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Lancaster gambles ahead of Wales test

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Tom Fordyce | 21:20 UK time, Thursday, 23 February 2012

Should fortune favour the brave, England's interim coach Stuart Lancaster could be in for the most satisfying of Twickenham debuts.

But if Six Nations rugby is more about the more prosaic virtues of experience, form and proven ability, Saturday's meeting with Wales might just turn out to be a little less pleasant.

In making four changes to the team who started against Italy in Rome a fortnight ago, Lancaster has also shown he does not mind taking a gamble.

Almost half his side will be making their first appearances for England at Twickenham. He has a combination at nine and 10 that have never played together before, nor started in those positions at international level, and a centre pairing that is entirely untried.

Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt

Manu Tuilagi (left) and Brad Barritt are Lancaster's new centre combination. Photo: Getty

It is an undeniably exciting blend for England supporters. With Wales hugely impressive in their wins over Ireland and Scotland, it is also a potentially hazardous one.

Charlie Hodgson's finger injury gave Lancaster no choice but to change his fly-half. Hodgson could neither catch nor pass a ball in his fitness test on Thursday morning.

While England number 10s of the past forged successful international careers without needing to worry about the latter, the current coach wants more.

More conservative men would then have plumped for Toby Flood's 46 caps and 233 international points.

However, Lancaster, reasoning that Owen Farrell is more familiar with the team's patterns and plays and should be tested out at 10 at some point, opted for the 20-year-old Saracen instead. And when Farrell came in from centre, it left a hole for the returning Manu Tuilagi to fill.

There is less surprise in first full caps for Ben Morgan and Lee Dickson. Both impressed when coming on as replacements against Scotland and Italy, and their selection ahead of Phil Dowson and Ben Youngs at eight and nine is the least contentious call Lancaster has had to make.

"What makes it a lot easier is being in a training environment when you feel completely comfortable," says the upbeat Morgan. "It makes it really easy to step up."

The 26-year-old Dickson's only experience of Twickenham came at a much younger age, losing there as a schoolboy in the final of the Daily Mail Cup before winning a sevens tournament a few years later.

"I've wanted to do this since I was a kid," he emphasises. "I've had two games on the bench, now it's time for me to step up and start.

"I've taken the downs and worked really hard off the pitch, on the game management side. I owe a lot to Stuart for finally giving me this chance to play for England."

Much talk in the build-up to Saturday's clash has been of the attacking threat posed by Wales' rampaging giants in the backs. For the first time in almost quarter of a century the visitors will come to Twickenham as favourites.

Yet in England's new centre pairing of Brad Barritt and Tuilagi, there is both defensive strength and attacking menace.

"Wales have massive backs so this is the game you want to play in," says Tuilagi breezily. "For me playing rugby I always have the mind-set of being physical."

Tuilagi, England's stand-out player in the World Cup, knows first-hand what Farrell can do; the pair played together in the national under-18s side. Neither does he worry too much about the tactical nuances of his new partnership.

"For me I just want to get the ball in my hands and run," he added. "Rugby's simple - just keep the ball and score points."

Geoff Parling, in for his full debut in place of Tom Palmer in the second row, will perhaps appreciate his chance more than most.

After injuring his neck on England's tour of Australasia in the summer of 2010, he then tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first minute of his comeback match after being tackled by his current England skipper Chris Robshaw. That single minute was all the rugby he played all year.

"I've been waiting for this for quite some time," he admitted with a smile. "I found out last week, and didn't even tell my wife until the weekend."

If Palmer can feel a little hard done by, starting the first two games and not even making the bench for the third, his demotion is a clear sign that Lancaster, as well as being happy to take risks, will also not shirk the big decisions.

On the day that former Springboks and Italy coach Nick Mallett reportedly admitted to applying for the permanent England head coach role, it is a trait that can only bolster the stand-in's long-term credentials.


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  • Comment number 1.

    As a coach, I am really enjoying the way Wales play, but as an Englishman, I am really pleased that Lancaster has taken some chances here. If we win, he is a genius, if we lose, Wales were always the favourites anyway. Win win situation for England!

    How the untested together 9,10,12,13 will work against the experience and size of the Welsh we'll see, but can't wait until tomorrow. Let's just hope for good weather at Twickenham to see some flowing passing Rugby!

  • Comment number 2.

    This is a make or break game not for England but for Lancaster. If the team shows it is at least capable of scoring tries in pressure games he is likely to take the box seat as the full time coach. Winning is not key to that. As a Welshman there is a lot on it for Wales - could it be another false dawn or truly the second coming? As a Rugby supporter I want Mallet for England. As a Welshman I want Lancaster there. Nervous already.

    The Scottish Sunday Express talked in the week of releasing the 'overgrown hounds from hell out wide'. Bring it on!

  • Comment number 3.

    For the first time in years I am genuinely excited about this English backs line-up. I couldn't see how Lancaster could start with Tuilagi after the mid-field performances in the opening two games but Hodgsons injury has forced his hand.

    Win or lose, this could be a cracker!

  • Comment number 4.

    "Wales hugely impressive in their wins over Ireland and Scotland". All we have heard since the start of the Six Nationa is the about the Wonder of this amazing Welsh team. A last ditch penalty against an Irish team that for most of the game were better than them and a Scottish team that, not for their own silly mistakes, looked as though they would take the Welsh to the wire.
    This is definitely a good Wales side but they have been massively over-rated by the media and are massively over-confident in their self belief. One good, clean display from England or France will see the downfall of this Welsh Team.

    p.s. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

  • Comment number 5.

    Re #4: It makes a nice change though from it being England who are the ones getting all the hype. Maybe it will allow them to play without fear, something that has plagued teams of the past.

  • Comment number 6.

    This is a cracking side, and either way we win. No one expects us to win but I hope England are rewarded for sorting out the mess we were in. See those northerners mad as hatters and brave as you like. Go get em England

  • Comment number 7.

    Hat’s off to Lancaster! I think that this is the right combination to try at the right time.

    You could argue that the latter is not necessarily true (no Englishman wants to lose to Wales at home – especially when a thumping could be on the cards) but after years and years of seeing England managers picking the same formula game after game, it is refreshing and brave to see some variety, and in my opinion, one of the best back lines England has seen in a long time. This shows me that Lancaster is thinking about the long game as much as the game on Saturday, which is another credit to him given he could lose his position at any moment.

    Unfortunately, I can’t really see beyond Wales for tomorrow’s game. They are an in-form team with an extraordinary pool of talent (if getting a little big-headed). Saying that, I won’t be betting against a talented English team with a lot to prove, little to lose and an 80,000 strong Twickenham crowd behind them!!

    I can hear the low hum of ‘Swing Low’ echoing over the London’s western horizon already. Here’s to a great game tomorrow.

  • Comment number 8.

    If England lose I will be sad, but not totally disheartened. However would'nt it be nice to see the smirk wiped off Jiffy's face if England beat Wales AND score a few decent tries in the process?

    Lancaster has picked the side many fans would have so wooooo hooooooo bring it on

  • Comment number 9.

    I personally would like to see England play a bit of rugby, as I feel that it will play into the hands of the Welsh team. The overhyped bash bash Aviva Premiership (despite all the money) produces a team for England that plays exactly as they have done in their first two matches 'boring'.

    If England try to spread it, the style so foreign to them that mistakes are bound to occur and that will play into Welsh hands.

  • Comment number 10.

    It is not Wales that are oozing with self confidence, it is the media! I think that the Welsh team are confident but so they should be - they have played two good teams and won and scored tries along the way. England too should be confident - two wins away from home is never easy.

    The difference is in style and at the moment Wales have scored some cracking tries whilst England have not. As a Welshman living in England I see both sides of the media and the hype - my view is let the rugby do the talking. Saturday should see a great game - I hope so.

  • Comment number 11.

    Re @4

    Could not agree more, the media harp on about Wales' fantastic RWC reaching the Semi Finals failing to note that their record against the three "top tier" teams was won 1 lost 2 (the win coming against an Ireland side not playing anywhere near their best).

    Historically we always hear how the Welsh play great rugby but like the current All Blacks side or England of 2002/03 its about winning the big games.

    Looking forward to the game, should be great contest and one not for the faint hearted.

  • Comment number 12.

    This is the first time in years that I have had hope for the England team delivering entertaining Rugby. It doesn't matter if they lose, providing they give a good performance. This is about building the future. Sometimes you need a complete clear out of the old guard especially when they have become too dominant in the thinking of the manager and in their own minds too. Wales are a good, exciting team and I hope that playing against them will make the England team play that same style of exciting Rugby. England seemed to have relied too much on forward power and have not thought enough about creative backs.

    In the end I want to see tries scored from 40m out rather than 5m out. I don't want to see victories because of some failing in the opposition scrum leading to a penalty. Rugby is at its most entertaining when, for the most part, forwards win the ball for the backs to score or when the forwards are rampaging forward.

    Let's hope England deliver on a more exciting style of Rugby and present a real challenge to the Welsh. MJ is not missed - he was out of his depth.

  • Comment number 13.

    Wales are confident and so they should be. They are big, powerful, skilful and very fit. Gone (hopefully for good) are the days when the national team would run out of steam around the 60 or 70 minute mark. If you're going to compete against this team then you're going to have to be on the top of your game for the full 80.

    Both these teams are young teams but the team in red has the greater experience and I think this will be the deciding factor. Feeling quietly confident but not over-confident, much the same as all the other Welsh rugby fans I know.

    Can't wait!

  • Comment number 14.

    Lancaster isn't gambling at all. He knows - we all know - that a team as passive as England's against Scotland and Italy would be slaughtered by Wales. Without creating anything themselves they could barely even keep try-shy Scotland at bay, and my guess is they'd have been 30 points adrift of Wales. His changes may well reduce the margin of defeat, and this England may create the odd flash of excitement, but I wouldn't be more optimistic than that. Wales still have more skill, power, and experience. If England only lose by 15 - 20 they'll have done well, so please, no 'where England went wrong' analysis afterwards. Don't blame Lancaster. It's already too late, and there's nothing more he could have done. The RFU over-reacted after the World Cup, and have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. A 2-3 record is the best Lancaster could have been expected to deliver, and he's on track for that...

  • Comment number 15.

    Its so funny reading English rugby fans doubt this Welsh side. They seem to forget the English media are generally the masters of 'over hype'. The amount of English people who were continuing to say that England had a 'chance of winning the world cup' in NZ was incredible.

    Wales are a good side, we are not great because we havent beaten the powerhouses of World Rugby SA, NZ and AUS. This will come if you look at our average age we are a young team with potential.

    Lets see what happens at HQ on Saturday and hope if Wales win (England have a chance as everybody does in 2 team sport) some English fans will come on and give the credit we are due!

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree with much that has been said above. We are expected to lose and expected to be completely outplayed by these wonderful welsh backs. If I was playing as an England back I would be relishing the chance to absolutely smash these lads who are supposed to be world beaters.

    I think England could shock them but much depends on Farrell at ten and Tuilagi destroying the Welsh. Bring it on. Bring it on.

  • Comment number 17.

    "Aviva Premiership (despite all the money)" - don't think so, compare them to the French Top 14, whose salary cap is far higher. Lazy reasoning! How many English, as well as other Brits, are going out there, and why, especially in the twilights of their careers? One of the "problems" in the Aviva is history, the need to win in fixtures such as Bath v Gloucester for example overrides any thoughts of an expansive game. I don't see that in the new, more provincial Welsh, Irish and Scottish set ups and I think that has been to their benefit over the last few years. In the same way, Italian rugby is improving since their introduction.
    More on topic, well done to Stuart Lancaster, this should have happened EIGHT years ago, not just 4 as some have suggested. Hope to see a good game.

  • Comment number 18.

    Wales were lucky to win against Ireland but less lucky than NZ were to win the final of the RWC against unlucky France. Remember away from home, against a good Irish side and several injured played we were the better team before Davies got himself sent off and then managed to score another try when down to 14 men ... And the most impressive bit was a 75 m drive in the last 5 minutes before getting what I agree was a lucky penalty - on balance a great performance.

    Were we lucky against Scotland - not half as lucky as England were - I and most neutrals would have given the disallowed try, not forgetting the dozen or so balls they dropped. Wales were worthy winners against Scotland who played much better while still keen to press the self destruct button - they need Tim Visser now.

    Are Wales favourites against England - well yes they are but only slight favourites. Why, they are simply a much more settled side - you can call that confidence. With England we simply do not know what to expect. 9 of their players have little or no experience at this level and we see time and time again a great club player may not make a good international player - evidence Tom James and countless others.

    So what will separate the teams on Saturday - the top 2 inches of course. I hope for the Welsh sake that North does not think he can do a Lomu evertime he gets the ball. The best player in the world for the last decade Dan Carter plays with he head first and last.

    For me Rhys Priestland shows the potential to play with his head at this level as does both Roberts and particularly Davies outside him. Some of the English backs show great potential but apart from one game against Australia have not shown that .... And Farrell well I hope they haven't picked him because of his dad?

    What you English guys don't realise is that we have a secret weapon in Wales - a special growth compound we have been lacing the water with here for the last 10 years!

    I love this game of rugby and would take any positive result for the Welsh on Sat. But for the good of the game I hope England turn up to play, that Scotland do the business on Sunday and that Ireland don't destroy Italy.

  • Comment number 19.

    I love it, Wales get a bit of media limelight and it makes the English fans all twitchy and spoiling to be centre of attention again.

    This a quietly confident young Welsh team with some grounded self belief. Watch any interview and they come accross as realistic and humble - not one of them has mentioned a Grandslam and all of them seem realistic about the hard fought battle at Twickenham on Saturday.

  • Comment number 20.

    Why is everyone saying that Owen Farrell is a natural 10?? If he was then surely Saracens wouldn't have signed Charlie Hodgson an International 10 to take his position would they??

  • Comment number 21.

    martin smith...englands 2 wins have been lucky in the extreme, without two efforts by hodgson you'd have lost both, and to very mediocre teams. Look to your own shortcomings. Same problem with England, 9 & 10 both useless. Great backs who dont see the ball, and a very average pack. As for Wales, lets wait and see, i think the best is yet to come from what is a very young welsh side.

  • Comment number 22.

    Usedtobefast, I'm not sure anyone is saying that this welsh team are World Beaters, they are just a very good developing team who hopefully will be up there when 2015 arrives.

    The try from a set piece against Ireland just shows what they are capable of. Hopefully there will be more of this on Sat. If England try double marking North then they will be in real trouble, it will just leave space for the rest of the back line and back row.

  • Comment number 23.

    I hate to introduce an element of negativity to this very upbeat thread, but I can't help feeling that all those who think that the England backline look exciting are in for a disappointment.

    Firstly, the backline, no matter how exciting, can do nothing without good ball. So far England have just about held their own at set piece and looked distinctly out of sorts at the breakdown. I would love to see the turn over stats for the first two games but my impression was that England were outperformed on both occasions.

    Secondly, assuming good possession is achieved by the England forwards, the backline cannot be effectively used without excellent decision making at half back. To this end England have chosen a partnership that have never played together or at this level. They will be challenged by the physical presence of Mike Philips and arguably the best back row combination in the northern hemisphere.

    Farrell has looked okay so far without being spectacular. His kicking has probably created a slightly artificial shine to his performances. I am concerned how he will perform under pressure.

    Both centres have a fairly predictable game play. England have failed to make the line breaks that came so easy to them a few years ago and will hope that this pairing is the answer. The back three must come looking for work and support the centres but that potentially leaves gaps wide out for the strong Welsh runners.

    As for the idea that this is a win-win situation for England and Lancaster...I couldn't disagree more. Certainly if England win then it will be all red roses, but if they lose then it will be the manner of the loss that it important. England's biggest problems in recent years have been a lack of leadership and invention, and the total lack of ability to adapt their style to suit the circumstances. If they are unable to improve these areas then we are destined for a continuation of the frustrating, soul-numbing displays that have had fans sobbing into their beer for the past few seasons.

    I hope that I'm wrong!

  • Comment number 24.

    I agree about the "bash bash" of the premiership - it doesn't provide England with the players for the wide game but hey ho, if "bash it up rugby" is our strength then we should play to it.
    It was funny reading blogs after the Scotland and Italy game - everyone was saying how England should have lost, were lucky to win etc. I disagree - I thought the English forwards were more than a match for both the Scots and Italians and lets face it, apart from a couple of minutes of madness from Ben Foden we never, ever looked like losing to the Italians and I think the scoreline in the Wales v Scotland match was very flattering to the Welsh.
    Hell, I maybe talking myself into believing England can win on Saturday ......nah the Welsh are just a little too good but I think it will be closer than many Welsh think.

  • Comment number 25.

    Most of the build up is about the backs; rugby matches are won first and foremost up front. If England can hold their own there and put some pressure on Phillips it should be a belter. The less North & co have of the ball the better for England.

  • Comment number 26.

    For once, lets relish rugby for its own sake. Here is a chance to have two potentially exciting teams, both very young in terms of experience, both with potential for playing a big part in the next world cup and both capable of producing a scintilating game.
    Lancaster looks to have made the right selection, to which he should be applauded. If England score a few good tries and show promise, but lose by 7 to 10 points, so what? Look to develop for the future. If Wales lose, the bubble is certainly not burst - there is huge potential for them to play at the highest level.
    The Welsh team are not being arrogant. The media deliberately making hype is behind most of this.

    I would love to be able to hear the words of the great Bill McLaren commenting on this epic encounter. Bring on saturday!

  • Comment number 27.

    It's good to see England with a change in the backs. If England are going to beat Wales at the weekend I want to see it happen because they played better rugby than us, I don't want to see us lose to England because they kept the ball in the forwards and win 9-8 or something similar.

    My other worry is who is the ref this weekend? Hopefully it's a southern hemisphere one and not Alain Roland! :)

  • Comment number 28.

    #27 It's Steve (I'm an Aussie now) Walsh.

  • Comment number 29.

    The central point of Tom's blog is Stuart Lancaster's future. I don't think it matters a toss whether England win or lose, (spoken as a neutrel!) what will really count for him is the way England play.

    I haven't seen this class of 2012 play any differently to the class of 2011, other then their discilpline has been greatly improved, and they have won 2 matches, lamely at that.

    Let's face it, fans, media, and importantly sponsors are not going to queue up at Twickers until England show some high level skilful rugby, played at pace and executed under pressure.

    As for the match tomorrrow, you suspect ENG will shade the set pieces; WAL the breakdown contest; yes WAL have attacking talent but ENG midfield strong defensively; look for WAL to attack down Ashton's wing with his suspect defence; the confidence and cohesiveness of WAL should bring them home.

  • Comment number 30.

    As in Steve "I hate the English and was reprimanded and not allowed to ref after my appalling racist rant at the English officials at the world cup" Walsh?

  • Comment number 31.

    I have to say, as a Welshman living in England, the only people who are overconfident of a Welsh victory tomorrow are my english friends.

    Munkian- @19. Totally agree, I see no signs of this so called over confidence coming from the welsh camp. All the hype I have seen so far has been generated by the media. I really don't think any Welsh camp would ever go to Twickenham expecting a walk over.

    I'm anticipating a good, hard game of rugby, which will hopefully be a cracker. That said, I am expecting a Welsh victory.....just not the thumping that the media seem to think is a foregone conclusion.

  • Comment number 32.

    As a Welsh supporter, I congratulate Lancaster for showing some gumption and putting a side on the park that looks as though it wants to play some rugby. IMO you can't bully sides with a 10 man game plan anymore. Defensive patterns around the ruck are very well coached, as are the ability of teams to be able to counter the driving maul. The 'modern', almost League style, of play (both in defense & attack) means that you have to get parity of possesion & territory, dominate at the breakdown (out and out open side an absolute must) and be patient & accurate in your execution.

    England have picked a back line (never doubted the pack) with the potential to be competitive. My concern for them is their lack of experience and the fact that they have not played much as a unit. Wales have been able to foster a 'club' team ethic since their much publicised visit to Poland last Summer, and it is this ability to 2nd guess what your team mate is about to do (in defense & attack) which will ultimately bring the rewards tomorrow.

    For what it's worth...I think it's going to be very close for 60 minutes, with Wales edging it in the last quarter...7 - 10 points maximum. However, with Mr Walsh reffing anything could happen!!!!

  • Comment number 33.

    I have only admiration for Stuart Lancaster. The guy has shown true grit and courage in the decisions he has around the team, the ethos, the expectation. On that basis alone, I would have him involved with England. At so early a stage is his role with England I really think it is unfair to expect wins over the likes of Wales, France and Ireland, though I would be looking to see improvement in the overall game plan and performance, particularly in terms of attack.

    I like the look of the changes that have been made forced or otherwise. Manu really needed to start this game to bolster the midfield physicality. The forward pack have a job to do too, as have the backs. Big game for Farrell, I wish him well.

    Would any of us have done any different or even managed the changes that SL has made in such a short time? I doubt it. He's done well - applaud the guy.

    Wales - good team, some excellent players and they are definitely favourites becuase we have all seen they can link their play togetehr, they know each other, they have that familiarity. That could be the difference. Even so, with the talent thye have had over the last 5-7 years, I still think that side has underperformed - so their is vulnerability their.

    All the best England - here's to an interesting and hopefully entertaining game!

  • Comment number 34.

    England have come out of a long period of dominance, much like Wales at the end of the 70s, and rebuilding takes a long time, it doesn't happen over night. England supporters had better hope it doesn't take the 20 or 30 years it has taken Wales to be considered true contenders again!

    There will be several losses on the way and yes a few hard fought or lucky wins. Lancaster should not be judged on the result of this one game.

  • Comment number 35.

    As a "neutral" fan I will be very much in the England camp this weekend, and hope that Barritt goes well at 12 with farrell and tuilagi either side of him. The overhyped Welsh team need to be brought back down to earth and hoping that England can do it for them. Still amuses me how Wales were hailed as world beaters after a world cup where they lost to the Boks, France and Aussies.They are certainly a team on the up and have some promising players but have a way to go still...

  • Comment number 36.

    @4 - you seem to be confused between media hype and the comments coming from the Welsh camp.

    I agree that the media have over-hyped them, Tom Fordyce's comments of being "hugely impressive" wins in the first two games. There have of course been plenty of my countrymen getting a bit over-excited on forums such as this.

    However, I challenge you to find a quote from the Welsh players or coaches that suggests they are "massively over-confident in their own self belief".

    My opinion - the World Cup was encouraging, the first couple of games in the 6N have been good, solid performances (I agree with Gatland's 7/10 assessment) and it's good going to Twickenham with a sense of optimism. Anyone thinking it'll be a cakewalk and that England are there for the taking are deluded IMO.

  • Comment number 37.

    Joburgchief, I'm not sure anyone has been calling Wales World Beaters, just an exciting, developing, skilful young side.

    Why do some supporters get bitter when there is praise for other teams? Just enjoy good rugby.

  • Comment number 38.

    This match may be more finely balanced than many seem to think - especially in the media. Wales are indeed a very good outfit and, compared to England, far more experienced (at International Level) however the England players are not there by default, they too are very good players and they have nothing to lose whereas Wales are, widely, expected to win by some margin. The pressure is all on Wales. England steadily continue to improve.

    After all the hype and preparation it is (obviously) the actions of the players on the pitch that determine the result - not even the best laid battle plans survive much past the first point of contact and that is why my head says the Welsh experience may well tell in the end.

    Having said that the England pack is getting better each game and I'm sure they will match the Welsh. They went toe to toe with a great Scotland pack and the grizzled Italians - their work ethic is a breath of fresh air. The Welsh backs - as brilliant as they may be - are mere spectators without the ball so, as ever, the game is won up front although I concede the backs determine by how much. England's pack can match the Welsh and probably take an edge in the Lineout.

    As for the backs (apart from the odd moment of callow madness) they have been solid in defence - it's now time for them to be far more creative in offence - and that requires quick ball. The breakdown will be the key and the inclusion of Dickson should give the backs more impetus - let's see what they can do - Mr Tuilagi has also some serious making up to do which is a wonderful prospect!

    Apart from the improved England work ethic there does seem to be a tighter discipline with less penalties being given away and certainly less so in dangerous field position. That is a major positive - England gave so much away in terms of pressure, points and territory in recent years through silly, needless penalties so let's hope that continues.

    So we have a very good, experienced and confident Welsh team with all the pressure and everything to play for against a new vibrant England team with great potential and virtually no pressure and nothing to lose - at Twickenham. This could be a cracker of a game!

  • Comment number 39.

    The only growth compound we've had in England involves Mr & Mrs Tuilagi - I understand the RFU are currently paying for IVF for quintuplets in time for the world cup in 2035

  • Comment number 40.

    joburg..i'd focus on a poor england side that needs rebuilding fast...Wales are on the up, and boy doesn't it get right up england supporters looking forward to you eating your words on Sat...

  • Comment number 41.

    Cripes, I hate Steve Walsh and he hates the English - so biased against is it's untrue. We'll get beaten by Priestlands and Halpenny's boot from all the stupid penalties he gives against us.

  • Comment number 42.

    and i'd much rather watch a welsh team playing rugby with some flair and imagination rather then the dross england churns out game after game. It is appalling to watch from a pretty appalling side

  • Comment number 43.

    41: Hopefully Robshaw does an important part of his job and lets Walsh know it's the Welsh that are cheating!

  • Comment number 44.

    The bookies normally call it right. Pretty much every one thinks Wales have only got to turn up to win. Interestingly I watched Jonathan Davies (the player) interviewed on the Rugby Club last night and try as he might, he couldn't keep the smugness from off his face or out of his voice. Wales game to lose I reckon, they've bottled big games they could have won (even with 14 men) recently, lets see if they are the real deal now.

  • Comment number 45.

    Lets not turn this into a slagging match. if you look at the respective teams then the result should seem pretty straightforward(!). Man for man, I'm not sure one of the English XV would make it into the Welsh team right now. Start comparing combinations within each team and things look even worse for the English. Plain and simple:Wales should win this game by around 8-10 points. If they don't, I think Gatland and Co. should be very disappointed...

  • Comment number 46.

    I think this Welsh team is over hyped certainly by the media and some of the fans. However the interviews with the players seems to reveal that they are well grounded and Gatland is a good coach. My opinion is that this is a good Welsh side with the potential to become very good.
    As for England, the pack have done ok and I would expect them to be at least a match in the set piece but likely to come off second best at the breakdown. I think the centres is the right combination for this match although looking forward I think we need more variety (like the look of Joseph from London Irish). I think we need a good kicking game to get the big Welsh wings facing their own try line and having to turn. This puts alot of pressure on young Farrell as I don't think either of the other centres has a kicking game.
    It should be a decent game and I fully expect England to make it very difficult but on this occassion maybe Wales to win in a close hard fought match.

  • Comment number 47.

    #35 #37
    The RWC went t*ts up for Wales after losing Warburton.
    Lost semis by 1 pt with 14 men
    Lost playoffs by the margin of a drop.

    Joburgchief: Not still bitter about the Aussie loss r u?

  • Comment number 48.

    " personally would like to see England play a bit of rugby, as I feel that it will play into the hands of the Welsh team. The overhyped bash bash Aviva Premiership (despite all the money) produces a team for England that plays exactly as they have done in their first two matches 'boring'.

    If England try to spread it, the style so foreign to them that mistakes are bound to occur and that will play into Welsh hands."

    Comments like this from one eyed Welsh fans make me cringe. For the last couple of years it's been us who haven't been able to score a try whilst the English have been running them in from all over the park - check the try stats from the last few 6N's. If arrogance shown by this poster is replicatde by the team these England backs will tear us to shreds, luckily I think Wales will know all too well how good England can be and not make that mistake.

  • Comment number 49.

    Whoops...looks like some people have forgotten to take their medication again!

    As all 'true' rugby fans know, once all the media hype, bookies odds and purile drivel is spouted, it's about 2 teams crossing the whitewash and looking to put one over on their opposite number. On paper, the bewildered and one-eyed among you might suggest that Wales have only to turn up and the game is won. However, sport has a fantastic way of throwing up upsets. I'm a Welsh rugby supporter, and have been for 40 years, but I still don't get over confident when the boys go up to HQ for a game. Anyone who does needs to go for a lie down in a dark room and listen to some whale song (or is that Wales song?)

  • Comment number 50.

    @ 48 & 49, good to see some level heads there.

    England are a work in progress, and Wales are further along than we are.

    Whilst I would love to see us win, I full appreciate that the Welsh team will give us a proper test, and any win will be hard fought.

    Looking forward to the game.

  • Comment number 51.

    Just to follow on from the comments of my countrymen, Wales are a developing side. As a small nation in global terms with a history of rugby being important to us there are a number of people getting a little excited about the prospect of another Grand Slam (three in 7 years would be a terrific return).

    You can't really blame us.....

    I can't see anything in this England team that suggests a new pattern of play or development from the MJ side. Deep down the games they have played in have been very dull low quality fare. You would not pay to watch it whereas Wales have been involved in two fast and flowing games.

  • Comment number 52.

    I hope it’s not history repeating itself. Jonno had Flood as 1st choice FH, then he changed his mind and went with Jonny, then he dithered and brought in Flood as IC. Lancaster – please don’t do a Hook with Flood, he is our best FH and to beat the better teams we need his class and experience. Why all this talk of exciting rugby (by fans and pundits) and then pick a conservative-playing and inexperience FH for our biggest game so far. I’d say an 80/90% Flood is still a better pick than a 100% Farrell. Flood is the best English FH – pick him!

  • Comment number 53.

    Entertainingly, there are two mantras being repeated by various English supporters here.

    1. For England, it doesn't matter about the result. Results don't count. Because this is about building a young team and hopefully playing some quality expressive rugby.

    2. Wales are rubbish because never forget it's all about results. Not so-called quality expressive rugby or building a young team.

  • Comment number 54.

    I think you will find that there is NO over confidence in the Welsh camp, there certainly is in the media on both sides of the border, but then they always tend to exaggerate.
    I am rather glad that all the attention appears to be being paid to the Welsh backs. I feel that after this game we might just realise why Ben Morgan opted to play for England rather than Wales. Keep your eyes on the young, quick and very mobile Welsh back row, its about time they asserted themselves in this years 6 nations, step up Messers Faletau, Lydiate and Warburton.

  • Comment number 55.

    Dragonsbreath it is all about results. Look at the last world cup in the France v Wales semi Wales were probably the better team but it was the French that went through to the final. In the final France were arguably the better team than New Zealand but it was the all blacks name being engraved on the cup.

    In terms of the article and the line 'With Wales hugely impressive in their wins over Ireland and Scotland' I'd remove the hugely. I didn't see that much there that marked Wales out as hugely better than either Ireland or Scotland. Wales were the better team in both games but ultimately the score was very close in the Ireland game, plus a player on the pitch when he really shouldn't of been, and it was only when Scotland started losing men that Wales really stretched their lead.

    In terms of Lancaster he seems to have been brought in with the remit 'clear out the old guard and start again.' Which he seems to be doing. Of the four changes Hodgeson's injury forced one but given that Flood is only just coming back from injury and Farrell is looking good with the boot, though the press are getting overhyped by his performances as with the ball in hand he's looked less impressive, Morgan and Dickson's inclusion were nailed on certainties given their, and the players they're replacing, perfomances. Perhaps the biggest gamble is dropping Palmer. He hasn't looked great but equallu to be dropped completely from the squad seems rather underserved, then again with Lawes coming back perhaps it is. It's great to have this kind of competition for places.

  • Comment number 56.

    I think Wales are at the same stage of their development in terms of potential as England.

    Wales have got the team identified, settled, but also the ability to rotate without too much trouble. The players we have at the moment are probably as strong as anytime for the last 30 odd years, but as we saw in the RWC - all this counts for nothing if you can't convert whatever supriority you might have into a win. This is where Wales are developing - against Ireland we were by far the best side in the first half - but clinched it with the kind of moment that habitual winners (that Wales need to become) seem to serve up..the moments that opposition fans call undeserved, lucky etc (but how often do us Welsh say that about England / Aus/ Boks...). Again - against Scotland - maybe Welsh sides of old would have been rattled by a lack of belief - but this team dug in and got the result.

    England is the next big test - a decent set of players - but we do need to win, and I think if Wales play as they did against Ireland, and the secong half against Scotland - we'll get a 25-15 ish win. If everything comes together peoperly and we play to our potential - who knows....

    I think the issue with England is mainly the coach - as was true in the RWC. I'd ask any English folk who are about - how much better would you have felt if Gatland and Edwards were in charge for the RWC and the Six Nations? And also - what would the neutral be thinking tomorrow if Wales were coached by Lancaster and England by the Welsh management? I think it would be a tighter game....

  • Comment number 57.

    I knew little of Stuart Lancaster prior to his interim appointment but have been impressed so far. Regardless of the result tomorrow I for one hope he gets the job full-time and I sense maybe that the playerrs would want that too.

    I am perplexed by all the anti-Farrell comments on this and previous blogs criticising him for showing very little attacking flair so far. Give the lad a chance! - he has been playing out of position, in away games and in difficult playing conditions. In my mind he has done nothing wrong in the 2 games so far.

    Having followed his progress since he was 14yo it has always been obvious that 10 is his natural position so now is the time for people to start judging him. Mark my words, he won't let anyone down, he is an outstanding 10 and in time will prove all the doubters wrong, hopefully starting tomorrow!

  • Comment number 58.

    #53. dragonsbreath
    "Entertainingly, there are two mantras being repeated by various English supporters here."

    You forgot to mention the third one.
    Recognition that Wales are a damned good side, play attractive rugby and it wouldn't be a disgrace losing to them.

  • Comment number 59.

    Theres a lot of pc smokeblowing going on here about the threat England will bring. Yes England have got some promising young players, but I'd be very surprised if they are not completely blown out of the water tomorrow, by a superfit young team, packed with talent and power from 1-15. NewEngland are going to face a level of intensity for the full 80 that many of those young players will have never experienced before. As for comments re: Welsh hype...nonsense, the praise is very much deserved. In that world cup Wales were only just starting. Nobody expected them to do aswell as they did. So no Wales are not being hyped they are a very classy outfit who are going to give this young England team a baptism of fire...

  • Comment number 60.

    Balanced and perceptive analysis as usual Tom.

    I would qualify the public expectation in Wales about the game - none of my many Welsh mates is that confident about winning. I think hopeful would be more accurate; they've been burnt in similar situations before.

    As an England fan I have two issues on selection - I think Farrell's capacity to play 10 has been overestimated, and I think Ashton's previous performances warranted a change at least as much as Palmer's. To me Ashton needs a wakeup call that he has yet to achieve something at the highest level in test rugby, and he looks complacent and sluggish - I would have preferred Sharples.

    The seismograph at Kew will be working overtime on Saturday afternoon when the big men collide - schadenfreude time for all of us retired players as we terrify ourselves with the thought of having to stop North or Tuilagi at pace.

    Bring it on!

  • Comment number 61.

    Ha ha, it makes I laugh. All the "Win, win situation", "the Welsh are favourites", "I won't be too bothered if England lose" comments . . . I'm loving your optimism.

  • Comment number 62.

    Rich I can honestly say that I'm happier with Lancaster in charge than I would be with Gatland. I've really never rated him with Wales and see the 2008 Grand Slam and the good form in the last couple of games more down to the players than him.

    His win ratio in charge is aroud 48%, which I believe is worse than Andy Robinson's with Scotland and was certainly worse than Martin Johnson's with England (please correct me if I'm wrong on these as I'm not completely certain on them).

    Equally after the 2008 Grand Slam there was no kick on from the Welsh team in deed they dipped quite badly. My memory certainly stretches back to pre-world cup last year when the tournament was seen by some as possibly make or break for him (though his contract had just been extended) given Wales poor run of results.

    Again I'm not knocking the Wales team who are a good side and were impressive against Ireland and Scotland but I just don't rate Gatland that much, his time as Ireland coach was pretty poor as well, and I shudder at the reports linking him to the Lions coach.

  • Comment number 63.

    I think tomorrow will be a somewhat even game. yes Wales have a big backline but England's defence is more than capable of coping with it. Lets not forget that despite the wales line, tuilagi is the biggest back on the pitch and is definately the strongest runner on the pitch. I think England's performance will come down to how Farrel controls Englands attacking play and whether England can put the likes of Ashton and Foden in space.

  • Comment number 64.

    I don't think there's any danger of over-confidence from Wales. Gatland will see to that. What's exciting is the wildcard nature of the England setup. It could make for exciting rugby, it could be an utter shambles. Both sets of players - forwards and backs - contain significant roles for untested players. England haven't settled yet, we haven't been stretched in an open game (not really...handed Italy two tries on a plate, Murrayfield game was destructive on both sides rather than particularly constructive as usual) and this is the first opportunity a settled team with a full suite of capabilities in both pack and line will have a chance to test the mettle of our boys.

    We just don't know, and that's hugely exciting as an England fan. Wales are carrying themselves with exceptional professionalism and humility and they come to Twickenham as huge favourites. But for the first time in years, I feel excited about an England team. Truly excited. And it's not down to individuals particularly, or that we've won 2 from 2 or anything like that. But rather that we're trying something new, in a decisive fashion, with players coming into the team on form mid-way through a major competition while there's still time for them to make a huge impact. We've struggled with this since 2003 but if we can react to what's in front of us off the field in a decisive manner, maybe, just maybe, we can start doing so on the field too.

  • Comment number 65.

    We need to get some experience in the Second Row, Botha has to go along with Parling. Get Lawes and Palmer back in. Haskell has to get back in the team and 8 or sack Robshaw and put Haskell back there with Croft as the other flanker (When he's back from Japan). Put Flood 10 or 12 and Farrell which ever one Flood isn't playing. Tuilagi is our best back closely followed by Ashton who is just in the right place at the right time. We need to utilise him against Wales to match the likes of George North and Jamie Roberts. He needs to be used in that last 10 meters before the try line as he has the best chance of breaking through. Danny care has to be our 9 on his return from ban after the 6 nations. Strettle should be dropped in favour for the likes of Banahan or even Christian Wade who has real pace and ability.

    Hopefully we can dig in this weekend and pull out a result.

  • Comment number 66.

    Holy Hooker agree with you on Ashton. I'm getting the impression that he believed his own hype from last year. To be fair he hasn't had much ball but then he should go looking for it. Hopefully Lancaster won't be scared to cut him if his performances don't pick up soon.

  • Comment number 67.

    Shame on this Welsh team for giving pundits reason to praise them!

  • Comment number 68.

    Looking forward to tomorrow now, thought over the last two matches Youngs has not looked right and all credit to his trys, but Hodgson isn't the future! i want to see some trys from England but i think Wales will maul us, their confidence isn't unfounded...

  • Comment number 69.

    Yes, LastKingofEngand, when we talk about Wales, it's all about results. Winning is all that counts. That's a good watertight argument. And yet, look at what some other supporters are saying about England...

    "It doesn't matter if they lose, providing they give a good performance. This is about building the future"

    "Certainly if England win then it will be all red roses, but if they lose then it will be the manner of the loss that it important."

    "At so early a stage is his role with England I really think it is unfair to expect wins..."

    "If England only lose by 15 - 20 they'll have done well, so please, no 'where England went wrong' analysis afterwards."

    "If England score a few good tries and show promise, but lose by 7 to 10 points, so what? Look to develop for the future."

    "I don't think it matters a toss whether England win or lose, (spoken as a neutrel!) what will really count for him is the way England play.

    Why are they saying that? Are you telling these people they're all wrong?

  • Comment number 70.

    Last King - fair point but as a Welsh fan - but I feel there has been a quantum leap in terms of the Welsh set up under Gatland. The professional approach, the team spirit - and the fact that he has built us a decent squad rather than a team. In years gone by - we used to read the team sheet - and if we were missing Shane, or Hooky, or a Jones up front - we knew what the result would be. Now we can lose 7 forwards and go and get a result against the favoured Irish team.

    And also - again - fair point on Robinson - but the games he has lost that we all say were down to the Scottish players making bad calls at key moments - has resulted in an early RWC exit and wallowing at the bottom of the table in the Six nations...the games wales have lost by the margins of missed kicks etc (again said to be not the coaches fault - but i disagree - and that's another debate) - saw us miss out on a world cup final, a third place etc.

    I said in my post we are building - and we are...we can improve as much from here as England can from their position - and that is the most exciting thing. This Welsh team could, just could be something very very special.

  • Comment number 71.

    Overall I am very pleased with Lancaster's selection for this game, however I can't help but think he will regret not starting Lawes. Against the huge Welsh backs we need, who I would describe as, the country's most explosive and aggressive tackler.

    When you see Lawes play for the Saints he rarely gets sucked into the breakdown but makes his way into the defensive line to attack the first or second player in the opposing backline. If the Welsh, as I suspect, will try to attack the channel between 10 and 12 then Lawes' defensive prowess could prove invaluable.

    Being a Saints fan I am thrilled with the selection of Dickson at 9 as he always commands quick ball from the breakdown and marshalls a driving maul better than most that I have seen. I just hope that the backline will try and get the ball out wide as the biggest attacking weapons that England have are Tuilagi, Ashton and Foden. Far too often we see one or two passes out from the breakdown before the ball carrier takes the ball into contact purposefully going to ground. Is an offload or two too much to ask?

    On balance I think the Welsh side are likely to be too strong for England, however I think it will be a close game and if England can show development and some attacking threat then the majority of us English fans will be fairly satisfied.

  • Comment number 72.

    Your comments about gatland show how little you understand about rugby. The way you use ' good old statistics' to support tour comment is a little sad really.
    We in Wales, are delighted to have kept our coaching team. Their team selection, player development, coaching/playing style, and player management whilst confronted by the financial chaos in welsh rugby is IMHO faultless. Think on.

  • Comment number 73.

    #66 Last King of England ; fully agree over Ashton ,from what I know about Lancaster the one thing we can be sure of is that the will not shy away from dropping anyone who is not 'pulling his weight'

  • Comment number 74.

    It’s great to finally see an England team that’s been picked on form and not "international experience". heres hoping with the talent on the pitch they decide to take it to the welsh team and really try and play.
    Let not forget that if it weren’t for some dubious refereeing Wales would have lost to Ireland and Scotland beat wales for 40 mins, it was their own self destruction that handed Wales the game.

    Winning on Saturday is not an unachievable goal. It just needs the team to come out and perform.

  • Comment number 75.

    LK, sure we could have kept the overall percentiles up by playing weaker nations, but after Wales won the 2008 GS, Gatland has never shyed away from the big tri-nations three, with tours down to SA and NZ...

  • Comment number 76.

    As a born Englishman I like to see England win, as a Rugby fan I like to see a good game of Rugby. If both sides play good entertaining rugby, in all honesty it will not worry me who wins. Living in Germany I still need to sort out where I will/can watch the game. Being of advanced years I feel the rule changes over the years have actually made the game less exciting. Although difficult to referee when the backs were supposed to be 5 yards behind the back foot of the ruck or maul the chances of the ball being run along the line were much greater.

  • Comment number 77.

    I like to rate kickers on the unusual techniques they have for addressing the ball prior to kicking. Farrell sadly only looks like he's got a crick in his neck. Jenkins was quite impressive as a jug-eared myopic owl. Johnny's "praying for a recovery from agonising constipation" stance sets the standard however.

  • Comment number 78.

    I'd just like to say that I think Lancaster has got his selection exactly right, I may have been patient with Youngs (form changes on a sixpence) but we have the rigt balance in the backs for an off loading game rather than a spread it game, and a nice sprucing up of the pack.

    Morgan is definitely the right pick.

  • Comment number 79.

    Picking the side he has - - it leaves England with no excuses.

    No Rugby side is ever at full strength but, its arguably as strong a side as they could have picked on form - if they win, congratulations.

    If they lose, it'll be a very strong England side that lost at home, so, like I said, no excuses.

    I also really don't get this England have got nothing to lose attitude. For a nation 50+M playing at home to a nation of under 3M. And, if they lose, means they'll have a losing ratio over the last 3 games at home to Wales, something that would have seemed impossible 2 home games ago for England.

    If that means - no pressure for England, and a carefree attitude on the pitch, then I'm lost for words, reality check - this is a huge pressure game for England.

    Hopefully, its a cracker of a game and may the best side win.

  • Comment number 80.

    #71. JRule
    'Far too often we see one or two passes out from the breakdown before the ball carrier takes the ball into contact purposefully going to ground. Is an offload or two too much to ask?'

    Very frustrating to see this happen constantly, esp when a skip pass would set up a one on one or at least get the wide runners into play. If done at pace and well executed then all good but against big mobile defenders it opens up turnovers and penalties.

  • Comment number 81.


    This assumes that form in the AP is transferable to the international stage. More often than not we have seen some of the more experienced international players put in the performances when needed. The step from league to international is huge!

    Remember, experience is something that you generally get just after you needed it!

  • Comment number 82.

    As usual a load of boring comments from many boring "fans". Boring comments about how arrogant the English are have been made since Isaac Newton was a lad, never ending and never correct. The players at this level usually have enormous respect for each other although there will always be the usual idiot on any side who is the exception. For example Campase was an arrogant Aussie, Jonathan Davies is currently smug/arrogant, all the French are arrogant, except to their own fans Campase was a great wind up merchant, the French are just full of flair and self confidence. Of course that Welsh team of the 70'swere never arrogant were they, merely brilliant!
    And of course England are just boring as usual, a team with Guscott, Carling, the Underwoods was just boring, Woodwards team was just boring, .......... All quite boring and predictable comments as usual.

  • Comment number 83.

    So far so highly predictable.

    The Welsh team is very good and, doubtlessly all very nice chaps being terribly moral and modest at all times.'s the fans...well not all of them of course, some being balanced and reasonable people, but the substantial vocal minority who simply can't even wait until after the match to do the crowing! Still it's music to my ears as the gods of Rugby have a habit of surprising those who start celebrating too early!

    For my money this is just about the best team that England can put out at the moment. In terms of the "sum of the parts" they're not as good as Wales and few seriously doubt that. But there is threat everywhere and many places where they could turn the tables on their opponents for there is no such thing in any game as one winning formula.

    The battle between the forwards is probably even. The Welsh front row is very experienced but also injury prone and it's not as if England's front row are debutants. Tom Croft should also be fancying his chances at the line out on the Welsh throw. There are also too many hotheads in the Welsh pack as evidenced by the number of cards for dangerous play in recent games.

    Mike Phillips is back in favour but his strength (and weakness) to me lies as a 9th forward rather than a pure scrum-half. He has got "I'm completely MASSIVE!" syndrome badly and thinks that he can run down props. I would goad him into an arm wrestle around the fringes!

    Wales clearly have an advantage in the backs...but only if you play the game the way they want you to play. Big guys tire faster. I would chip the monster wings at every opportunity and make them turn. Ashton is probably the fastest man out there and would win an out and out foot race. Strettle and Foden are very elusive which will also be hard for the crash-ball men to nail. Jamie Roberts is a good player and a very likeable guy, but he's also very predictable. I don't imagine he'll play any differently tomorrow. In the past a hard tackling defensive flanker like Joe Worsley has made him look like four pounds of chopped mince.

    It's like a reversal of that experiment in the early 90s when England played three No 8's in the back row, including the very dynamic Ben Clarke and Tim Rodber and the errr...less dynamic Dean Richards who nonetheless still got to the right place to nail the latest hero Scott Quinell and strip the ball off him ;-). The unit was very effective at running in the loose at much smaller backs. However, it was a tactic that was worked out and neutralised in the every tactic eventually is!

    As every juniors coach tells his frightened charges. Hit 'em low...the bigger they are, the harder they fall!

  • Comment number 84.

    kwikki, I prefer Quade Cooper's 'dad-dance musical statues' routine myself.

  • Comment number 85.

    As a Wales fan I am more worried about this English back-line that the one used for the last two games. There is a chance that with a new 9-10-12 combo they could get quicker ball out to bring in the back three who all have pace. The introduction of Ben Morgan (who I've been calling to start for the last two games) will give much needed go-forward back and will take two defenders to bring him down.

    In answer to the posters who say Wales are not as good as the press make out I agree that they are not world beaters and are still a team in development. Considering the injuries (first, third and now second choice Hooker, both WC locks, Lydiate and Warburton, North), retirements (Shane, Martyn Williams) and semi-retirements (Stephen Jones) they are managing to get wins in tight matches and also play some powerful and attractive rugby in patches. The Wales team of last year would have lost that Ireland game and may have lost the Scotland one.

    Even the camp admit that they are below where they want to be with Gatland saying they were at about 70% after the Ireland game.

    As for the fans, I expected a weakened Wales team to lose in Ireland and just wanted a good display. I also expected a severe test from Scotland as they always throw off the shackles in Cardiff in recent years. I am similarly worried about this weekends game being too close to call. The majority of Welsh fans will be the same.

    It is just the media (the same media that hyped England for the last twenty two years) and are now building up Wales as the best ever team that a new, young, brave England team will face. That way if England lose it will be touted as 'a brave effort' and if they win they will be hailed as 'the Giant killers'.

    I remember when England started to gain parity with Wales in the late eighties and early nineties. It was the same then with the Welsh players being written up in the week before the match. The sequence was: Wales won at home and in the World Cup in 87, Wales won in Twickenham in 88, Wales won at home again in 89. England won at home in 90 to set up a hunt in 91 for the first away over Wales since 1963. The media hype was immense with the then Wales captain Paul Thorburn being praised to the rafters for his kicking ability, there was even talk of him being wanted as a place kicker by the american football teams. On the match day he had an absolute 'mare of a match, missing kicks that would have kept Wales in the game and even dropping the ball as he crossed the England try line. England won comfortably and went on to the first Grand Slam and the overtly pro England hype started.

  • Comment number 86.

    If I was English - I think I would have wanted to keep the centre pairing from the last 2 games - giving them the brief of matching the Scotland performance and keeping it anyone's game at half time -and brought Tuilaga in as an impact sub later in the second half.

    I think there would have been a chance to make the Welsh doubts creep in with 20 to go...however now England have played all their cards up front - and if Wales are in the game at 55-60 mins - we will really start to believe - as the English bench is far from frightening. (Our bench doesnt matter so much as without injuries we don't tend to rotate unless it's to spread experience)...

    I think this is where Lancaster may have lost the game....

  • Comment number 87.

    Boring England.

    There was a glimmer of hope at the start of last season when Ashton was scoring for fun. 15-man rugby. Then Johnson got a nose-bleed. Or someone reminded him he was once a forward.

  • Comment number 88.

    Anglophone - "Mike Phillips is back in favour but his strength (and weakness) to me lies as a 9th forward rather than a pure scrum-half. He has got "I'm completely MASSIVE!" syndrome badly and thinks that he can run down props. I would goad him into an arm wrestle around the fringes!"

    It's certainly true that he used to spend swathes of games at the bottom of rucks. He's got much better in that regard - but you're right, the last thing the Welsh want is MP going into contact endlessly while the backs stand hands on hips....

    To me his service seems a step away from blindingly fast at the best of times...

  • Comment number 89.

    Blamer. you are regretably right, the inept performance in Dublin last year should have knocked the team back a step, but insted it knocked the coach back ten strides, back to starting point in fact, his own confidence never recovered from it.

    That was always the stregnth of Woodward, he took defeat in his stride, doesn't mean that he liked it, he just learnd from it well.

  • Comment number 90.

    79 StevieBJ

    I'm not sure where you get your stats from. If I recall England won at Twickenham in 2010. The again at the MS in 2011. Then again in the first RWC warm-up at Twickenham but losing the final warm-up game. I'd call that 3 -1 to England. But in the end history means very little as these are very different teams.

    Please can we give the x million players thing a rest. England do have a bigger player pool but the senior level player base is between a 15th and 20th of the number you guys keep trotting out. The RFU, ever mindful of getting money out of Sport England inflates the numbers to include every schoolboy or pub team that ever pulled on a jersey. It's equally valid to say that the WRFU has about three times as much money per head to spend on senior player development than England, but you guys don't like to be reminded about funding and subsidy discrepancies ;-)

    What seems to be clear is that the RFU has pursued a policy of encouraging a wide playing base for the sake of inclusivity and the hope that talent will shine through. I approve of this! County level rugby as a result is a bit half-hearted while the academies tend to pick from a tiny base of favoured schools.

    The WRFU seems to have introduced a policy of fast-tracking talent early...or possibly picking out a small number of gigantically oversized teenagers and focussing their efforts and training budget accordingly. So we have very young "superstars" who are way too big for their age. There will be a terrible price to be paid in wrecked knees and ankles by the time half these kids are in their mid 20s. Still the fans and the WRFU aren't paying that particular price so who cares?

    You pays your money and you takes your choice...but...wait a second...the English approach communitarian and the Welsh approach elitist??? I think we should be told!

  • Comment number 91.

    Anglophone wrote: The WRFU seems to have introduced a policy of fast-tracking talent early...or possibly picking out a small number of gigantically oversized teenagers and focussing their efforts and training budget accordingly. So we have very young "superstars" who are way too big for their age. There will be a terrible price to be paid in wrecked knees and ankles by the time half these kids are in their mid 20s. Still the fans and the WRFU aren't paying that particular price so who cares?

    This is a concern with the modern game - a kind of Faustian contract for these youngsters. But the idea that evil Wales uncaringly pursue this agenda, while wise caring England hunt for smaller player that can be gently used is one of the funniest things I've read here, even from Anglophone.

  • Comment number 92.

    As a Welshman I'm confident we will win on Saturday. Over the past year our players have developed together and got better as time has gone by. Yes we are not world beaters yet but we are a good side moving in the right direction. England are in the very early stages of development and fair play although not outstanding results they have won 2 from 2.

    I think when you look at both teams Wales have to be favourites as they are the more settled side. Although there is the so called 'Twickenham Factor' this is also the case for a lot of the English boys - Farrell, Dickson, Parling, Barrit and Morgan have not played a home game for England yet - so they will have to deal with this as well. So there will be a lot of pressure out there for both sets of players.

    I think Lancaster has picked the strongest team he could and it should be a great game on saturday. As long as our line out functions ok I think Wales have the experience and confidence behind them to take the win. Wales by a score for me.

  • Comment number 93.

    Never understood why Welsh supporters cared so much about articles on England rugby.

    I don't care how England play tomorrow just destroy them please!

  • Comment number 94.

    Anglophone, I agree, I can go to a local park near me and see a small club 3rd team play and most of them are in their 40s, some of this huge player base is just a few fellas out for a but of eversion on a Saturday and a bit of comeradery.

    Other nations find that in spectatorship, especially Australia, where even low level sport seems to have a mandatory retirement age.

    All their numbers are in their prime.

  • Comment number 95.

    One thing I am hoping for is better camera work from the BBC. You cannot see half the game. In out shots,close ups to see who has had the closest shave, shots of half a scum or lineout with no chance of seeing who is available to receive the ball. What happened to the days when you could watch the play of the match. Its more like xfactor now just bits of the game shown. Then you have shots of the crowd and BBC presenters during play. Chat chat chat over the ref so you cannot hear what he is saying. Replays of kicks because they have been missed while we have shots of the manager or crowd. TV coverage is awful now regards sport. Not worth the tv licence in my view. We live in hope I know. The BBC will not even admit that there is a problem with their camera work. Must be run by someone that has no understanding of rugby what-so-ever.

  • Comment number 96.

    RCC That's the BBCs self perpetuation showing all the famous people they have on their channel, its been happening for years, welcolme abaoard.

  • Comment number 97.

    Obsidianhead - whilst the BBC is supposed to be "British" - 90% of the articles are on England - so we debate where we can!

  • Comment number 98.

    GM I know I have been complaining for years. To no avail the BBC are a law unto themselves I am afraid. I just live in hope now.

  • Comment number 99.

    I honestly believe this will be the game of the tournament so far.
    Wales still improving and have a point to prove, that they are capable of so much more. They will REALLY want to beat England at HQ.
    England are a new young team, under a new manager doing something different from the last regime. They will want to prove they are improving each game and that they are the real deal. they want to win to show the last 2 wins against the 2 'weakest' teams (I hate that!) were not all they can hope for.
    Both teams are also unbeaten so far.

    Stick it all in a bowl, mix it up, bake for 80 mins and see how the cake turns out!
    whichever team wins, it'll be a great game and a margin of less than a try score I reckon.

  • Comment number 100.

    94 # I completey agree about this numbers thing. I'm in my 40's and am RFU registered as I am a member of a club. The idea that I could play high level rugby is ludicrous, hell I get out of breath and find myself lunging for a water bottle before I reach the pitch and I'm only spectating.

    I also know that all junior players are registered and stay on the register whether they are actually playing or not.

    Back to Saturday, I'd like to think we stand a chance and I really don't want to lose but I think Wales will be too good. They've shown they can play very good rugby whereas England haven't. Wales by 10 I think (sadly).
    Wales should win but who knows.


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