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24 October 2020 20:42

New Zealand national rugby union team Rugby union Shannon Frizell

six nations championship

The 35-year-old will draw level with Richie McCaw on 148 caps when he leads his country out for an autumn warm-up clash against France this evening and could break the record against Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations next weekend. And more than 14 years on from winning the first of those caps, the lock's desire to represent his nation burns as brightly as ever. Speedster Louis Rees-Zammit and hooker Sam Parry are set to become Wales' latest debutants having been named among the replacements this weekend and Jones is relishing being part of the beginning of their international adventure. I'm looking forwards so I'm more excited to see the likes of Louis and Sam come off the bench," he said. And with the country having just entered a two-week lockdown, the return of international rugby is set to provide a welcome morale boost – with Jones fully aware of how his side can help lift spirits.

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"It has affected the wider world and everyone differently, but I've been very fortunate to have time with the family and to let the body heal from the professional side of things," he said. "As someone who is very fortunate to wear the red of Wales, I'm no different. "We realise having been involved in successful campaigns in the past you can lift a nation and that's what we'll endeavour to do tomorrow and throughout this campaign." Tony Calvin previews the weekend's international rugby union action and has one bet - for the clash between France and Wales on Saturday night. Recommended bets: 2pts France/Wales HT-FT at 10/1 (8-1 or bigger acceptable) If you gave Ireland a four-try, one-point bonus victory over Italy at the Aviva on Saturday right now, I suspect the home management might just take it and move on to the all-important final round of Six Nations matches next week. So the dilemma and pitfalls, for potential backers of 1/66 chances Ireland on the general 28-point handicap line are clear.

I was obviously pushing it to suggest that Andy Farrell would be content with scraping a win – though I think it made for a passable intro, which was the intention - but these are strange times, and playing a Six Nations game lacking a crowd and the unlikely focus that comes with a braying, alcohol-fuelled atmosphere is perhaps not compatible with precision, clinical international rugby. We have seen some bizarre scorelines in the Premiership since its return – Wasps tonking Bristol 47-24 is a recent case in point - and it is not hard to see a similar scenario unfolding here, if the teams play fast and loose, and without their usual structure. Not that Italy tend to have that much structure, and run in tries for fun at the best of times. It was only back in February that Wales put 42 unanswered points on them in Cardiff, and Scotland didn't give them a sniff in a 17-0 home defeat, either. Those Italian performances were woeful and error-strewn, but they can mix it and score points if the opposition get bored and throw it around, as France did in a 35-22 victory after getting their bonus-point try on 59 minutes. Ireland do tend to run away with this fixture though, and they have covered that 28-point handicap in the last four Dublin meetings, with winning margins of 32, 39, 43 and 37, with Italy's 22-15 win in Rome in 2013 punctuating some proper hidings home and away. And on paper this Ireland three-quarter line should be having their opposites for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I'll be honest with you, I had never heard of him until the team came through, and a quick google revealed why, as apparently he has only played three times at PRO 14 level, making his debut in August, so how he is going to cope if the likes of Bundee Aki come barreling down his channel is anyone's guess. But, to give him his due, he did score a try, and kick three conversions and a penalty in Benetton's 35-24 loss in Ulster at the start of the month – the Italian side led 24-21 at one point – so maybe he does have a bit of star quality about him. I could not play on the handicap line given what could be a soul-less occasion in the Aviva, with the foot-off-the-pedal factor looming large – though I would side with Ireland giving away the start, if pushed, even if they were not convincing back in the winter and spring – so I had a dig down into the secondary and special markets. The usual punt with Italy is getting with them on the first-time handicap before they fall away – in this case generally around the 13.5 point mark – but I genuinely could not find a bet that I was willing to have myself. I did look at some of the other weekend internationals though, and France v Wales in the Stade de France on Saturday night promises to be an absolute cracker. Both France and Wales are treating this as a full-on international ahead of resuming their Six Nations campaigns next week, and have picked their best available XVs. And pretty much their best sides, with France going into the game as around 1-2 favourites on home soil. Now, if Italy on the first-time handicap is a popular bet with many, then backing France/Wales HT-FT double-result – that is France to be leading at half-time, and Wales to be winning at full-time, for the uninitiated – should always be looked at. Matches between these sides have tended to be very tight affairs in recent years, with the winning margin a converted try or less in six of the last seven meetings, and the other result was a nine-point victory.