Nations Cup: Wales vs England talking points

Wales host England at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday in the third round of Group A Nations Cup fixtures (4pm kick-off); Eddie Jones’ side are off the back of a comprehensive win over Ireland at Twickenham, while Wayne Pivac’s Wales halted a run of six losses last week vs Georgia

Last Updated: 27/11/20 12:13pm

Can Alun Wyn Jones and co swallow up England in Llanelli? Or Will Eddie Jones' charges prove too strong?
Can Alun Wyn Jones and co swallow up England in Llanelli? Or Will Eddie Jones’ charges prove too strong?

Fierce rivals Wales and England meet in Llanelli on Saturday as the Autumn Nations Cup pool phase reaches a conclusion.

Read five talking points ahead of kick-off below…

Form guide suggests a comfortable England win

Ex-Wales and British and Irish Lions flanker Richard Webster once said that rugby is played on grass, not on paper, underlining that there is always hope for the underdog.

Rarely, though, can Wales have been written off by so many ahead of a home game against England, and it is easy to see why, with Wayne Pivac’s team having lost six of their last seven Tests and England on a six-game winning run.

Based on form and team selection, England are major favourites for Saturday's Test in Llanelli
Based on form and team selection, England are major favourites for Saturday’s Test in Llanelli

Since England first played an international match in Wales 138 years ago, fixtures between the countries have often produced a tale of the unexpected, and Wales have beaten their fierce rivals on home soil seven times from the last 10 attempts.

The form guide suggests a Wales home win is unlikely this time though.

Masters versus apprentices

The back-row battle is invariably pivotal to Test match outcomes, and Saturday’s clash in Llanelli is no different.

In England’s corner are two flankers – Tom Curry and Sam Underhill – who appear odds-on bets to be selected for next summer’s Lions tour of South Africa, such has been the duo’s staggering level of consistency.

England flankers Sam Underhill (left) and Tom Curry are in sensational form
England flankers Sam Underhill (left) and Tom Curry are in sensational form

Their opposite numbers this weekend – Shane Lewis-Hughes and James Botham – have three caps and four hours of international experience between them, being thrust into the spotlight and given a chance to shine as Wales find themselves minus injured trio Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty – combined caps total 148.

It should be an intriguing contest.

James Botham - grandson of England cricketing legend Ian Botham - starts in the Wales back-row after his debut vs Georgia last week
James Botham – grandson of England cricketing legend Ian Botham – starts in the Wales back-row after his debut vs Georgia last week

England attack needs sharpening

England have swept all before them since losing to France in their opening game of last season’s Six Nations, winning six successive Tests.

Eddie Jones’ team showcased enviable forward power throughout that unbeaten run, notably when dismantling Ireland last weekend. But while there were flashes of individual brilliance – notably wing Jonny May’s stunning second try – England again used brute force and a world-class defence to batter the opposition.

Jonny May scored two wonderful tries vs Ireland, but England's attacking shape and game has yet to click as a team
Jonny May scored two wonderful tries vs Ireland, but England’s attacking shape and game has yet to click as a team

Their attacking game has yet to fire, and while Jones has said his attack strategy for the 2023 World Cup will not evolve until next year, a glimpse of it on Saturday would not go amiss.

Centres of attention

As with the back-row, experience says that England also hold a clear advantage in midfield.

Captain Owen Farrell and Exeter’s Henry Slade, who has helped club and country win the Gallagher Premiership, Heineken Champions Cup and Guinness Six Nations since mid-October, oppose the fledgeling Wales pairing of Nick Tompkins and Johnny Williams – born in Sidcup and Weston-super-Mare, respectively.

England captain Owen Farrell has shifted to the centre, with George Ford returning at 10
England captain Owen Farrell has shifted to the centre, with George Ford returning at 10

Williams played for England and scored a try in last year’s non-cap game against the Barbarians, but with a father from Rhyl and after delivering an encouraging Wales debut against Georgia last Saturday, a promising partnership with Tompkins is underway as Wales again find themselves minus an injured Jonathan Davies.

Centre Johnny May scored a try for England against the Barbarians in 2019, but has since been capped by Wales
Centre Johnny May scored a try for England against the Barbarians in 2019, but has since been capped by Wales

Crowds cannot return quickly enough

Rugby union remains behind closed doors in Britain and Ireland, at least for the time being, and it is hard to envisage a game when fans will be missed more than Wales versus England.

Saturday's Test will once again be behind closed doors, sorely lacking in atmosphere
Saturday’s Test will once again be behind closed doors, sorely lacking in atmosphere

Two of the biggest rivals on the international sporting stage will face off at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli, complete with an empty stadium and zero atmosphere. This fixture thrives on what emanates from packed grandstands, especially in Wales.

Saturday’s occasion might struggle to challenge a church mouse for decibel levels, but it could still prove a match to remember, especially if Wales can summon spirits of the past.

Team News

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Lloyd Williams, 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 7 James Botham, 8 Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Owen Watkin.

England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonathan Joseph, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Joe Launchbury, 6 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Jack Willis, 22 Dan Robson, 23 Anthony Watson.

Source : Sky Sports