Preview: Wales v England
WORLD CUP WARM-UP: Is there ‘revenge’ in the air? Perhaps for Wales, if you look at the side they are fielding.
Last week’s 19-33 loss to England at Twickenham was the first time in 15 matches Warren Gatland and his team had tasted defeat.
As Grand Slam winners they were expected to comfortably beat a scratch England team.
To make matters worse, for the previous 24 hours they held the No.1 ranking in the world – after Australia has smashed New Zealand in Perth.
And then they came crashing back to earth with an almighty bang.
They are faced with the same scenario this week, a chance to go to the top of the rankings.
The drama again starts in Australasia. If the All Blacks lose to Australia in Auckland, they’ll fall to fourth in the world, while a loss by 16 points or more will see them plummet to sixth.
However, should they lose and Wales beat England, or England win by 16 points or more, the All Blacks would only drop to third.
If the Wallabies were able to end their 33-year drought at Eden Park, either Ireland, England or Wales would move to the top of the rankings.
Both coaches played down the importance of the game on the outcome of the rankings.
Wales coach Warren Gatland insisted the “biggest prize” was still to come and that their focus is on the World Cup tournament in Japan, starting next month.
“This weekend is another opportunity for us to take the field, test ourselves and continue our preparation for Japan,” Gatland said.
“It is a little over five weeks until we kick off our campaign in Toyota against Georgia and it is important we are fully prepared and rugby-ready by then.
“We were disappointed to get the loss last weekend, so it is important we step it up on Saturday and put in a big display in front an of a packed Principality Stadium.
“The squad are looking forward to getting back out there, taking another step towards the World Cup and putting in a big performance.”
England coach Eddie Jones had a similar philosophy.
“Our selection strategy for our second game is similar to the first, so a bit of a mix-and-match approach,” Jones said.
“We are looking at different combinations and have a particular strategy for this game.
“The game is very much about ourselves preparing for the World Cup and we are respectful that we have got such strong opposition at their home ground.
“We are looking forward to it.
“The squad has been progressing well this week and I think there is a realisation among the squad now that the hard work really starts, nothing has been achieved.”
Players to watch
For Wales: Wales made three changes, with Dan Biggar drafted in for the injured Gareth Anscombe. Jake Ball and James Davies, who will line-up alongside elder brother Jonathan Davies for the first time at international level, also come into the side. Wales lost a key player, with Anscombe ruled out of the World Cup after suffering cruciate ligament damage last weekend.
For England: Ruaridh McConnochie will make his England debut a week later than hoped for after overcoming a hip problem in time to start against Wales. The Bath wing and Sevens specialist was picked in the team to face the Grand Slam champions at Twickenham last weekend, but was among a trio of late withdrawals due to injury. Eddie Jones makes three changes for the trip to Cardiff, with Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes also coming into the side.
Head to head
It is a case of the back-ups at flyhalf – Dan Biggar (Wales), through injury, and George Ford (England) the coach’s choice. Last week Piers Francis (England) won the battle of the Kiwis at inside centre and Hadleigh Parkes (Wales) would be keen to get his own back. Ross Moriarty is another Wales player determined to prove last week’s result was a small hiccup and get one back on Billy Vunipola (England).
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
2013: Wales won 30-3, Cardiff
Prediction: England has won seven of their last nine Test matches against Wales, including two wins from three matches at the Principality Stadium in that run. Wales has hosted England 12 times at the Principality Stadium. England has averaged 175 tackles per game so far in 2019, more than any other tier one team this year, while Wales boasts the best tackle success rate (89 percent) of any side in the same period. England has recorded a line-out success rate of 92 percent in Test rugby this year, the best rate of any tier one side in 2019, meanwhile Wales have the lowest rate at the same set piece (79 percent). George Ford has successfully slotted each of his last 10 kicks at goal for England – including all six attempts against Wales last weekend – his best such run in Test rugby, beating his previous best of nine consecutive kicks in 2015. England’s Billy Vunipola has made 83 carries in Test rugby this year – including 12 against Wales last weekend – more than any other tier one player in 2019, while teammate Elliot Daly has made the second most (64). Has Wales’ bubble burst? That resilience that took them to 14 straight wins seems to have gone. We feel another England win coming on – by 10 points.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (Captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Owen Watkin.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Ruaridh McConnochie, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Joe Cokanasiga, 10 George Ford (captain), 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Lewis Ludlam, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 George Kruis, 20 Jack Singleton, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Manu Tuilagi.
Date: Saturday, August 17
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Expected weather: It all depends if the roof is closed. If the roof is open – Sunny intervals, a high of 18°C and a low of 13°C
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Sources: @EnglandRugby, @WelshRugbyUnion & @rugby365com