England’s Six Nations destiny is out of their hands but after last year’s painful defeat in Cardiff, it’s… payback time!
- England will have revenge on their mind in Six Nations clash against Wales
- They suffered heavy loss in last year’s clash at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff
- Second-rows Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones are likely to be pivotal figures
Twickenham will be a sanitised zone but the health and safety initiatives will not extend to the field of play, as England seek to end their abbreviated Six Nations campaign with a thunderous act of vengeance.
All of sudden the end is nigh for Eddie Jones’s team in this tournament. Their game against Italy in Rome next Saturday has fallen victim to the coronavirus, so this fixture against Wales is all they have left to play for.
They can claim a Triple Crown by seeing off Wayne Pivac’s side, but their title prospects are in limbo.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones and England lock Maro Itoje will have crucial roles to play
If France beat Scotland at Murrayfield tomorrow, there will be the chance of a Gallic Grand Slam. All England can do is take care of business and then watch on, no longer masters of their own destiny.
JONES v ITOJE – THREE KEY BATTLE AREAS
1 – LINEOUT
Neither Itoje nor Jones run the set-piece, with Kruis and Ball in charge of each, but both are key cogs in it working efficiently. Itoje — nine years younger than Jones — is more athletic but Jones is the ultimate wily operator.
2 – MASTERS OF THE WIND-UP
Both players are master of the wind-ups, with Jones likely to try and rile up Kyle Sinckler and Itoje out to annoy anyone in red. Jones will have the ear of the referee as Wales’ captain, though.
3 – PRESENCE
An immeasurable quality but vital for both — their auras are strong and each player has a phenomenal influence on their team. Jones for his statesmanship, leadership and never-say-die attitude, and Itoje for his constant menace and seemingly unbreakable spirit.
Jones has sought to block out the bigger picture and keep his players’ minds focused on the task in front of them. So while spectators at Twickenham will be urged to take extra care amid a drive to promote high standards of hygiene, the protagonists on the pitch will tear into each other with typically selfless, ferocious intensity.
According to their head coach, England want payback for their 21-13 defeat in Cardiff last year, a result which propelled Wales towards another Grand Slam.
That was the last glorious peak of the Warren Gatland era but he is back in New Zealand, coaching the Chiefs before taking charge of the Lions next year, so this match looms as a daunting assignment for his compatriot and successor.
Pivac is attempting to expand the Welsh game-plan, but the fear on the west side of the Severn Bridge is that a power deficit will be crudely exposed.
England may be without their mighty Vunipolas, but they have another Polynesian force of nature in Manu Tuilagi and no shortage of physical clout, while the visitors have demoted their Tongan talisman, Taulupe Faletau, to the bench.
Last year, Wales won because of their streetwise streak but they have lost their last two matches during this transitional phase.
They are without veteran Lions centre Jonathan Davies and there will be doubts about whether Dan Biggar is truly match fit, despite being patched up and picked.
The Northampton fly-half’s knee was heavily strapped in training yesterday and any Welsh hope of success relies on their playmaker setting a defiant example.
Utilising the power of centre Manu Tuilagi will be an important part of England’s game plan
England will send big carriers hurtling towards the visiting No 10; the likes of Tuilagi, Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler and Maro Itoje. The home side will believe that if they win the gainline battle and build on recent scrum progress, they will also hold the aces at the lineout to give them a formidable platform.
The breakdown will be an area of intrigue, with Tom Curry, Mark Wilson and Itoje charged with negating the threat posed by Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi.
This fixture arouses extreme tribal passion and England want to right the wrongs of last year and finish on a high before their enforced week off. For Wales, a triumphant raid on London is always a prime target, but Alun Wyn Jones and Co are hell-bent on giving the new regime credibility and guarding against any sense they could be in post-Gatland decline.
With a departure to Japan looming, George Kruis may be playing his last England game
There is added fascination in a showdown between players who stand shoulder to shoulder at club level. Owen Farrell and the rest of Jones’s Saracens contingent will strive to make life difficult for Nick Tompkins — the centre who won a junior World Cup with England but has switched allegiance after an invitation from Pivac — and Liam Williams. Meanwhile, Lawes will be setting his sights on fellow Saint Biggar, with brutal intent.
Former England Under-20 international Nick Tompkins will be lining up for Wales on Saturday
Now that next weekend’s trip to Rome has been aborted, at least for the time being, this occasion will also serve as a farewell for at least one England stalwart. Lock George Kruis may not play for his country again, as it is understood that he has agreed to join Japanese side Panasonic Wild Knights after this season, while Steve Borthwick is leaving the set-up to become Leicester’s head coach.
Former captain Borthwick has been the senior English figure in the management team during Jones’s tenure and the Australian — who previously recruited him as Japan’s forwards coach — recognises his considerable contribution. ‘He has been an unbelievable servant for English rugby,’ said Jones. ‘I don’t think there’s anyone in world rugby who works harder than him.’
This may prove to be Steve Borthwick’s last game as an England coach as he departs the set-up
Borthwick is more content to operate meticulously behind the scenes than articulate his feelings, but he said: ‘I remember when I first got the chance to play at Twickenham for England Under 16s and then playing for the Under 18s. Then I got the chance to play for the senior team and captain them. It’s been a privilege to coach them too. It has been incredible.
‘Through all that time, whether I was a player in the team or when I was living in Japan and watching from afar, I’ve wanted them to win. I want them to keep going forward because as much as anything I’m a supporter. It’s been a privilege to be in the position I’ve been in for the last four and a half years.’
England’s players appreciate the impact he has made. They will want to give him a fitting send-off and Kruis, too, if he becomes unavailable for selection after this.
Saturday was not meant to be the end of anything but now, all of a sudden, it is. Jones’s men should be able to make it a happy ending, by over-powering the Welsh to gain their revenge.
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