Matthew Rees and Lewis Moody at the Six Nations launch
By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
WALES V ENGLAND, Millennium Stadium, Friday 4 February, kick-off 7.45pm, Live on BBC1
This year’s Six Nations kicks off with what is sure to be a classic Wales v England encounter in Cardiff – but who will come out on top? And how will each side fare in key areas? Hopefully these head-to-head comparisons will help you pick your favourite to win the game…
The packs battle it out during last year's Six Nations
Wales have been hurt by the loss of props Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, but Paul James is a more than adequate replacement on the loosehead. In fact, he is probably a better scrummager than Jenkins, he just doesn’t offer as much in the loose, so he will be able to take care of Dan Cole. The tighthead is a different story, however, and Craig Mitchell faces the biggest test of his career in Andrew Sheridan. All things considered it could well be honours even at the scrum – if both front rows are actually prepared to scrummage that is and the game isn’t marred by constant collapses.
This is where injuries have most hurt England. Not only have the lost Courtney Lawes from the second row but Tom Croft at six, and he’s a key jumper in his own right. Wales will have the edge here with Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies and Matthew Rees forming a consistent lineout unit over the past 12 months. And if they start to pinch a few England throws, Dylan Hartley may well crumble under the pressure – as he did for Northampton against Leicester – and give Wales even more opportunity to steal possession.
Sam Warburton is becoming a great snaffler of the ball while Dan Lydiate is another who relishes the battle at the tackle area, but all there good work could be undone if Andy Powell continually spills the ball in contact. This is a big test for Tom Wood on debut while neither James Haskell nor Nick Easter are renowned for their turnover abilities and England’s locks are not as dynamic as Wales’ pair either. Another plus for Wales – if Powell can keep his hands on the ball.
- Who has the best hair…
…Flood or Phillips?!
Mike Phillips has been out of form of late while Ben Youngs is being hailed as the saviour of English rugby. The Welshman relishes a high-pressure occasion and is sure to raise his game (as well as his voice – he’s sure to have a few choice titbits to offer the England players during the game!) but Youngs is the more skilful of the two and will look to lead England’s attack with a few sniping runs around the base. He will also get the best out of Toby Flood and bring him onto the gain-line. You’d back Stephen Jones in a kicking duel, but in terms of creative spark this is where England look better.
Both teams have opted for big, powerful lumps at centre so expect to see a lot of straight running from midfield – and not much kicking. If these four do put boot to ball it could end badly for their respective teams! The clashes between Mike Tindall and Jamie Roberts could draw a few winces from the crowd, but it is Jonathan Davies who poses the biggest attacking threat. The Scarlets centre has been in superb form this season, picks lovely lines, finds space and can be a clinical try-scorer
THE BACK THREE
England’s biggest success story from the autumn was their back three of Ben Foden, Chris Ashton (see that try v Australia below) and Mark Cueto. All proved to be dangerous counter-attackers who aren’t afraid to run the ball – and if they choose to run at Morgan Stoddart they are likely to reap the rewards. To say he had ‘defensive frailties” would be an understatement. We all know what Shane Williams can do and Wales will want him to be involved early on so expect him to come in as first receiver a lot. James Hook is another talent but he doesn’t find it as easy to weave his magic from full-back as the midfield. England will be looking to capitalise out wide and on the counter.
Wales: James Hook; Morgan Stoddart, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Shane Williams; Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Matthew Rees (capt), Craig Mitchell, Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Andy Powell.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, John Yapp, Ryan Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Dwayne Peel, Rhys Priestland, Lee Byrne
England: Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Mike Tindall (capt), Shontayne Hape, Mark Cueto; Toby Flood, Ben Youngs; Andrew Sheridan, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Louis Deacon, Tom Palmer, Tom Wood, James Haskell, Nick Easter.
Replacements: Steve Thompson, David Wilson, Simon Shaw, Joe Worsley, Danny Care, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Banahan