Here are your rugby headlines from Wales and beyond for Thursday, November 19.
George North out of Wales 23 for Georgia
Wales wing George North is set to feature for the Ospreys this weekend rather than for Wales against Georgia.
The BBC reports that the 28-year-old, who came on from the bench in the Autumn Nations Cup opener in Dublin, is in line to play against Benetton in the PRO14 this Sunday.
Not expected to be included in the Wales side to face Georgia in Llanelli on Saturday, this would mark North’s first appearance for the Ospreys in the 2020/21 season.
Wayne Pivac set to field much-changed Wales side for Georgia
Cardiff Blues flanker James Botham – grandson of England cricket great Ian Botham – looks set to make his Wales debut on Saturday after being drafted into the squad on Monday.
Wales had already identified him as a player of possible 2023 World Cup potential, and an early chance to impress could be handed him in the Autumn Nations Cup clash against Georgia at Parc y Scarlets.
Scarlets backs Johnny Williams and Kieran Hardy are also potential debutants, while first Test starts await Bristol fly-half Callum Sheedy and 19-year-old Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit.
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac is expected to name a much-changed starting XV on Thursday at noon from the one beaten 32-9 by Ireland last week. You’ll be able to follow live updates on the Wales team announcement here.
‘Massive asset’ Callum Sheedy can drive Wales to overdue win – Pat Lam
Callum Sheedy has been described as “a massive asset to any team” ahead of his potential first start for Wales.
Bristol fly-half Sheedy made his Test debut as a second-half substitute in the 32-9 Autumn Nations Cup defeat against Ireland at the weekend and could be handed the number 10 shirt when Wales host Georgia on Saturday, with head coach Wayne Pivac set to field a much-changed team from the one on duty in Dublin.
Sheedy’s Bristol boss Pat Lam has no doubt that the 25-year-old will relish his opportunity if it comes this weekend.
“I am really excited and really proud of him,” Bristol rugby director Lam said.
“He is on this journey, and I think the big thing is – take away the rugby – Callum is the greatest person.
“He is so coachable, and as I said to Wayne (Pivac) he is a player that is a massive asset to any team.
“I think the big thing for Callum, and I had a chat to him yesterday, is making sure that the guys around him trust him, have no fear and they connect well.
“And that’s what he is good at. Our game is not about a 10 running everything.
“It is about a collective and making sure that if Liam Williams wants a cross-kick, tell Callum and he will give you one. If (Nick) Tompkins or Jonathan Davies asks to put the grubber-kick through, just tell him, he will do it.”
Lam added of Cardiff-born Sheedy: “He is a really approachable and open guy, but I know what he will stress to the guys, if he’s selected, is that it is about the here and the now, it’s not about what has gone before.
“I have no doubt that if Callum is at 10, he will drive that with the other key players in that team and they will do a good job.”
Fiji team confined to rooms in empty hotel after Autumn Nations Cup chaos
The next steps of Fiji’s involvement in the Autumn Nations Cup are set to be decided following the coronavirus results of squad members who have tested negative, with those tests being conducted on Wednesday.
Having essentially forfeited their matches to France and Italy this weekend by not being able to compete, Fiji are confined to their rooms in individual isolation in an otherwise empty four-star motel 20km north of French city Saint-Etienne, iNews report.
A 46-strong squad returned five positive tests for the virus last week, and on Monday of this week the number leapt to 29, reportedly comprising 22 players and seven management.
Meanwhile, Fiji Rugby Union’s chief executive John O’Connor has called for calm and says players – who remain in high spirits – are hopeful of being cleared to play Scotland on November 28.
Fiji Times reports he said that none of the 29 Flying Fijians have shown any symptoms of Covid-19, nor have they needed medical support.
George Ford keen to face Ireland after Achilles injury recovery
George Ford is raring to go after recovering from an Achilles injury to place himself in contention for a role in England’s pivotal Autumn Nations Cup clash with Ireland.
Ford missed the recent victories over Italy and Georgia in order to address a long-standing issue, forcing him to relinquish the fly-half duties he has held since the World Cup semi-final rout of New Zealand a year ago.
Now restored to full fitness, the Leicester playmaker is pushing hard for an immediate return to the starting XV when Eddie Jones names his team on Thursday morning.
If asked to act as chief conductor at Twickenham on Saturday, captain Owen Farrell will move to inside centre with a reshaped midfield seeing Henry Slade or Ollie Lawrence fill the 13 jersey.
Jones’ alternatives are to pick Ford, a 69-cap veteran whose range of skills and vision in attack have been missed by England, as cover on the bench or include him among the two players in the 25-man squad who will miss out.
“I feel great, I honestly feel great. It’s the best it’s felt on the field, running around in training, not being aware of it. So I’m happy,” Ford said.
“It was an ongoing niggle and I had been able to manage it and not miss any training or playing time, but it got to the stage where needed to get to the bottom of it before the risk of anything more serious occurred.
“Fortunately, I’m here and part of an environment where we have a brilliant medical team to get to the bottom of it, which we have done.”
Scotland star says winning streak is no fluke
Blair Kinghorn is hoping to savour the joy of six after insisting Scotland’s unbeaten streak is no fluke.
Gregor Townsend’s team are currently on their joint-best run since the advent of professional rugby, having chalked up consecutive wins over Italy, France, Georgia, Wales and the Azzurri again.
They can go one better and match a sequence last achieved in 1990 by beating Les Bleus when they visit Murrayfield on Sunday for their next Autumn Nations Cup clash.
Yet former Scotland skipper John Barclay attempted to put some perspective on his old side’s recent achievements in the build-up to last weekend’s 28-17 triumph in Florence when he wrote in the Times: “Cool-headed analysis makes it clear that Scotland have not transformed themselves into world beaters. Yet.”
The retired flanker insisted he was not trying to rain on Townsend’s parade but felt it had to be pointed out that Italy are the perennial whipping boys of the Six Nations, Wales are struggling under new coach Wayne Pivac, and the Georgians were playing their first game in six months.
As for the French, they found themselves battling with only 14 men for 46 minutes back in March after seeing Mohamed Haouas sent off for punching Jamie Ritchie.
But winger Kinghorn insists all those facts do not diminish what his team have achieved of late as he insisted Scotland should be proud of their recent record.
“Winning five international games in a row is not a fluke,” said the Edinburgh back.
“We have been playing good rugby, regardless of what people think of the other teams. We play a good brand of rugby.
“We managed to keep our momentum going from the Six Nations, which was great to see. I think a lot of that comes from our defence as well. We conceded the fewest points in the Six Nations, which is a great start, and we’ve managed to keep backing that up.
“We know the challenge that France can bring, but we are up for it.”
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk