6N: England and Wales set for another close encounter
LONDON (AP) Warren Gatland knows what to expect from England. Whether Wales can cope is another issue.
After guiding his side past Scotland 34-7 on the opening weekend of the Six Nations and predicting the only unforced change Eddie Jones made to his England side, the Wales coach is full of confidence for their match on Saturday at Twickenham.
”I don’t see a massive amount of change in what I’ve experienced in the past,” Gatland says of England. ”There are a few threats we’ve got to be looking at handling, but it’s still about ourselves as well.”
In terms of style, Gatland’s claims of familiarity stand up, but it’s the intangible qualities Jones has brought to England that makes Wales’ task of winning so daunting.
While the resounding manner of Wales’ victory over Scotland caught all by surprise, England’s 46-15 triumph over Italy was the minimum expected from a side seeking its third consecutive Six Nations title.
Jones has transformed the dispirited squad he inherited from Stuart Lancaster in November 2015, following a forgettable home Rugby World Cup, into a winning machine.
England would have lost more than one test by now under Jones if it weren’t for the abrasive edge he has instilled in his squad.
”They played well but it’s going to be different on Saturday,” Jones says of Wales. ”They had no expectation on them last Saturday. This week they come full of expectation, everyone has been telling them how well they’ve played.”
The self-belief fostered by Jones showed itself in this fixture a year ago, when having been outplayed for much of the match in Cardiff, England won 21-16 thanks to a late counterattack try finished by Elliot Daly.
The tightness on that occasion was typical of their recent encounters. Their last four tournament (Rugby World Cup and Six Nations) meetings have all been decided by five points or less.
Wales won only one of those matches but it was by far the most important, derailing England’s hopes as it hosted the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
That Twickenham victory, in addition to two others under Gatland in 2008 and 2012, gives Wales a confidence that no other northern hemisphere visitor can bring to south west London. France, Ireland, Italy, and Scotland have managed just one Twickenham win between them in that time.
”We’re not intimidated by the Twickenham factor at all, and there’s a lot of guys in the squad that will go there with a lot of confidence,” Gatland says. ”We don’t have any fear about going up there.”
The Welsh squad includes 10 players who have tasted victory at Twickenham. But not one of them is flyhalf Rhys Patchell, whom Jones has promised will be targeted.
”Every time Patchell looks up he’s going to see JJ (Jonathan Joseph) in his vision. It’s not a great sight,” Jones says.
”He’s a young guy, he’s inexperienced, he’s their third choice 10. He’s got to get the ball wide and that’s going to be a big deal for him. It’s going to be different than playing against Scotland. Scotland couldn’t cope with the expectation, and now he’s got to cope with the expectation of playing well. He’s got to find guys around him to help him because he’s going to be under some heat.”
England is sure its reserves will rise to the occasion again, while Wales is confident of outlasting the home side.
”In the past we’ve backed our ability to play for 80 minutes, and we’ve felt we’ve been fitter than the English sides and finished stronger than they have,” Gatland says. ”So we’ve got to start well and it’s important we try and contain the English as much as we can. And if it’s a close game, then hopefully that confidence continues to lift for us to hopefully get a result.”
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Danny Care; Sam Simmonds, Chris Robshaw, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (captain), Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Jamie George, Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Sam Underhill, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Ross Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Aaron Shingler, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Cory Hill, Samson Lee, Ken Owens, Rob Evans. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, George North.