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Six Nations 2020: England vs Wales talking points

Follow our live blog as England face Wales at Twickenham in the Six Nations on Saturday (kick-off: 4.45pm)

farrell, jones
Image: Have a read of our talking points preview as England and Wales prepare to face at Twickenham...

From injury returnees to the absence of Sam Underhill, and Wayne Pivac's attempts to balance his side, here's our talking points preview ahead of England vs Wales at Twickenham in the Six Nations...

No Underhill a chink in England's armour?

England may be shorn of both Vunipola brothers for Saturday's meeting with Wales, but perhaps it is another character they will miss even more.

Since maintaining consistency in fitness over the last year, openside flanker Sam Underhill has been absolutely sensational. But the Bath man will miss out on Twickenham this weekend due to an unspecified injury.

Sam Underhill accepts England have put themselves under Six Nations pressure after losing in Paris last week
Image: Openside flanker Sam Underhill will miss the clash with Wales due to injury

His absence sees Mark Wilson come into the side, who has performed superbly for England before, but it also leaves the back-row with three players all potentially playing out of position: lock Courtney Lawes at blindside flanker, flanker Tom Curry at No 8 and Wilson in the seven shirt.

That trio will be up against a back-row of Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi for Wales, with Taulupe Faletau primed to come off the bench. Hardly an enticing prospect.

England forward Mark Wilson
Image: England forward Mark Wilson has come into the back row

Underhill has been crucial to England with his breakdown performances and statement-inducing tackles. Tests are often won and lost at the breakdown - could Wales now force an edge there?

Williams, Navidi straight back in for Wales

Despite both having been out with serious injuries, wing Liam Williams and back-row Navidi are straight back into the Wales starting XV for Saturday's Twickenham Test.

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Williams hasn't played a game of rugby in over four months, having suffered an ankle injury at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, while Navidi, who suffered a serious hamstring injury at the same tournament, suffered a recurrence playing for the Cardiff Blues in January.

Is it a risk to throw both of them back into a Test of such magnitude? Two fantastic players they may be, but there is no substitute for match fitness.

liam williams
Image: Liam Williams hasn't played a game of rugby since Wales' World Cup quarter-final win over France in October

Wales are without Josh Adams, one of the form wingers in world rugby, which probably came into the thinking. While, as well as Faletau, Aaron Shingler has been named on the bench as the second row replacement too, so there is ample back-row cover.

Will Williams and Navidi bring a freshness and vibrancy to proceedings? Or could there be just a touch too much rust?

Josh Navidi
Image: Josh Navidi starts at No 8 after coming back from a hamstring injury

Pivac attack compromising defence?

Wales won the Grand Slam last year, almost entirely built off a magnificent defence.

In fact, they ended up scoring the least amount of tries in the 2019 Championship, level with Italy on 10, while they also made the least metres, fewest clean breaks, fewest carries, fewest turnovers and had the worst lineout stats. Yet come the end, they had a clean-sweep of victories.

That was because under Shaun Edwards their tackle completion was the highest at 91.2 per cent, while they also conceded the least points - some 35 less than the next least - and the least tries (just seven).

Since then, Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards have departed and former Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has come in.

Kiwi Pivac was known for his Scarlets side playing an outright attacking brand of rugby, full of offloading and wide plays. In other words, near enough the exact opposite to last season's defence-driven, tightly-marshalled set-up.

Wayne Pivac will work alongside assistant Stephen Jones, who was also part of his coaching team at Scarlets
Image: Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones were known for their wonderfully attacking brand of rugby at the Scarlets

The difference has been clearly noticeable, particularly with increased offloading and fluidity in attack, but so far Wales' wide set-up has undoubtedly hindered their defence.

They conceded a bonus-point defeat to Ireland in Dublin in Round 2, and lost at home to France for the first time in a decade in Round 3 as Les Bleus sliced through on countless occasions.

Only unbeaten France have scored more tries than Wales so far - Pivac's Wales have nine - but they have already missed 46 tackles.

It is, of course, early days still but can Pivac marry his attacking style with a defence able enough to win titles at Test level?

Wayne Pivac
Image: Pivac has struggled to maintain Wales' mean defence while implementing his attacking, offloading game-plan

England's back three to come alive?

When England went on their run to the 2019 Rugby World Cup final in Japan, they did so with a back three consisting of Anthony Watson and Jonny May on the wings, and Elliot Daly at full-back.

Saturday will be the first time since Yokohama that the trio will start together.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 26: Anthony Watson of England attempts to evade Anton Lienert-Brown of New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Semi-Final match between England and New Zealand at International Stadium Yokohama on October 26, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Image: Anthony Watson has recovered from a calf injury to feature in his first Six Nations Test of 2020

Watson has struggled with a calf injury this season and has missed the championship to this point, which saw George Furbank start at full-back in the first two weeks and Daly move out to the wing, before Jonathan Joseph came onto the flank for the first time in his career against Ireland in Round 3.

Daly really came of age as a full-back at the World Cup. A superbly balanced runner, a strong and intelligent kicking game off his left foot and improving all the time aerially.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Elliot Daly of England during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Italy at Twickenham Stadium on March 09, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)
Image: Elliot Daly will begin Saturday's Twickenham Test at full-back

That combined with the out-and-out pace of Watson and May - surely the quickest pair of wings of any international side worldwide - is a potent prospect.

Provided they settle back into place relatively quickly, expect England's back three to be ripping things up again before long.

Image: England wings Jonny May and Watson both possess supreme pace

Team News

England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Joe Marler, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Tom Curry.

Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Charlie Ewels, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Willi Heinz, 23 Henry Slade.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Rob Evans, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Dillon Lewis, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Josh Navidi.

Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Johnny McNicholl.

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