Six nations 2019: Teams and times for round one

International
AFP
by AFP

The 2019 Six Nations kicks off this weekend and there are plenty of blockbuster matches to kick off the tournament.

England-Ireland headlines the first weekend but it will be France and Wales opening the competition on Saturday morning (AEDT).

Scotland hosts Italy on Sunday morning (AEDT) before the Dublin showdown rounds out the opening weekend.

FIXTURES

Ireland vs England, Aviva Stadium, Saturday February 2, 4;45pm local, Sunday 3:45am AEDT

France vs Wales, Stade de France, Friday February 1, 9pm local, Saturday 7am AEDT

Scotland vs Italy, Murrayfield, Saturday February 2, 2:15pm local, Sunday 1:15am AEDT

IRELAND vs ENGLAND

Rory Best and Owen Farrell at the Six nations launch. Photo: Getty ImagesEddie Jones insisted England's belief in their ability to beat champions Ireland was intact even though "no one thinks we can win" the Six Nations clash in Dublin.

Ireland, who defeated England 24-15 at Twickenham to complete a Grand Slam last season, will be favourites for Saturday's match at the Aviva Stadium.

But few serious observers have completely written off the chances of a victory for England, particularly given their improving form during a November where they won three out of four Tests and only lost narrowly to New Zealand, albeit Ireland beat the world champion All Blacks in Dublin that month.

Nevertheless England coach Jones, perhaps trying to inspire a 'siege mentality' among his players at their training camp in Portugal, said Thursday after naming his matchday 23: "It is well documented no one thinks we can win but I can tell you everyone inside our camp believes we can win.

"We are hugely looking forward to the weekend," the Australian added in a statement issued by the Rugby Football Union.

The injury-plagued Manu Tuilagi is set to make his first England start in more than four years after fellow centre Ben Te'o was ruled out with a side strain.

Elliot Daly held off the challenge of Mike Brown to remain at fullback.

Daly, more comfortable as a centre or wing, has started England's last seven Tests at fullback.

Jones could have opted to bring back specialist No 15 Mike Brown for an expected aerial bombardment by Ireland given the Harlequins stalwart's skill under the high ball -- an area where Daly struggled during the November internationals.

But Jack Nowell was recalled. Having spoken about the possibility of converting the Exeter flyer into a flanker, Jones selected him in his usual wing position.

There is no doubt, though, that England will want the defensively strong Nowell to combat Ireland's ruck threat.

"I think it is quite clear to beat Ireland you have to beat them in the contest area," said Jones. "They are very good at the breakdown and in the air. "Both those areas are a priority for us," the former Australia and Japan coach added.

Jones's first defeat in his opening 23 games as Red Rose coach was a 13-9 loss away to Ireland in 2017 that both ended England's bid for a second successive Grand Slam and a new outright world record of 19 consecutive Test wins by a major rugby union nation.

"Traditionally England and Ireland games are always very close, they are tough affairs, there is a lot of emotion in the games so our ability to finish the game strongly is going to be vital," said Jones ahead of the teams' first Test of a 2019 culminating with the World Cup in Japan.

TEAM

1. Mako Vunipola

2. Jamie George

3. Kyle Sinckler

4. Maro Itoje

5. George Kruis

6. Mark Wilson

7. Tom Curry

8. Billy Vunipola

9. Ben Youngs

10. Owen Farrell

11. Jack Nowell

12. Manu Tuilagi

13. Henry Slade

14. Jonny May

15. Elliot Daly

Reserves

16. Luke Cowan-Dickie

17. Ellis Genge

18. Harry Williams

19. Courtney Lawes

20. Nathan Hughes

21. Dan Robson

22. George Ford

23. Chris Ashton

Ireland

Conor Murray and world player of the year Johnny Sexton are reunited for defending champions Ireland's tough Six Nations opener against England at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Scrumhalf Murray missed the November Tests -- including the historic home Test win over world champions New Zealand -- as he had only just recovered from a neck injury.

Kieran Marmion deputised for him very effectively alongside Sexton but he is presently out of contention due to injury although he could only have expected to slot in on the replacements bench in any case with Murray fit again.

Murray and Sexton have formed a world-class half-back partnership, flourishing under head coach Joe Schmidt's direction and climaxing with the Six Nations Grand Slam last year.

Sexton, though, is the one who comes into the game with a question mark over his fitness, the 33-year-old having not played in Leinster's two European Champions Cup matches due to a knee issue.

Schmidt, entering his final Six Nations as he steps down after this year's World Cup, has stayed largely faithful to the side that disposed of the All Blacks.

To this end the New Zealander retains the centre partnership of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose which means a rare appearance at fullback for Robbie Henshaw.

The 25-year-old -- Ringrose's centre partner at Leinster -- has played all but one of his 36 Tests in the midfield but began his career at fullback when he was at Connacht and it is believed it is his favoured position

Henshaw gets the nod at fullback as veteran Rob Kearney has only just returned to action and looked rusty in his reappearance for Leinster last Friday.

He does not even make the bench as Schmidt opts for the spontaneity of youngster Jordan Larmour, who can play either at fullback or the wing.

"We really felt the way he trained in Portugal last week and this week that it was worth pursuing," Schmidt said of Henshaw starting at full-back, playing down any fears that England might target him.

"If they do, Robbie will have a good response for that and he will get plenty of support from Keith (Earls) and Jacob (Stockdale)."

TEAM

1. Cian Healy

2. Rory Best

3. Tadhg Furlong

4. Devin Toner

5. James Ryan

6. Peter O'Mahony

7. Josh van der Flier

8. CJ Stander

9. Conor Murray

10. Johnny Sexton

11. Jacob Stockdale

12. Bundee Aki

13. Garry Ringrose

14. Keith Earls

15. Robbie Henshaw

Reserves

16. Sean Cronin

17. Dave Kilcoyne

18. Andrew Porter

19. Quinn Roux

20. Sean O’Brien

21. John Cooney

22. Joey Carbery

23. Jordan Larmour

FRANCE vs WALES

Tomos Williams will make his Six Nations debut in the 2019 Championship opener against France in Paris on Friday.

The Cardiff Blues scrum-half has seen off competition from Gareth Davies to be named in the starting XV announced by coach Warren Gatland on Wednesday for the Stade de France clash.

Williams will form a half-back pairing with Cardiff team-mate Gareth Anscombe.

It will be 24-year-old Williams' seventh appearance for Wales, after he made his debut against South Africa in Washington during last year's tour.

Gatland, in what is set to be his final Six Nations as Wales coach before stepping down after this year's World Cup in Japan, made two other changes from the side that beat South Africa in November.

Cardiff flanker Josh Navidi returns after missing the whole of the November series because of injury, while Scarlets prop Rob Evans replaces Nicky Smith.

Davies has overcome a thigh strain to provide bench cover for Williams as Wales try to record a seventh win in eight matches against France, who unveiled their side earlier Wednesday.

But there was no place in the side for Leigh Halfpenny as the goalkicking ace continues his recovery from concussion.

Liam Williams was again selected at full-back, with George North and Josh Adams on the wings.

Victory for Wales in Paris would see them extend their unbeaten run to 10 games and equal their longest winning sequence since 1999.

Wales' last defeat was against eventual Grand Slam champions Ireland in last season's Six Nations.

TEAM

1. Rob Evans

2. Ken Owens

3. Tomas Francis

4. Adam Beard

5. Alun Wyn Jones

6. Josh Navidi

7. Justin Tipuric

8. Ross Moriarty

9. Tomos Williams

10. Gareth Anscombe

11. Josh Adams

12. Hadleigh Parkes

13. Jonathan Davies

14. George North

15. Liam Williams

Reserves

16. Elliot Dee

17. Wyn Jones

18. Samson Lee

19. Cory Hill

20. Aaron Wainwright

21. Gareth Davies

22.  Dan Biggar

23. Owen Watkin

France

South African-born Paul Willemse will make his debut for France in Friday's Six Nations opener against Wales in Paris.

Willemse, a 2012 junior world champion with the Baby Boks, arrived on French soil in 2014 as a 21-year-old, and has the three years of residency required by World Rugby regulations.

He received his French passport in November and will become the 11th South African-born player to wear France's blue jersey.

Also making his debut against the Welsh and facing a baptism of fire in midfield will be Romain Ntamack, the 19-year-old son of emblematic ex-France back Emile.

Ntamack is preferred to vice-captain Mathieu Bastareaud, whose latest dramatic fall from favour means he is not even named among the replacements.

"It's not a sanction, he's an important player in the squad. He's definitely not been thrown out," coach Jacques Brunel maintained, when asked about the absence of Bastareaud, who was promoted to captain in last season's Six Nations after Guilhem Guirado was injured.

"It was certainly a tricky call. Mathieu Bastareaud has shown many mental qualities. You must not forget that when matches are tough and when the team's in trouble, he's been one of the best."

Ntamack has been at the heart of a buoyant Toulouse side in the Top 14 this season and his selection hints at a change of gameplan by Brunel, who last season oversaw three wins and eight defeats, including a first-ever loss to Fiji.

"Romain Ntamack is a strong pick," Brunel admitted. "Of course, he's a lad whose qualities we all know.

"He's shown since the start of the season that he's capable of adapting to the levels he's played at."

Ntamack will be partnered in the centres by Wesley Fofana, who missed the November Tests through injury, with Gael Fickou and Geoffrey Doumayrou providing cover from the bench.

Maxime Medard was named at full-back, with Damian Penaud and Yoann Huget on the wings.

Morgan Parra teams up with Clermont teammate Camille Lopez at half-back for just the second time at international level and four years after their previous game together, in the 2015 Six Nations.

TEAM

1. Jefferson Poirot

2. Guilhem Guirado

3. Uini Atonio

4. Sebastien Vahaamahina

5. Paul Willemse

6. Arthur Iturria

7. Wenceslas Lauret

8. Louis Picamoles

9. Morgan Parra

10. Camille Lopez

11. Yoann Huget

12. Romain Ntamack

13. Wesley Fofana

14. Damian Penaud

15. Maxime Medard

Reserves

16. Julien Marchand

17. Dany Priso

18. Demba Bamba

19. Felix Lambey

20. Gregory Alldritt

21. Baptiste Serin

22. Gael Fickou

23. Geoffrey Doumayrou

SCOTLAND vs ITALY

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will hand a Test debut to Glasgow centre Sam Johnson for the Six Nations opener at home to Italy on Saturday.

Newcastle flanker Gary Graham, previously called up by England coach Eddie Jones, and Leicester hooker Jake Kerr could also win their first caps if they appear off the bench.

Edinburgh full-back Blair Kinghorn will start on the left wing as the Dark Blues welcome an Azzurri side who have lost their last 17 Six Nations matches against all opponents to Murrayfield.

With Edinburgh resurgent under Richard Cockerill this season, Townsend has chosen to go with the capital outfit's tight five. Hooker Stuart McInally will pack down between props Allan Dell and WP Nel, with Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist forming the second row.

Exeter lock Sam Skinner will slot into the back row after showing he can fill in at flanker during his impressive introduction to the national team set-up during the autumn, with Ryan Wilson and Jamie Ritchie completing the back row.

Skipper Greig Laidlaw will partner Racing 92 star Finn Russell at half-back, while Australia-born Johnson, qualified on residency grounds after signing for Glasgow in 2015, lining up alongside Huw Jones in midfield.

Stuart Hogg will again provide an attacking threat from full-back as he slots in beside Kinghorn, deputising for the injured Sean Maitland, and Tommy Seymour in the back three.

"Italy have made life tough for Scotland in every Test match we've played," said Townsend.

"I remember that as a player, as a supporter and as a coach -- and they were better than us in most of last season's contest in Rome," he added, while recalling a narrow 29-27 victory at the Stadio Olimpico.

"They played with pace, were physical and we had to play really, really well in the final quarter to win.

"Our challenge is to win the physical battle, which is a strength of Italian rugby.

"We will also have to bring energy and accuracy in order to get our campaign off to a winning start."

TEAM

1. Allan Dell

2. Stuart McInally

3. WP Nel

4. Ben Toolis

5. Grant Gilchrist

6. Sam Skinner

7. Jamie Ritchie

8. Ryan Wilson

9. Greig Laidlaw

10. Finn Russell

11. Blair Kinghorn

12. Sam Johnson

13. Huw Jones

14. Tommy Seymour

15. Stuart Hogg

Reserves

16. Jake Kerr

17. Jamie Bhati

18. Simon Berghan

19. Gary Graham

20. Josh Strauss

21. Ali Price

22. Adam Hastings

23. Chris Harris

Italy

Former England Under-20 back-row David Sisi will earn his first cap for Italy in their Six Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Sisi, 25, who moved from English club Bath to Italian Pro 14 side Zebre in 2017, made 14 appearances for England's youth team between 2012 and 2013.

Veteran captain Sergio Parisse -- capped 134 times -- returns after missing the November Tests through injury, with hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini set for his 100th cap.

Sisi will make his debut alongside Dean Budd with Ghiraldini joined on the front row by Simone Ferrari and Andrea Lovotti.

The Italians are on a run of a record 17 straight Six Nations defeats with their last win in the tournament against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015.

TEAM

1. Andrea Lovotti

2. Leonardo Ghiraldini

3. Simone Ferrari

4. David Sisi

5. Dean Budd

6. Sebastian Negri

7. Braam Steyn

8. Sergio Parisse

9. Tito Tebaldi

10. Tommaso Allan

11. Michele Campagnaro

12. Tommaso Castello

13. Luca Morisi

14. Angelo Esposito

15. Jayden Hayward

Reserves

16. Luca Bigi

17. Cherif Traore

18. Tiziano Pasquali

19. Federico Ruzza

20. Jimmy Tuivaiti

21. Guglielmo Palazzani

22. Ian McKinley

23. Edoardo Padovani