New-look England look to derail Wales
February 23, 2012
Owen Farrell will take centre stage for England against Wales on Saturday © Getty Images
England play host to Wales at Twickenham on Saturday with the visitors chasing a rare victory at English rugby's HQ and with it the Triple Crown.
Victories over Ireland and Scotland in their opening Six Nations clashes leaves Warren Gatland's side not only on course for a sweep of their Home Nations rivals but also the much-prized Grand Slam. However, standing in their way are an England side that are also undefeated following wins against the Scots and Italy.
These two sides shared the spoils in their two Rugby World Cup warm-up clashes but went on to experience vastly differing fortunes at the tournament itself with Wales powering their way to the semi-finals while England crashed out in the quarter-finals under a cloud of controversy. Since then, Wales have clearly cemented the gains made in the sport's showpiece event while England have wielded the axe both on and off the field in a bid to restore their reputation.
Wales appear to be ahead of England in terms of development and will enter this clash as favourites in many people's eyes but Twickenham has not been a happy hunting ground with the Welsh having won there just once in their last 13 visits. The last time they upset the hosts was in 2008 when they went on to claim a Grand Slam and it remains to be seen whether a new-look England can derail their rivals and maintain their own hopes of a clean sweep.
England - Player to Watch: Owen Farrell assumes the England No.10 shirt for the first time in only his third Test appearance. He steered Saracens to Premiership glory in front of a full house at Twickenham last year but can he repeat the feet in international colours?
England - Team News: Farrell feels the void left by Charlie Hodgson who is sidelined with a finger injury and will partner Lee Dickson at half-back. Farrell's switch from inside centre has opened the way for Manu Tuilagi to return to the England midfield alongside Brad Barritt. No.8 Ben Morgan and lock Geoff Parling will also start their first Tests. Scrum-half Ben Youngs and No.8 Phil Dowson drop to the bench where thye are joined by fit-again lock Courtney Lawes and fly-half Toby Flood. But there is no place for lock Tom Palmer while Tuilagi's promotion has led to Harlequins fullback Mike Brown being recalled from club duty to start on the bench.
Wales - Player to Watch: Winger George North grabbed two tries against England a few months ago and will be hoping to wreak havoc in the home side's defence once again.
Wales - Team News: Captain Sam Warbuton returns from injury with Aaron Shingler who misses out whiel fit-again Alun-Wyn Jones is preferred to Ryan Jones in the second row with the latter dropping to the bench. Hooker Ken Owens is handed his first Wales start with both Huw Bennett and Matthew Rees. The Wales back division is unchanged for the third successive Six Nations game, with wing George North having shrugged off an ankle injury that meant he made an early exit against Scotland. James Hook was a late withdrawal due to chicken pox and his place on the bench is taken by Stephen Jones.
Key Battle: It's crunch time all over the park but the midfield battle looks particularly bruising with Wales' Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies to to go head-to-head with England's Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi. Who will dominate the gain line?
Trivia: Wales are looking to win a 20th Triple Crown and a third in the last eight years, only England (23) have won more.
Stats: Wales' Toby Faletau has made more tackles (36) than any other player in the competition.
"I have always wanted to be a person who guides the team. I have always been a person who speaks up. I have always been loud and to bring as much energy as I can to a game."
"So, if you throw your toys out of the cot, you aren't going to be around here for too long. I expect them to be disappointed but I expect them to respond in a positive way to their team-mates."
Prediction: Wales appear to have the more significant momentum but while a new-look England remain an unknown quantity to a certain extent, they still have the talent to pose a significant threat. Expect fireworks from the start with Wales edging out their hosts in a classic.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton