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Taulupe Faletau

Taulupe Faletau

A potential move by barnstorming Newport-Gwent Dragons No 8 Taulupe Faletau to English Premiership team Bath would not hinder his international chances, Wales head coach Warren Gatland insisted on Thursday.

The so-called “Gatland’s law” was put in place with the theory that home-based players would be favoured over those choosing to ply their trade overseas.

But it has appeared increasingly irrelevant, with a host of current Welsh internationals turning out for the national side despite playing in England or France, although the ‘law’ will reportedly only allow 2 wildcard selections from those playing outside the country after this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Tonga-born Faletau has a year left on his Dragons contract, but it seems increasingly likely he will be bought out of that deal, to the reported value of £ 250 000.00, with Premiership club Bath keen to sign the 24-year-old British and Irish Lions forward.

“We’re discussing it at the moment with the Dragons, the regions and Bath,” Gatland said.

“Toby’s got the biggest choice to make, that’s ongoing and hopefully that gets sorted out in the next week.

“There is potential there for Toby to move, that’s up to him, but he wouldn’t be hampered by that.

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Paul Strdgeon

Paul Strdgeon

The Welsh Rugby Union have acquired the services of highly respected and experienced fitness expert Paul Stridgeon as consultant Head of Physical Performance.

Stridgeon linked up with the national squad on Monday 15 June as Wales’ World Cup preparations commenced with initial conditioning training.

The 34 year-old will oversee the WRU’s Physical Performance department on a tournament-by-tournament basis combining that role with his Head of Strength and Conditioning position at European Champions Toulon.

Stridgeon, a former freestyle wrestler who represented England at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, joined Toulon in 2014 after 6 years as England Rugby National Fitness Coach.

He already has a close working relationship with a number of the Wales management team and players having toured with the British and Irish Lions as fitness coach in 2009 and 2013. His relationship with head coach Warren Gatland stretches further back to their time together at Wasps where they won both European and domestic titles.

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Alex Cuthbert

Alex Cuthbert

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

Welsh internationals Adam Jones and Alex Cuthbert will represent the Barbarians against England and Ireland this month.

Former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans invited the duo – neither of whom have played for the Barbarians before – to join his squad for the games at Thomond Park on 28 May and Twickenham on 31 May.

Deans’ squad already includes former New Zealand winger Joe Rokocoko, Australia back Berrick Barnes and triple European Champions Toulon’s leading try scorer David Smith.

Jones, who has retired from international rugby and moves from Cardiff Blues to Harlequins this summer, was thrilled by the opportunity to don the Barbarians’ iconic black and white jersey for the 1st time.

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George EarleSouth African lock, George Earle, has extended his contract with the Scarlets after joining the region from the Cheetahs in 2012.

An experienced player, Earle played previously with the Golden Lions, Western Province, Boland and the Griquas in the Currie Cup.

The lock will become Welsh-qualified in June after being with the Scarlets for 3 years.

Earle was attracted to playing rugby in Wales because of the Welsh style of play, making his Scarlets debut in a pre-season friendly against Narbonne in August 2012.

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SIX-NationsSomewhere, shaking his cauliflower ears in dismay, a grizzled old retired prop was probably secretly wishing someone would just stick the ball up his jumper and make a cautious 3 inches.

For everyone else watching this was surely the most thrilling day that 5 or 6 Nations rugby has seen: a fantasy finale, a chest-squeezer and knee-knocker, a day to fall back in love.

There are the stats: 221 points scored across the 3 matches, the most in a single weekend – 27 tries, run in from deep and wide and everywhere in between.

There was England’s record score against France, Ireland’s biggest away win, the most tries Wales have scored in 1 championship half.

Then there was the style. This was rugby we thought had died and been laid to rest, killed by detailed analysis and the professional urge to be sensible.

Sensible? This was glorious chaos, March madness to put a spring in every watcher’s step and an ulcer in the stomach of every defence coach.

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SIX NationsIt should be a 3-way fight between England, Ireland and Wales for the Six Nations title on Saturday, although France still have an outside chance.

The Top 3 are locked on 6 Points with 3 wins apiece, while England’s points difference of +37 puts them 1st, ahead of Ireland’s +33 and Wales’ +12.

France are 4th with 4 Points and a points difference of +22.

Philippe Saint-Andre’s side could still steal the title if Wales and Ireland lose and Les Bleus then beat England by a margin of 8 points or more, but it looks a remote possibility.

If teams are level on points, and match-points difference, then England are likely to win the Championship on tries scored, having crossed 11 times to Ireland’s 4 and Wales’ 5. In the highly unlikely event this was also level come Saturday night, the trophy would be shared.

Wales are in action 1st away to Italy in Rome (14:30 SA Time, 12:30 GMT), before Ireland take on Scotland at Murrayfield (16:30 SA Time, 14:30 GMT), ahead of England’s home match against France at Twickenham (19:00 SA Time, 17:00 GMT).

With the Six Nations wide open, we assess the 4 teams’ chances.

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WalesWales players Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, Scott Williams and the uncapped Gareth Anscombe have all signed central contracts, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) have announced on Wednesday.

Ospreys team-mates Jones and Biggar, Scarlets centre Williams and Cardiff Blues flyhalf Anscombe follow Rhys Webb in signing a National Dual Contract, taking the total number of Welsh players on central contracts to 12.

“Alun Wyn, Dan, Scott and Gareth represent a cross-section of experience, but each one of them is a player of proven talent,” said Wales head coach Warren Gatland in a statement on the WRU website.

“Within the group of 12 we have signed a mixture of emerging talent and players who have secured reputations for excellence through their appearances for their regions, Wales and the British and Irish Lions.

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Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland

Wales have made 2 changes in their front row to face Italy in their final Six Nations encounter of the season, in Rome on Saturday.

Rob Evans and Aaron Jarvis come into the starting 15, replacing the injured duo of Gethin Jenkins (hamstring) and Samson Lee (Achilles).

The team which will take to the field at the Stadio Olimpico is otherwise unchanged team.

Evans will make his first start as he wins his 2nd cap in Rome and will line-up alongside Ospreys duo Scott Baldwin and Jarvis.

Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones continue in the second row with Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau lining up alongside captain Sam Warburton in the back row.

The backline remains unchanged with Rhys Webb (No 9) and Dan Biggar (No 10) at halfback, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in the centre and a back 3 of George North, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny.

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WalesWales ended Ireland’s hopes of a Six Nations Grand Slam and in the process climb above Australia to 5th in the World Rugby Rankings.

Wales have climbed 1 place to 5th in the latest World Rugby Rankings after their 23 / 16 victory over Ireland, setting up a thrilling climax to the RBS 6 Nations with 3 sides tied on 6 Log points.

The Welsh victory, in a match which saw Sam Warburton surpass Ryan Jones’s record for the most tests as captain, leaves them, Ireland and England battling for the title this coming Saturday.

Wales’ climb comes at the expense of Australia, who have now fallen to their lowest ever position since the World Rugby Rankings were introduced in October 2003.

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WalesA resilient Wales side withstood a 2nd half battering to blow the RBS 6 Nations wide open and end holders Ireland’s grand slam hopes with a 23 / 16 victory on Saturday.

After an opening home defeat by England, Wales have hit back with 3 successive wins and by defeating previously undefeated Ireland they have a shot at the title, heading into the final round next week.

Despite losing both props to injury in the 1st half, Wales wobbled but did not wilt in the face of fierce Irish pressure and even a late Penalty Try, which set up a grandstand finale proved insufficient.

“An absolutely unbelievable effort,” Sam Warburton, captaining Wales for a record 34th time, said.

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WalesWales will field an unchanged starting lineup for the Six Nations showdown with Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.

Coach Warren Gatland was pleased with his side’s 20 / 13 win over France in Paris which kept alive their hopes of winning the tournament and had no problem giving the same 15 men a vote of confidence.

Flanker Sam Warburton, who went off after taking a blow to his knee during the French clash, has regained his fitness and will be able to break Ryan Jones’ record when he captains Wales for the 34th time at the Millennium Stadium.

The only 2 changes to the Paris lineup are due to injuries and come on the bench.

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FranceWalesGeorge North will make his 50th international appearance, in record time, against France on Saturday, and will be looking to continue his purple patch against Les Bleus.

At just 22-years-old, North will become the youngest international player ever to reach the milestone – it will be his 47th cap for Wales, added to three for the British and Irish Lions.

The towering Northampton wing scored tries against France in each of the 2 previous matches and will be looking to continue that form as Wales seek a 4th straight win over Philippe Saint-Andre’s side.

North will make his comeback for Wales having sat out the 26 / 23 win over Scotland 2 weeks ago due to a pair of concussions suffered against England the week before.

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George North down against England in the SIX Nations

George North down against England in the SIX Nations

Wales have recalled wing George North in place of Alex Cuthbert for the Six Nations match against France.

North missed the 26 / 23 win over Scotland on 15 February after suffering concussion in the opening defeat by England.

Lock Luke Charteris, prop Samson Lee and hooker Scott Baldwin were also named in the team for the game in Paris on Saturday as coach Warren Gatland made 4 changes.

Charteris replaced Jake Ball who started in the win over Scotland at Murrayfield.

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Scotland (10) 23 / 26 (16) WalesScotland

Where do we begin in analysing a game full of movement, liberally spiced with controversy, which ended with Wales the victors at BT Murrayfield, thus extending their unbeaten record against Scotland to 8 games?

Scotland, who contributed so much to the contest, remain pointless in the RBS 6 Nations Championship as Wales bounced back from their opening round defeat by England.

Scotland will now welcome Italy to BT Murrayfield at the end of this month, which captain Greig Laidlaw cites as a “massive” game.

“We’re getting better as a team, becoming stronger but we need to get a result,” he said.

“Small margins,” has been the mantra in international rugby for many a year but we saw it so painfully from a Scottish perspective this afternoon.

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ScotlandHead Coach Vern Cotter has made 2 enforced changes to the starting Scotland side to face Wales at BT Murrayfield Stadium this Sunday (kick-off 15:00 BST & GMT, 17:00 SA Time).

Glasgow Warriors wing Sean Lamont – the most capped player in Scotland’s RBS 6 Nations squad with 91 appearances – has made a timely return from the calf injury that ruled him out of the nation’s opening championship match against France, as a direct replacement for club-mate Tommy Seymour, who has not yet recovered fully from the hip injury sustained in Paris.

The 2nd change sees London Irish tight-head prop Geoff Cross promoted from the bench in place of Euan Murray, who is unavailable on the Sabbath due to his religious beliefs, with Jon Welsh taking the substitute spot vacated by Cross.

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ScotlandAfter an improved performance, though unable to turn possession into points, Scotland Women look ahead to their first home game at the new base of Broadwood Stadium, Cumbernauld. The team announced to take on Wales (Saturday 14 February, kick-off 17: BST & GMT) sees 4 changes to the line-up that started against France at La-Roche-sur-Yon last Saturday.

All the changes come in the backs, scrumhalf Mhairi Grieve – who will be securing her 3rd cap – moves up from the bench while Hannah Sloan comes in at wing. Injury to Gillian Inglis during the game against France sees Chloe Rollie move from centre to fullback and Hannah Smith – winning her 2nd cap – takes the No 13 jersey.

Worcester prop Tracy Balmer captains the squad again, lining up in the front-row alongside the most experienced member of the team, 72-times capped Heather Lockhart.

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George North down against England on the weekend

George North down against England on the weekend

Wales have made 1 change to their side to face Scotland on Sunday, with Liam Williams coming into the starting 15.

Scarlets back Williams will win his 20th cap at Murrayfield and replaces George North.

North is currently symptom free and whilst nearing the conclusion of the graduated return to play protocol the decision has been taken to allow him an elongated recovery period in light of his recent concussive episode in the autumn period.

The 1 change results in the same starting backline that beat South Africa, in the final autumn international, taking to the field this weekend.

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George North down against England on the weekend

George North down against England on the weekend

Wales will have instant video replays available to their medical staff for the remainder of the Six Nations tournament to avoid a repeat of an incident where one of their players continued playing after losing consciousness on the field.

Wales have come under criticism after winger George North played on following a clash of heads with a teammate in the second half of the 21 / 16 loss to England in Cardiff on Friday. He did not undergo a mandatory test for concussion.

In an interview posted on the Welsh Rugby Union’s website on Monday, the national medical officer, Prav Mathema, said team doctors did not see the incident involving North and that he was lucid when they arrived to treat him.

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World RugbyA strong second half saw Rugby World Cup 2015 hosts England storm back to beat Wales 21 / 16 in their Six Nations opener in Cardiff, a result which lifted them above Ireland back to 3rd in the latest World Rugby rankings.

According to the World Rugby (previously IRB), the victory sees England regain the mantle as the leading northern hemisphere nation in the rankings behind New Zealand and South Africa and they now sit 0.35 points above Ireland after their 26 / 3 victory over Italy in Rome had no impact due to the 11 places separating the teams.

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EnglandSale Sharks flyhalf Danny Cipriani has been named in the England squad for the Six Nations opener against Wales. The 27-year-old, who has not featured since last June’s tour of New Zealand, is set to start on the bench.

Harlequins No 8 eight Nick Easter, 36, returns for the first time since the 2011 World Cup.

Leicester Tigers trio Dan Cole, Tom Croft and Tom Youngs and Saracens prop Mako Vunipola are also named in Stuart Lancaster’s 25-man party.

Bath centre Jonathan Joseph returns to the squad for the first time since the 2013 tour to Argentina.

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WalesCaptain Sam Warburton will win his 50th cap against England on Friday as he leads a Wales side that contains 2 changes from the one that beat South Africa in their last outing.

Warren Gatland has named his team 48 hours ahead of schedule and it sees the return of British and Irish Lions Richard Hibbard and George North to the starting line-up for the Six Nations tournament opener.

Hibbard will line-up in the front row with Gethin Jenkins and Samson Lee, with Jake Ball and Alun Wyn Jones packing down behind.

Warburton is named in a familiar back row with Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau.

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SIX Nations 2015 Launch

The World Cup countdown is officially on, as the Six Nations sides get the first opportunity in the spotlight.

xThe Northern Hemisphere teams will look to sharpen up on their game plans, test out combinations and look to see who to cut from their World Cup plans.

With England hosting the global showpiece this year, the onus is on the Northern Hemisphere sides to fully challenge and grab the opportunity of a World Cup on their turf.

The conditions, referees and schedule seems to favour them.

The Six Nations in 2014 saw a tournament only decided on the final day – with three teams still able to win it. Eventually Ireland won it, a perfect swan song for arguably the greatest No.13 in the modern era – Brian O’Driscoll.

England won the triple crown, beating all the other Home Nations, but failed to win the Six Nations. Italy was also in the record books for the most tackles in a Test match as they made 208!

What do we expect in the 2015 edition of the Six Nations?

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Adam Jones

Adam Jones

Wales and British and Irish Lions prop, Adam Jones, has retired from international rugby, he said.

The 33-year-old Cardiff Blues player featured 95 times for Wales and won 3 Grand Slams but was left out of their Six Nations squad having missed out on the 2014 autumn series.

“It’s obviously not the way I would want to finish, it’s not how I planned it in my head, and I hope no-one thinks I am simply quitting,” said Jones.

His last appearance for Wales was in the 38-16 defeat by South Africa in the first test of their June 2014 tour when he was substituted after half-an-hour.

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Gareth Anscombe

Gareth Anscombe

New Zealand-born Gareth Anscombe has been included at flyhalf in Warren Gatland’s 34-man Wales squad to contest the Six Nations.

Apart from Anscombe there are 3 other debutants in Scarlets prop Rob Evans, Cardiff Blues Kristian Dacey and Newport Gwent Dragon, Tyler Morgan.

Scott Andrews and Gareth Davies are recalled and join 28 players who were involved in the recent End Of Year tour.

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Rynard Landman

Rynard Landman

Newport Gwent Dragons’ South African second-row Rynard Landman says he would “play his heart out” if selected by Wales once he becomes eligible in 2017.

Landman joined Dragons from Super Rugby side Cheetahs on a three-year contract in 2014.

The 28-year-old can play for Wales once he has lived there for three years.

“I’m here to stay and, if it comes along my path in three years, I would accept it with open arms and play my heart out,” said Landman.

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Rhys Priestland

Rhys Priestland

Aviva Premiership Rugby club Bath have signed Welsh international flyhalf Rhys Priestland from the 2015 / 2016 Premiership season from Welsh side the Scarlets.

Twenty-seven-year-old Priestland is closing in on 150 appearances for the Scarlets for whom he has scored over 1000 points.

Priestland, who has 32 caps for his country, burst onto the international scene in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, where he steered Wales to their first semi-final since 1987.

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Rugby World Cup 2015 - EnglandThe Wales squad will face temperatures ranging from 42 degrees to minus 150 degrees, will sleep in normobaric hypoxic chambers and will train in surroundings ranging from the deserts of Qatar to the peaks of the Swiss Alps as part of their gruelling preparation for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Wales’ full schedule for 2015 will see Warren Gatland’s squad undergo intensive training camps in Switzerland, Qatar and Poland as well as face home and away ties against Ireland before concluding their preparations against Italy at the Millennium Stadium.

The rigorous schedule has left no stone unturned in order to ensure Wales arrive at the world’s showpiece tournament in peak condition with leading facilities at home in Wales and across the world utilized.

The programme is the culmination of months of research and planning and WRU head of physical performance, Adam Beard, who also designed the 2011 schedule, is delighted to formally announce the squad’s plans.

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Jack Payne

Jack Payne

Former Wales and Llanelli flyhalf Phil Bennett has questioned Scarlets’ move for Welsh-qualified flanker Jack Payne from Queensland Reds in Australia.

Payne, 20, has arrived in Wales, but any move cannot be made official until passport issues have been resolved.

Scarlets president Bennett would prefer to see local players at Scarlets, but admitted importing Welsh-qualified players from abroad could help Wales.

“There’s a lot of mixed feeling from Llanelli,” he said.  “We’re kind of old fashioned here. People still go back to the great Llanelli days . . .  they all want to be Welsh, Welsh-speaking if they had their way,” joked 66-year-old Bennett.

“But let’s be honest, look at the Australians, the All Blacks and how they’ve milked the situation of getting players from Fiji, Samoa and different places. You’ve got to get and live with the very best in the world.”

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SpringboksThe South African Rugby Union received handy compensation from the Welsh Rugby Union for agreeing to play last weekend’s Test in Cardiff.

The Test at Millennium Stadium fell outside World Rugby’s international window, but was played after both rugby union’s agreed to square off.

According to reports, SARU received £750 000 (about R 13 Million) from the WRU for the Test.

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End Of Year ToursOnce again the four Rugby Championship teams have been and gone but this time they did not have it all their own way on their annual visit to the British Isles as it ended five wins apiece from the 10 Tests.

Ireland beat both South Africa and Australia, Wales downed the former and England the latter, and Scotland defeated Argentina.

Admittedly, the Pumas are not part of rugby union’s traditional southern hemisphere big three, and the incomparable All Blacks sailed through their Tests unbeaten, but even discounting the Scottish win over Argentina the matches against the three giants from the south only ended 5-4 to the visitors.

Former England and Lions great Jeremy Guscott has been out and about  during November and here he selects a XV for both the home nations and the Rugby Championship sides.

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South Africa suffered a big blow when Springbok captain Jean de Villiers was injured during their 12-6 defeat to Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

De Villiers was forced to leave the field in the 58th minute after twisting his left knee and dislocating his knee cap. The dislocation was reduced on the field and he was sent for scans shortly after the match.

“The scans revealed significant ligament damage to the inside of his knee and the supporting muscles,” said Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts.

“Jean will return to South Africa and see an orthopaedic specialist in Cape Town early in the week. He has had previous surgery on this knee and the further management of the injury is dependent upon the specialist’s recommendations.”

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said losing De Villiers was a massive setback as the team were just beginning to build momentum in a tough encounter against Wales. The home team’s points came via four Leigh Halfpenny penalty goals, while Pat Lambie responded with two penalty goals for the visitors.

“It was a massively disappointing way to end the tour and our season, as we always strive to make our country proud,” said Meyer.

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All BlacksReigning champions New Zealand remained the team to beat less than a year out from the World Cup in England after yet another successful November campaign in Europe.

There’s nothing new in the All Blacks being the yardstick for the global game and their rivals will take some comfort in knowing New Zealand have yet to win the World Cup on foreign soil.

So the fact they were pushed close by both England (24-21) and Wales (34-16) this month before emerging victorious won’t have done the All Blacks any harm, nor will the success of a virtual second-choice side in preserving their unbeaten record against Scotland.

However, all these matches demonstrated how no team goes for the full 80 minutes quite like New Zealand, who have enviable depth.

England found themselves needing two scores in the closing stages against the All Blacks and managed one while Wales conceded 24 points in the final 17 minutes.

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Jean de Villiers

Jean de Villiers

South Africa need no extra motivation to raise themselves for Saturday’s season-ending Test match against Wales after being pushed hard by the Welsh in their last match earlier this year.

The South Africans led 17-0 and 30-17 early in the clash in Nelspruit in June before the Welsh staged a dramatic comeback, only to fall short by a solitary point, as the Springboks hung on for a 31-30 victory.

That win stretched the Springboks’ formidable record over Wales to just one loss (1999) and one draw (1970) in 29 matches between the two countries.

“It’s pretty easy to motivate yourself. It’s the last one, you can put all your effort into it, not that you don’t in any other week of the year.

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Jamie Roberts

Jamie Roberts

Wales centre Jamie Roberts insisted he was ready for more of the same against South Africa on Saturday, despite being unable to run for four days after his exploits against the New Zealand last week.

Roberts, a qualified doctor currently taking a medical sabbatical playing for Racing-Metro in the French Top 14 league, admitted that he did not dwell too long on the pain and suffering he caused his own body.

“It’s taken me about four or five days to recover from last weekend,” Roberts said of the battering he took in the 34-16 loss to New Zealand.

“It was car-crash stuff last weekend.

“I take anti-inflammatory medication before most games now just to reduce swelling in knees and ankles and so forth.

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