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Wales are on a roll, but the momentum will come to a halt on Saturday night, argues Robin Davey. England, for all their injury issues, will have too much firepower as evidenced by their two bonus points so far in this tournament compared to Wales’ none.
It’ll be ‘all white on the night’.
I fear Wales will submit to an England side chasing a hat-trick of victories at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
The time for mind games – played mainly, it has to be said, by England head coach Eddie Jones – is almost over and it’s nearly showdown time as the age-old rivals get to grips with one another again.
Both are unbeaten with two wins out of two and are the only sides capable of winning the Triple Crown and Grand Slam.
In addition, both teams are on a roll – Wales more so, in fact, as they go in on the back of a record-equalling 11 successive victories including their first 100% successful autumn campaign.
Enough to make them favourites with some it might be said, but England look even more menacing given the way they have overcome Ireland and France so far in the Six Nations.
The Irish were fresh from a terrific victory over the All Blacks, Joe Schmidt was hailed as one of the best if not the best coach in the world, and England were expected to be sent packing.
Nothing of the sort as Eddie Jones’ men took Ireland on and gave them a right beating with a 32-20 victory at the Aviva Stadium, a scoreline which would have looked even more impressive had it not been for a late Irish flourish.
After that England completely demolished France with an impressive 44-8 triumph at Twickenham – on-fire winger Jonny May scoring a hat-trick of tries to take his tally to 12 in 12 games.
Wales, too, had beaten France, winning 24-19 in the opening match on a Friday night in Paris, but after a dire first-half when they were 16-0 down at the interval. France gifted Wales the spoils with a series of horrific mistakes, coughing up two tries.
Coach Warren Gatland then made as many as 10 changes against Italy which he later admitted was probably too many, though he had a good reason in that he wanted to grow the depth of the squad in a World Cup year.
But the plan, while not exactly backfiring, hardly worked either as Wales stuttered to a rather unimpressive 26-15 victory, failing to secure a bonus point against the tournament’s whipping boys.
Though hardly an embarrassment, Wales didn’t gain a bonus point against France either – whereas England got the extras against both Ireland and France meaning they head the table by two points.
So, for that reason alone they probably deserve to start as slight favourites on Saturday, and though the stadium is an iconic one, described this week by England’s World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward as the finest in the world, it will hold no terrors for England.
For they have won there on their last two visits, 21-16 each time. In fact, they have beaten Wales four times in a row and six times in the last seven matches.
The current squad matches power up front – sweeping the Irish and French forwards away – with considerable menace behind.
They may be missing Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola but possess considerable depth and have the likes of Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury ready to step in at lock, while Ben Moon, Alec Hepburn and the experienced Dan Cole can be called upon at prop.
Skipper Owen Farrell is a world class ten, May is scoring tries for fun while the centre pairing of fit-again Manu Tuilagi and the classy Henry Slade offers a great deal and much the same can be said for Elliot Daly, now at full back and scorer of the late try which broke Welsh hearts two years ago.
And while wing Chris Ashton has been ruled out the aggressive Jack Nowell is waiting in the wings.
All of which adds up to a formidable England challenge, but Wales are also on the back of a winning run and with the comfort of playing at the Principality Stadium won’t lack confidence either.
Iconic captain Alun Wyn Jones will keep his troops fully focussed and Wales know they will have to guard against the fast starting England side who are making a habit of scoring early on.
They kick the ball more than any other side in the championship and a whole variety completely confused the French defence.
They are sure to go for something similar on Saturday which is why the defence of the Welsh back three will be vital.
It isn’t yet known whether Gatland will risk putting Leigh Halfpenny straight back in after three months out with concussion, but he is the best defensive full back Wales can call upon apart from being one of the best goal kickers in the world.
One certain absentee is talisman No.8 Taulupe Faletau, although Ross Moriarty relishes the physical side of the game, something England will surely bring to the party.
Competition has been fierce in the back row, but it is in the front five where the game will surely be won and lost.
Wales will have to stand up to the power which will surely come through from England and then defend as if their lives depend on it.
They also have their threats, of course, and Jonathan Davies is one of the best centres in the game while Liam Williams is always a threat with his counter-attacking whether from full back or the wing.
But at the end of the day England look to have too much and I expect them to clinch that hat-trick of victories at the stadium, though only by a narrow margin, perhaps five or six points.
Triumph on Saturday and England will surely win the Grand Slam as well, with only Italy and Scotland to come.
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