England and Wales poised for a classic in Cardiff

England v Wales
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23: Wales' Warren Gatland, and England's Eddie Jones look on during the 6 Nations Launch event at the Hurlingham Club in west London on January 23, 2019. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

England v Wales encounters are always passionate affairs and Saturday’s showdown could be one of the best yet. These two great rugby nations are evenly matched, are both winning and will tear into each other. Wales are very real challengers for the World Cup and deserve this recognition. England are totally different from last year’s version and have crashed through Ireland and France with ease. This match should be the title decider barring some unusual results in the last two rounds. What a fitting venue as well – there are few better rugby stadiums than a roaring Millennium Stadium.

Two strong teams

England have the industrious Jack Nowell to replace the injured Chris Ashton. As predicted Exeter Chief’s Ben Moon comes in for the injured Mako Vunipola. England have wisely put Joe Cokanasiga on the bench. His input as an impact player in the final quarter could be a valuable weapon for Eddie Jones to call upon.

For Wales they lose Tomos Williams at scrum half but gain a very decent number nine in Gareth Davies. Interestingly Warren Gatland has retained Gareth Anscombe in place of Northampton’s Dan Biggar. Alun Wyn Jones comes back in as captain after a rest against Italy.

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Age old rivalry will add extra bite

England’s thumping of Ireland in Dublin in the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations was significant for a number of reasons. Aside from England’s perfect game plan execution against an excellent Irish team, they did it away from Twickenham. It cannot be underestimated just how hard it is to win on the road in international rugby. In the Six Nations and at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium it is even more difficult. That said, Wales will have a 16th man given the extraordinary atmosphere that the Millennium stadium can generate. The sight of Englishmen will raise the intensity several notches higher. Crucially, England know that they can win in the fiercest of rugby cauldrons.

Curry v Tipuric a massive match-up

There are many intriguing match-ups in this fixture. None more so than Justin Tipuric against England’s Tom Curry. It has been well documented the struggles that England’s back row have had recently. Hamish Watson, Yacouba Camara and Peter O’Mahony were all over England’s back row last year. England’s combinations/experiments were cumbersome, heavy and second best in most departments. What a transformation a few months has made with Tom Curry a large part to this positive transition.

Saturday’s contest between Curry and Tipuric particularly at the all-important breakdown is key. There are few players as talented as Justin Tipuric, who would be equally proficient playing in the centres. Tipuric’s pace is a major danger to England and Curry will be charged with the responsibility of keeping up with him. Tipuric’s link play in attack is a sight to behold when Wales run the ball. Curry is the coming man but his running game, although improving, is not as good as Tipuric’s.

Jaco Peyper a key figure

Jaco Peyper, who will be refereeing Saturday contest, has a history with both teams. Peyper sent off Ross Moriarty on Wales’ victorious summer tour, which raised some hackles with the Welsh management. Peyper also chose not to sin-bin Owen Farrell, let alone give a penalty try for Farrell’s hit on Wallaby second-row Izack Rodda last November. The point here is that the way Alun Wyn Jones and Owen Farrell communicate with Peyper is important. Captains communicating with referees is now a crucial part of the international game. Farrell and Wyn Jones will have their opportunities to put in a word or two. With so much on the line in this game, Peyper looms as a major figure in the outcome of this match.

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English power v Welsh wizardry

There will be little subtly to England’s game plan. Brute force, intensity and work rate will be their tools to success. Mako Vunipola is a big loss but with the likes of Courtney Lawes, Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi, they still have the necessary grunt. Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler are the future for English forward-play and will also test the Welsh defence. England are not just about power – their hugely improved kicking game is now a real strength. It has meant that Elliot Daly, Henry Slade and Jonny May are constantly in the game.

Wales are not exactly lightweights either as Owen Farrell and Nathan Hughes can attest to. Ross Moriarty rearranged their respective rib cages in 2017 and 2018. George North is a muscular presence out wide with the world-class talents of Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams running with him. England have to get their kicking game right because that back three will run it back with interest. Gareth Anscombe is a conjurer and Eddie Jones will be hoping that Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola go down his channel. Give Anscombe and Gareth Davies space and England will be in trouble.

Replicate Dublin and England will win

It sounds easy doesn’t it? Far from it, but England will be looking to replicate what they did against Ireland and to a certain extent France. The atmosphere in Cardiff is unique and England will look to get off to a fast start. The age-old adage of silencing the crowd will hold true on Saturday night for this England team. Two returning members to the Red Rose, Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi, also deserve a proper mention. The balance of Eddie Jones’ team looks better with these two back in the starting line-up. The Welsh game is their type of contest and they will relish the hits and the physicality.

This match has all the hallmarks of being a classic but it could be decided in the last 10 minutes. The fitness and conditioning of both sides is spot on so opportunities will have to be chiseled out. England are on a roll and should come out on top.

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