Preview: Wales v England

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Wales are looking to bounce back from the loss at Twickenham that brought their 14-match winning streak to an end last Sunday as England arrive in Cardiff for the return fixture.

It was the first time a Welsh side had tasted defeat since February 2018, as a physical and fast England put Warren Gatland’s men to the sword, starting and finishing much the better team, despite the men in red battling to get back into the game during the third quarter.

While the final score brought an end to that record breaking run, it did extend an unwanted sequence of results that has now seen Wales suffer defeat in each of their last six games at Twickenham, dating back to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Wales can take confidence from having beaten England at the Principality Stadium already this season though, with the superb 21-13 victory in the Six Nations really sending Gatland’s side on the way to a Grand Slam.

There is also the fact that the players involved for England are no longer fighting for a place in their 31-man squad to go to Japan, with Eddie Jones having made his selection on Monday. He has recalled a number of familiar faces to the 23 though.

Joe Cokanasiga England
Joe Cokanasiga was impressive last week

Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes come in up front, at lock and flanker respectively, as the same front row line-up, with Lewis Ludlam retaining his sport in the back row after an impressive outing at Twickenham. Sam Underhill and Tom Curry are both ruled out by injury.

The backline is very similar, with only Ruaridh McConnochie coming into the starting lineup instead of Anthony Watson, as Willi Heinz and George Ford continue their half-back partnership alongside Piers Francis and Jonathan Joseph as the centre duo.

It is the bench that is looking most impressive though, with Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, George Kruis, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi all ready to make an impact late on.

Another large looking England side who will be keen to come into our backyard and try to bully us around. With hooker Jack Singleton covering the back row on the bench, there could be a situation where Itoje drops back and Kruis enters the field, resulting in the away side having four second rows on the field at once.

England: Elliot Daly, Ruaridh McConnochie, Jonathan Joseph, Piers Francis, Joe Cokanasiga, George Ford (c), Willi Heinz; Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Billy Vunipola

Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, George Kruis, Jack Singleton, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi

Owen Farrell England
Owen Farrell is set to come off the bench

Whereas England are heading towards a point where they pick their strongest looking XV during their World Cup warm-ups, this is probably the last time we’ll see a full Wales side until the opening game of the tournament.

Warren Gatland was keen to replicate the six-day turnaround between that game against Georgia and the next pool encounter with Australia with these England matches, and has done just that despite pressure to protect some players in the wake of Gareth Anscombe’s injury.

Dan Biggar will start in his place at fly-half, while the likes of Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, Jon Davies and Liam Williams retain their places in the XV.

There are just two other changes as Jake Ball and James Davies come in for Adam Beard and Justin Tipuric who picked up knocks last week. Rob Evans, Cory Hill and Tomos Williams are not being considered for selection.

It is the bench where the interesting selections are though, with Aaron Shingler ready to cover second row if necessary, as he might have to do if Gatland only takes three locks in his final squad, while Jarrod Evans is picked ahead of Rhys Patchell as the back-up fly-half.

Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jon Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Nicky Smith, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Aaron Wainwright, James Davies, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Elliott Dee, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi, Aled Davies, Jarrod Evans, Owen Watkin

James Davies Argentina
James Davies is back in the Wales team

While selecting Jarrod on the bench is one to keep an eye on, the real indicator about where Gatland is when it comes to picking fly-halves in his final squad will be against Ireland in the next game, where Biggar is unlikely to be involved.

Welcoming Josh Navidi back into the squad is a certain bonus, while the addition of Jake Ball into the engine room should give Wales a boost in weight and physicality up front.

The questions about whether this is a warm-up game or a test match to win are once again in the limelight, but for me winning should be the aim, so if that means leaving Jarrod Evans on the bench or not giving Aaron Shingler a run at lock then so be it, there are still games to give them competitive minutes.

Short-term we should be about getting that winning feeling and confidence back after a disappointing performance last week at Twickenham, and sticking it to the English media who have been a touch too smug for my liking these past few days.

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