Preview: England v Wales

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Wales move their pre-World Cup preparations onto the field on Sunday as they travel to Twickenham to take on England in the first of a double header.

The 41-man training squad named by Warren Gatland have been training together since the end of June, with a training camp in the Swiss Alps splitting up time spent at the regular base of The Vale Resort.

Coaches and players have spoken about the intensity of the training so far, with those present in 2015 saying it has taken another step up again from that pre-World Cup training camp, but now is the time to transfer that work onto the field.

Whereas Wales come into these next three months of action on the back of a 14-game winning streak and a Grand Slam title, Sunday’s opponents England are in a very different position ahead of travelling to Japan.

Under the always outspoken Eddie Jones they have struggled to maintain consistent squad selections, with some positions in particular seeing almost constant change, and results on the field have fluctuated as a result.

A really poor 2018 Six Nations campaign was followed by a tough tour to South Africa that summer. The Autumn Internationals and 2019 Six Nations have both seen impressive successes over Ireland and Australia, but the draw against Scotland in March left the coach and squad under pressure.

Add in the almost compulsory off-field incident, with newspaper reports suggesting Ben Te’o and Mike Brown are not included this weekend due to an altercation at a team bonding session, and it doesn’t appear, from the outside at least, to be a happy time for England.

Owen Farrell England
England still have a great record at home

Nevertheless they will still be a threat. The English are unbeaten at Twickenham in six straight games, and have lost just twice in the last 22 capped test matches, with Wales having suffered four straight defeats at ‘HQ’ dating back to that game during the 2015 World Cup.

Even with the home side naming a much-changed side from what many would consider to be their strongest 23 they will be dangerous, as England are on a very different timeline towards Japan than ourselves.

With Eddie Jones naming his 31-man tournament squad after this game there are spots up for grabs, meaning players will be very keen to put in a big performance and catch the eye of the coaches.

There are recognisable names in the pack, with Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury and Billy Vunipola all bringing experience, but they are joined by plenty of youth with 26-year-old Luke Cowan-Dickie at hooker, prop Ellis Geneg and lock Charlie Ewels both 24, Tom Curry is 21 on one flank, while opposite is Sam Underhill, formerly of the Ospreys, 23.

In the backs there is a move to match youth with experience, as debutant Willi Heinz joins stand-in captain George Ford at half-back, Piers Francis wins his fifth cap alongside Henry Slade in the centre, and another debutant Ruaridh McConnochie is on the wing with Elliott Daly and Anthony Watson completing the back three.

That theme continues through to the replacements bench where Joe Marler, George Kruis and Ben Youngs are joined by Jack Singleton, Harry Williams, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marchant and Joe Cokanasiga.

A side that lends itself to a high paced game, working off the counter attack hopefully provided by the dual turnover threat of Curry and Underhill, and complimented by the dangerous running of the back three.

England: Elliot Daly; Ruaridh McConnochie, Henry Slade, Piers Francis, Anthony Watson; George Ford (c), Willi Heinz; Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Charlie Ewels, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola

Replacements: Jack Singleton, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Ben Youngs, Joe Marchant, Joe Cokanasiga

Scott Williams England
Sam Underhill will wear the number sex jersey

Wales, of course, are not going to name our 31-man squad until after the third pre-World Cup test against Ireland, therefore Warren Gatland has taken a different approach to this weekend’s encounter.

He has utilised the opportunity to put as many of his big names as possible through their paces on the field, and replicate the six-day turnaround between games that Wales will face between the opening two pool games in Japan.

In fact, the side sports just two changes from that which beat Ireland at the Principality Stadium to secure the Grand Slam back in March, with Nicky Smith coming in at loosehead, and Aaron Wainwright named on the blindside.

On the bench there is a long awaited return for Aaron Shingler, who makes his return to playing for the first time since May 2018, while Aled Davies is a late replacement for Tomos Williams.

The scrum-half is ruled out by a shoulder problem, joining Rob Evans, Samson Lee, Cory Hill, Josh Navidi and James Davies as either injured or unavailable due to a lack of fitness.

Wales: Liam Williams; George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Nicky Smith, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Aaron Shingler, Tomos Williams, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin

Aaron Shingler England
Aaron Shingler could return to action after 15 months out

For Wales fitness is of course a focus, but maintaining the winning streak, and the confidence that comes with it, should be right at the forefront of the players and coaches minds as we look ahead to Japan.

England may be missing some big names, but no matter who wears the red rose, a test match at Twickenham will always be a tough task, and Warren Gatland’s men will have to be close to the top of their game to come away with a win.

From my perspective, I’m looking for the defence to put the home combinations under a lot of pressure early on, and then see the attack free themselves up a bit, get the ball out to the likes of Jon Davies, George North and Josh Adams early and see what they can do in a yard of space.


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