Itoje England’s youngest second row for 20 years

RUGBY – Maro Itoje has been named in England’s starting XV to face Ireland in the third round of the Six Nations Championship at Twickenham on Saturday. Itoje will be the youngest second row to start for England in the competition since Garath Archer 20 years ago, and only the eighth forward in the professional era to debut for England before his 22nd birthday. Continue reading

PREVIEW: North by far youngest to earn 50th Test cap in rugby

RUGBY – Wales have named George North in their starting XV to face France in the teams’ Six Nations Championship encounter in Paris on Saturday. For North, it will be his 50 Test appearance, making him by far the youngest player in Test history to reach the half century. He beats the former mark held by Australia’s Joe Roff by more than a year.

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REVIEW: O’Driscoll out on a high, Ireland win Six Nations

RUGBY UNION –  Ireland defeated France 22-20 to seal their first Six Nations Championship since 2009. It was a fitting farewell for icon Brian O’Driscoll who leaves the international stage having featured in a world record 141 Test matches, 133 for Ireland and eight for the British & Irish Lions. Ireland also joined France, England and Wales as sides to win the competition on more than one occasion in the Six Nations era (2000-2014).

RECORD: O’Driscoll to improve Test appearances world record

RUGBY UNION – On Saturday, 8 March, Brian O’Driscoll can improve the world record for most career Test appearances, surpassing the 139 by Australia’s George Gregan. O’Driscoll has represented Ireland 131 times and the British and Irish Lions on eight occasions. O’Driscoll made his international debut on 12 June 1999 in a 46-10 defeat against Australia. Continue reading

PREVIEW: 2014 Six Nations Championship – Matchday 2

RUGBY UNION – The following are previews for the second matchday of the 2014 Six Nations Championship.

Six Nations Championship 2014 – Week 2

Ireland – Wales (Aviva Stadium, Saturday, 8 February)

> Ireland have the upper hand, having won nine of 14 previous meetings in the Six Nations Championship, and losing only five.
> Last season, Ireland were the only team to avoid defeat against eventual champions Wales, defeating them 30-22 in Cardiff in both teams’ season opener.
> The last 6N meeting in Ireland was won 23-21 by Wales on the opening matchday of the 2012 season. It laid the foundation for Wales’ Grand Slam winning campaign.
> Ireland lead the 6N series at home against Wales on four wins and three defeats.
> Ireland can become the first team to defeat Wales 10 times in the Six Nations.
> Wales have won 65 of the previous 119 Tests between the two. Ireland have won 48 and there have been six draws.

> Against Scotland, Brian O’Driscoll made his 129th Test appearance for Ireland, by which he surpassed the record of 128 he shared with Ronan O’Gara.
> Including his eight Test appearances for the British and Irish Lions, O’Driscoll’s career total is up to 137 and he needs two more to equal the world record of 39 by Australia’s George Gregan.
> O’Driscoll has also equalled the record for appearing in most Six Nations seasons. He now shares the mark of 14 with Ronan O’Gara.
> Jonathan Sexton’s 13-point effort against Scotland raised his career total for Ireland to 314 and moved him up to third place among Ireland players behind Ronan O’Gara (1,083) and David Humphreys (560).
> O’Driscoll can become the third player to score points in at least 12 different Six Nations seasons. Ronan O’Gara (13) and Wales’ Stephen Jones (12) have achieved that.
> Ireland have not won successive 6N matches since 2010. They have played 17 matches in the competition since winning two in a row.

> In three of the four seasons Wales won the Six Nations (2005, 2008 and 2012) Wales won their opening two matches. The only other season in which they won their opening two (2009), Ireland won the Grand Slam.
> Wales have won 10 of their last 11 Six Nations matches, the one exception being their defeat against Ireland on the opening matchday last season.
> Wales have won five in a row. Their longest 6N winning streak is eight (2007-2009).
> Leigh Halfpenny has played in 52 Tests. In his first 26, he scored 75 points (average 2.9). In his last 26 Tests, he put up 331 points (average 12.7).
Scotland – England (Murrayfield, Saturday, 8 February)

> Of 14 previous meetings in the Six Nations Championship, England have won 10, Scotland three and there has been one draw.
> The 15-15 draw on 13 March 2010 marked the last time Scotland avoided defeat against England in a 6N match, or in any Test against England for that matter.
> Scotland’s last victory over England in the Six Nations was their 15-9 triumph at Murrayfield on 8 March 2008.
> The last 6N encounter in Edinburgh was won 13-6 by England on 4 February 2012.
> Since 1871, these sides have met in 131 Test matches, with England winning 71 times, Scotland 42 and 18 matches resulting in a draw.
> The Calcutta Cup has been contested since 1879. In that span, England have claimed 66 wins against Scotland’s 39. There have been 15 draws in that period.
> England have held the Calcutta Cup since 2009, their longest stranglehold on the trophy since safeguarding it from 1991 to 2000.

> Scotland have lost their last three and nine of their last 11 in the Six Nations.
> Fourteen of Scotland’s 18 victories in the Six Nations have come at home.
> Scotland have registered only one try in their last four Six Nations matches combined. That try was scored by Tim Visser, who crossed over against France on 16 March 2013.
> Scotland have failed to pick up a victory from their opening two matches in 10 of their previous 14 Six Nations campaigns.
> Greig Laidlaw has scored 47 of Scotland’s last 54 points in the Six Nations.
> In the match against Ireland, Laidlaw became the sixth player to reach 100 career points in the Five/Six Nations and only the second in the Six Nations era, behind Chris Paterson.
> Scotland have lost their last three Test matches and were outscored 77-21 in them.

> For only the third time in 15 seasons, England have started out their Six Nations campaign with a defeat. Only two teams managed to win the trophy after losing their opener, France in 2006 and Wales in 2013.
> In only one previous 6N season (2005), England lost their first two matches.
> England have lost their last two away matches in the Six Nations after winning four in a row away from home.
> Luther Burrell scored a try on his Test debut against France last week. In the professional era, four England players have registered tries in their first two Tests, Dan Luger, Mark Cueto, Matt Banahan and Manu Tuilagi.
> For the first time, England have lost two Six Nations matches in a row under Stuart Lancaster. They won eight of their first nine 6N matches with Lancaster as their head coach.
> The last Six Nations season in which England suffered more than one defeat was 2010.
> England have conceded 56 points (average 28.0) in their last two 6N matches, both defeats. They only conceded 79 (average 13.2) in their previous six, all victories.

France – Italy (Stade de France, Sunday, 9 February)

> From 14 previous meetings in the Six Nations, France have won 12.
> However, Italy have won two of the last three, including last year’s meeting, a 23-18 victory over France at the Stadio Olimpico.
> France’s last Six Nations triumph dates back to 4 February 2012, when Les Bleus emerged victorious 30-12 at the Stade de France.
> France’s last 6N win in Italy came on 21 March 2009, when the French destroyed the Italians 50-8 at the Stadio Flaminio.
> France have always registered at least two tries in their Six Nations matches against Italy.
> The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy has been contested since 2007. France have won it five times, Italy have collected it twice.
> Italy have collected only three victories from a total of 34 Test matches facing France.

> By defeating England, France moved ahead of their rivals in terms of victories in the Six Nations. France (48) lead the all-time table from England (47) and Ireland (46).
> France already have as many 6N victories this season (one) as in the entire 2013 season.
> In their opener against England, France recorded three tries. It was the first time they managed more than two in a Six Nations match since crossing over four times in their 30-12 home victory over Italy on 4 February 2012.
> France have failed to win any of their last three 6N matches on a Sunday.
> Of France’s 21 defeats in the Six Nations, 14 were suffered on the road and only seven came at home.
> Yoann Huget has scored three tries in his last two Tests combined. He had recorded only two tries in his first 21 Tests put together.
> Against England, Huget became the first France player to score more than one try in a Six Nations match in nearly three years. On 19 March 2011, Lionel Nallet crossed over twice against Wales.
> France have collected four wins, two draws and five defeats in Six Nations matches under Philippe Saint-André. A win against Italy would make theirs a balanced record under their current head coach.

> Only one of Italy’s 11 victories in the Six Nations came away from home, their 37-17 victory at Scotland on 24 February 2007.
> Italy have started their Six Nations campaign out with consecutive defeats in 11 of their 14 previous seasons in the competition.
> In the match against Wales, Marco Bortolami made his 100th Test appearance. This gave Italy its fifth Test centurion, which equals the record by Australia and New Zealand.
> Against Wales, Mauro Bergamasco broke the record for longest Test career by an Italy, surpassing the 15 service years by Sergio Lanfranchi. With 96 caps under his belt, Bergamasco looks to become Italy’s next centurion.
> Also last weekend, Michele Campagnaro equalled a team record by scoring two tries in a Six Nations match, joining Alessandro Troncon as the only players to do so. Troncon crossed over twice on 1 April 2000.