/ Six Nations 2015

Six Nations Preview: England v Wales

Updated: Sunday, 09 Mar 2014 15:09 | Comments

The availability after injury of Jonathan Davies (l) could prove crucial for Wales
The availability after injury of Jonathan Davies (l) could prove crucial for Wales

Audio

By Micil Glennon

England v Wales, Twickenham, 3pm

After Ireland's comprehensive win over Italy, all eyes turn to Twickenham for a match that will go a long way towards deciding the Six Nations championship.

What price a draw? It’s an unlikely outcome but it’s what every Irish fan will be hoping for – a result that would definitively take points difference out of the equation ahead of the final-day games next Saturday. You can get it at about 20-1.

As it happens, the sides could not be more evenly matched, historically speaking, both having won 56 times and shared 12 draws over 124 meetings.

However, a nice narrow win for Wales would be a welcome result as well.

Wales started off with an unconvincing win over Italy, and Ireland, to whom immense credit is due, never allowed them to get a foothold in the Lansdowne Road clash in week two.

With their backs to the wall, a mesmeric Millennium Stadium crowd spurred them on to a rousing 27-6 win over France last time out.

The sequence isn’t exactly the same as last year but they had one loss under their belt at the same stage before going on to clinch the title with victory over England.

For all of the talk about how much Ireland ‘get up for it’ when playing England, it’s the same if not more so for the Welsh.

But points difference goes against them and they’d really have to hope for a France-Ireland draw (yes, like the last two years) to claim the silverware.

England would be on track for a Grand Slam if not for the late lapse against France. Subsequent wins over Scotland and Ireland still puts them in pole position for the title.

Stuart Lancaster’s use of extremely mobile second rows, in Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, effectively sees them use five back-row forwards. Launchbury’s showing against Ireland, in particular, was up there with the best of the tournament so far.

Wales will have to get their supporting players to the breakdown quickly if they are not to lose the battle in that area.

Keeping the ball away from full-back Mike Brown will also help the Welsh cause.

Unsurprisingly, the England coach has decided not to tamper with a winning formula and the injury-enforced absence of Billy Vunipola is the only change in the starting XV.

Ben Morgan gets the nod with Lancaster reasoning that the Gloucester man had been "pushing hard” for a start at No. 8.

The interesting team news comes on the Welsh side with Warren Gatland understandingly having no concerns about sticking Jonathan Davies straight back in alongside partner Jamie Roberts in the centre.

The 25-year-old has played just 105 minutes for Scarlets since suffering a chest injury against South Africa in November.

“He is a world-class player, so it wasn't difficult for us to make that call,” said the New Zealander.

Alun-Wyn Jones comes back in having withdrawn late from the win over France with a foot infection, and Luke Charteris suffered a neck injury so Jake Bell earns his third cap alongside Jones in the second row.

The availability of Davies and Jones, with 113 appearances between them, couldn’t have come at a better time as Wales strive to retain their title.

The retention of Rhys Webb at scrum-half, keeping Mike Phillips on the bench, perhaps indicates that Wales will looks for potential weaknesses in England’s backline rather than go toe-to-toe with the imposing Red Rose pack.

This game set to be a belter, with four teams all looking to the outcome. The home factor can’t be discounted but Wales will also be motivated by playing at the home of rugby.

The 2013 champions have beaten England the last three times they’ve met and Gatland’s list of Twickenham achievements, with club and country, means the fortress holds no fear for him.

Verdict: Wales by four.

England: M Brown (Harlequins); J Nowell (Exeter), L Burrell (Northampton), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), J May (Gloucester); O Farrell (Saracens), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester).

Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester), M Vunipola (Saracens), H Thomas (Sale), D Attwood (Bath), T Johnson (Exeter), L Dickson (Northampton), G Ford (Bath), A Goode (Saracens).

Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Racing Metro), G North (Northampton); R Priestland (Scarlets), R Webb (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), J Ball (Scarlets), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Racing Metro), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Bath), R Jones (Scarlets), Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons ), J Tipuric (Ospreys), M Phillips (Racing Metro), D Biggar (Ospreys), L Williams (Scarlets).

Live television coverage of the RBS 6 Nations from 13:30 on Saturday 8 March (Ireland v Italy and Scotland v France) and 14:30 on Sunday 9 March (England v Wales) on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage of Ireland v Italy on Saturday Sport (14:00) on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).

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