vunipola, who almost subdued the Ireland pack on his own.

If any rescuing is required, France’s reserves offer 25 caps of experience in total. Toulouse prop Dorian Aldegheri and fullback Thomas Ramos are uncapped, and four others have one cap each. Brunel says, “I expect them to bring their enthusiasm late in the game.”

England winger Chris Ashton, who has lost twice to France and never scored against them, expects the Tricolors to be desperate after blowing the Wales game.

“It will be an angry French team,” he says. “They love a reaction.”

Ashton set the Top 14 try-scoring record in his lone season with Toulon in 2016-17, and believes the Top 14 doesn’t prepare the French for test rugby.

“The Top 14 is a slow stop-start game. It’s not anywhere near (test level),” he says. “Maybe that step up shocks them in that first couple of games, but they will get up to speed very quickly.”

If praise can make you weak, then criticism can make you strong. Ashton better hope “very quickly” isn’t on Sunday.