Wales v England - Teams and Predictions
SIX NATIONS, ROUND THREE: Wales coach Wayne Pivac has insisted England “remain the team to beat” as his side head into Saturday’s clash against the Six Nations champions in Cardiff on the brink of a Triple Crown.
A run of only three wins out of 10 Tests, including six successive defeats, under the New Zealander in 2020 left many fans wondering if Pivac was the right man to succeed Warren Gatland following his compatriot’s successful spell in charge of Wales.
But a year where the only teams Wales defeated were perennial strugglers Italy (twice) and second-tier Georgia has been followed by Six Nations wins over Ireland and Scotland, albeit both sides had a player sent off.
“We harp on about what has gone on in the past, but we’ve moved well and truly on,” said Pivac, whose men will stay on course for a Grand Slam if they beat England.
“There’s a Triple Crown on this game for us and that’s exciting. If we can get that 80-minute performance then there’s a bigger prize than a Triple Crown [on offer].”
“There has been talk about 14 men v 15 men,” he added. “Hopefully, there will be 15 v 15 and we’ll be under pressure at times – it’s how we cope with that pressure.”
Saturday will see George North win his 100th Wales cap, with the powerhouse wing paired in the centres alongside Jonathan Davies after they both missed a tense 25-24 win away to Scotland through injury.
England made a woeful start to their title defence, losing 6-11 to Scotland as their oldest rivals won at Twickenham for the first time since 1983, before hammering Italy.
Pivac, however, said: “Having dropped the first game makes them [England] more dangerous. They’re the team to beat for us.”
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‘Make or break’
England coach Eddie Jones, forced into a late change after blindside flank Courtney Lawes pulled out with a chest muscle injury, was well aware of what was at stake.
“You get to the third game of the series and for most teams it’s a make-or-break game,” he said.
The veteran Australian boss, while saddened by the absence of spectators due to coronavirus restrictions, forecast another ‘intense’ Anglo-Welsh clash in a match that will see two of the game’s quickest wings in Gloucester’s Jonny May (England) and Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales) on opposite sides.
Jones also put French referee Pascal Gauzere on notice in typical fashion.
“They [England-Wales matches] always go down to the wire, so the pressure is going to be on the referee to make the right decisions.”
Meanwhile, Jones warned England to beware being wound up by Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones.
When Wales last played England in Cardiff two years ago, the veteran lock, the world’s most-capped international, got under the skin of Red Rose prop Kyle Sinckler.
Eventually, Sinckler gave away two penalties in quick succession, causing a shift in momentum that saw him substituted as Wales won 21-13.
“It [Saturday’s match] is his 146th Test [for Wales] so he knows what he’s doing,” said England coach Jones of the Welsh skipper.
“At times he has targeted players in our team. We understand what he’ll be trying to do.
“It’s just about making sure we maintain our composure and our control. I’m sure Alun Wyn Jones is going to be looking for those situations and we’re going to have to deal with them.”
The last six England-Wales matches in the Six Nations have been decided by single-figure margins
“These sorts of game you’ve got to win not once, but maybe two or three times,” insisted Jones.
“Wales will keep coming and keep coming. It will be a great contest.”
Players to watch:
For Wales: Wing Josh Adams returns after serving a two-match ban for breaching coronavirus protocols. He is one of the best finishers in the game and he will be wanting plenty of ball. George North and Jonathan Davies are also back together in the midfield and there is speed there to give the England defence problems. In the pack, Josh Navidi returns to Wales’ back row and brings with him some mobility between the breakdowns.
For England: Mark Wilson will have some big responsibilities in the back row as he comes in for Courtney Lawes. He will have to try and disrupt Wales’ ball at the breakdowns and bring some physicality in other parts of the field. Captain and centre Owen Farrell will always have a spotlight on him, and Saturday will be no different. His game management along with George Ford will be key in Cardiff.
Head to head
There is plenty of speed out wide and it will be interesting to see the new kid on the block Louis Rees-Zammit up against the experienced Jonny May. There is also a blockbuster battle in the midfield with George North and Jonathan Davies up against Henry Slade and Owen Farrell. However, the forwards will be key in this battle and England’s front row of Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola might feel that they can get an edge in the scrums against Tomas Francis, Ken Owens and Wyn Jones.
@rugby365com: England by five points.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James Botham, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Willis Halaholo.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 George Martin, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Dan Robson, 23 Max Malins.
Date: Saturday, February 17
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather; It will be sunny with a few clouds. There will be a high of 9°C and a low of 4°C.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Alex Ruiz (France)
AFP & @rugby365com