England are back at Twickenham – but what else do you need to know on this match-up?


Six Nations Wales v England Preview

Rather poetically, it’s known as ‘The call of the void’ – the desire to hurl oneself from a height.

Well, we’ve reached that point of the Six Nations for both England and Wales. The idea of diving in to the next round is delicious, but should either lose – and with another fallow week on the other side of Sunday – a fortnight of oblivion lies below. Or at the very least, some really, really withering comments in forums and clubrooms, eh.

But win again and oh, boy. How good? It’s the emotional torture that makes the Six Nations so special.

With Wales, it has happened frequently in the Wayne Pivac era that each Test match win sees us collectively tiptoe back from the edge just a little. Just enough. There’s chatter on the underside, on the state of the game nationally. There’s some really robust (and most would say necessary) discourse about the future of the sport going on regardless. But wins help relieve a pascal of the pressure, at least.

Results, for England, are all that matters. This is England we’re talking about.

Six Nations Wales v England Preview

Taulupe Faletau is back! (Getty Images)

Head coach Eddie Jones has a fine win record, but it is his run of results against England’s biggest rivals that get the most scrutiny. And for whoever loses on Saturday, the slate will have two losses to one win in this championship. Which initially meant England bringing in familiar enforcers like Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes to help build a brutal platform for the whippersnappers of Harry Randall, Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt to leap from.

However, we weren’t even 48 hours from the showdown when Tuilagi pulled out with a hamstring injury.

With the mania around us, the idea of the comfort pick is appealing. So back comes Taulupe Faletau for Wales too – a man so dependable in the past, you wonder if the AA call him up when they break down.

Related: England v Wales: Five of the best Six Nations matches

Of course, he hasn’t had a huge amount of rugby on the clock himself lately. We’ll see how he goes. Breakdown cover is always the nagging worry. As evidenced in the case of Tuilagi.

Anyway, it’s in the chaos after an hour of Test rugby in this famous fixture that we get most excited about. We want to be spun around and flung about. Indeed, we expect it with this fixture.

What’s the big team news?

Joe Marchant was dropped from the match-day 23, in order Manu Tuilagi to come into the side to form a centre partnership with Henry Slade. Slade was due to shift from inside- to outside-centre, with Tuilagi at 12. However, yet another injury on England time means Tuilagi is on the sidelines once again.

Marchant returns to the squad, but we will not now know the final back-line line-up until match day.

Six Nations Wales v England Preview

Manu Tuilagi has not made it to Saturday (Getty Images)

Luke Cowan-Dickie gets the nod at hooker ahead of Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler is back at tighthead prop, with Will Stuart dropping to the bench.

Maro Itoje moves back to the second row as Courtney Lawes makes his first appearance of the tournament. Lawes, at blindside flanker, will also take over captaincy duties.

Scrum-half Harry Randall retains his No 9 shirt while Ben Youngs will become the most-capped England men’s player if he comes off the bench.

A surprise move from Wales sees Louis Rees-Zammit drop out of the match-day squad with Josh Adams fit to return on the wing. Alex Cuthbert will win his 50th cap for Wales as he remains on the opposite wing.

Ben Youngs record

Ben Youngs could break the England men’s record (Getty Images)

In the forwards, Taine Basham moves to seven and Ross Moriarty shifts to flanker with Taulupe Faletau coming in at No 8 having only recently joined up with the squad.

On the bench, Kieran Hardy comes into the match-day squad for the first time this tournament.

What have the coaches said?

On Manu Tuilagi’s return, Eddie Jones had said: “We don’t have any other centres like that with that weight, power and velocity with which they carry.

“He’s unique for England.”

England Wales preview

Rees-Zammit didn’t have the best of times against Scotland (Getty Images)

On big selection calls, Wayne Pivac said: “Everybody wants to be selected and is working pretty hard. For us, with this particular match, looking at the opposition and the way we think the game will be played, I think the experience of the other two (wingers, rather than Rees-Zammit), work-rate off the ball and those sorts of things, are really going to come into play.”

Any interesting statistics?

  • If he comes off the bench, Ben Youngs will earn his 115th cap, surpassing the England men’s record of 114 (Jason Leonard).
  • According to Russ Petty, England haven’t suffered a home defeat with Manu Tuilagi in squad since November 2012 (South Africa).
  • When these two sides met in 2019, the BBC audience peaked at 8.9 million viewers.
  • Marcus Smith is joint top point-scorer in the championship (alongside Melvyn Jaminet) with 30.
  • Maro Itoje has forced the most turnovers in the tackle in the tournament so far, with 3.
  • In 137 previous match-ups, England have won 65  and Wales 60. There have been 12 draws.
  • According to Opta, Since his Six Nations debut in 2012, Taulupe Faletau has made the most carries (396) by any Welsh player.

What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

England v Wales, Saturday 26 February at Twickenham.

The match kicks off at 4.45pm (GMT) in London and will be broadcast live on ITV and s4C. There will be radio commentary on BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

Referee for this one is Mike Adamson (SRU), with assistants Mathieu Raynal (FFR) and Frank Murphy (IRFU). Ireland’s Brian MacNeice is the TMO.

What are the line-ups?

England: Freddie Steward; Max Malins, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi TBC, Jack Nowell; Marcus Smith, Harry Randall; Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Charlie Ewels, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes (captain), Tom Curry, Alex Dombrandt.

Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Nick Isiekwe, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Elliot Daly, (Joe Marchant?).

Wales: Liam Williams; Alex Cuthbert, Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar (captain), Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Ross Moriarty, Taine Basham, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Dewi Lake, Gareth Thomas, Leon Brown, Seb Davies, Jac Morgan, Kieran Hardy, Gareth Anscombe, Jonathan Davies.

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