England v Wales: Five talking points ahead of Six Nations showdown
By Keith Moore
Last Updated: 12/03/16 5:36pm
We look at five talking points, including the return of Manu Tuilagi, ahead of England v Wales at Twickenham.
It's been billed as the potential Six Nations decider as Wales land in London to take on England, but where will the game be won and lost? We take a look at five key talking points.
Ben Youngs and Danny Care have taken turns starting for England under Eddie Jones, with Care first to wear the No 9 jersey against Scotland, after which he has taken up a spot on the bench.
George Ford told Sky Sports that the pair use the pressure of competition to grow their game, but are supportive of each other in the build-up to a match.
"Obviously they're both very ambitious and determined and want to start, but they fully respect when one or the other is starting and back him 100 per cent," said Ford.
Wales on the other hand were riding high in 2015 with Rhys Webb the first-choice No 9 up until the eve of the World Cup, where a foot injury ruled him out of the tournament. Gareth Davies stepped into the role superbly, including notching up the vital score that gave Wales victory over England at Twickenham.
Gatland has brought Webb into the side on the bench, and speaking earlier this week Davies mentioned how much he is enjoying the renewed rivalry with his fellow scrum-half.
"I've had Aled [Davies] and Lloyd Williams breathing down my neck since the start of the campaign, so it is a bit of extra pressure for me, but I enjoy it."
With games between England and Wales often hanging in the balance throughout the full 80, it should prove to be a top-class battle between the four energetic scrum-halves until the end.
Eddie Jones has called on referee Craig Joubert to be strict on Wales come scrum-time, as he says they constantly pre-engage to gain an advantage.
"One of the things I'd like to see from Wales is that they scrum legally," said Jones on Sky Sports News HQ.
"They're very much a scrum that likes to pre-engage and that's against the law, so we're very hopeful the referee will be very strict on that.
"We believe we've got the stronger scrum and we want to have the opportunity to scrum strongly under the correct laws."
This is Joubert's first high-profile game in charge since he took control of the World Cup quarter-final between Australia and Scotland. Joubert awarded a last-gasp penalty to Australia which cost Scotland a place in the semi-finals and then incensed Scotland players and fans when he ran off the field on the whistle.
His interpretation of the set-piece will be crucial as Wales forwards coach Robin McBride has also waded into the scrum battle, saying that England loosehead prop Joe Marler does not scrum straight.
"He needs to scrummage legally, otherwise we will be pointing a finger," said McBryde.
"You have to measure each scrum on its own merits with regards to who gets the upper hand. It was very disappointing, especially against England, when we fell on the wrong sides of decisions and we felt the problem lay elsewhere."
Tuilagi returns - what they've been saying
Richard Cockerill came out this week urging Eddie Jones not to pick Manu Tuilagi in his side, saying the Tigers midfielder's return to rugby needs to be managed with care.
The England boss was in no mood to entertain the request however, as he responded: "I'm not debating with Richard. I don't pick the Leicester side, he doesn't pick the England side."
Jones then included Tuilagi when he announced his team earlier in the week.
"He ran two lines on Tuesday and cut a hole in our defence," said Jones. "So Paul Gustard wasn't too happy.
"He's got power and he's got pace, and he's a good player. That's not a bad combination."
Wales centre Jonathan Davies: "He is definitely an x-factor player. I have played with him before, and he is extremely strong and powerful, but he has great subtleties in his game as well.
England forwards coach Steve Borthwick: "The approach Tuilagi's brought to training has shown how desperate he is to play for England. He's desperate to get back playing rugby consistently at the very highest level and in Tests for England.
"He's passionate about it and it's great to have him around the group."
Former England team-mate Nick Easter: "It's good to see him back. There's not many international games throughout the season and he's strung three or four games together for Leicester.
"Get the guy out there. He's proven world class, he needs to get up to that level again."
Wales have beaten England three times at Twickenham under head coach Warren Gatland, and were the last side to defeat them there in a Six Nations encounter.
It's a record that former Wales flanker Jonathan Thomas says has changed the mindset of Welsh players as they land in opposition territory.
"Wales never won at Twickenham during the 1990s and early 2000s but the psychology behind going to Twickenham has changed," said Thomas on Rugby Club. "Wales have won there three or four times in the last seven years."
The match-up in the backyard of the English is one that excites former Wales No 8 Scott Quinnell, who says the Twickenham factor won't help separate the two sides.
"It is one of the great weeks in world rugby when the old enemy comes around," said Quinnell on the Sky Sports podcast. "It does not get much tougher than going to Twickenham. But I was speaking with someone who was with the players the other night and boy, are they up for it.
"I knew Wales were going to beat England in the World Cup - I said it for months and months - but this one is too close to call. It is going to be a very physical game.
"If you are sat in Twickenham on Saturday, put your seat belt on because it is going to be a close game."
In his column this week, Sky Sports' Dewi Morris identified Saturday's game as the watershed international for George Ford.
The Bath fly-half was in and out of favour when Stuart Lancaster was in charge, with Owen Farrell often starting ahead of him, but Eddie Jones has opted to play the two together so far.
It's a combination that has worked well, but Ford's performances have not been extraordinary, and while Morris feels Ford is the right man to lead the England attack, he says the pressure is building on the 22-year-old.
"George Ford is one of the most creative fly-halves we have got in this country but it has been a difficult season for him," Morris wrote.
"When Ford is on form and playing well there is no one better. His instincts are second to none; if he sees a gap he's through it. What does happen sometimes is this weight comes on his shoulders after he misses a kick, and Bath's struggles this season have compounded that.
"If Ford doesn't get rid of that negativity he will find himself out of the starting line-up when Henry Slade returns, as Farrell will slip into 10."
However Wales centre Jamie Roberts says his side will be showing full respect to the fly-half.
"George Ford is probably playing his best rugby at the moment, certainly in attack," said Roberts.
"He attacks the line flat and creates problems for the opposition. He is someone we have to be wary of."
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Joe Marler, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 3 Dan Cole, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 6 Chris Robshaw, 7 James Haskell, 8 Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Danny Care, 22 Manu Tuilagi, 23 Elliot Daly.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Rob Evans, 2 Scott Baldwin, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Bradley Davies 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 6 Dan Lydiate, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 8 Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Gareth Anscombe.
Who will grab the honours at Twickenham as England and Wales clash in the Six Nations? Tweet us @SkySportsRugby