Six Nations 2020: NZ-born Johnny McNicholl picked for Wales test debut against Italy

NZ-born wing Johnny McNicholl will earn a debut for defending champions Wales in their Six Nations opener against Italy in Cardiff on Sunday (NZ time).

McNicholl, who qualifies for Wales through residency, scored a try for the Welsh in a 44-33 victory over the Barbarians in November, but will play his first official fixture against the Italians.

His selection sees George North move into the midfield, with fullback Leigh Halfpenny and wing Josh Adams completing the back three.

"It is great for Johnny McNicholl to get his first cap," said news Wales coach Wayne Pivac, who is also a New Zealander.

"I thought he played really well against the Barbarians, so it is a great opportunity for him this weekend. 

"George has had a number of games in the midfield for Wales and more recently for the Ospreys, and he has been running there in training. We have been impressed with him there and he is excited by the opportunity."

Tomos Williams and Dan Biggar line up as the inside-back pairing, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and No.8 Taulupe Faletau make up the loose forwards, with captain Alun Wyn Jones and Jake Ball filling the lock positions.

Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis and hooker Ken Owens make up the front row.

Wales: 1-Wyn Jones, 2-Ken Owens, 3-Dillon Lewis, 4-Jake Ball, 5-Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6-Aaron Wainwright, 7-Justin Tipuric, 8-Taulupe Faletau, 9-Tomos Williams, 10-Dan Biggar, 11-Josh Adams, 12-Hadleigh Parkes, 13-George North, 14-Johnny McNicholl, 15-Leigh Halfpenny

Reserves: 16-Elliot Dee, 17-Rob Evans, 18-Leon Brown, 19-Cory Hill, 20-Ross Moriarty, 21-Rhys Webb, 22-Jarrod Evans 23-Nick Tompkins

Kiwi Italians on bench to face Wales

New Italy boss Franco Smith has named NZ-born players Jayden Hayward and Dean Budd on the bench to face Wales. 

Budd, who started in Italy's last match at the Rugby World Cup, has been replaced by uncapped lock Niccolo Cannone. 

Jayden Hayward and Dean Budd.
Jayden Hayward and Dean Budd. Photo credit: Getty

Cannone, a 21-year-old former junior international, switched from prop to lock early in his career and will play alongside 117-cap veteran Alessandro Zanni in the second row.

Props Giosue Zilocchi and Andrea Lovott, who was sent off for a dangerous tackle against the Springboks, both start in the front row, with new captain Luca Bigi at hooker. 

In the backline, Leonardo Sarto will make his first test appearance for more than two years, coming in from the cold to start on the wing.

The 28-year-old has not tasted international rugby since Italy's 31-15 loss to Argentina in Florence on November 18, 2017.

"We have worked hard, on and off the pitch, to build synergy between the staff and the players," Italy coach Smith said. "We know our potential and what we can give.

"I have faith in the team and can't wait to see them on the pitch against Wales."

Italy have suffered whitewashes in four successive tournaments, since their last Six Nations success against Scotland in February 2015.

Italy: 1-Andrea Lovotti, 2-Luca Bigi (c), 3-Giosue Zilocchi, 4-Alessandro Zanni, 5-Niccolo Cannonea, 6-Jake Polledri, 7-Sebastian Negri, 8-Braam Steyn, 9-Callum Braley, 10-Tommaso Allan, 11-Mattia Bellini, 12-Carlo Canna, 13-Luca Morisi,, 14-Leonardo Sarto, 15-Matteo Minozzi,

Reserves: 16-Federico Zani, 17-Danilo Fischetti, 18-Marco Riccioni, 19-Dean Budd, 20-Marco Lazzaroni, 21-Giovanni Licata, 22-Guglielmo Palazzani, 23-Jayden Hayward.

Uncapped France duo set for Six Nations

New coach Fabien Galthie has named two uncapped players in his starting side for France's Six Nations opener against England in Paris on Monday. 

Fullback Anthony Bouthier and prop Mohamed Haoua, both of Montpellier, will win their first caps, while flanker Cameron Woki and lock Boris Palu could make their international debuts off the bench.

The starting XV averages less than 15 caps per player, although eight of them started the 2019 World Cup quarter-final game against Wales.

Flanker Charles Ollivon captains the side in Galthie's first game in charge.

Meanwhile, England coach Eddie Jones, who will name his team on Saturday, confirmed Anthony Watson has been ruled out of the match with a calf injury.

France: 1-Cyril Baille, 2-Julien Marchand, 3-Mohamed Haouas, 4-Bernard Le Roux, 5-Paul Willemse, 6-Francois Cros, 7-Charles Ollivon (c), 8-Gregory Alldritt, 9-Antione Dupont, 10-Romain Ntamack, 11-Damian Penaud, 12-Gael Fickou, 13-Virimi Valatawa, 14-Teddy Thomas, 15-Anthony Bouthier

Reserves: 16-Peato Mauvaka, 17-Jefferson Poirot, 18-Demba Bamba, 19-Boris Palu, 20-Cameron Woki, 21-Baptiste Serin, 22-Matthieu Jalibert, 23-Vincent Rattez

Scotland ring changes after dismal Rugby World Cup

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has ripped up the side that flopped at last year's Rugby World Cup, making 10 changes to the starting line-up for their Six Nations opener against Ireland. 

Adam Hastings replaces first-five Finn Russell, who will not be involved at the Aviva Stadium, after being disciplined for breaching team protocol during a training camp last week.

No.8 Nick Haining will also win his first cap, and will feature in an all-Edinburgh back row with fit-again Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie.

Hooker Fraser Brown retains his place and will be flanked by in-form props Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland, returning to the squad for the first time in three-and-a-half years.

New Scotland captain Stuart Hogg.
New Scotland captain Stuart Hogg. Photo credit: Getty

Fullback and new captain Stuart Hogg and Glasgow centre Sam Johnson are the only players retained in the back-line, where halfback Ali Price and 'kilted Kiwi' wing Sean Maitland start in place of recent international retirees Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour.

Meanwhile, Andy Farrell named Ireland's squad on Wednesday, with former U20s captain Caelan Doris selected to make his test debut at No.8. 

In his first selection, Farrell has made five changes to the side that suffered World Cup quarter-final thrashing by New Zealand in October.

New Zealander Bundee Aki - who was suspended for the All Blacks clash, after a red card against Samoa in pool play - returns to partner Garry Ringrose in the midfield, with Robbie Henshaw dropping to the bench as outside-back cover.

Scotland: 1-Rory Sutherland, 2- Fraser Brown, 3-Zander Fagerson, 4-Scott Cummings, 5-Jonny Gray, 6-Jamie Ritchie, 7-Hamish Watson, 8-Nick Haining, 9-Ali Price, 10-Adam Hastings, 11-Blair Kinghorn, 12-Sam Johnson, 13-Huw Jones, 14-Sean Maitland, 15-Stuart Hogg (c)

Reserves: 16-Stuart McInally, 17-Allan Dell, 18-Simon Berghan, 19-Ben Toolis, 20-Cornell du Preez, 21-George Horne, 22-Rory Hutchinson, 23-Chris Harris

Ireland: 1-Cian Healy, 2-Rob Herring 3-Tadhg Furlong, 4-Iain Henderson, 5-James Ryan, 6-CJ Stander, 7-Josh van der Flier, 8-Caelan Doris, 9-Conor Murray, 10-Johnny Sexton (c), 11-Jacob Stockdale, 12-Bundee Aki, 13-Garry Ringrose, 14-Andrew Conway, 15-Jordan Larmour

Reserves: 16-Ronan Kelleher, 17-Dave Kilcoyne, 18-Andrew Porter, 19-Devin Toner, 20-Peter O’Mahony, 21-John Cooney, 22-Ross Byrne, 23-Robbie Henshaw