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Six Nations evening headlines as Dan Biggar holds talks with Louis Rees-Zammit as England recall ‘edge’ for Wales clash

Here are your evening headlines for Thursday February 24.

Biggar’s talks with Rees-Zammit

Wales skipper Dan Biggar has given Louis Rees-Zammit a huge message of encouragement after the shock decision to leave him out of the clash with England this weekend.

The flying winger will return to his club side Gloucester with Wales boss Wayne Pivac preferring Alex Cuthbert and Josh Adams for the trip to Twickenham.

Pivac says the decision was made on tactical grounds and insists Rees-Zammit will return “bigger, better and stronger” when he comes back into the Wales team.

Read more: Pivac explains exactly why he made the controversial Rees-Zammit call

And although Rees-Zammit has been hurt by the decision to drop him, he leaves the Welsh camp with the encouraging words of Biggar in the back of his mind.

The fly-half has predicted a huge response from Rees-Zammit when Gloucester clash with Leicester on Saturday.

Biggar said: “It’s never easy when selection doesn’t quite go your way for one reason or another.

“But the only people I can think of is someone like a Dan Carter or a Jonny Wilkinson, who have never had to go through it.

“Every one of us in the team and management here have gone through it in our careers. Very rarely do you never get dropped or not selected.

“He’s young, he’s burst onto the scene, is an incredible talent and is a real poster boy for Wales. But, for him, I’d say: ‘you’re a young guy, you’ve got tons of time to bounce back’.

“I don’t think anyone is thinking this is the end for him at all! At 21, he’s got years and years left in him. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him have an absolute stormer for Gloucester this weekend.”

Biggar went on: “It’s hard to say it’s not disappointing because it does hurt at the end of the day when you’re not selected.

“That’s the first thing that needs to be said but it does act as a real motivation to prove people wrong and I think you’ve got to have that in your character.

“I’ve said that to him, you don’t want to be sulking about it for too long and he won’t because he’s a great lad and he’s got a brilliant head on his shoulders.

“He’s got a big game this weekend for Gloucester and I’m sure it will do him the world of good to get some game time and showcase his talents.

“He’s an extremely talented boy with a huge future and I’m sure this is just a little blip for him.”

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Tuilagi and Lawes add ‘edge’ to England

Eddie Jones insists England have added an “edge to the team” after Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes were recalled for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales.

The pair have overcome injuries in time to reinforce England for a pivotal clash at Twickenham, bringing 136 caps of experience to the starting XV as they make their first international appearances of 2022.

Tuilagi has completed his recovery from a torn hamstring to take his place at inside centre, with Jones warning Wales to expect the Sale battering ram to be at his rampaging best.

Lawes has been sidelined for over a month because of concussion but is immediately restored to the back row, in the process believing Tom Curry of the captaincy.

“They’re both very experienced players, have won big test matches and understand what’s needed for games like the one against Wales. They bring that bit of edge to the team,” head coach Jones said.

“Manu gives us a different way to attack in the backs. He’s a gainline accumulator. He wins the gain line consistently and draws defenders in, which creates space for other options.

“He does that better than anyone else in the world when he’s at full tilt. We’re planning for him to be at full tilt on Saturday.

“Courtney is a great ball-carrier and destructive defender. Courtney was going to be captain when Owen Farrell was unavailable, so it’s a natural change back to the guy who was going to be captain.

“He has good skills around the players. When he speaks they listen, he leads by example.

“We’re really pleased with the job Tom Curry did. He did an outstanding job as a young captain and he’s going to be an outstanding leadership prospect in the future.”

Tuilagi’s return to fitness means Jones can resurrect the midfield trio which promised so much against South Africa in the autumn until their inside center damaged his hamstring while scoring in the opening minutes.

Even if Farrell were available and not recovering from ankle surgery, the combination of Marcus Smith, Tuilagi and Henry Slade is considered England’s most effective and well-balanced combination.

“You’ve got Marcus who has sleight of hand, quick feet and the ability to beat people one-on-one in space,” Jones said.

“You have Sladey who has an educated left foot, he’s a good passer of the ball and also has the ability to make breaks.

“To complement that you have power with Manu. He’s just a little powerhouse. And when I say little, he’s by far our biggest back. Which again gives us something a little bit different.

“When he’s not there we don’t have that big back to play off. It’s handy to have a big back because they dent the line and create space for the little guys to play small ball in that space.”

Gregor Townsend says it’s Scotland’s ‘last chance’

Gregor Townsend has challenged Scotland to seize their “last chance” to remain in the hunt for the Six Nations title by beating in-form France at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.

The Scots entered the tournament with high hopes, but defeat in Wales last time out means they now have little margin for error if they are to stay in contention for a first championship win since 1999, when it was still the Five Nations.

Victory over France is deemed essential if the Scots are to back up their promise with silverware and Townsend believes his team are equipped to deal with that challenge.

“We know it’s our last opportunity,” said the head coach. “We believe in our team but it is our last chance to be in the race for a trophy at the end of the season. We believe in our group so we have to put everything into this at the weekend and deliver what we’re capable of delivering.”

The Scots won in Paris last year while they have not lost at home to France since 2014. However, Townsend is mindful of the fact Les Bleus are currently one of the strongest teams in the world.

“It’s probably up there with playing South Africa in November,” he said, referencing the autumn defeat by the world champions.

“They’re one of the top two or three teams in the world right now. They’ve got a huge pack, momentum behind them, results behind them, so it’s a great challenge for us.

“They’ve got their full squad this week and lots of confidence, they rested up last week too. They’ll be raising to go. But I’ve seen our group rise to this challenge in the past and I’m sure we ‘ll do that again.”

Glasgow flanker Rory Darge, 22, will make his first start for Scotland as one of three changes to the XV from the defeat in Cardiff.

“For us, Rory brings a lot either side of the ball,” said Townsend. “Defensively he’s one of our best tacklers, a very good jackaller, very disciplined in contact area with his decisions and technique.

“And if you look at his performances and stats he breaks more tackles than most back-rowers playing just now. He’s someone we feel can really complement what we have in the back row on either side of the ball.”

Danty returns to France side to face Scotland

Jonathan Danty returns to the France side for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations showdown with Scotland at BT Murrayfield.

In the only personnel change from the team that defeated Ireland in Paris last time out, the Stade Francais center takes the place of Gabin Villiere, who has been ruled out with a fractured sinus.

Yoram Moefana, who started at inside center against Ireland, will move into Villiere’s position on the wing, with Danty taking over from Moefana in the number 12 jersey.

Danty started France’s victory over Italy on the first weekend of the tournament but missed the triumph over Ireland with an ankle injury. He comes straight back into the starting line-up alongside Gael Fickou in the centres.

France are the only side still in with a chance of winning the Grand Slam but to keep their hopes alive, they will have to win at Murrayfield for the first time since 2014.

Newcastle boss banned for referee comments

Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards has been banned from any match-day involvement for three weeks over his comments about a referee.

The former England and Lions No. 8 criticized referee Christophe Ridley after last Sunday’s 15-14 Gallagher Premiership defeat against Exeter.

He was charged with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game by undermining the authority and questioning the integrity of the match official.

Richards had said: “We didn’t get the rub of the green from the officials. Some of the boys are in the changing rooms saying some of the decisions are questionable, some boys are actually being a bit more vocal than that. Adam Brocklebank gets penalized in a scrum when their tighthead quietly clearly goes to the floor and you just think what the hell is going on here.There is obviously a bit of favoritism in some shape or form or they don’t know what they are doing boys just don’t know what is happening from one week to the next with some of the officiating. It is really disappointing.”

As well as missing three games, he is also required to do a presentation to his club and a local school or grassroots club about the need for respect for match officials.

He intends to issue an apology to the official.

Disciplinary panel chair Martin Picton said: “He accepted in the hearing that the words he used were ill-considered, clumsy and expressed with a degree of anger. He expressed himself in disrespectful terms in the course of two separate interviews and he accepted that, absent the context his remarks should have had, they were capable of being misunderstood and thus damaging to the game as a whole.”

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