PREVIEW: England v Wales
SIX NATIONS ROUND FOUR: Manu Tuilagi will hope to get England off to another speedy start when they face Wales in the Six Nations Championship at Twickenham on Saturday.
Victory would see Eddie Jones’ men claim the Triple Crown and stay in title contention.
England have scored a try in the first ten minutes in 16 of their past 30 Tests since the start of 2018, winning 75 percent of those matches where they cross their opponents’ line in the opening quarter of the first half.
Powerhouse centre Tuilagi has often played a key role in establishing England’s initial dominance, be it his stunning try after 90 seconds in a superb World Cup semifinal victory over New Zealand in Japan last year or punching holes in midfield during a 24-12 win over Ireland at Twickenham a fortnight ago.
“I try to get us over the gainline early on, get some momentum,” Tuilagi explained. “With Eddie [Jones], you’ve got to go straight from the start.”
‘Attack all in’
The Leicester midfielder likened England’s approach to the way he prefers to play chess, having taken up the board game during the World Cup.
“If I’m in white, I’ll attack,” Tuilagi explained. “If you’re in white you have the opportunity to attack first. When you attack you have to go all in.”
Wales, under new coach Wayne Pivac, will be looking to avoid a third successive Six Nations loss for the first time since 2007 following defeats by Ireland and France.
But Jones remains wary of the reigning Grand Slam champions, after England saw a 10-3 lead at half-time turn into a 13-21 loss to Wales in Cardiff last year.
“You’ve got to remember they beat us last year, so we owe them one,” said England coach Jones.
“They’ve lost two games in a row. They’ve got a new coach and they’ll want to make a statement on Saturday.”
Jones has made two changes to the side that beat Ireland, recalling wing Anthony Watson and loose forward Mark Wilson for their first England appearances since the World Cup final defeat by South Africa in November.
Watson has recovered from a calf problem while Wilson, who has made only one start for Sale since knee surgery, replaces the injured Sam Underhill.
Pivac has recalled Liam Williams after an even lengthier injury lay-off, with the Scarlets wing, in for the injured Josh Adams, not having played since Wales beat France in a World Cup quarterfinal in Japan on October 20 due to an ankle problem.
The New Zealander, who succeeded compatriot Warren Gatland after the World Cup, has also selected Josh Navidi, out since mid-January with hamstring trouble, instead of benched loose forward Taulupe Faletau.
“The key was to get enough volume into them,” said Pivac.
“We’ve done that, and we think they are both ready to go,” added the Wales coach, who has also called up scrumhalf Tomos Williams instead of Gareth Davies and chosen prop Rob Evans over Wyn Jones following the 27-23 loss to France in Cardiff.
Meanwhile, wing George North has been passed fit after failing a head injury assessment during the France game while flyhalf Dan Biggar, a key figure for Wales, starts after overcoming a knee injury suffered playing for English club side Northampton.
Wales’ back division also includes Saracens centre Nick Tompkins,
The 24-year-old, who made his Test debut in the Championship opener against Italy, was born and raised in England but qualifies for Wales through his grandmother.
Thursday saw the Six Nations announce that England’s scheduled tournament finale against Italy in Rome on March 14 had been postponed on health grounds as a result of the deadly coronavirus.
But Jones insisted England’s sole focus was on the “unbelievable game of rugby” that awaited them at Twickenham.
“The only thing we’ve got to worry about is playing Wales on Saturday,” he said. “We don’t think any other way.”
Players to watch:
For England: Wing Anthony Watson is back and he will give England some extra guile out wide. Centre Manu Tuilagi is a big ball carrier and will surely look to get his team over the advantage line with his big frame. In the pack, Kyle Sinckler is one of the better props in world rugby to watch in open play and he is solid in the scrums. Maro Itoje is a dynamic player in the second row, while Mark Wilson brings some aggression to England’s back row.
For Wales: The Welsh back three is worth the ticket alone. If given enough space, Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Liam Williams can do some serious damage out wide. Flyhalf Dan Biggar is great at controlling games if given enough ball, while scrumhalf Tomos Williams is dangerous around the fringes. In the pack, Alun Wyn Jones is an inspirational leader and scary opponent in the physical exchanges, while Ross Moriarty brings some muscle to the back row.
Head to head: There will be plenty of speed out wide at Twickenham. The battle between the two back threes will be exciting to watch. The spotlight will also be on the midfield battle where Nick Tompkins will have the task of marking Manu Tuilagi. Up front, Wales might have the edge at the breakdowns with the more mobile trio of Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty against Tom Curry, Mark Wilson and Courtney Lawes.
2019: Wales won 13-6, Cardiff
2019: England won 33-19, London
2019: Wales won 21-13, Cardiff
2018: England won 12-6, London
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
Prediction: Wales are still finding their feet under new coach Wayne Pivac. England will go into this game as the favourites and look more settled. England should take it by 10 points.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Curry, 7 Mark Wilson, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Charlie Ewels, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Willi Heinz, 23 Henry Slade.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Johnny McNicholl.
Date: Saturday, March 7
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected: There will be a high of 11°C and a low of 9°C with light cloud and a moderate breeze.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)