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David Kelly’s Six Nations diary: Vintage Sexton, the rankings battle, and Sonny Bill hails Irish starlets


Johnny Sexton celebrates Ireland's Six Nations win over Wales at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton celebrates Ireland's Six Nations win over Wales at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton celebrates Ireland's Six Nations win over Wales at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

With five days to go before Ireland take on France at the Aviva Stadium in round two of the Six Nations, here are some of the lesser-spotted stories after the opening round of games.

Grand old Johnny

Johnny Sexton continues to make history after becoming the oldest Six Nations starter against Wales last weekend.

At 37 years and 208 days, he beats the record previously held by English lock stalwart, Simon Shaw, who was 37 years and 199 days old when he featured for the final time against Ireland in Lansdowne Road.

Alun Wyn Jones is the only other 37-year-old still active while Andrea Lo Cicero, Diego Dominguez and Nick Easter feature prominently as grand old men of the championship/

Two more Irishmen are in the top ten – Rory Best played his final game aged 36 and 213 days while John Hayes was 36 years and 131 days when he bowed out.

Sonny Bill’s high praise for Irish U20s stars

Ireland’s U20s kicked off the defence of their Grand Slam title in furious fashion and where better than Wales to soak up some scintillating rugby reminiscent of the great red-shirted wizards of the 1970s.

And one name certainly made the rugby world pay attention, with Leinster’s imposing out-half Sam Prendergast dishing up some off-loading craft which wowed one of the game’s greatest ball players.

“Sam Prendergast! Remember that name my friends,” All Black legend Sonny Bill Williams tweeted to his 936,000 followers.

Williams had been alerted to Prendergast’s stunning play after it was highlighted by the World Rugby account, adding a cheeky made-up quote.

"Yes, I have been watching SBW and Leone Nakarawa highlights. Why do you ask?”

England lose another head coach

It is all quiet on the women’s international front as the Six Nations continues to enjoy its standalone slot after the men’s event but there has already been some confirmed movement in the coaching box.

England have confirmed that Simon Middleton will be leaving after this year’s competition following their last gasp World Cup heartache against hosts New Zealand last year.

During his reign, he has guided England to five Six Nations titles and four grand slams and was awarded an MBE for services to rugby in 2021 but twice suffered defeat in a World Cup final.

Forwards coach Louis Deacon and backs coach Scott Bemand will also remain in their roles for the Championship.

“Representing England in a coaching or playing capacity must be the pinnacle of any sporting career,” he said.

“I can’t put into words how proud and fortunate I’ve been to be able to do this for the last nine years. Outside of my family, rugby has been my life, giving me purpose, great memories, and even greater friends.

"Growing up as a lad from Knottingley in Yorkshire, I was inspired by the likes of Sir Bill Beaumont, Will Carling and the great England sides of the 70s, 80s and 90s.

“To find myself so heavily involved with England in the game I love was a dream come true.

“This job has created a life I’d only ever dreamt of. Hopefully, what we have managed to achieve reflects well. It means the world to me to represent my country and the RFU.

“With whatever I do, I always work as hard as I can and I can honestly say I’ve never done anything without giving my best. It’s not always been good enough but I have always given my all.

“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.

“I’ve seen a lot of change over the nine years I’ve been involved and the development of the women’s game has been remarkable.

“I am privileged to have been able to influence the English game which even now seems surreal.”

Rankings tussle

Ireland and France will battle for a potential Grand Slam title tilt this weekend and the status as the world’s best team will also be on the line.

Ireland began a thrilling opening weekend of Six Nations rugby by increasing their lead over France at the top of the rankings by seven hundredths of a point.

Scotland have moved above England and into fifth place following their 29-23 win at Twickenham on Saturday.

On a weekend when all three away teams won for only the third time in the history of the competition, Scotland picked up 1.51 points and their overall rating is now 83.06.

It is the first time Scotland have been fifth in the rankings since they finished in the top half of the table in the 2018 Six Nations.

With England falling to sixth, on 82.15 points, Australia also drop down a place to replace Scotland in seventh.

Number of the Day: 14

France haven’t lost since a stunning Six Nations reverse to Scotland in 2021 cost them that year’s title.

Quote of the day

“We all know if we don’t up our performance next week, we’ll be on the end of a 15 to 20, 30-point hiding.” – Shaun Edwards, France defence coach, fires a warning to his side after their narrow win against Italy.

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