International rugby returns and Chiefs close in on historic double

International rugby returns and Chiefs close in on historic double

Rugby heaven awaits fans this weekend as an action-packed schedule sees the return of the Guinness Six Nations and the final of the Premiership season. 

Ireland welcome Italy to Dublin as Andy Farrell’s men resume their 2020 Championship title charge in what will be their first match since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs will look to complete a famous domestic and European double when they take on Wasps at Twickenham in the Premiership Rugby showpiece.

But that’s not all as Wales also travel to France for a warm-up ahead of the resumption of their Championship campaigns while the Guinness PRO14 returns after a weekend off.

Throw in Scotland’s match against Georgia as well and it’s safe to say rugby enthusiasts are spoilt for choice, with the stakes even higher with next year’s British & Irish Lions Tour on the horizon.

FARRELL PUTS OWN STAMP ON IRELAND 

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As a two-time Lions assistant coach, Andy Farrell is used to dealing with pressure on the big stage.

And the Ireland head coach has certainly shown he is not afraid to make the big calls with his line-up for the first game of the 2020 Six Nations Championship restart on Saturday.

Having been more conservative in his selection before lockdown brought the competition to a halt, Farrell has been bold for Ireland’s encounter with Italy at the Aviva Stadium.

Jacob Stockdale has been handed the No.15 shirt after showing his versatility for Ulster while Leinster duo Hugo Keenan and Will Connors will make their senior international debuts.

Ireland need two bonus-point wins to claim the title and rolling the dice now is a gamble from Farrell, but it is also clear to see he is beginning to put his own stamp on the role.

Elsewhere, Finn Russell is on the bench and Duhan van der Merwe will make his Scotland debut when Gregor Townsend’s side welcome Georgia to BT Murrayfield on Friday night.

And Lions legend Alun Wyn Jones is set to equal Richie McCaw’s world record of 148 caps when he lines up for Wales against France in Paris for a warm-up ahead of the Six Nations.

The three-time tourist will contest his 139th international for Wales to go alongside his nine Tests for the Lions over three series against South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

CHIEFS CLOSE IN ON HISTORIC DOUBLE 

Lions duo Jack Nowell and Stuart Hogg are both in the starting XV for Exeter Chiefs as the Devonians bid to add the Premiership title to their Champions Cup success.

Rob Baxter’s side overcame Racing 92 in a thrilling final to become European champions for the first time and only Wasps stand in their way of a historic 2019/20 season double.

Chiefs would become just the fourth English side to complete the feat by repeating their 2017 Premiership Rugby final win over Wasps at Twickenham on Saturday.

Exeter have made four changes to the side which defeated Racing 92, with Sam Skinner taking the place of Jonny Gary, while Ollie Devoto, Jannes Kirsten and Olly Woodburn also come in.

And they will need to be at their best to get the better of Wasps, who stormed into second by the end of the regular season behind Exeter in the table with a remarkable run of results.

Lee Blackett oversaw a complete transformation in Wasps’ season, having lost five of their first six league games, winning 12 of 13 games either side of lockdown to reach the semi-finals.

A comprehensive win over Bristol Bears in the last four sealed their spot in the final, where they and newly-crowned Premiership Player of the Year Jack Willis will attempt to shut down Chiefs.

WILLIAMS RETURNS FOR SCARLETS 

Liam Williams will make his much-anticipated return for Scarlets on Friday night when they travel to Treviso to take on Benetton as part of a Guinness PRO14 double header.

The Lions full-back was released by Wales ahead of their clash with France to get some game time with his region ahead of the busy autumn schedule after returning from injury.

It will be the 29-year-old’s first run out for Scarlets since rejoining from Saracens earlier this year and he will be eager to impress after completing his recovery from a foot problem.

Williams is not the only international who will be in PRO14 action this weekend, though, with Jonah Holmes another player released by Wales ahead of Dragons’ meeting with Ulster.

Dragons will also be able to call on the experience of two-time Lions tourist Jamie Roberts, who delivered a man-of-the-match performance last time out in the region’s victory over Zebre.

Ireland flanker Dan Leavy is set to make his first Leinster appearance in 19 months against Zebre after being named on the bench for the PRO14 champions’ clash at the RDS Arena.

Elsewhere, Ospreys host Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh welcome Connacht before Cardiff Blues travel to Munster for the first Monday night fixture in PRO14 history.

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