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World Cup shadow over Twickenham

Sun, 09 Mar 2014 07:38
Stuart-lancaster.jpg630 Twickenham-stadium3
If we can win on Sunday, that is four in a row against England
Quote-end

Sunday's clash between England and Wales will be the last time they square off at Twickenham before the World Cup.

Every England-Wales match 'matters' and with the series all square at 56 wins apiece, Sunday's Six Nations showdown at Twickenham won't lack a sense of occasion.

For one thing both two-time defending champions Wales and England, bidding for the Triple Crown, are in with a shot of winning this season's title as they have each won two out of their three matches so far this Championship.

But the 125th Test between the old rivals has been given special significance by the fact it will be the last time they meet at Twickenham before a potentially key 2015 World Cup clash in a group also featuring Australia.

"We have two big games at Twickenham in the World Cup against England and Australia," said Wales coach Warren Gatland.

"If we can win on Sunday, that is four in a row (against England) and if we then win the Six Nations as well, you start having a few doubts," added Gatland.

England coach Stuart Lancaster has yet to oversee a win against Wales, with dreams of a Grand Slam falling at the final hurdle last season courtesy of a record 30-3 thrashing in Cardiff, where the passion and ferocity of the Welsh proved too much for his youthful side.

But the way in which England withstood a committed Ireland in a 13-10 last time out, with the Twickenham crowd finding a collective voice worthy of 80,000 people, has given Lancaster grounds for optimism heading into this weekend's match.

"I think they (the supporters) respond to the fact they can see a team playing with passion and commitment for England's Rose," he said.

Lancaster has made one injury-enforced change to the team that beat Ireland last time out, with Ben Morgan - who had the option to play for Wales after starring for the Scarlets - replacing the sidelined Billy Vunipola.

However, he opted against an immediate recall for fit-again Manu Tuilagi now the powerful centre has recovered from a chest injury.

Wales had no hesitation in recalling Jonathan Davies to their midfield following a similar injury and the centre, one of 12 players in the Wales team from last year's victorious British and Irish Lions squad in Australia coached by Gatland, will resume his centre partnership with Jamie Roberts.

"I am quite surprised that Manu Tuilagi hasn't come in, having worked with him (with the Lions)," said Wales assistant coach Rob Howley.

"I know he has lacked some rugby, but there is an X-factor about Manu."

That may be so but Sunday's match is likely to be decided up front.

Wales simply overwhelmed a lacklustre France 27-6 in Cardiff last time out but, with England locks Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury impressing against Ireland, they suffered a blow Friday when second row Luke Charteris was ruled out with a neck injury.

Traditionally, Wales have tended to have the edge over England behind the scrum, but in fullback Mike Brown they have a potent counter-attacker although one without the goal-kicking threat of Wales No.15 Leigh Halfpenny.

England will look to halfbacks Danny Care and Owen Farrell, their goalkicker, to keep them on the front foot, as they often did against Ireland.

"Danny has been instrumental in terms of the tempo and speed of the game and running from the base," former Wales scrumhalf Howley said.

"It is not only the breaks that he makes. He has got a good relationship with Owen Farrell, and their kicking game is pretty effective

"The game is going to be about small margins."

AFP

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