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England can make big statement


England can make big statement in Cardiff - Andy Goode

All the expectation is on Wales in front of their own fans at the Principality Stadium today and England have the chance to make a big statement with a win.

Wales took a bona fide first team to Twickenham last weekend and were expected to win by 10 or 15 points really against an England second string and on the back of claiming a Grand Slam just a few months earlier.

However, they lost by 14 points and, with just three changes to each starting XV, the scenario is largely the same in Cardiff. Of the England starters today, only Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola would currently be in the first choice line-up.

England XV Wales

Staying fit will be the main priority for Itoje over the next few weeks. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

As a result, Wales have to be sizeable favourites going into the game and an away victory for England would lay down a real marker, even if it is only a warm-up match.

Warren Gatland said he tried to do things a bit differently last week but they were lacklustre and, despite the Grand Slam and a run of 14 straight wins until Sunday, there will be a few question marks if that display is replicated and they suffer another defeat.

On the flip side, many will be surprised that Eddie Jones hasn’t opted to bring in a few more of his big names and that means getting a win in Cardiff would send out an even bigger message to the rest of the world.

In terms of the selection, I think Jones is looking at the two opening pool games of the World Cup when there is a four-day turnaround and is giving the various combinations in this team more of a chance to get used to working together.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the line-up for either the Tonga or USA game looks pretty similar to this one, with a starting XV closer to the one that was used for much of the Six Nations put out in the other.

I think this front row will start together in one of those games and then you have the perceived second choice halfbacks, centres and wingers all starting alongside one another again today.

England’s Owen Farrell (Photo by Ashley Western – MB Media via Getty Images)

There’s no doubt the likes of Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Mark Wilson, Jonny May and Manu Tuilagi will start against Ireland next week and then it’ll be interesting to see what Eddie does against Italy in terms of whether one start is enough for some of them.

Jones knows his first choice side but it isn’t a closed shop given they didn’t finish the Six Nations in sparkling fashion and the perceived second team have started the World Cup warm-ups strongly, so there will be a few believing they can play their way in.

Of course, neither coach will be getting carried away about the results in these games as it’s about giving players opportunities to stake their claim and combinations the chance to gel but momentum is important in sport.

Keeping the feel-good factor going would be a real bonus for England and there’s no hiding the fact that it’d deliver a bit of a blow to Wales if they lost both of these encounters having gone full noise in both in terms of their selection.

There is also the added extra that one of these teams could be number one in the world come Monday morning. That’s an interesting angle for the fans and media but, believe me, none of the players or coaches will be giving that a second thought with the spectre of a World Cup looming large.

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England can make big statement in Cardiff - Andy Goode
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