England v Wales, through the decades a game that fans either cannot wait to see due to full of self-belief or watch with trepidation in fear of losing to the old enemy. This is a match that in the 1980’s I used to love watching as a child I always believed we would win either at Cardiff Arms Park or at Twickenham, this turned into a game I dreaded and watched in absolute misery in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s more often than not. The match in 2002 at Twickenham when England walloped Wales 50 points to 10, in particular, sticks in the memory as a very bad moment in time amongst other bad moments. 2007 in a pre World Cup warm-up was painful as well but least I could take some consolation in it being a friendly, but it still hurt.
Now only a day away, Wales face England again in the 6 Nations Championship, at Twickenham. Eddie Jones versus Warren Gatland, the question being is their reason for optimism?
England earned a victory away in Rome last weekend. For the first 60 minutes or so, Italy was right in the game, due to their own good play plus England giving away a number of penalties with ill-discipline, meaning they struggled to get a real flow and continuity into their game. I never thought even whilst in the game Italy would get the win and in the last 20 minutes England went through the gears and came out as convincing winners. Sam Simmonds had an outstanding match, his all-around game was excellent making 23 tackles, and his ball carrying and his speed off the mark was very impressive. Dan Cole went very well in the scrum and in the backs, George Ford and Owen Farrell linked up very well and Anthony Watson looked very dangerous on the wing. England has brought in Danny Care due to the injury Ben Youngs suffered last weekend. Care is a dangerous strike runner and likes a quick tempo, he is similar in his playing style to his opposite number, Gareth Davies so that individual battle will be one to watch amongst many fascinating head to head battles.
England has also decided on replacing Ben Te’o with Jonathan Joseph at outside centre. England did have a few issues in their defence around the edges, so with Joseph who is quicker on his feet both in defence and attack will aid that issue. The Welsh centres now have to worry more about the quickness of Joseph rather than the more physically robust challenge Ben Te’o would have brought.
The English pack overall looks a very impressive unit and I am not surprised they have maintained Courtney Lawes in the back row even though some were calling for a more recognised flanker to play at 6. Wales had a big advantage in the lineout last week with Hill, Jones and Shingler, in particular, Scotland did not have a known strong lineout jumper in their back row and numerically suffered. England with Launchbury, Itoje and Lawes do not have that issue at all and will look to compete in certain areas of the pitch on Welsh ball. They will give Wales far more of a challenge in the tight than Scotland did. Scotland tried to go wide whether on the front foot or not, England will only go wide if they believe it is the right time to go wide, with numerical advantages etc. A much different proposition faces the Welsh.
The Welsh coaching staff have shown faith in the side that played last weekend, naming an unchanged fifteen for this week’s encounter. This may have taken some discussion as both Liam Williams and George North were available for selection this weekend. Two Britsh Lions stars, but Gatland and Co, have stayed with those who served them so well this weekend. Inexperienced internationals such as Josh Adams, Steff Evans, Hadleigh Parkes, Rhys Patchell, Cory Hill and Josh Navidi face the challenge of playing England at Twickenham in from of 82,000 expectant fans, how will they handle it?
Eddie Jones has said in a press conference will be interesting to see how Patchell who is inexperienced and was third choice fly-half, deals with the pressure and having players such as Care, Joseph, Farrell and Robshaw putting him under pressure. Patchell has always seemed a relaxed confident person and player and I believe he will handle the pressure well, but I do understand why and where Eddie Jones is coming from. However, you could turn that around 360 degrees and say how will the man of the moment, Sam Simmonds deal with the media attention now, plus having a fired up Ross Moriarty running at him? Simmonds same as Patchell was third choice number 8 coming in this campaign behind Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes, but he took his chance superbly last week in Rome, but now he playing at Twickenham against Wales, a much bigger deal.
George North has managed to acquire a bench position replacing the unfortunate Owen Watkin, a very promising young centre who can count himself unlucky, however, North by all accounts last weekend for the Northampton Saints looked in good form, and a rejuvenated, fully fit and hungry to impress George North being unleashed on England after 60 minutes is a fantastic option to have for Wales and he also provides cover at wing and centre positions.
In the history of matches between the two sides in all games in 130 matches, England has won 61 times, Wales 57 times with 12 draws. England has not lost a game since losing to Ireland last 6 Nations, and have not lost at home since losing to Wales in the Rugby World Cup. England has won the last 3 matches between the two sides, are they going to make it a winning sequence of 4 times? We do not have too long to wait to find out.
In terms of my prediction then I do fear whether the English pack having too much firepower at the set piece and with the sheer number of quality ball carriers they have in their forwards. Their bench looks very strong with the likes of Jamie George, Alec Hepburn and George Kruis to come on to add more forward power and in players like Richard Wigglesworth called onto the bench, being a superb scrum half from a tactical kicking perspective playing field position and keeping his forwards going forward then with weather conditions expected to be wet I have a feeling, England will play a tighter gameplan and use their forwards wisely and in the last 15 minutes have enough to move away to a victory. I so hope I am wrong. It has been known for me to be!
England 27 Wales 18
What are your thoughts on the outcome and my thoughts on the style of play both teams will conduct and the key areas of the game? Let me know.
Feature Picture Credit: http://www.eventmasters.co.uk