FORMER England flanker Richard Hill believes England have plenty to be cheerful about at this stage of the RBS 6 Nations. With two wins under their belts, the team is now preparing to face Wales at Twickenham, the current favourites to win the tournament. Although Wales’ record in London has been poor in recent years, with just one win for the men in red in since 2002, they are brimming with confidence on the back of their World Cup campaign, and have subsequently beaten Ireland in Dublin and Scotland at home in this tournament. However, Richard Hill believes that England coach Stuart Lancaster can be buoyed by his own team’s recent success.
“They will be happy with two away victories in difficult places to go and play,” said Hill. “The conditions were hostile, especially in Italy where the ball would have posed many problems, being covered in lumps of snow. England are in the middle of changing their culture and environment and there are a number of positives that can be taken from their performances so far, notably their defence, their intensity and their ability to hunt down the opposition. There are areas that the team will have identified where they need to improve, but their collective understanding will have increased.”
With a break in Six Nations play Lancaster will have had a close eye on the Aviva Premiership over the weekend, in particular Leicester’s 20-19 defeat of Saracens at Vicarage Road, which took place on Sunday. Two of England’s starting places are under particular scrutiny this week – that of fly-half Charlie Hodgson and outside centre Brad Barritt – as Tigers Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi have made successful recoveries from injury, and will be available for selection to play against Wales.
Lancaster must decide if he should continue to put his confidence in the Saracens duo, who have served England well so far with Hodgson scoring two tries and Barritt showing he is a wall in defence. His alternative is to revert to Flood, who established himself as England’s first choice fly-half during last season’s tournament win, and Tuilagi, who was a rare success in Martin Johnson’s otherwise disappointing World Cup story. Whatever he decides, Hill says it’s crucial to get the balance right to have a chance of beating Wales.
“Lancaster will take a good look at the squad. He’ll want to give more than 22 players opportunities in this tournament. I’m sure there will be changes made, but you’ve got to do that without losing the confidence that’s been built so far. We’ve always known that Charlie (Hodgson) has an amazing set of hands, he’s a good tactical kicker and he’s worked very hard on his defence since he’s been at Saracens. Brad has a fantastic workrate in defence, he puts in the big hits and he’s a direct runner.
“Wales have got a very good back row, so England will need to make sure they get the correct numbers to the breakdown. They’ve also got to get themselves in the right positions territory-wise, and their lineout will need to be functioning because Wales are so dangerous when they have possession of the ball. Wales are playing well, but England have shown composure and worked hard for their victories so far, especially in Italy coming back from nine points down. It’s just a question of fine tuning their performance.”
Highlights of Wales’ 2008 victory over England at Twickenham