Six Nations Key Clash Preview: England v Wales

england huddle

If possible, this year’s encounter between England and Wales is even bigger than last year’s instalment at the Millennium Stadium. The result that day, a 30-3 drubbing to the hosts, is just one of the reasons there is such intrigue surrounding Twickenham on Sunday – add in an impending World Cup game to be played on the same soil, a Six Nations title still very much up for grabs and a potential Triple Crown for the hosts (not to mention bragging rights for fans for another year), and it’s little wonder there’s such a frenzy surrounding this one.


Stuart Lancaster makes one injury-enforced change to what is otherwise a settled team. Billy Vunipola misses out, with Ben Morgan, used thus far as an impact substitute, coming into the starting line-up, and Exeter’s Tom Johnson taking his spot on the bench.

Vunipola is a loss, no doubt, but Morgan has been playing well off the bench and probably deserved to be given a start anyway. If they lose a bit of ball-carrying power, it is marginal, and they gain a bit of mobility.

The back-line looks settled for the first time in a while, with Luther Burrell, Jack Nowell and Jonny May staving off the threat of the returning Manu Tuilagi and Marland Yarde. With those two back in training, however, the incumbents will know they cannot continue to squander the sorts of chances that went missing against Ireland.

The pack is powerful and mobile, and with Tom Wood in his preferred position of blindside, as opposed to number eight last year, England will be confident of not being blown away at the breakdown as they were in Cardiff.


Today’s news that Luke Charteris is out with injury is not good for Wales. Jake Ball is his replacement, and while he acquitted himself well in the loose on his full debut against France in the last round, Wales will miss Charteris’ line-out prowess, particularly against an English unit that has been working efficiently so far.

Any team that contains 12 Lions is always going to have a good chance of winning. There is quality throughout this team, from the gnarled warriors in the front row to the physicality in the centres and the finishers on the wing.

The scrum battle will be intense and Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones have a big job on their hands. They haven’t really convinced in the set piece this year, but will be confident of getting stuck into an England unit that looked shaky against Ireland.

Behind the scrum Rhys Webb continues at nine and will be tasked with getting snappy service to Rhys Priestland, who in turn must use it properly – his temperament has been questioned in some quarters, and you can bet that Owen Farrell, Mike Brown et al will get in his face in the opening encounters.

All eyes on

England’s baby-faced assassin in the engine room, Joe Launchbury, has been one of the players of the tournament so far. He will need to be at his best once again to combat the returning Alun-Wyn Jones. That tap tackle against Ireland sticks out in the memory, but really it is just one moment that typifies Launchbury’s immensely high work rate and desire to give everything for his country. In that regard, he is not dissimilar to his more-experienced adversary this weekend.

Has he been brought back too soon? Jonathan Davies has just one PRO12 game (excluding a brief outing in the LV= Cup) under his belt since the autumn, so it is certainly a gamble to put him straight back in for such a big occasion. Still, his partnership with Roberts in the centres, and the dangerous trio outside him, is a solid one. And remember last time people questioned him coming back into a team after injury? It worked out ok then…

Head to head: Chris Robshaw v Sam Warburton

There are intriguing match-ups across the park, but it is difficult to look beyond the battle of the captains when picking one that stands out. The breakdown battle will be fierce, and after being outplayed there last year Robshaw has a point to prove. Warburton is strong over the ball and played well against France, while Robshaw is more of a workhorse and will look for the likes of Launchbury and Wood to help him out there. And while it was quite a while ago now, the fact that one man captained the Lions and the other was left at home will still sting with the English captain – he has a point to prove.


It is never easy to predict England v Wales games (even the most die-hard Welsh fans weren’t predicting a 27 point swing last season), and this year is no different. On paper Wales look vastly superior, with an experienced spine to their team compared with England’s youthful exuberance (or naivety, depending on how you look at it). That said, this England team has been playing well, and they look settled and comfortable with each other. Early scores will be crucial, but it is tough to see either team running away with it like Wales did last year. It will be nip and tuck, but the fact that psychologically, with the World Cup looming, England simply cannot afford to lose this one, will be enough to see them over the line. England by 2.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

38 thoughts on “Six Nations Key Clash Preview: England v Wales

  1. Toss a coin really for a prediction. Could be a close win either way or one side could walk it if they get some early scores.

    Surely England’s focus must be to snaffle Wales at source and target Webb and Priestland, whilst making sure our kicking game is accurate. Sacrilege distance and go for touch and target the line out. Oh and don’t knock on in any circumstances. Last thing we need is a load of scrums!

  2. It’s no wonder that Wales aren’t worried about Twickenham, with Ball in the team it means another English player representing Wales. Half the team must have grown up singing Swing Low………………………………!

  3. England look very weak from 11 to 14. With cheap shots coming from Farrell and Lawes lack of discipline (one of them should have got a yellow against Ireland) Wales could really capitalise on a performance like England’s against Ireland. It is confusing how Ireland managed to butcher that game so badly. The decision making by such an experienced team was awful.

    With their dodgy scrum England are going to have to rely on the lineout which is probably the only area they have a clear edge.

    Wales by about 6 points but it will be quite comfortable. No wonder England fans throw the toys about when dual qualified players prefer Wales.

    1. Thank goodness there were no cheap shots from Welsh players in your match verses Ireland. Hope the view is nice from your lofty moral high ground.

      1. Can anyone spell t-r-o-l-l?

        Perhaps Mark can point out what exactly Lawes deserved a card for against Ireland?

        As for Farrell, I believe that went to the TMO and was adjudged to be just a penalty.

        1. You don’t include the ‘-‘s.

          Lawes twice gave away penalties against Irish mauls in the England 22. Within 10 minutes of each other. It’s almost as if he was committing professional fouls or something. All you’ve got to do is watch the game. The answers are all there.

          1. forward committing a professional foul to stop a driving maul? Good god no! I think I may faint

            I don’t suppose Ireland committed any professional fouls throughout the game did they?

            O’Mahony’s high tackle on May for example was obviously absolutely fine in your book

            Here’s a reminder

            1. Seriously is that the best you can find? I’ve had more vicious high tackles from a comb. Maybe Jonny May should get a better haircut to avoid such physical assault.

              Laughably weak.

      2. I’m not sure if you have an actual point here? Do you have any examples? Am I unfair to Farrell? Maybe you think his petulant cheating is to be admired? I think the more he does it the more likely refs will be watching for it and the more likely he’ll end up spending 10+ minutes on the bench for doing something daft.

        1. Petulant cheating? A slightly late tackle on Murray that merited nothing more than a penalty?

          Nothing more than over-excitement. Hardly in the same league as say, Cian Healey stamping on Dan Cole’s ankle

            1. That’s a fair point. Apart from neither of them are starting for Wales against England. Mike Phillips having been dropped from the first 15 for being petulant and rubbish. Also Rob Kearney arguably starts the fight.

              England’s petulant prats are still on the pitch.

    2. Cuthbert has one try against Italy to Nowell’s assist against Scotland, but other than that Nowell compares favourably:

      Alex Cuthbert:
      Metres run: 112
      Defenders beaten: 1
      Offloads: 4
      Tackles (made/missed) 15/2

      Jack Nowell:
      Metres run: 148
      Defenders beaten: 8
      Offloads: 4
      Tackles: 13/1

      So if we’re weak at 11, so are Wales.

      1. He can look dangerous, and I think it was him cleaning up bad ball that set up the ruck from which England scored against Ireland. Just seems to be very fitful with a lot of mistakes thrown in. Better than Ashton though.

      2. I’m quite looking forward to May meeting Cuthbert. The big guy is quick when he gets his legs wound up, but his acceleration is a bit subject and it was shown up a few times on the Lions tour by the likes of Ioane and Cooper, and May claims a 10.7 100m.

        Any possible advantage we do have on that side will probably be returned with interest in regards to North against Nowell though. Nowell has been prone to handling errors in his introduction to the pressure cooker that is international rugby and North has been prone to pouncing on said errors early on.
        If he can do it to Ashley Cooper and Brice Dulin, then Nowell – in a game of this magnitude – will most likely become a target. Add in Cuthberts luck against Italy and the blunders Huget capitalised on in Paris and I think it’s safe to assume Wales will probe a fair few kicks behind the England line.

        Why did this have to be a Sunday fixture?

  4. Same as Benjit for me, toss of a coin, could go either way but I can’t see any side winning by a wide margin as both have struggled a little looking consistently threatening in attack this tournament.

    Prediction? England win but score less tries than Wales. One controversial penalty in it – England by 2.

  5. England by 5.

    England could well hold their own in the scrum, at least, so I don’t see that as being a source of ball or penalties.

    The breakdown should be a thing of beauty to watch. I am expected furious challenges, chop tackles, missile smashes. If we can win that then I think we get more ball but I think England could do enough here to at least (and maybe more) slow our ball down so we don’t get the midfield mismatches that we want.

    In open field play I think our defence has enough to keep them out. Cuthbert/1/2p/North will be a handful so I think we’ll score 1 or 2 as well.

    Lineout is a big worry, especially with Charteris out. Farrell will kick to corners, England will steal some of our lineouts, rolling mauls – penalties or tries will come.

    Lineout + home advantage gives England a 5 point advantage I think. I hope I’m wrong.

    There is a small chance I think of one side or the other getting a whupping – some early bounces and one side goes way out ahead, gets pumped up, romps in.

    1. The breakdown will be fascinating. Its nowhere near as clear as Robshaw vs Warburton. I think we will miss Cole here.

      Re. rolling mauls, you’d hope Wales have been practising hard since the Ireland game. Can see England trying a few – will Ball help or hinder their defence when it comes to the maul?

      1. Mauls should be better and part of me is happy Ball is starting. He’s the kind of player I like – hits everything hard for 80mins, a total nuisance at the tackle. But mauls are the sort of thing you almost have to rely on the attacking team messing up to stop. Get formed correctly and they’re almost unstoppable.

        However, we were already weak in the lineout so without Charteris I think we will be avoiding kicking the ball off and Priestland will be yet again unfairly maligned for “missing” touch.

        Thank the Lord that Parling isn’t playing. With him the lineout would have really been a lost cause for us.

    2. Mauls should be better. Andrew Coombes is too light for second row(as shown against Ireland) and having two grunters like AWJ and Ball should even it up.

  6. Excellent bit of trolling Mark!!!

    That game last week was so exhausting to watch but what a game and that was only from my sofa so can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like at Twickers on Sunday!

    I am very nervous, despite the good showings so far I just can’t get the nagging feeling out of the back of my mind that Wales are going to nick this one. They have the experience across the park and much preferred having North in the centres where he was easier to contain. Having Davies back is a massive boost for Wales, as well as being a risk.

    Think that it’s going to be a huge test for Nowell and May to see if they can keep North and Cuthbert quiet. So glad though that we have a proper in form full back and no 8 as not having them last year cost us dearly.

    It’s going to be an absolute belter and can’t wait shaking with excitment already.

    1. Don’t worry Ben it’ll be a walk in (car) park. England by 10. George Ford to come on and score on his debut.

  7. Head says Wales will still have a bit too much for us (Wales by 5), but I hope we can replicate some of the tactics the Irish used, to which they had no answer.

    I think it’s possible to get after Priestland (seems to be a confidence player), a Lawes special may be useful here!

  8. Mark’s such a dick.
    Agree with Ben H and Matt, this game has horrible spectres of so many recent Wales v England games . I.e. they play like shite then smash the sh*t out of us.
    Just so everyone’s completely clear- that the chat about Wales winning because of the ref last year is the biggest load of b****cks I’ve had the misfortune to hear. Grow some balls and stop moaning.
    Hoping England win, but can’t wait for the game whatever happens.

    1. Why am I a dick? To say that England’s taped together back division is weak?

      Supposedly I’m the troll.

  9. I’m hoping its my pessimistic English outlook but just think wales will have a bit too much tomorrow. The breakdown has been a problem area for england all tournament, IMO, with the balance of putting men in against having them in line for next phase causing us to struggle a bit.

    Not sure about Brighty’s comment regarding Parling, I think our lineout has proven more than capable without him and prefer Lawes athleticism in loose.

    I think this is a big game for England wingers as haven’t put a marker down yet and, Nowell in particular could be targeted with high ball due to his propensity for handling errors early on.

    On a seperate note, was surprised by SL comment in interview with SCW re Tuilagi on wing. Seemed to believe he was a wing option going forward which worries me!

  10. What happens if May or Nowell or Brown gets injured? To be replaced with the defensively solid Alex Goode? Oh dear! We all know his story and stats from the France game. I think the game is really going to come down to how the backs go against each other. If Roberts doesn’t make it over the gain line and it is too early for Davies then Wales are knackered. However, if 36 and Burrell get pulled out of shape and Davies turns n the class, it may look more a case of preventing the dam walls bursting so we’re not overrun.

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