Wales eye Cardiff revenge
August 12, 2011
England's Chris Ashton celebrates scoring in Cardiff during this year's Six Nations © Getty Images
Wales will attempt to derail England's preparations for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup and give their own fans a timely boost when the two go head-to-head at the Milliennium Stadium on Saturday.
England turned up the heat on Wales last weekend with a 23-19 victory at Twickenham and will take further confidence from their success in the Welsh capital earlier this year when they scored a 26-19 success during the Six Nations.
As a result, Wales, who were by no means outclassed on either occasion, are under increasing pressure to produce a morale-boosting victory to reassure their fans that their own World Cup plans are built on solid foundations.
But team aspirations will have to share top billing with those players hoping to stake their personal World Cup claim. This game is England's last outing before manager Martin Johnson selects his 30-man squad while Wales' fringe players can look forward to just one more outing against Argentina next weekend.
Wales - Player to Watch: All eyes will be on Gavin Henson as he bids to win his latest PR battle with a reminder of all the good things he can do on a rugby field. He has an able ally in centre partner Jamie Roberts but Henson needs to dominate to book his place on the plane.
Wales - Team News: Henson comes into the side in place of Jonathan Davies while James Hook replaces Morgan Stoddart after the fullback suffered a broken leg at Twickenham. In the pack, Lloyd Burns is given a chance to impress at hooker while first-choice hooker Matthew Rees is injured. Luke Charteris will look to propel himself up the second row pecking order after being drafted in to replace Bradley Davies.
England - Player to Watch: Jonny Wilkinson issued a timely reminder of his class last weekend and if Toby Flood has hopes of pulling on the No.10 shirt in the Rugby World Cup opener he needs to deliver the kind of influential display that fuelled his side's victory at the same venue a few months ago.
England - Team News: Veteran centre Mike Tindall returns and will lead the side in the absence of the injured Lewis Moody who strained his knee ligament last time out. Tindall partners Shontayne Hape in midfield, with the duo replacing Riki Flutey and Manu Tuilagi, while Richard Wigglesworth fill the scrum-half berth. Nick Easter, Tom Wood and Hendrie Fourie form a new-look back-row with Alex Corbisiero, Steve Thompson and Dan Cole set to pack down in the front row. Lock Courtney Lawes has recovered from the neck injury he sustained in a recent trial match and partners Louis Deacon in the second row. Winger Chris Ashton faces a fitness test on his ankle ahead of the game.
Key Battle: Although England appear to have the upper hand up front, the back-row battle looks intriguing to say the least. Tom Wood made an impressive step up to the Test match stage for England in Cardiff in February but is unlikely to get everything his own way this time around. England's Hendre Fourie may have his hands full with Wales' Sam Warburton while the No.8 match-up between the hosts' Toby Faletau and the visitors' Nick Easter could also provide fireworks.
Trivia: The last time Gavin Henson played against England at the Millennium Stadium was during his side's Six Nations victory in 2005 - the day he ensured England's Mathew Tait had a debut to remember.
Stats: Wales' George North crossed for two tries last weekend to take his tally to five from six appearances - some way behind Shane Williams' all-time leading haul of 54 tries from 80 Test appearances for Wales.
"We need the win this weekend - it's as simple as that." - Wales coach Warren Gatland set the bar.
"My neck is stronger than it's ever been, it's more flexible than it's ever been, plus it's a nightmare buying shirts! I'm a 21-inch neck." - England's Steve Thompson insists he is fitter than ever.
Prediction: Both sides will raise their game but England's superior physicality will give them a priceless advantage at the all-important contact area. Expect England's impressive arsenal to capitalise and give the hosts plenty of food for thought.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September