It might have been a 5pm kick-off, but the last time England played Wales they got such a pasting it should have been after the watershed. Stuart Lancaster’s men arrived at the Millennium Stadium as favourites for the 2013 Six Nations, but they were devoured 30–3 by the Welsh dragon. Is it time to take revenge at Twickenham?
“England were absolutely put to the sword and will use that as a revenge mechanism,” says Jonathan Davies, now 51 but in his pomp a slayer of the English, with 81 points in 32 caps for Wales from 1985 to 1997. “Last year Wales just crammed the pressure on all the time. But this game will have a different tempo.”
There is no guarantee, though, that England won’t be caught napping again. “Wales will use that result as a confidence tool, and they have just had a hell of a confidence boost with the France win,” says Davies. “I do think Wales could do it again, although England have played the better rugby, and must be wondering now how the hell they lost to France.”
If ever a championship were to be “finely poised”, it’s this one. Ireland, England, Wales and France all have four points and one defeat from the first three games. England edged Ireland 13–10, but the Welsh were well beaten by Ireland. England lost their opener to France – who in turn were wiped out by Wales. Memories of last year are key, when England went to Cardiff needing one last win for the grand slam, and were humiliated.
“England play a quicker-tempo game at the moment, but Wales have power and bring precision, which could cause England to struggle,” says Davies. “Do the basics well and everything else will follow. That means coming up with the right tactics, and sticking to them. It means avoiding mistakes with tackles and handling discipline, so that the opposition cannot get into a good field position or convert that into points.”
Davies heads his list of key players with talismanic Welsh captain Sam Warburton, along with centre Jamie Roberts and George North on the wing. For England he tips Mike Brown at fullback and scrum half Danny Care.
“But whoever gets the upper hand in the front and second rows will give a platform to their side. Last year that’s where Wales really tore into England. England have lost props Alex Corbisiero and Dan Cole, and number eight Billy Vunipola, all world-class players. I would expect Wales to target the English forwards, although Joe Marler and Davy Wilson came in and did a very good job. Ben Morgan (in for Vunipola) is a very good ball carrier, but Wales must exploit any weaknesses.
“It’s tough to call. I expect another exceptional match. Wales will be very physical and play a good kicking game. But the Twickenham factor is a huge bonus for England. With the consistency that England have and home advantage, they start as slight favourites.”
Six Nations Rugby: England v Wales will air on Sunday at 2:30pm with a kickoff time of 3pm on BBC1. It also airs at 3pm on 5 Live.