Saturday, September 26, 2015

England v Wales Preview

With one game a piece gone at the World Cup England and Wales meet at Twickenham on Saturday in the Pool of Death. The winners will sleep a little easier this weekend with the losers knowing anything less then victory against Australia would all bar end their participation.

Here’s the low down on everything you need to know as they prepare to do battle.

Form
Very similar form from the two sides in the build up to this one. Both ended the Six Nations with four victories from five games – along with Ireland – to take the tournament to the wire in the history “Super Saturday.”

They then entered the warm matches with one win and one defeat – Wales’ against Ireland and England’s against France – before rounding off with victories in their final games.

The World Cup has started wins for both, but big score lines have masked mediocre performances.

Injuries
Wales fans look away now. The Welsh list of ailments looks like the most far fetched episode of Holby City to date. Centre Jonathan Davies – the man who took Brian O’Driscoll’s Lions jersey – was ruled out some months ago. Then in the final warm up game, the world’s deadliest kicker Leigh Halfpenny was ruled just minutes after Player of the Year Rhys Webb.

Then in the first game Cory Allen scored a hat trick before limping off with a thigh injury. Samson Lee, Paul James and Aaron Jarvis from the front row left with question marks hanging over their head; whilst explosive fullback Liam Williams has a dead leg that needs assessing (it’s not like when we were in school).

For England, Jonathan Joseph and Ben Morgan will face a late fitness test. However, with big Billy Vunipola on form and rumours abounding that Slammin' Sam Burgess was due to start anyway to nullify Jamie Roberts, they may not feel the hit too much.

They will feel the pinch on players missing through ill discipline though. Manu Tuilagi's incident with two police officers and Dylan Hartley's Glasgow Kiss on Jamie George could be costly.

The Set Piece
England's perceived weakness. Their own scrums had just a 63% percent return against Fiji and none came against the head. Meanwhile, the line out has been far from impressive - though Geoff Parling's involvement will help that.

Wales aren't traditionally a team that relies on it's set piece, but in recent months their rolling maul has become one of their most potent weapons.

Kicking
England have become masters of the cross field kick; though George Ford is usually the lynchpin and he finds himself, surprisingly discarded. Farrell is no mug when it comes to kicking out of hand though and, with Anthony Watson playing like an NFL wide receiver, England may still employ the tactic.

If they do England would have wished for Alex Cuthbert to occupy the 14 jersey as his ability under the kick is hardly the best in the world. It isn't George North's strongest attribute either, but Hallam Amos is adept at fullback and shouldn't have too much trouble.

Beware any team that dates kick loose though. Both sets of back threes are strong runners and, in particular, both fullbacks are clinical counter attacks who will eat up ground as Mike Brown as already shown in this tournament.

Midfield
All the media will focus on Burgess v Roberts. Two juggernauts ready collide in a battle for the gain line. Everyone knows what to expect from Dr Roberts, but Slammin' Sam is a relative noob to the 15 man code.

From his league days we know Burgess is a strong runner with a hit that could derail a train (you don't get that nickname for nothing). There are plenty of questions over some parts of his game, especially his positioning. However, there can be no doubt that Burgess was a catalyst in England's strong finish against Fiji and will hope to carry that into the Wales game.

However, attention could shift to the man on Roberts outside come game time. With Burgess enjoying an offload or two and running straight lines, Scott Williams may fancy the odd steal. Williams has previous for the rip tackle - just ask Courtney Lawes - and this may be something that Burgess hasn't truly come across yet.

Breakdown
Often in modern rugby, the ruck is king; win the ruck, win the game. It's not just the basis for possession, the turnover is the biggest source of tries. Four years ago Sam Warburton set the World Cup alight by producing more turnovers than an overworked baker; while Gethin Jenkins and Alun Wyn Jones are more than capable in this area too.

England don't have a breakdown specialist, but as a unit they can compete with the world's best. Chris Robshaw is better than most would suggest but isn't in the same talents for the jackal as the opensides for other top tier nations.

Wales will feel confident. And if Warburton can't do the job alone, Justin Tipuric will be chomping at the bit on the sidelines.

Home Advantage
Twickenham, Twickers, HQ. To some it's all bankers on corporates, inherited quiffs and picnics in Range Rovers. Don't expect anything less than a cauldron of noise this weekend.

If England play well, the fans will become the sixteenth man to "carry them home" on a booming chorus of 'Swing Low.' However, that could also boost Wales; the best players find a way of turning that negativity into fuel for victory.

The game is so close in so many facets that we may look back and see the difference between victory and defeat was one; One score, one error, one moment of magic, one missed tackle, one big push... One team victorious. Won!


U2 - One

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