Everyone under pressure with title on the line
AT TIMES the handling has been shocking in this year’s Six Nations but Wales and England have been pretty proficient when playing pass the parcel this week.
Both nations have been attempting to shift the pressure onto the other ahead of this evening’s title showdown at the Millennium Stadium.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Guide to Mind Games has been a well-read book this week; everyone’s been at it.
Shaun Edwards said: “England were everyone’s favourites going into the competition, and they are favourites going into the game. There is a lot of expectation and pressure on them.”
Manu Tuilagi said: “We are going away to Wales. There’s always pressure on the home team to perform for their crowd.”
Ian Evans said: “They are coming to Wales to play for a Grand Slam and that is a hell of a lot of pressure.”
Dan Biggar said: “There’s no pressure on us. England are coming here with all the pressure on them.
“They are the ones who have to win the game.”
It’s a load of balderdash – they are ALL under pressure and today will come down to who deals with it best.
Will we see the Wales that buckled in the autumn and against Ireland or the Wales who have won eight of their last nine games in the Six Nations?
This week we have been told that those under the command of Rob Howley have the advantage of having been in this situation before while Stuart Lancaster’s crew are in new territory.
The tally of the caps is Wales 647, England 290.
But those of a red rose persuasion will be quick to point out that the same was true when they locked horns with the All Blacks in December.
In fact, it’s been a theme of Lancaster’s reign when the old guard headed towards the exit door.
Experience counts but quality is a bigger factor and I would argue that you would go for the red option on most occasions if both sets of starting XVs were lined up next to each other. Perhaps only fly-half Owen Farrell and possibly centre Manu Tuilagi win their individual battles while lock Launchbury is just (admittedly huge) potential at the moment. England are a fine team that are greater than the sum of their parts.
It was a great game at Twickenham last year; a clash settled on the smallest margins with Scott Williams' late try after ripping the ball away from Courtney Lawes and Leigh Halfpenny’s last-ditch tackle earning the spoils for Wales.
It will be tight again with mistakes ruthlessly punished by Halfpenny and Owen Farrell. That is likely to encourage yet more no-risk rugby where ‘playing in the right areas’ means kicking the leather off the ball.
Tries have dried up in the tournament since the thrills and spills of opening weekend with games dominated by farcical scrums, crash-ball centres and the boot.
There will be some intriguing battles, particularly up front where the home side have the edge in terms of breakdown prowess.
Two curiously balanced back rows will head onto the field – Wales employing a pair of sevens and an eight and England operating with a trio of sixes – while both second-row partnerships have earned plenty of plaudits.
The hosts will fancy their chances at scrum time, an area where England have struggled in the absence of Alex Corbisiero, and in Gethin Jenkins and Dan Cole there is a prop on either side that gets through a mountain of defensive work.
It’s not just in the forwards where there will be plenty of blood and thunder, there’s no room for either James Hook or Billy Twelvetrees in midfield, both nations opting for the bulldozer approach of Messrs Roberts, Davies, Barritt and Tuilagi.
Wales and England are the form sides in the tournament over the past two years with just one defeat apiece so it promises to be a tight encounter.
The bookies have England as slight favourites with Wales given a two-point head start in the handicap. I’d have it the other way round, but they tend to know best.
It’s been a year since Wales won a Test match against a country at the Millennium Stadium, their sole success coming against the Barbarians last summer.
I fancy that to change this evening, though whether Wales have enough to prevent England lifting the Six Nations trophy aloft is another matter.
This isn’t just about Slam-busting for Gethin Jenkins and his team – they are better and more ambitious than that – but that may have to be their consolation come 7pm.