How will England fare against Wales? We consult the Eddie Jones smile-o-meter
Arguably the fiercest rivalry in the Six Nations, Saturday’s England versus Wales match-up is sure to be the kind of game that keeps you glued to the screen.
We take a look at England coach Eddie Jones’s words and add a bit of informed speculation to see if England will come out on top.
Home advantage for Wales?
England has only won two of the last six matches against Wales in Wales, so the pressure is on to perform in front of what is sure to be a hostile crowd.
Their 19-16 performance against France in the opening game of the tournament may have brought in a win, but was unpolished to say the least.
However, England are coming from an unbeaten run of 15 games which should buoy their confidence against a home side.
Wales have a good pedigree in Cardiff, having won three of their last four games at home, including smashing South Africa 27-13. They also unsurprisingly buried Italy in a stunning 33-7 win away at Stadio Olimpico.
However, with Warren Gatland on secondment to take charge of the British and Irish Lions, the team feel less at home than usual.
We’re staying firmly on the fence on this one. It’s a five.
Strength and experience
It’s going to be a tough battle for dominance between the forward packs.
Wales may just edge an advantage in the scrum with the solid experience of Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty in the back row versus the relatively untested Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford and Nathan Hughes. The English back three have only four back row starts between them. Add in the absence of Billy Vunipola due to injury and England could struggle.
However, veteran Tom Wood will be available on the bench, with Eddie signalling he’ll be called upon later in the game.
Although Wales’ style has been changing from bulldozer to ballet since Gatland’s departure, Steve Borthwick, England’s forwards coach, says the team will have to be ready for either approach.
Eddie has made one change to the backs in favour of strength over dynamism. Jack Nowell will start in place of Jonny May, because in Eddie’s words, “they’re not a side you get around because of the way they defend. You’ve got to go through them.”
Wales may be chasing a new style of play, but England have already made that change. Players like Mike Brown, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly will bring much-needed verve from the kick-off and the bench will reinvigorate the side should they begin to flag.
Super substitutions made a huge difference last week for the team, with Ben Te’o scoring a blistering try to turn England’s fortunes around and James Haskell back from injury making a huge difference.
England won’t be unchallenged, but with George North and Dan Biggar being uncertainties due to injury, Wales look low on impact players.
It’s a nine.
Roof or no roof?
It’s been mind games all week over this one.
Wales wanted the roof of the Principality Stadium shut, but Eddie Jones played it cool until the last moment, whereupon he stated that England wanted it open.
As both coaches have to agree to close the roof, it’ll be open on Saturday. That’s a good job for England too, as they’ve lost four of the last five games in which the roof was closed.
We reckon Eddie is pretty happy with how he played this one, and England are certainly more comfortable out in the elements. It’s an eight.
Overall, it’s looking like a close one.
England and Wales team line-ups
England: M Brown (Harlequins); J Nowell (Exeter), J Joseph (Bath), O Farrell (Saracens), E Daly (Wasps); G Ford (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton, capt), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), M Itoje (Saracens), J Clifford (Harlequins), N Hughes (Wasps).
Replacements: J George (Saracens), M Mullan (Wasps), K Sinckler (Harlequins), T Wood (Northampton), J Haskell (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins), B Te’o (Worcester), J May (Gloucester).
Wales: L Halfpenny (Toulon); G North (Northampton), J Davies (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets), L Williams (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), R Webb (Ospreys); R Evans (Scarlets), K Owens (Scarlets), T Francis (Exeter), J Ball (Scarlets), A W Jones (Ospreys, capt), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), J Tipuric (Ospreys), R Moriarty (Gloucester).
Replacements: S Baldwin (Ospreys), N Smith (Ospreys), S Lee (Scarlets), C Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons), T Faletau (Bath), G Davies (Scarlets), S Davies (Ospreys), J Roberts (Harlequins).