England v Wales: Head-to-head
It is a game that will undoubtedly have a significant bearing on the race for the Six Nations title.
Wales have opted for an unchanged XV from the one that beat Scotland 34-7 in Cardiff, whilst Eddie Jones and England have made two changes, with Danny Care replacing the injured Ben Youngs and Jonathan Joseph regaining his starting spot at 13.
We’ve rated each player, totted up the totals and it looks, at least on paper, as if it is going to be a very close contest this weekend.
- Mike Brown 7 vs Leigh Halfpenny 8
Brown didn’t have his best game out in Rome and though his influence as a strike runner was key in attack, he wasn’t his usual faultless self in dealing with the opposition kicking game. Halfpenny, on the other hand, ended his try-scoring drought in emphatic fashion, crossing the whitewash twice and enjoying a very impressive performance.
- Anthony Watson 8 vs Josh Adams 7.5
Adams had a good international debut last week and looks comfortable at this level, but he lacks the experience of Watson, who had a similarly impressive outing, running in two tries and looking safe and responsible in defence, at both wing and full-back.
- Jonathan Joseph 8 vs Scott Williams 8
Ben Te’o looked at home with George Ford and Owen Farrell floating around him but the narrowness of England’s defence could well be the reason Jones has opted for Joseph, who looked sharp off the bench. Williams, though, excelled in his wider role for Wales, contributing significantly in both attack and defence and making the decision-making defensive duties of an outside centre look easy.
- Owen Farrell 8.5 vs Hadleigh Parkes 7.5
Both players come into the game in good form, but the edge goes to Farrell for the multitude of ways he can potentially impact the game, from attack and goal-kicking, to defence and game-management.
- Jonny May 7 vs Steff Evans 7.5
It was a good attacking performance from May in Rome, setting up both of Watson’s tries and involving himself in the midfield, but it did leave him out of position defensively from time to time. Evans had a fine game in Cardiff and if England defend as narrowly as they did against Italy, he could be in the frame to have a big game.
- George Ford 8 vs Rhys Patchell 7.5
Both players started the Six Nations in fine fashion, playing with the composure and fluency that would make you think they already had two or three games under their belts in this year’s championship. The edge goes to Ford, because of his added experience at this level, but it’s a close one and both are capable of proving to be game-winners for their sides.
- Danny Care 7.5 vs Gareth Davies 7.5
This is Care’s opportunity to take hold of the England nine jersey. Both he and Davies started the tournament well and it’s hard to separate them. Davies has an edge with support-running, whilst Care is more capable of influencing the game with his attacking kicking game.
- Mako Vunipola 8.5 vs Rob Evans 8
These two looseheads played key roles in securing scrum advantages for their sides in the opening round, but it was in the loose where both played an even more significant role in their teams’ performances. In that latter area, the edge goes to Vunipola, but only just, with Evans clearly eyeing that best all-court prop accolade that Vunipola has held in the northern hemisphere for some time now.
- Dylan Hartley 7.5 vs Ken Owens 8
Two excellent set-piece hookers, both of whom went well in the tournament openers. The advantage here goes to Owens, with the Welshman offering a little bit extra in the loose.
- Dan Cole 8 vs Samson Lee 8
Cole looked rejuvenated in Rome and had great success against his opposite number, whilst Lee had a similarly successful outing in Cardiff. Both players will be given tougher challenges by Vunipola and Evans, but as the fulcrums of their respective scrums, they’re hard to separate.
- Joe Launchbury 8 vs Cory Hill 8
Hill’s rapid ascent in the international arena is one of the storylines that has not been talked about enough in the last two years. Hill perhaps had a slightly stronger 80-minute performance than Launchbury last week, but it would be tough on the Englishman, who has been ultra-consistent, to give Hill an advantage here.
- Maro Itoje 8.5 vs Alun Wyn Jones 8.5
The two talismans of their respective packs. What Itoje brings in dynamism, Jones matches in savvy. Both will be vital on Saturday and there’s very little between them, despite them being at different ends of their respective careers.
- Courtney Lawes 8 vs Aaron Shingler 7.5
Shingler had a fine game against Scotland, but he’ll be put under more pressure by an England side on home soil. Lawes is excelling in his new role for England and given the unique skills he brings at the lineout and in the defensive line, he just edges this one.
- Chris Robshaw 7.5 vs Josh Navidi 7.5
Hard work and endurance versus a more predatory and fleet presence at the breakdown. Both players will influence the game in their own way, but there’s not much between them. Navidi has form on his side, Robshaw has experience.
- Sam Simmonds 8 vs Ross Moriarty 8
Simmonds certainly made a splash in his first start for England last weekend, but can he replicate that energy in defence and dynamism in attack against a tougher opponent? Moriarty’s powerplays around the fringes, both with and without the ball, could be key for Wales.
England – 118
Wales – 117