England vs Wales | Saturday 26 September | Twickenham, London | 21:00
The next installment of a rivalry that spans back to 1881 will take place at the spiritual home of rugby union this coming Saturday. Both teams pulled off bonus point victories over second tier opposition last time out, but the Welsh were to pay more for their win. The Dragons’ injury crisis was deepened when several players were forced to leave the field due to injury. England will be licking their lips at the prospect of playing an injury ravaged Welsh side.
History proves that the Welsh will still provide a threat despite losing most of their core side to injury. At the 2003 World Cup the Dragons were in a similar position but still managed to get through to the quarter-finals. Ironically, they were knocked out by England but not after giving the Roses a real run for their money. The two sides have met a total of 126 times with the English winning on 58 occasions, while the Welsh have emerged the victor 56 times.
To Win (80mins)
England (-8.5) 9/10
Wales (+8.5) 9/10
They weren’t at their fluid best against Fiji but Stuart Lancaster will be a content man having seen his charges take the full five points haul in the opener. The host nation had some moments of promise in what turned out to be a dull affair against the Fijians. Lancaster will have put a few of the handling errors his players made, with the try line in sight, down to opening night nerves. These errors could prove more costly in games to come and the England mentor will have drummed this into his players this week. The team news coming out of the English camp is that influential centre Jonathan Joseph is likely to miss the clash due to a chest injury he picked up against Fiji. His place in the side is likely to be taken by rugby league convert Sam Burgess. There is also concern over the availability of Ben Morgan. The big number eight sustained an injury to his knee in the second half. The prolific try scoring number eight, Billy Vunipola will come into the side if Morgan’s knee issue persists. In terms of possible non-injury enforced changes; there is talk that Owen Farrell will come in for George Ford. The Bath pivot didn’t have the most impressive of showings against the Fijians and was culpable of the odd handling error. It will be interesting to see how quickly the untested midfield combination of Farrell, Barritt and Burgess click. Wales may be down to the last few centres but the ones that do remain are class acts.
|IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Fixtures|
Going into this tournament Wales were already facing an injury crisis. Talismen Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies and gifted scrumhalf Rhys Webb all sustained injuries at varying points in 2015 that saw them ruled out of the tournament. While it was always going to be difficult for the Welsh to pull off a win at Twickenham, with three of their stalwarts out, things are that much harder. To boot, injuries sustained against Uruguay desolated what remained of the squad. Jonathan Davies’ stand in, Cory Allen, has been ruled out after tearing his hamstring last Sunday. The talented youngster put in a fantastic first half performance against the South Americans and was rewarded with a hat-trick of tries. Another young gun who could be packing his bags is Liam Williams. The fullback has endured an injury ravaged year, which is set to continue after he injured his thigh in the opener and although it looked innocuous at the time, the injury could well see him leave the tournament earlier than expected.
These two injuries have left the Welsh down to their bare bones in the centres and at fullback. Jamie Robertson and Scott Williams are the only two specialist centres from the original squad, whilst there is no specialist fifteen left. Although the Welsh backline has borne the brunt of the injury crisis, there are a few forwards who picked up a niggle in last weekend’s clash. Props Samson Lee and Paul James left the field with calf strains, while Lee’s replacement, Aaron Jarvis, popped a rib but saw out the game. In light of the injuries, coach Warren Gatland will have to shuffle his deck wisely if they are to compete with the English. With Liam Williams due to sit out, Hallam Amos could shift from wing to fullback. Lee Samson and Paul James should be able to take the field but it’s unlikely that Aaron Jarvis will recover in time. Although Gatland has called up 20-year-old Tyler Morgan to provide cover in the centres; he is yet to decide if he will send one of his injured props home and call up a replacement.
VERDICT: England (-8.5) 9/10
Wales are really too injury ravaged to sustain an eighty-minute onslaught. The first half will be tight run but as the game progresses the English should be able to extend their winning margin past the handicap.