England v Wales: Six Nations preview
Two rounds into Europe’s biggest national rugby tournament, and performances by both teams and individuals have created a stir amongst rugby followers.
It is Wales who currently sit top of the table, with two wins against Ireland and Scotland, and the ability and confidence amongst the Welsh has become a major talking point.
Warren Gatland’s men shocked many on the opening weekend by defeating the Irish 23-21 at the Aviva Stadium.
Despite controversy surrounding the awarding of the deciding penalty for Wales, the way in which they executed free-flowing attacking moves caught the eye, and caught out the home side.
Two tries from the clinical Jonathan Davies and one from the unstoppable George North showed how hungry the Welsh are for success after losing out narrowly to France in the World Cup last autumn.
Their win against the Scots a week later again showed the quality of finishing by Wales. Three tries in just 14 minutes turned the close encounter into a convincing victory, all without captain Sam Warburton.
For all the men missing from Wales’ first choice starting XV, they have produced excellent results and performances, something they could use to secure a Triple Crown with victory at Twickenham this weekend against England.
It is English who sit directly below the Red Dragon in the table, also unbeaten with two wins from two. However, by contrast, their victories could not have come more differently to the Welsh’s.
England come off the back of two hard-fought wins against the two weakest sides in the tournament, and have looked flat and out of ideas at times.
Their opening triumph at Murrayfield saw them banish recent statistics that went against them; however, if it wasn’t for Charlie Hodgson charging Dan Parks’ kick down, and consequently scoring, Stuart Lancaster’s team may have lost the game.
Much could be said about their win over Italy the following weekend. Trailing 12-6 at half-time, Lancaster looked to the bench to make a difference. During an impressive second period, it was again Hodgson who touched down after blocking an attempted clearance.
Things will have to be different for England if they want victory over their fierce rivals this weekend, with try-scoring a big issue they have to address.
Fortunately for the coaching set-up, they welcome back a number of key individuals; however, whether they will be fit and ready enough to start is another issue.
Manu Tuilagi, Toby Flood, and Courtney Lawes all look set to play some part on Saturday, and all could hold the right ingredients to stir up an impressive performance.
Tuilagi’s direct running, Flood’s kicking and Lawes’ power could give England the line-breaking attributes needed to score tries from their own plays.
For Wales, Warburton is back to skipper the side, whilst lock Alun Wyn Jones returns also. Big pressure falls onto hooker Ken Owens, as he makes his first international start in a line-out that seems to be functioning poorly and Wales’ only weak area.
This is a close one to call, as England will rise to the occasion for their first home game of the tournament and won’t want to see their counterparts celebrate a Triple Crown on their turf.
Wales probably hold the advantage in all areas apart from set plays, where I think the England forwards may have enough about them disrupt the Welsh forwards.
Wales have the ability to score tries – they’ve shown that with the five they have mustered so far – however, if the key players for England, the likes of Chris Ashton and Ben Foden, who have been almost non-existant in the two games gone, can have massive performances, then tries for both teams may be a-plenty.