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Six England areas to watch

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Six areas to watch for England against Wales ahead of RWC squad being named

England and Wales are both set to get their Rugby World Cup preparations underway on Sunday, as they meet at Twickenham in the first of their warm-up games for the tournament in Japan next month.

The two sides have taken contrasting approaches to the game, with only a third of England’s starting XV typically considered to be among Eddie Jones’ favoured options, whilst Warren Gatland, more or less, has picked as strong a Welsh XV as is available to him.

This could well pre-empt a more rotated Wales side a week later in Cardiff for the return fixture, with England then going to a number of their more tried and tested players and combinations.

Regardless, there’s plenty to watch out for at Twickenham, especially with Jones set to announce his Rugby World Cup squad on Monday, and we have highlighted six areas particularly worthy of attention in this new-look England side.

Will Anthony Watson move into full-back?

With Mike Brown reportedly left out of the latest England squad because of a training ground altercation with Ben Te’o, there is even more riding on Watson being able to take on the full-back duties should Elliot Daly go down with injury.

Watson has excelled in the role at club level with Bath but has played the position less than a handful of times under Jones. If fit, Watson is a certainty to be in the 31-man squad and any interchanging with Daly on Sunday would give him the opportunity to ease any possible concerns Jones has over the 15 jersey.

Combination of Tom Curry and Lewis Ludlam

Having played at seven for the entirety of his England career so far, Curry was all set to move across to six to accommodate Underhill, although a late change has seen Ludlam come in for the Bath man and Curry will continue to play on the openside. Can these two thrive together in the same unit?

The numbers on the back of the jersey don’t mean as much as the balance in the loose forwards, but it’ll be interesting to see who packs down on the openside at scrum time, with Ludlam potentially providing an extra yard or two of pace. Curry will have seniority, although Jones has form for players playing in positions different to the one indicated on their back.

Willi Heinz’s debut

If there is one persistent critique of Jones’ tenure with England, it’s his management of the scrum-half situation. Despite being 32 years of age and having been in England since 2015, this is Heinz’s first international cap.

Jones may well take just two scrum-halves to the Rugby World Cup, something he previously opted to do with Australia and Japan, as well as in multiple international windows with England. A strong showing from Heinz against Wales could see off the challenge of Ben Spencer.

Bench impact of Jack Singleton and Joe Marchant

Both of these players will be making their debuts if they come off the bench and at least one of the two will be eyeing an unlikely bolter spot in the 31-man squad. Singleton, who has seemed to edge ahead of Tom Dunn lately, is a more likely squad member as the third hooker in the group.

England Wales RWC

A number of England’s current crop, including Singleton, got their first exposure to international rugby and touring in Argentina, during the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

As for Marchant, he would need to force his way passed Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph to have a shot of making the squad, or at least perform so well as to raise the possibility of one of those two moving into 12 in the absence of Te’o. If Piers Francis impresses, Marchant’s chance would seem to be gone.

Lineout efficiency

No Jamie George or Maro Itoje and only bench spots for Courtney Lawes and George Kruis, the English lineout is going to be under extreme scrutiny on Sunday. There’s no doubt that Alun Wyn Jones will fancy his side’s chances of disrupting England at the set-piece.

The start is a good opportunity for Luke Cowan-Dickie to show that his throwing is sharp enough to compete with George for a spot in the XV in the bigger games and Charlie Ewels will need to be effective as a jumper, an area he usually prospers in, to have any hope of forcing his way into England’s established quartet of locks.

Is Ruaridh McConnochie a genuine bolter candidate or does Joe Cokanasiga cement a spot?

At the beginning of the season you may have laughed at the prospect of McConnochie making the RWC, but it has quickly turned into a very possible scenario. With Chris Ashton out, Nathan Earle injured and Jack Nowell in a race against time to be fit, suddenly a door is open in the back three.

Daly, Watson and Jonny May are surely inked into Jones’ squad, whilst Cokanasiga offers a unique skill set among England’s back three options, though the group is far from set in stone. A strong showing on Sunday could cement Cokanasiga into the group, leaving the former sevens star’s hopes of making the cut hanging on the fitness of Nowell.

Watch: England’s coaches speak to the press ahead of the game with Wales

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Six areas to watch for England against Wales ahead of RWC squad being named