Preview: England v Wales

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 07:35

SIX NATIONS ROUND TWO: Two of the unbeaten teams in this season's Six Nations go head to head when champions England meet Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.

And if the match is as lively as the build-up created by Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland, a capacity crowd are in for a treat.

Jones doesn't take kindly to suggestions his side, who launched their bid for an unprecedented third successive outright Six Nations title with a 46-15 win over Italy in Rome last weekend, are being outshone.

A day before England's victory, Wales hammered Scotland 34-7 in Cardiff, a win that saw them lauded for their attacking flair, albeit against error-strewn opponents.

There were plaudits for Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell, only playing following injuries to the far more experienced duo of Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland.

But Jones said playing England in front of an 82,000 capacity at Twickenham would be a very different experience for the 24-year-old.

"Every time Rhys Patchell looks up, he's going to see Jonathan Joseph in his vision - it's not a great sight," Jones said, having recalled the Bath centre to his starting line-up instead of Ben Te'o, with scrum-half Danny Care replacing the injured Ben Youngs in the only other change to the run-on XV in Rome.

"He [Patchell] is a young guy, he's inexperienced and is their third-choice 10. Patchell will have to find guys around him to help because he'll be under some heat.

"Wales played really well against Scotland but it's going to be different on Saturday - they had no expectation on them last Saturday but this week they come full of expectation."

If Patchell is under pressure to back up a big performance now he's facing superior opponents, the same could be said of England No 8 Sam Simmonds, who starred against Italy following a back-row injury crisis.

Australian coach Jones has won 23 of his 24 Tests in charge of England following his appointment after a 2015 World Cup where a Twickenham defeat by Wales played a key role in the side's first-round exit.

Gatland, part of the northern hemisphere scene for even longer, is about to set a notable record.

Saturday will see the New Zealander coaching his 99th Test in charge of Wales, surpassing Frenchman Bernard Laporte's mark of games for one Six Nations country.

Only former All Blacks coach Graham Henry, with a world record 103 Tests in charge of New Zealand, is ahead of Gatland overall in this respect.

It is a decade since Gatland launched his reign as Wales coach with a stunning come-from-behind 26-19 win over England at Twickenham - a result that set Wales on the way to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2008.

"We have not been afraid of going there [Twickenham] since I have been involved," said Gatland.

This week saw Gatland, who has guided the British and Irish Lions to a series win in Australia as well as last year's draw with world champions New Zealand, suggest Jones could lead the combined side to South Africa in 2021.

"He'll do a great job if he's Lions coach," said Gatland who then duly had a gig at Jones. "A 3-0 [Test series win] will be expected.

It's probably the easiest of the three tours, isn't it?"

Gatland has named an unchanged XV, with the lone alteration to his matchday 23 the return of powerhouse wing George North.

The Wales boss said the fact his side had an extra day's preparation for this weekend's clash could potentially make a "big difference".

But ahead of what is sure to be a bruising battle up front, for all the back-line talent on show, Jones was having none of it.

"We've had 18 months to prepare for this turnaround," he said. "Is that difficult? It's difficult, if you haven't used your 18 months well. We've used our 18 months well."

Player to watch:

For England: The inclusion of Jonathan Joseph in midfield indicates he will play a key role for the hosts. Danny Care will become England's most capped No.9 (78), moving past 2003 World Cup winner Matt Dawson. There are the usual suspects - George Ford, Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola, to name only a few.

For Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, with his boot and counter-attacking ability, and Gareth Davies, for his control behind the Welsh pack. However, it is the Welsh bench that could hold the key - the likes of Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric and most of all George North.

Head to head: You always start with the halfback combinations - George Ford and Danny Care (England) versus Rhys Patchell and Gareth Davies (Wales). However, the most intriguing face-off is in the second row - where British and Irish Lions teammates Maro Itoje (England) and Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) could steal the show.

Recent results:
 2017: England won 21-16, Cardiff
2016: England won 27-13, London
2016: England won 25-21, London
2015: Wales won 28-25, London (World Cup pool match)
2015: England won 21-16, Cardiff
2014: England won 29-18, London
2013: Wales won 30-3, Cardiff
2012: Wales 19-12, London
2011: Wales won 19-9, Cardiff
2011: England won 23-19, London

Prediction: You would be silly to write off Wales, especially after last week's impressive demolition of Scotland. However, the smart money is on an England win at home - by eight points.


England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Mako Vunipola.    
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 George Kruis, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jack Nowell.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 George North.

Date: Saturday, February 10
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Turning cloudy, becoming breezy with a little rain late in the afternoon. High of just 8°C and a low of 4°C
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Reynal (France), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

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Team P W D L Pts
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Wales 5 3 0 2 15
Scotland 5 3 0 2 13
France 5 2 0 3 11
England 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 1