The Guinness Six Nations returns this weekend as Wales host old rivals England in a Triple Crown decider at the Principality Stadium, 4.45pm kick-off.
It is Wayne Pivac’s men are going for the title after the victories over Ireland and Scotland in rounds one or two, with both the opposition sides receiving red cards at key moments of the games, but Wales putting in a much improved performance in the second half at Murrayfield.
England, on the other hand, have struggled so far after losing at home to Scotland for the first time since 1983 in round one, and then beating Italy in round two but with a less than convincing performance as media and pundits alike question Eddie Jones’ selections and tactics.
Things don’t get any easier for the English this weekend as they return to the Principality Stadium where they’ve lost their last two visits, going down twice in 2019 in a World Cup warm-up and that crucial Six Nations clash where tries from Cory Hill and Josh Adams, and the boot of Gareth Anscombe, secured a 21-13 victory.
They did win on their last visit to Wales though when tries from Mako Vunipola and Henry Slade, as well as the boot of Owen Farrell, saw England to a 13-24 win in Llanelli during the Autumn Nations Cup.
Eddie Jones has largely stuck with the team that beat Italy two weeks ago with just two changes to the starting XV as Jamie George returns at hooker, with Luke Cowan-Dickie dropping to the bench, and Mark Wilson is in for the injured Courtney Lawes at blindside flanker. There is a new face on the bench where George Martin could make his debut as second row cover.
England: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (c), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, George Martin, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins
Wayne Pivac has made five changes to his starting XV as he welcomes a number of faces back from suspensions or injuries to boost his side for the visit of England.
Josh Navidi is fit again as the only change in the forwards, coming in for Aaron Wainwright at blindside flanker, while Jon Davies and George North are back from injuries to form a new centre partnership as Owen Watkin and Nick Tompkins miss out, and Josh Adams is back from his covid suspension to start on the wing with Liam Williams moving to full-back and Leigh Halfpenny being dropped.
There is a tactical change as Kieran Hardy is preferred at scrum-half, with Gareth Davies dropping to the bench, where he is joined by Cory Hill who could make his first appearance of this Six Nations. George North will be the youngest ever player to reach 100 caps for his country.
Wales: Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jon Davies, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Kieran Hardy; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Willis Halaholo
On a dry and bright afternoon in Cardiff it will be an intriguing battle between two sides struggling for confidence and form, but not short of fight and know how when it comes to winning international test matches.
Looking at the England selection their main aim will be to dominate up front, with the size of the pack they bring and the 6-2 split on the bench, and hope that can provide the platform to spark their backs into life, while Wales appear content to manage the first 60 minutes of the fixture before releasing some attacking inspiration off the bench.
For me it’s a slightly negative setup from Wales, but if we are still in it when the likes of Callum Sheedy and Willis Halaholo step off the bench then anything can happen!