Friday, February 6, 2015

Wales v England Preview

Forget mind grenades, retractable roofs and loud speaker systems. Do away with Cardiff 2013, Twickenham 2014 or Rugby World Cup 2015. It is all about today, all about the now. 6th of February 2015 is all that matters. At 20:05 tonight everything else will slip away and only what happens on the hybrid pitch of the Millennium Stadium will count for anything. So where will the game be won and lost? Here are the 5 most important facets:

The Set Piece
For all the talk of dominance in the last two games, the team who has won the set piece – in particular the scrum – has won the game. There have been some question marks over Gethin Jenkins’ scrummaging in the past and he had a torrid time at Twickenham last year, but any weaknesses have been greatly exaggerated. However, Dan Cole is a good scrummager and Jenkins can’t let him get the upper hand.
On the other side of the scrum Samson Lee is the tighthead incumbent. Where previously it was difficulty to envisage anyone bar Adam Jones in the Welsh 3 shirt, Lee has made it firmly his own. Lee has already proven he is more than capable of competing at the highest level and got the better of Marler when Harlequins faced off against the Scarlets in Europe last term. Gatland’s strange omission of Jones from the squad has seen the Hairbear retire from international rugby and, while there can be no doubting Lee’s ability, that’s left Wales a little shallow for cover.
Lineout’s will be a mixed bag. With Parling, Lawes and Launchbury England have been very effective, but they enter the game without the trio. Meanwhile it’s an area where Wales have always struggled against the top nations. It could end up being a mixed bad, but expect both teams to go outside the second row receivers to secure quick possession from which to launch an attack.
 

Breakdown
Such an important facet of the modern game. Quick ball or turnovers reap tries so the breakdown is not important, it's vital.
England tend to approach it with ruthless efficiency. Hit the ruck quickly and with huge force, but minimal numbers. That always the forwards to join the attack, rather than get tied up. They don't over commit, but they do occasionally under commit and leave themselves susceptible to the turnover or the counter ruck.
When Ireland played them at last year's tournament they slowed the ball down and England's reluctance to commit extra men should have cost them the game. In Sam Warburton, Wales have one of the world's finest jackals and if England don't move him quickly, they won't move him at all.
However, on their own ball, Wales can get a little loose or sloppy at the ruck. England could find themselves able to counter too, if Wales do that tonight.
 
The 10/12 Channel
With Owen Farrell at 10 England had a player who was dependable. He sometimes lacked creative flair but rarely put a foot wrong and was defensively sound. In George Ford they have the opposite. Ford is much more creative, a dangerous man with ball in hand. However, questions remain over his defensive ability at this level with his diminutive size.
That isn't helped by the man outside him also being a little lacklustre in defence. At international level, Luther Burrell has missed 22% of tackles and for Northampton this season he has missed 30% of his tackles. That poor defence was never more evident than when Northampton took on Racing Metro and Burrell came up against the man he faces tonight, Jamie Roberts.
That weakness gives Wales scope for Roberts breaking the gain line as he is very capable of doing. If Jonathan Davies or George North can provide support, it could be lethal. England then have to decide whether to assign a flanker to help out and run the risk of Rhys Webb sniping around the ruck.
For Wales the defence in that 10/12 channel was a high point of their autumn. Dan Biggar and Roberts produced defensive displays that the world's finest would be proud of and their stats read more like a backrow forward. The completion rate run in double figures and players like Sonny Bill Williams and Christian Leali’ifano were suffocated out of the game.
However, if England can snuff out Roberts' charges early, Wales struggle with a Plan B. Just ask Joe Worsley.

 
Crowd
Roof open or roof closed, Cardiff is an intimidating place to travel for any away team. That's amplified ten fold when the away team are the old enemy. The atmosphere in the stadium can put pressure on the players of both sides to perform.
Whomever can take that pressure and condense it into positive energy will find it's the fuel for a win.

Subs
Rugby is no longer a fifteen man game. The replacements - and how well a coach uses them - can often be the deciding factor in close encounters.
Despite England's injuries the front row replacements look better on paper. However, Wales have two in form regional players among the backs in the shape of Rhys Priestland and Liam Williams.
The two players really capable of turning the tide their way are Justin Tipuric and Tom Croft. Athletic and dynamic; either have the capacity to punish loose play against tired legs. It will be an intriguing battle if both men come on into the backrow.

The margins between the teams are small and the little things could end up deciding the game. It's difficult to venture a prediction; it's closer than much of the press will have you believe. One prediction I'm sure of is, no matter who wins, it will be a riot.
 
Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot

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