England against Wales is always a huge fixture but this one has a very different feel about it after the results and performances in the opening weekend of the Six Nations.
A lot of people questioned Wales prior to last week and some wrote them off but they proved what they’re capable of and will be in bullish mood coming to Twickenham. The mind games during the week between Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones have been fun but they both know it’ll count for little come Saturday afternoon.
Gatland suggested his English counterpart would do a great job as the next British and Irish Lions coach earlier in the week and that a 3-0 whitewash would be expected in South Africa and it’s all a bit of paper talk that’ll be forgotten once the game is done and dusted.
Questioning Rhys Patchell’s ability to handle the pressure is a bit of a risk as that could backfire on Jones but it’s all aimed at taking the pressure off his own team and piling it on the opposition.
As a fly half going into a game of this intensity you are under a huge amount of pressure already and there will be no easy holes for Patchell to exploit. Jonathan Joseph has proven himself to be pretty adept at the intercept and if Jones planting an extra seed of doubt just buys England’s defence half a second because he’s thinking about the possibility of someone flying out of the line, then I’m all for it.
I was surprised Ben Te’o was picked last week with him not having played at all for over four months and therefore having no form to judge him on but Joseph is still the first choice outside centre, especially with Elliot Daly being injured.
If anything, Te’o’s size could have been useful this week to match the physicality of Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams but George Ford, Owen Farrell and Joseph at 10, 12 and 13 is the combination that has served England so well in winning 23 of 24 Tests under Eddie Jones.
And, what you lose in physicality with Joseph, you make up for in pace and they’ll be looking to find some space for him in the outside channels.
You want it to be a really attacking, free-flowing game and both teams showed some real quality in attack last week but Paul Gustard and Shaun Edwards are two of the best defensive coaches in the world and both sides will pride themselves on their defence in a game of this magnitude.
England’s defence was patchy in Rome last week and they need to bring the intensity that Wales had against Scotland when they didn’t concede a point for over 78 minutes.
Wales have got some confidence now with ball in hand if they’re allowed to play and if England don’t dent that early, then it’ll be tough to dominate them physically when they’re trying to get the ball out of the contact and that’s the key battle for me.
To win against Wales you need to be physical and win the gainline battle. England had Nathan Hughes for this fixture last year but the best player in the pitch by far was Ross Moriarty and Wales lost a bit of intensity when he went off because he was playing like a man possessed.
It’ll be a huge test for Sam Simmonds after an exceptional Six Nations debut last week. Can he carry in traffic and make yards and who are the other hard-nosed ball carriers that are going to do the same against a tough Welsh defence?
That gainline and breakdown battle is going to be key and whoever dominates those areas and wins the physical confrontation will win the game.
Wales have beaten England three times at Twickenham in eight Tests there under Gatland and 10 of these players have experience of doing so, so there’ll be no fear factor among them and they’ll certainly have real belief that they can win.
However, England have won 13 straight Tests at Twickenham since the World Cup and I expect them to make that 14 against Wales. If you’d asked me two weeks ago, I’d have said it’d have been a comfortable victory by 15 points but now I think it’ll be an England win by five to seven points.
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