Preview: England v Wales

Date published: March 11 2016

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Revenge and a shot at the the Six Nations title will weigh heavily on the minds of England and Wales when they meet at Twickenham on Saturday.

Less than five months after Wales sucked the noise out of England's south-west London fortress with an incredible turnaround win, the two sides return to the same stage knowing that a win on Saturday puts them in pole position to win the Six Nations on the final weekend.

In England's case a victory would leave them on the verge of a first Grand Slam in 13 years. Wales meanwhile could return to Cardiff poised to win a third title in five years against Italy. For once the old cliché of the next game being the most important actually works.

Saturday provides new England head coach Eddie Jones with not only his biggest challenge so far in the hotseat but also an important yardstick – are England the smarter, tougher side they've hinted to be on the surface over the last few weeks, or will Saturday be another revelation of their shortcomings.

Improvements have been made to the set-piece and plenty of chances are being created, although a far lesser percentage have actually been converted.

England have improved but there's a hell of a long way to go, especially when it comes to their discipline as the most penalised team in the tournament.

Get the most comprehensive betting preview to the Six Nations, Round Four with Betsafe, All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick and Planet Rugby.

Comparatively there are few sides as settled as Wales. Their new young front row in Rob Evans, Scott Baldwin and Samson Lee are developing game by game, while the rest of the team picks itself and continue to win without the metronomic boot of Leigh Halfpenny.

That all said, it's a narrow contest between Wales and France in the contest for which side receives the most criticism about their style of play.

Warrenball is less loved and more loathed now than ever before. Diverting from that foundation with a touch more width against Ireland only produced a draw. Since returning to the physical, route-one mantra of their head coach there have been wins over Scotland and France – both victories, and both instantly forgettable.

Wales have a team and a system fully capable of winning the Six Nations. But are the extra levels there to defeat the All Blacks in New Zealand later this year in June?

Rob Howley's declaration on Monday – "Our current crop of players have the ability to win every international game they go into." – might be more convincing, putting Wales record against the big three to one side, if they had illustrated enough versatility in this tournament and finished off seemingly obvious chances when presented with space to attack.

Twickenham holds no fear for Wales, so what better stage to surprise their hosts with an expansive gameplan which gets the best out of George North, Liam Williams et al. Howley's right, this is a special crop of players, but their talents aren't being used effectively.

Wales need make a tactical leap after a lack of versatility killed their World Cup ambitions. Starting to convert obvious overlaps would be a fine start.

Players to Watch

For England: Manu Tuilagi has grabbed the headlines all week and his return is welcome news for England, but not enough has been said about the work of George Kruis in England's run to three straight wins. The Saracens lock offers bulk and athleticism in equal measure and his lineout work has been excellent. Going up against Alun Wyn Jones is a fine way to assess how far Kruis has come. An all-Saracens second row partnership with Maro Itoje is no bad thing either.

For Wales: Just as England are thrilled to select Tuilagi again so are Wales with Rhys Webb. His return can get the best out of Gareth Davies. The scorer of that remarkable try against England in the World Cup has established himself as a scrum-half who must always be watched around the fringes, reminiscent of Aaron Smith. Davies has been asked to be more vocal and his distribution will have to improve to keep Webb out of the side.

Head-to-head: Living under a rock will have enabled you to escape the barbs being thrown out of each camp regarding the opposition's scrum – you can imagine Craig Joubert sticking his fingers in his ears on his journey to Twickenham this week. But, Joe Marler's questionable technique has been pointed out so often that it's impossible the cameras won't be on him from the first engagement onwards.

His battle with Samson Lee therefore gets top billing as the promising Wales tighthead continues to work his way back to full fitness. Thanks to his engagements on the angle Marler has had the edge in this contest during the sides' last two meetings. There will be no escaping the cameras on Saturday.

Previous results:

2015: Wales won 28-25 at Twickenham
2015: England won 21-16 in Cardiff
2014: England won 29-18 at Twickenham
2013: Wales won 30-3 in Cardiff
2012: Wales won 19-12 at Twickenham
2011: Wales won 19-9 in Cardiff
2011: England won 23-19 at Twickenham
2011: England won 26-19 in Cardiff

Prediction: England absoutely cannot be as frivolous with their chances as they were against Ireland if they want to win. Wales are primed to punish mistakes and limit their opponents, with a settled and pre-planned gameplan, but factor in England's extra thirst for revenge after the Rugby World Cup disaster and that might just give them the edge. England by three.

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Danny Care, 22 Manu Tuilagi, 23 Elliot Daly

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Gareth Anscombe

Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: Twickenham
Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

by Ben Coles

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