Here are the latest rugby headlines on Monday, February 6.
'Some Wales players not up to standard and Gatland not the answer'
Some experienced Wales players are no longer up to Test rugby standard, according to former Ireland full-back Rob Kearney.
Eight of Warren Gatland's starters in the 34-10 defeat to Ireland on Saturday were over the age of 30, with the New Zealander suggesting weeks ago he thought more young talent would have been brought through since his exit in 2019.
Ireland scored three tries in the opening 20 minutes as Wales started slow, but they fought back in the second half and scored a try through Liam Williams, although the game was already won by the Irish and they scored a fourth.
Speaking on Virgin Media, Kearney, who was a Lions team-mate of a number of current senior Welsh stars in 2013, claimed some Wales players need to be moved on but notes there are few options in the short term.
"It’s a matter of now does Gatland want to start to try and have some small rebuild towards this World Cup or does he want to save face and try and finish as high up the Six Nations table as he can?” Kearney said. “There are some people in that Welsh team, I think, who are no longer international players. They’ve not given anyone any opportunities over the last few years.
“It roots back down to the club sides, the provincial game within the country is rotten. There’s no quality coming through, there’s no grassroots rugby there. On one side it’s hard for Gatland, he has to pick these players. But then there’s an argument higher up within the food chain in the WRU that they have to be doing more to improve the quality of their game across the country.”
Former Scotland, Leinster and Ulster coach Matt Williams claimed it is Wales' overall system which is the problem, arguing Wayne Pivac's hands were tied and Warren Gatland didn't prove to be the answer against Ireland. Gatland had two weeks with the Wales squad before their Six Nations opener.
"Behind the national team, there is rot and decay and neglect," said Williams. "If you come to Ireland and France, behind the national team is nothing but strength, well-developed and good structures. Wayne Pivac was not the problem. The system is the problem. Whether Pivac was right or wrong, that is not the only problem. Let's switch it on his head. Warren Gatland, not the answer today. You can't have it both ways."
Meanwhile, former Ireland wing/centre Shane Horgan was impressed by Joe Hawkins in particular. "Joe Hawkins is, I thought, the one shining light for Wales in that game," he said. "Every time he touched the ball I thought he was impressive. You could do a lot worse than a combination of Biggar and him as 10/12.
"I think they're good at nine as well. There are definitely a number of areas they're light on."
Ireland suffer injury blow for France
Ireland scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park has been ruled out of Saturday's Guinness Six Nations showdown with France. Gibson-Park withdrew just a few hours before Ireland's 34-10 win over Wales on Saturday with a hamstring injury.
Conor Murray deputised for Gibson-Park in Cardiff, and the Leinster player has failed to recover in time ahead of title holders France's trip to Dublin to take on the world's number one ranked team.
Prop Cian Healy, who was a late withdrawal from the Ireland bench against Wales, and fellow front-row forward Tadhg Furlong remain sidelined by injury.
"Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy, who were both late withdrawals from the Wales game due to hamstring injuries, have been ruled out of contention for the France game," said an Ireland Rugby Football Union statement. "Tadhg Furlong, who is rehabbing a calf issue, is also not being considered for selection this week. Gibson-Park, Healy and Furlong will continue their rehab programmes with the Ireland medical team."
Captain and outside-half Johnny Sexton, who suffered a dead leg in Cardiff, was also due to complete the HIA process on Monday. Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher is due to return to training this week.
Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade and Leinster loosehead prop Michael Milne have been called up and joined the rest of the Ireland squad at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin. Blade was capped against the United States in July 2021, while the uncapped Milne has been part of the Emerging Ireland squad.
What changes would you make? Pick your Wales team now
Red Roses boss to stand down after TikTok Six Nations
England head coach Simon Middleton will leave his job at the end of the upcoming TikTok Women's Six Nations campaign. The 57-year-old guided the Red Roses to the World Cup final in both 2017 and 2022, where they were beaten by New Zealand on each occasion.
Middleton's side had set a record-breaking 30-match winning run before they were edged out by the Black Ferns 34-31 in Auckland during November last year. After taking charge in 2015, Middleton guided England to five Six Nations titles, including four Grand Slams, but now feels the time is right for a change.
"Representing England in a coaching or playing capacity must be the pinnacle of any sporting career, and I can't put into words how proud and fortunate I've been to be able to do this for the last nine years," Middleton said on the RFU website. "During this tenure, I have worked with incredible players and staff and I will miss the daily interactions. I would like to say a huge thank you for their efforts and everything they have done to support the programme and contribute to our success."
Middleton added: "Now our attentions turn to being able to perform as well as we can with the goal of winning the Six Nations. It's a really exciting tournament, culminating in a match against France at Twickenham in front of a huge crowd which will be an inspiring and incredible occasion for everyone."
Farrell: No doubts over veteran Johnny Sexton
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell insists he has no concerns about Johnny Sexton's age as he attempts to help his veteran skipper rediscover top form following an injury-hit spell.
Influential fly-half Sexton claimed he had never been more nervous before a game than he was ahead of Saturday's resounding 34-10 Guinness Six Nations win over Wales. The 37-year-old kicked 12 points in Cardiff in only his second appearance in three months after picking up an injury in the autumn win over South Africa and then suffering a cheekbone issue on his return for Leinster at the start of January.
Sexton departed the Principality Stadium field nine minutes from time due to a dead leg but is expected to be available for next week's round-two showdown with reigning Grand Slam champions France.
Farrell has been in regular dialogue with Sexton to remind him of his responsibilities amid the recent fitness issues and is reassured by the player's dedication to the cause.
"There's no doubt about his age in our mind," said Farrell. "I spoke to him over the last two weeks constantly that there's no excuse and he needs to be at his best. He cares about his rugby so much and doing such a good job for his team.
"We're trying to get him to a point where he's going to be at his best even though he hasn't played for so long. How he handles that, how he runs a team as in makes the team feel right and then goes out and performs at the same time. His goal-kicking was excellent (on Saturday) and that's testament to his character."
France are the only major nation Farrell is yet to beat during his tenure and the sole visiting side to win in Dublin during this World Cup cycle. Ireland have lost three successive Six Nations clashes with Les Blues going into Saturday's Aviva Stadium appointment.
Borthwick's England fixes will take time
Steve Borthwick insists there are no quick fixes as he attempts to revitalise an underperforming England team burdened by the failings evident during the Eddie Jones era. A 29-23 Guinness Six Nations defeat by Scotland provided some promising moments but ultimately a seven-try thriller at Twickenham was a disappointing start to Borthwick's reign.
England's new head coach took charge in December after Jones was sacked in response to a grim 2022, inheriting a side struggling with a number of significant defects. While Ireland and Scotland have made strong early impressions on the Six Nations, Borthwick knows a salvage job which to date numbers only 11 days in camp will not happen overnight.
"We know we've got a lot of work to do. I've been frank from day one in saying there's a lot of work to do," said Borthwick, whose next assignment is a round two clash with Italy at Twickenham on Sunday. "When I looked at the team in the autumn, when I measured the team and got all the data for the team, we weren't good at anything. It was as frank as that.
"So we are trying to build some strengths in this team and some bits we are pleased about and some bits we are disappointed about. My job is to make sure we get some improvements for Italy. There are multiple areas we have tried to change. We saw improvement against Scotland in a lot of areas. Some areas didn't go so well and we need to make sure we get those addressed. Some take longer than others."
France boss left with 'bitter taste'
France head coach Fabien Galthie said he had been left with a "bitter taste" despite his team opening their Guinness Six Nations defence with a bonus-point victory over Italy in Rome. Having been 19-6 up midway through the first half, France then found themselves behind in the second before Matthieu Jalibert's try saw them claim a 29-24 win.
Galthie, whose side will now face world number one-ranked Ireland in Dublin next Saturday, said in quotes reported by L'Equipe: "We are satisfied to have won it, to have taken the offensive bonus - two of the objectives we had set ourselves - but we must admit that it was hard. The performance is mixed to say the least, it leaves us with a bitter taste. We didn't achieve all our goals in this game, that's clear.
"But we have the right, collectively, not to always be on top, always be in line with our expectations that have evolved over the past two years. We must say that winning an international match, in the tournament, away, is already important. Now we are aware that we must do much better."
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