Highlanders give Banks a fly-half start for Blues clash

Marty Banks will for the first time this season start at fly-half for the Highlanders in their derby clash with Blues on Friday.

Elsewhere in the backs, Thomas Umaga-Jensen will again partner Patelesio Tomkinson in the midfield, while half-backs Folau Fakatava and Josh Ioane will provide cover in the playmaking positions, with the versatile Richard Buckman rounding out the back reserves.

Meanwhile, the forwards will have the experience of Liam Coltman, Tom Franklin and Luke Whitelock combined with exciting young players Pari Pari Parkinson and Shannon Frizell.

Hooker Ray Niuia will get his first start from the bench with Josh Dickson and Jackson Hemopo adding plenty of size to the game-day 23.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Patelesio Tomkinson, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (cc), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone Replacements: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman

Venue: Eden Park, Auckland

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa) Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand) TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Anscombe warns of Wales player exodus

Wales international Gareth Anscombe believes the crisis in the country's regional rugby will lead many players to consider a move to either England or France.

The international game in Wales is on a high after clinching the Grand Slam on Saturday with victory over Ireland, Anscombe playing a pivotal role at fly-half in that success.

However, the entire Six Nations campaign has been played against a back drop of uncertainty in the domestic game with the Wales Rugby Union failing to push through plans to merge Ospreys and Scarlets.

Numerous players are also in the dark as regards their futures at the four regional teams, although Scarlets have tied international trio Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens and Rob Evans to new deals this week.

Players who do take their club careers away from Wales risk becoming ineligible for the international squad due to the WRU's 60-cap rule, with scrum-half Rhys Webb having fallen foul of that after he joined Toulon.

Anscombe, who is wanted by Premiership duo Harlequins and Bath, would also be ineligible were he to decide to move when his contract at Cardiff Blues expires at the end of the season.

Anscombe has now revealed that several members of the Grand Slam-winning squad are considering leaving Wales due to the high levels of uncertainty in the hope they can safeguard their financial futures elsewhere, believing they have been let down by the regions.

"We've only got a 10-year window to really look after ourselves, and I guess the important thing is you don't want to look back with any regrets,' said Anscombe.

"We all want to play for Wales - there is no doubt about that - but players need to be treated well, and we deserve to be.

"We are a world-class team and we deserve to be where we are. We're not far off beating anyone, we are number two in the world now, so hopefully that gets reciprocated both ways.

"Players have been let down a bit when you look at results we have provided them."

Blow for Highlanders as Squire suffers injury setback

The Highlanders suffered a blow when it was confirmed that All Black back-row Liam Squire has suffered a serious knee injury.

Squire had been back in full training with the New Zealand franchise last week after recovering from a hip injury that had kept him out of all rugby this year but tore a medial ligament and would be out of consideration for eight to 10 weeks.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said: "He would have been available for this week's game (against the Blues in Auckland). It's a terrible blow for him.

"The guy has worked so hard to get to where he is but these things happen and unfortunately it has happened to a guy who has already had a bit of adversity this year."

The Highlanders had their game against the Crusaders postponed last week due to the terror attacks in Christchurch.

They are now preparing for another New Zealand derby when they travel to play the Blues on Friday.

Williams to miss Super Rugby clash to help mosque victims

All Black centre Sonny Bill Williams will miss the Blues' Super Rugby clash against the Highlanders in Auckland on Friday to spend time in Christchurch in the wake of last week’s terror attacks in the city.

Williams will be in Christchurch, helping to raise money for the victims and their families and to aid those affected by the tragedy.

A devout Muslim, Williams has been vocal in his support for the city of Christchurch and expressed his sadness at the attacks, which left 50 people dead and many more injured.

The 33-year-old has teamed up with charity Muslims Around the World (MATW), a not-for-profit that helps disadvantaged Muslims across the globe.

Williams posted an emotional video to twitter on Friday after the attacks, expressing his support for those impacted.

"(I'm) sending out my duas to everyone that’s been killed today in Christchurch...you guys are all in paradise," he said.

"I'm just deeply, deeply saddened this would happen in New Zealand."

The impact of the news is still being felt across the country, with the Blues reportedly cancelling their Monday media session in the aftermath of the shootings.

Williams' absence for the Highlanders clash will count as one of his mandatory All Blacks stand down weeks, with all New Zealand Test players needing to rest for two games ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

The Blues have an obvious replacement for Williams in Ma'a Nonu, the former All Black who last played in the defeat to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on March 3.

Last Saturday's clash between the Highlanders and Crusaders in Dunedin was cancelled because of the attacks but the Crusaders will return to Super Rugby action against the Waratahs on Saturday.

The Waratahs will hold a minute's silence before the game on Saturday to acknowledge the victims of the attack.

Wales captain dreams of World Cup success

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones is dreaming of winning the World Cup later this year but admits there is a lot of work to be done.

Wales have just wrapped up their first Grand Slam in seven years, and first Six Nations title since 2013, and with the World Cup fast approaching, talk has inevitably turned to the Japan showpiece.

Jones says it is natural for Wales to be now labelled as contenders, but claims some of it could be mind games from the opposition and Wales must stay focused on their preparations.

However, he insists it is ok for everyone to dream as long as they stay grounded at the same time.

"It is very easy for other teams to say we are going to be putting our hands up, to take the pressure off themselves," Jones said.

"People will pick apart the deficiencies we still have in our game. If we didn't have that, there would be no point in us being here.

"We are well aware of that, and Gats is always a coach who puts us under pressure and challenges us, irrelevant of games.

"Everyone dreams, we all dream, but there is work still to do.

"We are comfortable with the deficiencies we have, and we will work on them. We will see what happens."

Parkes dedicates Grand Slam to New Zealand mosque victims

Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes has dedicated their Grand Slam to the victims of last week's shootings in Christchurch in which 50 people died.

New Zealand-born Parkes scored Wales' only try in their Grand Slam-winning 25-7 triumph over Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.

"It's terrible. You kind of think New Zealand is like a safe haven," he told the BBC. "For the people of Christchurch, for the Muslim community, it's shocking. It is heartbreaking to hear about that kind of thing."

A minute's silence was held before the Six Nations Test and another player who was born in New Zealand, fly-half Gareth Anscombe, scored the rest of Wales' points via six penalties and a conversion.

"I am really thankful for the minute's silence,' said Parkes. Wales' Grand Slam success moves them into second position in World Rugby's Test rankings, one place behind world champions New Zealand.

Parkes said he knows that his adopted country is now amongst the favourites to win the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

"It's nice to have a bit of expectation on you,' added the 31-year-old. 'There is a lot of rugby still to be played - hopefully it will be a good year for the Welsh people."

Tatafu Polota-Nau returns to Leicester Tigers

Australia hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau is returning to Leicester Tigers after making two appearances for the Waratahs on loan in Super Rugby.

Polota-Nau joined the Waratahs ahead of their clash with the Reds a fortnight ago, with the Sydneysiders short on fit forwards.

At the time Leicester said he would be back in England by the end of the month and he has duly returned to the Premiership this week.

His loan was a short-term injury cover deal between the two clubs and Polota-Nau ultimately played just an hour of football for the Waratahs before being asked to return.

Prop Shambeckler Vui is the frame to be fit for the Waratahs' clash with the Crusaders in Sydney on Saturday while rookie hooker Andrew Tuala would be the first-choice to back up starting hooker Damien Fitzpatrick with Tolu Latu still missing through suspension.

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said Polota-Nau had stepped into the club easily, praising his contribution during his short time in Sydney.

"Our team is very grateful to Tatafu and Leicester Tigers for helping us fill a short term injury cover," he told Rugby Australia's official website.

"We entered a loan arrangement always knowing Leicester would want him back in England in the near future. "Tatafu slotted back into the squad with such ease and was a big contributor for the squad.

"It also gave Tatafu the chance to show Aussie selectors how he's progressing ahead of the World Cup.

"Shambeckler Vui is working his way back to full fitness and Andrew Tuala will also come into the squad.

"Tuala had two great games with our Emerging Waratahs side and has been working hard at our training sessions."

Jones vows to dig deep into 'team's psyche'

England head coach Eddie Jones has vowed to resolve what he feels is a long-standing issue, after England let a massive lead slip against Scotland on Saturday.

The Twickenham hosts raced into a 31-0 lead and held a 31-7 cushion on 46 minutes before the Scots launched their fightback to eventually draw.

It was unthinkable at the time that Gregor Townsend's men would recover from such a deficit but England crumbled and were lucky not to lose.

Jones believes his charges are suffering with a mental issue that is allowing teams back in to games, citing previous matches over the past year, and is determined to resolve the issue before the Rugby World Cup.

"It's a re-occurring theme for us and we've probably experienced this three times over the past 12 months where we've let our foot off the gas and haven't been able to get control back," he told England Rugby following the 38-38 draw.

"Our first half was exceptional and we came in at half-time determined to tighten things up but we failed do to that.

"I thought our finishers did exceptionally well to get us out of jail, but I'm disappointed with the 80 minutes."

Jones added: "We lack the discipline to do the simple things over and over. We got seduced by the scoreboard.

"This is possibly a problem the team has had for a long time, even before I started so we need to make sure we get the right people in to help us. It's 100 per cent mental, it's the way you think and we'll get that right.

"It's not something you can fix easily, it's going to take some digging deep into the team's psyche. We think we've got a pretty good idea of what it is, but it's going to take some time."

Alun Wyn Jones praises 'unwavering' Warren Gatland

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones heaped praise on coach Warren Gatland after Saturday's 25-7 Six Nations triumph over Ireland in Cardiff.

The victory means Wales secured the Grand Slam for the third time under Gatland's guidance after they also achieved the feat in his first season in charge of the team in 2008 and also in 2012.

And Jones believes Gatland deserves plenty of credit for the side's achievement.

"Anything can happen when you work hard and you're a proud nation, and we've shown that," he said after the match.

"Warren's the man at the top and we've been under pressure, but he's always been unwavering. He's got a bit left on his contract, but I'm sure we'll miss him when he's eventually gone.

"At times we've been unconvincing so we like to think there's still potential in us. We're well aware we've just put a big target on our backs before the World Cup."

Gatland meanwhile hailed his charges and singled out his captain for special praise.

"It was a fantastic performance and we didn't look too tired, did we? We spoke beforehand about the players playing for themselves, their families and the fans and being able to create a bit of history. You can never take that away from them now," he said.

"I said if we won the first game against France we've got a good chance of winning the whole thing. If that creates that bit of belief in the players then maybe something like this can happen.

"Alun Wyn Jones has really matured as a player. He's done a great job of leading the team in this campaign. He's tough, he's resilient and he deserves all the adulation he gets.

"We're just trying to slip under the radar. We know on our day that we're capable of beating good teams so I think we'll have a break now and start preparing for the World Cup.

"These boys will run through a brick wall for you. They're a really tight group and really close to each other. If we go there with a bit of luck and not too many injuries we've got a good chance of beating anybody."

High drama as England rescue late draw against Scotland

England scored a late converted try to rescue a 38-38 draw against a bitterly disappointed Scotland in the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham on Saturday.

It was a quite stunning 80 minutes on Saturday as the Scots appeared to have done the unthinkable when they came back from 31-0 down to go 38-31 in front with four minutes remaining on the match clock. But George Ford had other ideas with time up in the clash to save English blushes.

England's other try scorers were Jack Nowell, Tom Curry, Joe Launchbury and Jonny May while for Scotland Stuart McInally, Darcy Graham (2), Magnus Bradbury, Finn Russell and Sam Johnson crossed in a match high on entertainment, bringing down 2019’s Six Nations curtain in style.

England were rampant from the off and raced into that big lead after half-an-hour courtesy of five crossings as Scotland were on the ropes.

They got the ball rolling with one minute played when slick handling and decoy runners allowed Henry Slade room to feed Nowell who finished well, cutting back inside off the right wing nicely. Owen Farrell added the conversion and it wouldn’t be long before the tee was on again.

Their second came seven minutes later as a penalty nudged into the corner led to Curry burrowing over from a line-out rush to make it 14-0.

England were motoring and the only negative from the early stages was an injury to Ben Moon that saw him replaced by Ellis Genge. The prop was immediately into the action and his carry and combination with fellow front-row Kyle Sinckler created Launchbury’s score on 14 minutes.

Farrell would then add a penalty to his conversion on 25 minutes as the lead was stretched to 24 points before a quickly taken penalty saw Slade race down the left wing before throwing a lovely inside pass to May who finished with ease. Scotland looked in danger of a hammering.

Fortunately for Gregor Townsend’s men they would get on the board before half-time when McInally showed good pace to cross from 60 metres, this after he charged down Farrell’s attempted cross-kick. The busy hooker intelligently changed his angle of running to get over in time.

Crucially for Scotland’s hopes of a revival they also scored first after the break when Graham finished well for 31-12 after good handling. That was added to when Bradbury raced over on 51 minutes as suddenly Scotland had pulled themselves back into the match at just 31-19 down.

Indeed the match had now turned on its head at Twickenham and when the lively Graham raced over on 57 minutes on the right wing, Scotland had themselves a try bonus point to their name as it was now the English who were reeling, with head coach Eddie Jones stunned in his seat.

Amazingly the game was tied at 31-31 on the hour when Russell intercepted Farrell’s loose pass before running under the posts from distance and the stunning comeback looked to be complete on 76 minutes, Johnson bouncing off would-be tacklers en route to the line for a 38-31 lead.

But England somehow managed to pick themselves up off the canvas and Ford’s last ditch try salvaged a draw to end an unbelievable meeting.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries: Nowell, Curry, Launchbury, May, Ford
Cons: Farrell 4, Ford
Pen: Farrell

For Scotland:
Tries: McInally, Graham 2, Bradbury, Russell, Johnson
Cons: Russell 2, Laidlaw 2

England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 George Ford, 23 Ben Te’o

Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Sam Skinner, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (c), 1 Allan Dell
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Chris Harris

Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Wales make light work of Ireland to claim Grand Slam

Wales were far too good for Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday, as they secured their third Grand Slam under the stewardship of Warren Gatland with an outstanding 25-7 victory.

Saving their best performance for the final game, they were magnificent, opening up an early 7-0 advantage through Hadleigh Parkes’ try, before Gareth Anscombe carried on their good work by kicking three penalties for a 16-0 lead.

In contrast, Joe Schmidt’s team were abysmal. Ill-disciplined and lacking any creativity, they never particularly looked like breaching the hosts’ stout defence. Instead, it was the Welsh that looked assured in difficult conditions and Anscombe added three more three-pointers to complete a wonderful campaign.

Their winning streak now stands at 14 and it was the ideal way to mark Gatland’s final Six Nations game in charge, while they have very much put themselves in the World Cup mix.

In their three previous Grand Slam campaigns, Wales have been at home in the final match and they once again used the energy of the crowd to put the visitors under immediate pressure.

Gatland’s outfit were on the front foot in the opening minute, winning a lineout on the opposition 22 and forcing the away side to infringe. From the penalty advantage, Anscombe’s trademark chip over the top was well collected by Parkes and the hosts already held a seven-point buffer.

Ireland immediately looked to respond, testing the Welsh defence with some neat kicks, and Johnny Sexton almost caught them out by finding Jacob Stockdale out wide. However, that man Parkes, who has been outstanding over the past couple of games, was aware of the danger and put last season’s championship top-scorer into touch.

Buoyed by the centre’s superb effort, Wales upped the intensity once more and another Irish infringement allowed Anscombe to make it 10-0.

Schmidt’s men were struggling and they were evidently rattled. As a result, they continued to make mistakes and the hosts’ kicker was on hand to punish any indiscretion, moving them 16-0 ahead at the interval.

Even at half-time, the champagne was on ice and it got even better for Gatland’s charges as Anscombe extended their lead at the start of the second period.

It was a brilliant display in tough conditions and Ireland had no answer to their opponents’ excellence. Although it may not have been pretty, the weather dictated that and the forwards did their jobs superbly, regularly forcing the visitors into reverse.

They duly gave Anscombe opportunities off the tee and the Cardiff Blues man was in no mood to miss, adding two more for an insurmountable lead.

Ireland battled to get something from the contest and Jordan Larmour did go over, but it didn’t dampen Wales’ spirits, who never faltered and deservedly claimed another Grand Slam under Gatland.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Try: Parkes
Con: Anscombe
Pens: Anscombe 6

For Ireland:
Try: Larmour
Con: Carty

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Jordan Larmour

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Lions mount stunning fightback to beat Rebels

The Lions fought back from 33-5 down to beat the Rebels 36-33 courtesy of an incredible second-half comeback at Ellis Park on Saturday.

The Rebels looked to have done enough to secure victory after a dominant first-half performance, but the Lions were able to produce an incredible four-try blitz in the final half hour to draw level, before substitute Gianni Lombard converted the winning penalty after the hooter to complete the dramatic turnaround.

The home side actually drew first blood in the sixth minute, scoring their first five-pointer of the day after a short throw in from an attacking line-out. Hooker Malcolm Marx threw it to prop Dylan Smith, who quickly threw it back to Marx who fell over in the corner.

But after that early score the remainder of the first half was all Rebels.

The Aussies drew level just three minutes later after a straightforward backline move saw the ball go through the hands from right to left before winger Reece Hodge darted over in the corner.

And four minutes later they were in front courtesy of an absolute peach of a try. The Rebels made the break way back in their own 22 after Billy Meakes stole the ball and took it all the way up the field, with Anaru Rangi getting involved in the action with a clever offload before Quade Cooper applied the finishing touches.

The carnage continued in the 21st minute courtesy of an intercept from Meakes on Elton Jantjies, who only had to complete the simplest of runs up the field to score his side's third try.

It took just another three minutes for the Rebels to score their fourth, the TMO awarding the try this time after Isi Naisarani scrambled towards the posts before being adjudged to have placed the ball fairly against the base of the upright.

Cooper secured his third conversion of the afternoon to hand the Rebels a 26-5 lead heading into half-time.

The Lions looked absolutely dead and buried when the Rebels scored their fifth try just two minutes into the second half courtesy of center Tom English, who ran straight through a tired Lions defensive line, but something remarkable was about to happen.

It was a sinbinning for Meakes in the 47th minute following an accumulation of penalties that sparked the comeback, with the Lions scoring their second try just four minutes later after some concerted pressure saw Wandisile Simelane set up the space for flanker Marnus Schoeman to finish.

Four minutes later they had their third courtesy of replacement Andries Coetzee, who took a smart pass from Jantjies before darting over in the corner.

And they would score another try before Meakes finally made his way back onto the field, as a fresh Lionel Mapoe overtook Quade Cooper after a kick through before collecting and dotting the ball down just before it went out of touch.

The hosts finally drew level in the 63rd minute courtesy of Courtnall Skosan, who got all the glory after an initial steal from Marx saw the ball go out to Kwagga Smith, who was able to release the winger on his inside shoulder for yet another score.

Jantjies added the extras to tie it up at 33-33 with 15 minutes still to play.

A rattled Rebels side simply couldn't regain their composure, and when they were reduced to 14 men again with a few minutes left to play when Angus Cottrell was yellow-carded, the Lions sensed their opportunity.

It was a powerful scrum that saw the Rebels give away the penalty and present new arrival Gianni Lombard with the shot at goal in extra time, and the youngster made no mistake, slotting it over to complete the dramatic turnaround seconds before the final whistle blew.

Lions - Tries: Malcolm Marx, Marnus Schoeman, Andries Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalties: Gianni Lombard

Rebels - Tries: Reece Hodge, Quade Cooper, Billy Meakes, Isi Naisarani, Tom English. Conversions: Quade Cooper (4). Yellow cards: Billy Meakes, Angus Cottrell.

Lions: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Franco Naude, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (captain), 1 Dylan Smith.
Substitutes: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 Ruan Vermaak, 21 Gianni Lombard, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Andries Coetzee

Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Substitutes: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Marika Koroibete

Referee: Egon Seconds
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Willie Vos

France outscore Italy in Rome

France battled their way to hard-fought 25-14 win over Italy at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday as they ended their Six Nations campaign on a high note.

In a tightly contested affair, momentum between the sides ebbed and flowed but it was France who got the rub of the green in the end as they outscored the Azzurri by three tries to one.

The result was in the balance until the game’s dying moments but a try from Damian Penaud secured the win for Les Bleus after Italy wasted try-scoring opportunities at the other end just before that.

The victory is France’s second of the tournament while Italy finish winless for the fourth successive year and extends their drought in the Six Nations to 22 matches.

Italy dominated the early exchanges and raced into a 6-0 lead after Tommaso Allan succeeded with two penalties.

France were slowly getting into the game and in the 16th minute Penaud gathered a pass from Maxime Medard close to the halfway line before setting off on a brilliant run down the right-hand touchline. He cut infield and beat Tito Tebaldi with deft footwork before offloading to Antoine Dupont, who went over for the opening try.

Romain Ntamack slotted the conversion which gave his side a 7-5 lead but Les Bleus were dealt a blow shortly afterwards when their captain, Guilhem Guirado, was forced off the field with a rib injury.

Despite that setback, France still held the upper-hand and midway through the half Ntamack extended their via another penalty after Andrea Lovotti slowed the ball down illegally at a ruck.

Italy were soon camped inside Les Bleus’ 22, however, and in the 24th minute Allan stabbed through a well-weighted grubber kick which caught the French defence by surprise. Marco Zanon gave chase but the ball bounced off the padding of an upright and the debutant centre knocked on.

Two minutes later, the Azzurri were denied again when Braam Steyn went over the whitewash under a mass of bodies, but television replays were inconclusive whether he grounded the ball.

It was all Italy during the rest of the half but despite spending most of the closing stages on the attack inside France’s half, they could not add to their points tally and the teams changed sides at the interval with Les Bleus holding a slender 10-6 lead.

Italy continued the second half like the finished off the first and in the 42nd minute Allan added another penalty after Yacouba Camara infringed at a ruck.

The visitors regained the initiative, however, and they did so in style courtesy of a brilliant try from Yoann Huget. This, after France’s forwards laid the groundwork with some strong carries. A long pass from Ntamack was gathered by Medard, who offloaded to Huget and the winger did well to outpace the cover defence on his way over the try-line.

Ntamack’s conversion was successful which gave the visitors some breathing space with the score 17-9 in their favour. Italy had an opportunity to narrow the gap in the 49th minute, when France strayed offside on defence but Allan’s was off target with his penalty attempt.

The Azzurri put that miss behind them and five minutes later Tebaldi crossed the whitewash from close quarters after an extended period in Les Bleus’ 22. Allan’s conversion attempt was wide of the mark but with the home side trailing by just three points, they were back in the match and continued to attack.

France needed a response and that came in the 63rd minute when Ntamack landed a drop goal from inside Italy’s 22 after Camille Chat did well in the build-up with a strong carry.

The next 10 minutes was a frantic affair as Italy launched several attacks in a bid to narrow the gap. In the 66th minute, Tebaldi thought he was over for his second try but his effort was disallowed after he lost the ball forward before regathering and dotting down.

In the 72nd minute, Les Bleus suffered a setback when Chat halted a maul illegally from Italy close to his try-line and he was sent to the sin bin for his efforts.

With a numerical advantage, Italy dominated proceedings but in the 75th minute Zanon blew the chance to score his side’s second try when he had the ball knocked from his grasp while crossing the try-line.

The tackle was made Penaud, who finished the game as Les Bleus’ hero when he gathered a pass from Ntamack before racing away to score the try which sealed his side’s win.

The scorers:

For Italy:
Try: Tebaldi
Pens: Allan 3

For France:
Tries: Dupont, Huget, Penaud
Cons: Ntamack 2
Pen: Ntamack
Drop goal: Ntamack
Yellow Card: Chat

Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Abraham Jurgens Steyn, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 David Sisi, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore’, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Sebastian Negri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Luca Sperandio

France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Gregory Alldritt, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Felix Lambey, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Etienne Falgoux
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Arthur Iturria, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Thomas Ramos

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Highlanders v Crusaders game postponed

The Highlanders versus Crusaders game was on Saturday cancelled after Friday’s terror attacks in Christchurch which saw 49 people killed.

New Zealand Rugby’s Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass said the decision to cancel the match was made after urgent meetings with both teams, venue management, police and community organisations involved in responses to yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Christchurch.

“After consulting widely with both teams and key stakeholders, New Zealand Rugby has decided to cancel this evening’s match,” he confirmed.

“Advice from police and venue management was that the fixture could go ahead, however, with strong agreement from both teams we have made the final call not to proceed as a mark of respect for the events that have occurred in Christchurch.”

Crusaders CEO Colin Mainsbridge revealed their entire club community was in a state of shock.

“Yesterday’s horrific attacks have left us all feeling stunned. All other issues and considerations pale in significance. We will now regroup and make arrangements for the team to return home as soon as possible to be back in their community and with their families,” he said.

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark added they were working to communicate with ticketholders and fans.

“This is always the biggest fixture on our match calendar and one which our fans look forward to, but when we think about the massive loss of life and absolute devastation that has been wreacked on people in Christchurch, we feel this is the right decision,” he said.

“For ticketholders refunds will be processed over the next three weeks further information will be available through ticketrocket.co.nz.

“The Highlanders team has met today and all players have been advised to go home and be with their families.”

Reds scrape past Sunwolves in Tokyo

The Queensland Reds mounted a superb second-half comeback to clinch a 31-34 Super rugby victory over the Sunwolves in Japan on Saturday.

The Reds left it late, though, as Hamish Stewart converted a 79th-minute penalty to help the visitors claim their first win of the Super Rugby campaign and move off the foot the overall standings.

The hosts broke the deadlock after 11 minutes of play as Michael Little broke from inside his own half, beating several defenders before offloading to Hosea Saumaki, who in turn slipped the ball to Jamie Booth for the scrumhalf to dive over the line.

The Reds hit back just six minutes later, Liam Wright crashing over the line after a maul that went over 20 metres following a lineout on the Sunwolves' 22m line.

However, Sunwolves were quick to reassert their dominance as Gerhard van den Heever drew the Reds defence with a clever run before laying the ball off to Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco who went through in the corner unopposed.

And, the Reds added a third try on the stroke of half-time as Dan Pryor showed great hands, racing through on the left-hand touchline.

Trailing 21-5 at the start of the second half, the Reds reduced the deficit in the 58th minute as another scrum penalty and maul resulted in a try for Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Hamish Stewart slotting the conversion.

Sunwolves were still reeling from that try when the Reds struck again three minutes later, substitute Harry Hoopert finishing off a great team move after building all the way from the back through seven phases.

Paenga-Amosa bagged his second try four minutes later following a TMO decision, handing the Reds the lead for the first time, with Stewart converting to make it 21 points in 6 minutes by the visitors.

Sunwolves struck back in the 68th minute, drawing level as Keisuke Uchida raced over the line following an error by the Reds from the kick-off.

But the Reds were having none of it as Tate McDermott dived over after an attempted clearance was charged down, only for Stewart to send his conversion wide of the mark.

Stewart quickly made amends for that miss, however, as he slotted a penalty in the 79th minute to help the Reds claim their first win of 2019.

Scorers:

Sunwolves
Tries – J.Booth, R.Vosayaco, D.Pryor, K.Uchida,
Pen – H.Stewart
Con – H.Parker 4
Drop –
Cards –

Reds
Tries -L.Wright, B. Paenga-Amosa 2, H. Hoopert, T.McDermott
Pen – H.Parker
Con – H.Stewart 3
Drop –
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant Ref 1: Shuhei Kubo
Assistant Ref 2: Aki Aso
TMO: Minoru Fuji

Teams:

Sunwolves

15 Jason Emery, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Sione Teaupa, 12 Michael Little, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Ben Gunter, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Uwe Helu, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Pauliasi Manu

Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 James Moore, 20 Amanaki Mafi, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Semisi Masirewa

Reds

15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Isaac Lucas, 9 Moses Sorovi, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Harry Hockings, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Jean-Pierre Smith

Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Feao Fotuaika, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Teti Tela, 23 Filipo Daugunu

Stormers put Jaguares to the sword

The Stormers produced a dominant performance as they clinched their third victory of the 2019 Super Rugby with a 35-8 triumph over the Jaguares at Newlands on Friday evening.

Although the Argentines opened the match well and went 5-0 ahead via Bautista Delguy’s try, the Cape Town-based franchise wrestled control through their outstanding pack. SP Marais benefited, kicking 11 points off the tee, while Dan du Plessis went over for a 16-8 advantage at the interval.

Siya Kolisi then touched down at the start of the second period to put the hosts in command before Hershel Jantjies and Justin Phillips made sure of the win in the final quarter.

The South African outfit have struggled to score tries this season and it was easy to see why early on as they failed to find any sort of continuity with ball in hand.

In contrast, their opponents have once again shown plenty of fluency and that was in evidence in the opening score as excellent hands sent Delguy across the whitewash.

Robbie Fleck’s side are powerful up front, however, while their defence, led by the imposing Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, helped put pressure on the visitors.

The holes which were prevalent for the Argentines’ try were sealed and the Stormers duly got themselves into the contest via Marais’ penalty.

They were then the beneficiary of further Jags errors when miscommunication in the air saw two players fail to deal with Jean-Luc du Plessis’ chip ahead and his cousin, Dan, duly picked up and touched down.

Fleck’s outfit were now in control, despite Joaquin Diaz Bonilla’s penalty, and successive Marais efforts off the tee gave the hosts an eight-point buffer at the break.

The second period continued in the same vein with the Stormers’ defence and forwards dominating. As is typical with South African teams, the maul was strong and Kolisi scored after a drive had sent the Jaguares into reverse.

At that point, with the Cape Town franchise so dominant, the game was effectively over, but they had plenty of time to add to the visitors’ pain and Jantjies showed excellent sniping instincts to finish from close range.

Their next target was the bonus-point and, with Gonzalo Quesada’s men so ill-disciplined, it gave them plenty of opportunities and they eventually took one of them as Phillips went over.

Scorers:

Stormers

Tries: Daniel du Plessis, Siya Kolisi, Hershel Jantjies, Justin Phillips

Conversions: SP Marais (2), Jean-Luc du Plessis

Penalties: Marais (3)

Jaguares

Try: Bautista Delguy

Penalty: Joaquin Diaz Bonilla

Teams:

Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 John Schickerling, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Ruhan Nel, 23 Damian Willemse.

Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements: 16 Gaspar Baldunciel, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Juan Cruz Mallia, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)

Brumbies hold on to win Waratahs derby in Canberra

The Brumbies produced a more disciplined performance to beat the Waratahs 19-13 in Friday's Australian Super Rugby derby at the Canberra Stadium.

The Tahs were the first to score, although they got a bit lucky with their opening try, which arrived in just the third minute of the match.

It was an early shot at goal from Bernard Foley that created the opportunity, as the ball hit the uprights and bounced back into the field of play, allowing flanker Michael Hooper to jump highest and collect the ball before crashing over the line.

Foley's attempt to add the extras hit the upright again, as the visitors emerged from the chaos with a 5-0 lead.

It didn't take the Brumbies long to hit back, however. Some good interplay between the backs and forwards saw them advance up the field, and when referee Glen Jackson awarded a penalty, they opted for an attacking line-out close to the Waratahs tryline.

The ball was won and the maul was set up, and it took just three phases before hooker Folau Fainga'a found himself in possession with the tryline in sight, and there was no stopping the No 2 from there.

Christian Lealiifano added the extras, as the Brumbies took a 7-5 lead with 14 minutes played.

Eight minutes later, the home side had their second try of the evening. Eighth man Lachlan McCaffrey provided the unlikely spark when he picked up the ball on the halfway line and kicked the ball over the Waratahs defensive line, forcing Jack Gordon to run the ball into touch and hand the Brumbies an attacking line-out.

That led to another rolling maul, which rumbled all the way to the tryline and over for a five-pointer, with Fainga'a emerging from the bodies with the ball in hand for his second try of the evening.

Tahs' front rower Sekope Kepu then found himself sin-binned in the 35th minute after the TMO spotted a dangerous clean out. The visitors had been awarded a penalty but the decision was reversed as they found themselves reduced to 14 men.

Luckily for the Waratahs, they were able to avoid conceding any further points during Kepu's absence, and nine minutes into the second half they reduced the deficit to just two points thanks to some individual brilliance from Israel Folau.

After the ball was moved through the backline to the No 15, he produced a burst of speed to beat two defenders before popping a clever back-of-the-hand pass to winger Alex Newsome, who dotted it down in the corner for his side's second try.

But the Waratahs joy was short lived as they suffered a double-blow in the 54th minute. Not only did referee Jackson award the Brumbies a penalty try after a rolling maul was cynically brought down just shy of the line, but he also sent front rower Harry Johnson-Holmes to the bin for being the main offender.

The Brumbies now led 19-10, which became 19-13 in the 64th minute when Foley managed to convert an impressive penalty from 40 yards out on the angle.

Try as they might, the Waratahs could not close the gap any further, and if any side was going to score again it would have been the Brumbies, who held on for the deserved victory.

Brumbies – Tries: Folau Fainga’a (2), Penalty Try. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano.

Waratahs – Tries: Michael Hooper, Alex Newsome. Penalties: Bernard Foley. Yellow Cards: Sekope Kepu, Harry Johnson-Holmes.

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valentini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 James Slipper, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Jordan Jackson-hope, 23 Mack Hansen.

Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Lachlan Swinton, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Cameron Clark.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper (Australia), Amy Perrett (Australia)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)

Ireland retain Six Nations hopes with win over France

Ireland will go into the final round with an outside chance of claiming the Six Nations title following a dominant 26-14 triumph over France at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.

The Emerald Isle are currently third in the table, two points below leaders Wales, and they will have to beat Warren Gatland’s side and hope that fail to win against d for them to defend their championship.

Joe Schmidt’s men prepared well for their gargantuan contest next week, however. They combined physicality with some nice touches with ball in hand against Les Bleus to score three tries and go into the break 19-0 in front.

Rory Best, Johnny Sexton and replacement Jack Conan all touched down as they effectively ended the game as a contest in the opening 40 minutes.

Keith Earls then sealed the bonus-point in the third quarter to secure the win and complete a miserable day for the French, despite Yoann Huget’s and Camille Chat’s late consolation efforts.

It was another abysmal display from Les Bleus as a slack defence made it all too easy for the hosts to get over the gain line. CJ Stander and Tadhg Furlong needed no invitation and the visitors were consistently sent into reverse.

Those facets were all in evidence with the opening try when they set up a maul and powered towards the whitewash. The result was inevitable and Best splintered off to touch down for an early 7-0 advantage.

The hosts were impressive but no one was taking responsibility for France. Antoine Dupont, so spritely and confident against Scotland, was indecisive and his lack of control almost cost them a try, only for Cian Healy to let them off with a knock on.

Ireland were not to be denied, however, and a trademark Sexton wraparound saw the visitors take the bait. Yoann Huget and Gael Fickou rather comically collided and the home side’s fly-half simply touched down by the right-hand upright.

At 14-0 down, it was already an uphill battle, particularly with Brunel’s charges showing few signs of creating anything of note. Ireland were dominant aerially and in the kicking game, and the pressure resulted in a number of errors from the visitors.

Another turnover in their own 22 saw Les Bleus cede possession once again and Conan barrelled his way over for a 19-0 lead at the break.

France were slightly better in the early stages of the second half, winning a couple of penalties and taking play well into the opposition half, but their attack was stagnant and a swarming Irish defence halted any potential threat.

Instead, Ireland turned over ball and exposed the French’s poor organisation in backfield. A period of play in the away team’s 22 ensued before a lovely set-piece move resulted in Earls scampering clear to confirm the bonus-point.

It was well and truly game over, but the French did manage to avoid suffering any further embarrassment as Huget and Chat went over late on.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries: Best, Sexton, Conan, Earls
Cons: Sexton 3

For France:
Tries: Huget, Chat
Cons: Serin 2
Yellow Card: 
Aldegheri

Ireland: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 
16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Jack Conan, 21 John Cooney, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Andrew Conway

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Felix Lambey, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 
16 Camille Chat, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Maxime Medard

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: 
Angus Gardner (Australia), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: 
Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

England hammer hapless Italy at Twickenham

England returned to the victory trail in the Six Nations when they claimed a 57-14 bonus-point win over Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.

As the scoreline suggests, this was one-sided affair with England dominating most facets of play and they eventually outscored their visitors by eight tries to two with Manu Tuilagi and Brad Shields crossing for a brace apiece.

The result means England are still in second position in the standings but they have narrowed the gap to a point behind table-toppers Wales, who beat Scotland earlier on Saturday.

England made their intentions known from the outset by running the ball from all areas of the field and they were soon camped inside the Azzurri’s half. And in the eighth minute, Jamie George opened the scoring when he barged over off the back of a driving maul deep inside Italy’s 22.

That try did not deter the visitors, who also gave the ball plenty of air, and they opened their account shortly afterwards. This, courtesy of a fine try from Tommaso Allan, who spotted a gap in the English defence before selling Joe Cokanasiga an outrageous dummy on his way over the try-line.

Allan dusted himself off and added the conversion from close to the touchline, which meant the sides were level at 7-7 after 15 minutes.

But that would be the last time Italy would add points during the half as England scored three further tries which secured them a try-scoring bonus point before the interval.

First, Elliot Daly made a superb line break before offloading to Jonny May, who cantered in for his fifth try of the tournament. Then, midway through the half, Manu Tuilagi’s power and speed proved too much for his opponents as he set off on a barnstorming run from the halfway line before scoring his side’s third five-pointer.

Farrell added the extras before slotting a penalty which gave his side a comfortable 24-7 lead by the 26th minute.

And in the 32nd minute, Brad Shields ran onto a pass from Tuilagi and outpaced the cover defence on his way over the tryline to notch his first Test try.

Farrell succeeded with his fourth conversion and England were cruising as the teams changed sides at half-time.

The home side’s dominance continued during the early stages of the second of half and Tuilagi was rewarded with his second try in the 47th minute after forwards and backs combined in the build-up.

Despite being comprehensively outplayed, Italy did not surrender and in the 55th minute Luca Morisi gathered a long pass from Allan before diving over in the left-hand corner.

But just like the first half, the Azurri could not build momentum after scoring points and England regained the initiative with further tries from George Kruis and Dan Robson which gave them a 50-14 lead by the 69th minute.

And just before the end, Shields charged down an attempted clearance from Tito Tebaldi before regathering the loose ball and crossing for his second try which sealed an emphatic win for England.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries: George, May, Tuilagi 2, Shields 2, Kruis, Robson
Cons: Farrell 4, Ford 3
Pen: Farrell

For Italy:
Tries: Allan, Morisi
Cons: Allan 2

England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nathan Hughes, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Henry Slade

Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Castello

Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

Bulls outgun lackluster Sharks outfit in Pretoria

The Sharks were disappointing for most of the match as they were convincingly beaten 37-14 by the Bulls in Saturday's Super Rugby clash Loftus Versfeld.

The Bulls got their tally underway in the fourth minute with a three-pointer from Handre Pollard's boot following a high tackle on hooker Schalk Brits.

Six minutes later, Pollard converted his second penalty of the night from right in front after Jacques Vermeulen was pinged for unlawfully playing the Bulls No 9.

The Bulls were comfortably dominating proceedings and were rewarded with their opening try in the 19th minute courtesy of powerful center Jesse Kriel following a smart backline move started by Pollard and finished with a clever one-two between Kriel and winger Cornal Hendricks.

Pollard added the extras to open up a 13-0 Bulls lead and put the home side in a strong position with just a quarter of the game completed.

The Sharks were searching for a way back into the contest, but there handling was letting them down and they instead got caught in a back and forth tactical kicking contest.

With 10 minutes left in the half, Pollard made it 16-0 with his third three-pointer of the night after the Bulls were awarded a scrum penalty by referee Marius van der Westhuizen.

It was all far too easy for the Bulls, and with three minutes to go, Pollard made it 19-0 after Coenie Oosthuizen was penalised for losing his bind in the scrum.

The visitors desperately needed a response after the break, and they were able to provide just three minutes in when hooker Akker van der Merwe threw a clever pass to create some space from Jeremy Ward, who crashed over to get the Sharks on the board.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, the Bulls hit back almost immediately with their second try of the afternoon following an impressive move started by Pollard, who put the large frame of Hanro Liebenberg into space before he passed it to Rosko Specman to cross over in the corner.

More ill-discipline from the Sharks in the form of a second penalty for a high tackle saw Pollard make it 27-7 in the 52nd minute.

The Sharks refused to lie down, however, and were back in business just three minutes later courtesy of eighth man Dan du Preez, who went over underneath the uprights for a converted try following a solid maul and a quick offload from scrumhalf Louis Schreuder.

The visitors were now within two scores of taking the lead, but the Bulls defence was holding out. With 11 minutes to go, the Sharks coughed it up as they assaulted the Bulls five metre line, allowing them to escape unharmed.

That wasted opportunity would end up costing the Sharks dear, as the Bulls finished the stronger of the two teams, with Pollard adding a drop goal late on before Specman rubbed salt in the wounds in the dying seconds by getting around the defence and showing off his pace to score his side's third and final try.

Bulls – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Rosko Specman (2). Conversions: Handre Pollard (2). Penalties: Handre Pollard (5). Drop goals: Handre Pollard.

Sharks – Tries: Jeremy Ward, Dan du Preez. Conversions: Robert du Preez (2).

Bulls - 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Tim Agaba, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Hanro Liebenberg, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbock, 23 Divan Rossouw.

Sharks - 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Fezokhule Mbatha, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Phepsi Buthelezi, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Andre Esterhuizen, 23 Curwin Bosch.

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Divan Uys (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)