There’s not normally much to choose between the teams when England face Wales but it looks different this time around and you have to worry for the Welsh.
For the first time in many years there does seem to be a significant difference between the two sides on paper and Wales’ best bet might be to hope for an absolute downpour, which hasn’t been forecast, to level the playing field a bit.
I just don’t see any area where the home side has the edge and when you add the massive contrast in confidence between the two sides at the moment into the mix as well, it could be the biggest margin of victory for England in this fixture since the hammering in a World Cup warm-up back in 2007.
Eddie Jones has picked a strong side throughout this Autumn Nations Cup and the style of play has been consistent. It feels like the defeat to South Africa in the World Cup final is still fresh in the mind and they’re trying to do to teams what the Springboks did to them.
This could be the perfect opportunity to show a complete game though. George Ford coming into the side will hopefully give England a bit more creativity and mean it’s more likely that they’ll put more width on the ball with two ball players at 10 and 12.
Ford’s form hasn’t always been where it needs to be in recent years and the debate around him playing alongside Owen Farrell and discussion over the best way for England to play still isn’t going away but there’s no doubt he offers something different in attack.
I still don’t think he’d be in the starting XV this week if Manu Tuilagi was fit, or even Ollie Lawrence probably, but Lawrence’s hip injury means Eddie was forced into making a change and he’s gone for as much experience as possible.
England have dominated teams physically this autumn and never looked in trouble at all but they’ve also looked pretty one-dimensional in attack. Whether it’s by design or default in terms of the team selection, I expect to see something different against Wales.
The two departments where it appears England could have the biggest edge are in the back row and at centre. Shane Lewis-Hughes and James Botham could go on to have 100-cap careers but at this stage they’re very green and Tom Curry and Sam Underhill are rightly being talked about as among the best flanker pairing’s in world rugby.
Farrell and Henry Slade are world class centres, even if the former might prefer to be at fly half, while Nick Tompkins has shown glimpses but isn’t a top class international centre yet and Johnny Williams only made his debut against Georgia last week.
This is obviously a massive step up for him. He did play for England in a non-cap game against the Barbarians last year and it’s amazing to see him playing international rugby after recovering from testicular cancer but I don’t think he’d have been in the running to play in this fixture if he hadn’t switched allegiances.
I cannot see this England team being complacent at all and the style of play doesn’t really allow for complacency either. It’s all about bloody mindedness, hard ball carrying, big physical efforts and these players have been delivering that in spades week in, week out.
With Ford, Farrell, Slade and Elliot Daly all in the team, England are still going to kick a lot of ball and they’ll still look to play a similar power game to the one we’ve been used to seeing but there might be just that bit more variety to manipulate the opposition defence.
People do want to see more from England but Wales are a good example of what can happen if you try to change too much. They may see results in the long run but they’re stuck between the old way of playing under Warren Gatland and how Wayne Pivac wants to do things at the moment.
Clearly, this is a big day for the Wales coach and it’s a huge test of Alun Wyn Jones’ leadership as well because he’s seen almost everything in his career but he’s surrounded by some inexperienced faces in that forward pack and people are starting to question him.
Nobody can take away any of his achievements over the years but he knows as well as anybody that it’s all about the here and now and I do understand the reasons behind some of the question marks at the moment.
He’s coming up against Maro Itoje, who is the best player in the world in his position right now and one of the best players in the world full stop, so there’s no better time to show that you still have what it takes to go on the British & Irish Lions tour next year.
Wales obviously won’t be helped by the game being played in Llanelli and there’ll be no crowd to give them that extra 10 per cent as can so often be the case in Cardiff and there is a danger that it could be a really tough day at the office for them and get ugly if England make a fast start.
People will call me an arrogant Englishman but I just think everything points towards a comfortable England victory and I think the margin could be 20 or 25 points in the final reckoning.
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