Wales v England: Five talking points ahead of the Six Nations clash
By Keith Moore
Last Updated: 11/02/17 4:24pm
Five talking points ahead of England's trip to the Principality Stadium to take on Wales in the Six Nations on Saturday (kick-off 4.50pm).
The tournament is wide open following Ireland's loss to Scotland in the opening week, while England and Wales both came away with wins.
Eddie Jones was less than complimentary of England's performance against France despite the victory, and knows his side will need to start better this week if they are to topple the 2013 champions.
Jones took part in an entertaining war of words with Wallaby coach Michael Cheika in 2016. The pair were team-mates at Randwick in their playing days, but went toe to toe in the media throughout England's tour of Australia in June.
But Jones showed this week that he won't limit his verbal barbs to Cheika alone, taking aim at what he perceives as poor hospitality shown by the Welsh public.
"You go to the hotel and unless you take steps, players get rung incessantly through the night," said Jones. "You go to the ground and the traffic controller drives slower than the traffic's going to make sure you're late.
"You get to the ground and there's something wrong with your dressing room - there's lights off or the heater's switched off.
"You can't check because they traditionally tell you one thing and something else happens. It happens regularly in South Africa and it happens regularly in Wales."
In 2015 a stand-off between these teams unfurled in the tunnel as England refused to take the field ahead of the game until Wales had emerged from their dressing room. Then-skipper Chris Robshaw believed Wales were purposefully delaying proceedings to force England to wait in the cold for their hosts, and argued his case with the officials.
Eventually the referee managed to shepherd both sides onto the pitch but it made for a particularly tense start to the traditionally tetchy matches between the old rivals.
James Haskell said earlier in the week that England won't be affected by any antics from their hosts in Cardiff.
"It is about not being distracted by the sideshow that goes with it," said the Wasps flanker. "It is about not being distracted by the crowd and the noise. You have to go there, deliver your job and then leave."
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Props on set
Wales have made two chances to their starting XV, and both are in the front row. Props Rob Evans and Tomas Francis, who featured as replacements in last week's victory over Italy, take over from Nicky Smith and Samson Lee, who rotate to the bench.
"We were really pleased with the result out in Rome and are looking to build on that performance this weekend," said Rob Howley.
"Both Rob (Evans) and Tomas (Francis) made a big impact off the bench last weekend and deserve their opportunity to start."
Evans and Francis are more than capable scrummagers, but they will be heavily tested by the experience of Joe Marler and Dan Cole up front.
The Welsh pair have 31 Tests between them, while Marler and Cole have a combined total of 120 caps.
On the replacements bench things even out a bit, where Nicky Smith and Samson Lee's international appearances outstrip that of the relatively inexperienced duo of Matt Mullan and Kyle Sinckler.
Can England get the ascendancy up front early on, or will Wales wear down their opponents over the 80 minutes?
Starts and finishers
Jones has taken to referring to his replacements as 'finishers', and it was his finishers who spared England their first loss under Jones last week.
England were 16-12 down against France with less than 10 minutes remaining when Ben Te'o crashed over to hand his side a 19-16 victory.
Te'o said this week he is happy with his current job of finishing games for England.
"The role I am focused on right now is the role that I have, which is coming off the bench and providing a little bit of an impact," Te'o told Sky Sports News HQ.
"That is what I am focused on at the moment. If things change down the track then I am sure Eddie will let me know but it is just about playing my role for the squad if I am lucky enough to be in the 23."
England and Wales both had to fight back from deficits to come away with wins in the opening round, with Rob Howley's side forced to overturn a 7-3 half-time scoreline against Italy before registering a 33-7 win.
The respective starts of both teams last weekend is cause for concern for the coaches - neither can afford a similarly sluggish take-off in Cardiff.
It's hard to escape in the modern game; results are often decided by the back rows. In a reversal of the front row battle, Wales' loose forwards have vastly more international experience than their English counterparts.
Ross Moriarty's 13 caps makes him the least experienced of the Welsh trio, but he still has more caps than each of England's back rowers.
Maro Itoje has eight Tests under his belt, but only one of those appearances was as a loose forward. The Saracens lock is currently plugging a gap in the No 6 jersey left by the injured Chris Robshaw, and last week the 22-year-old struggled to make his trademark impact on the game while out of position.
With Billy Vunipola joining Robshaw in the injury room, Nathan Hughes is getting a steady run at No 8, while Jack Clifford earns a call-up this week at the expense of Tom Wood.
"Tom Wood's done very well for us at seven, but we just feel Clifford will bring a bit more pace and probably a little bit more ball-carrying which we think is going to be important against Wales," said Jones. "It's a great opportunity for a young guy like him."
"We're playing our strongest 23. We've got something like 13 or 15 caps in the back row, so they're only going to get better, and that's what we want to do as a team - get better all the time."
Asked if he was confident in the back row he has picked, the Australian simply responded: "I wouldn't have selected them otherwise."
In the other camp No 8 Ross Moriarty is joined by Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric, with both flankers boasting plenty of Wales and Lions experience. The question will be whether Warburton and Tipuric can boss the breakdown and limit England's opportunities to run the ball at the Welsh defence.
Fiddlers of the roof
As is customary, Wales have left the decision on the position of the roof up to their visitors, and England have requested that it remain open on Saturday.
Rob Howley said last month that Wales wanted the roof closed to enhance the atmosphere and help control conditions, but under tournament rules the visiting side can veto its closure, and Eddie Jones made the call at the 48-hour deadline despite maintaining earlier in the week he had no preference.
England fly-half George Ford said Saturday's result will not hinge on the position of the roof.
"At the end of the day the pitch will be the same size as any other pitch with two sets of sticks on it and a few lines," said Ford.
"It's just 15 against 15, I don't think the roof will have any impact on who wins the game at the weekend."
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12, Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb; 1, Rob Evans, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Sam Warburton, 7 Justin Tipuric 8 Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Taulupe Faletau, Gareth Davies, 21 Sam Davies, 22 Jamie Roberts.
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Joe Marler, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 3 Dan Cole, 4 Joe Launchbury, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Maro Itoje, 7 Jack Clifford 8 Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jonny May.