Here are your rugby headlines from the Six Nations for Sunday February 21… with the big one just a matter of days away.
Owens’ England message
Wales hooker Ken Owens has warned England to expect no less intensity at an empty Principality Stadium than if there were 70,000 passionate Welsh fans screaming at them.
The two sides clash this weekend with Wales gunning for the Triple Crown and Eddie Jones admitting his England side have been hit from a drop in aggression due to the coronavirus-enforced absence of spectators at grounds.
England endured their first Twickenham defeat to Scotland since 1983 before beating Italy 41-18 in another underwhelming home display.
By contrast Wales have registered triumphs against Ireland and Scotland into head into Saturday’s home game dreaming of a Six Nations Grand Slam.
“I think the two games we’ve played have been really physical, top-end Test matches,” said Owens at a Wales Press briefing ahead of the game.
“It feels exactly at the level we’ve had in previous years playing in Six Nations, how Test rugby should be played.”
On the absence of crowds, Owens said: “People have heard me singing the anthem out of tune, which hasn’t been great!
“It is different. In the Ireland game the pyrotechnics stopped and then there was this silence, which was almost surreal. You didn’t know what to make of it.
“It obviously does have an affect not having a crowd because you feed off the energy of the fans and that atmosphere pushes on.
“I can probably see what he (Jones) is on about to a certain degree. Back-to-back efforts, especially defensively, and a couple of big hits, if you get a tackle on the front foot you are feeding off the energy of the crowd.
“But it’s something we’ve got to deal with and learn to adapt. We’ve had enough time and everybody’s in the same boat.
“As a professional player there’s no real excuse. You have to find your own motivation, that energy to play at the intensity needed in Test level.”
Owens sees comparisons with two years ago under Warren Gatland, when Wales beat England in Cardiff 21-13 in the third match en route to the Grand Slam.
“We’ve gone under the radar the first two weeks, no one really expected anything from us coming into the competition this year,” he said.
“But it’s similar how the games are set up, a week off leading into England with areas to improve and step up. It’s about momentum and keeping it up there.”
Eddie tried to lure Welsh try wonder
Eddie Jones attempted to persuade Louis Rees-Zammit to choose England over Wales, he has revealed ahead of the big game.
Rees-Zammit’s clinical finishing has been underlined by a haul of four tries in six Wales appearances, including two in the recent victory over Scotland, and Jones knew from an early stage the 20-year-old was a talent worth courting.
“I gave him a ring. I heard he was very Welsh and wanted to play for Wales and said if he was interested, we would be,” said Jones.
“He had to do five years qualification in terms of residency and a young guy like him is not going to sit around for five years.
“I wished him good luck and I’m pleased he’s doing well – I just hope he does not do too well against us.”
You can read our story in full here
Rees-Zammit as quick as anyone in the game
England wing Jonny May is ready for a huge head-to-head duel with Gloucester team-mate Louis Rees-Zammit this weekend.
The Kingsholm club colleagues turn direct international rivals as England head to the Principality Stadium hoping to stop Wales’ Triple Crown march and revive their own Six Nations title hopes.
The two men are each in fine form, May scoring a try double last time out against Italy with Rees-Zammit’s own efforts at Murrayfield helping Wales achieve an unlikely win over Scotland.
England boss Eddie Jones says he will tap into May’s inside knowledge of what helps make Rees-Zammit tick as part of England’s plan to try to stop the Welsh flier.
Giving his verdict, May told the Guardian : “On a good day, I can just about keep up with Louis. He is as quick as anyone I have come across, very young with the potential to become faster.
“He is a raw talent with a lot of potential to get better and I try and help him at Gloucester. He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing.
“I will give him a wave when I see him, then you just crack on. It’s just another game and it’s not like it’s me and Zam; it’s England against Wales and as a team we are going out there to get better and raise the bar.
“I just want to be the best player that I can be.”
May continued: “The pressure is on Wales because they want to keep winning and it is on us because we had a poor game against Scotland and after going in the right direction against Italy are in no position to take another step backwards.
“We put pressure on ourselves regardless of the circumstances. It is just a shame there will be no one to watch.”
France rocked by Covid-19 cases
France’s Six Nations title bid has been rocked after their Covid-19 outbreak worsened, with two more players revealed to have tested positive.
France opened their campaign with away wins in Ireland and Italy and clash with Scotland next in Paris. They then wind up with England at Twickenham and a home finale against Wales.
Scrum-half ace Antoine Dupont, wing Gabin Villiere and prop Mohamed Haouas are unlikely to face the Scots after testing positive.
Confirmation of the diagnoses for Villiere and Haouas takes the total number of cases in the French camp to six – three players and three members of management.
The rest of the squad will be tested again today.
Head coach Fabien Galthie, assistant William Servat and another member of the backroom team tested positive earlier and have been isolating. The issue will severely hamper France’s preparations for the Scotland match, while further cases could feasibly see the fixture put under threat.
The six French cases remain the only confirmed positive results in the tournament so far, with players and staff from every team being tested twice a week.