Trio return for England, Wales depleted for Scotland clash

by AFP

England have received a significant injury boost ahead of their Six Nations opener against Italy after a trio of players rated doubtful were passed fit.

Flanker Chris Robshaw (back), lock Maro Itoje (hip) and fullback Mike Brown (blurred vision) have returned to training and have been given the all-clear for Sunday's Stadio Olimpico showdown.

Of the 34 players summoned to the squad's training base, only Zach Mercer has dropped out of contention because of a viral infection.

"We've had some miracles. There have been some great recoveries because of the fantastic work from the medical and strength and conditioning staff," head coach Eddie Jones said.

"All of them have returned. We did some stuff yesterday and they all came through really well."

England pressured the WallabiesMercer's challenge at No.8 has faded, leaving Sam Simmonds in pole position to start in Rome in the absence of the injured Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes.

"Mercer is doing OK but he's still got a lot of work to do. Physically he's got a lot of work to do," Jones said.

"You put him next to James Haskell and you can see the physical work he's got to do to be a Test player.

"He has other attributes and he's doing well, but he's got to get stronger. We play a very physical game and you need physical strength to play it well."

Itoje returns to the scene of his Test debut two years ago as a superstar of English rugby and one of the squad's world-class operators.

Jones believes the 23-year-old, who has since won 17 caps including three for the British and Irish Lions, has developed into a special player but believes one area of his game can be improved.

"Maro has come on exceptionally well. He's played for the Lions and been part of a side that drew the series with New Zealand," Jones said.

"He's won two Six Nations titles. For a young guy he's been in successful teams - plus he's had a lot of club success too.

"His maturity is the thing that impresses me the most. He wants to take more responsibility within the team. He's been absolutely outstanding."

Josh Adams will make his Wales debut against Scotland in their Six Nations opener after George North joined a lengthy list of high-profile absentees for the match in Cardiff.

George North is heading home. Photo: Getty ImagesNorth has suffered persistent knee problems and had a fitness assessment on Monday after pulling out of a club match for Northampton at the weekend in the latest setback to an injury-hit season.

Adams, whose 13 tries for Worcester make the 22-year-old the top tryscorer in the English Premiership this season, replaces North on the wing and is the only player in the backs who is not from the in-form Scarlets.

"We have been watching Josh closely. He has been going well and we are excited for him," Gatland said.

As well as North, Wales will be without skipper Sam Warburton, Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Rhys Webb and Liam Williams for the tussle at the Principality Stadium.

Rhys Patchell takes Biggar's place at five-eighth in what Gatland said was a tough selection call.

"Both Rhys and Gareth (Anscombe) have been training really well over the last couple of weeks. It was a tough call between them," the coach said.

"Rhys has started most of his games for the Scarlets at 10. We are really happy with his form and the combination with Gareth Davies at nine."

Ross Moriarty returns to strengthen the back row, having missed the end-of-year internationals after being injured on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

"We know what a quality player Ross is. It's great he is back and available and we are looking forward to seeing his explosive ball carrying on Saturday," Gatland said.

Wales make six changes in all from their previous test in December, when they beat South Africa 24-22 in Cardiff.

They are chasing their first Six Nations title since 2013 and have not lost to Scotland in their past eight home clashes.


Wales to face Ireland

1. Rob Evans

2. Ken Owens

3. Samson Lee

4. Cory Hill

5. Alun Wyn Jones

6. Aaron Shingler

7. Josh Navidi

8. Ross Moriarty

9. Gareth Davies

10. Rhys Patchell

11. Steff Evans

12. Hadleigh Parkes

13. Scott Williams

14. Josh Adams

15. Leigh Halfpenny


16. Elliot Dee

17. Wyn Jones

18. Tomas Francis

19. Bradley Davies

20. Justin Tipuri

21. Aled Davies

22. Gareth Anscombe

23. Owen Watkin