If Ireland ruined a potential Grand Slam decider by beating Wales on the opening day, it has done little to dampen the excitement surrounding what is set to be the game of the Six Nations tomorrow in Cardiff. Even if, as has sadly been the case in all but the first round, the quality of rugby isn't up to much, you can guarantee that the passion, camaraderie and desire on show will be enough to keep the spectators entertained.
Wales' Strengths/England's Weaknesses
By selecting both Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric, Rob Howley has sent a clear message as to how Wales will play. Fast, open rugby will be the order of the day and Warburton and Tipuric are experts at hitting most breakdowns and more often than not, securing ball. England, on the other hand, have three back-row players who are more commonly blind-sides - they will have a lot of work on their hands to nullify the breakdown threat of the Welsh duo.
Wales haven't conceded a try since the opening game, and have a kicker - Leigh Halfpenny - who boasts an 81% success rate. If they can keep England at bay and win kickable penalties, they will be confident of winning.
England's back three is potentially also a cause for concern. Alex Goode looked excellent in the autumn, but has failed to kick on and against Italy looked unsure and indecisive. Everyone has bad games, though, and he will back himself to return to form. More worryingly, Chris Ashton is looking like a real weak link. He has missed an incredible eight tackles so far this championship - not a stat that should be true of an international rugby player. Giant George North will be licking his lips.
England's Strengths/Wales' Weaknesses
The line-out has become a real weapon for England. Tom Youngs, previously lambasted for his poor throwing statistics, was on the money last weekend with the English line-out yielding ball 13 out of 14 times. They have also stolen the most opposition line-outs, and the addition of the athletic Tom Croft will only help their ability to disrupt Welsh ball.
While Wales have two breakdown specialists in their team, England have one of the most mobile packs seen for a long time. Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Geoff Parling and the aforementioned Croft all have incredible engines and will cover the ground in defence until they drop dead. This is how they will best counter the breakdown threat of Warburton and Tipuric.
For the Welsh, the centres has become an area of worry. Jamie Roberts has looked one-dimensional, perhaps distracted by the exams he has been sitting over the course of the championship. He is not making the boisterous, tackle-breaking runs that he used to. Outside him, Jonathan Davies had an absolute shocker against Ireland in round one and is still recovering. He has improved, but does not look the same player that terrorised last year. Up against Manu Tuilagi, he will have his hands full in defence, too.
It has been confirmed that the Millenium Stadium roof will be shut. The noise is going to be on another level and hopefully, with the weather not an issue, we might see a bit more running rugby. Who will this benefit more? That is open to debate. Wales probably have the more attacking back three, but if Tuilagi gets some space he can be devastating. Also, if the game does open up, look out for Billy Twelvetrees coming off the bench. He possesses the passing ability and vision to put people in space.
It is tempting to merely flip a coin - as with most games this championship, it is hopelessly difficult to call a winner. Wales being at home, with the roof closed and a crescendo of feverish support behind them, could just have the edge. Either way, it is not to be missed.
Wales 28 - 24 England
- Sports & Recreation
- Sam Warburton