Our rugby scribe takes a look at Sunday's international rugby friendly between England & Wales.
England and Wales will be looking to get some prep work under their belts before they make the trip to Australasia. For both sides, this one is a case of seeing which of their fringe players could make an impact on their impending tours of New Zealand and Australia as a lot of their frontline stalwarts are still seeing out the final few weeks of their club seasons.
England v Wales | Sunday 29 May | Twickenham | 15:45
To Win (80 Mins)
England 13/20 | Draw 18/1 | Wales 13/10
The Roses are odds-on favourites to win this one mainly due to the fantastic start they’ve had to their 2016 season. Not only did they win this year’s Six Nations but they did so without losing a game.
A word of caution, though, the England squad that will take to Twickenham this Saturday will be vastly different to the one that turned out during their Grand Slam winning Six Nations campaign.
The reason for this is that the Aviva Premiership final is taking place this coming Saturday which means that no Exeter or Saracens player will be involved in Sunday’s clash with the Dragons. And when you consider that five out of their best starting XV are Saracens players and three are Exeter men, you can see what a difference their non-availability makes to the composition of the Roses run on XV.
So with eight of their first choice players out of action due to club commitments, there’s going to be a lot of onus on the fringe players to step up to the plate.
This will be the first taste of international rugby for front rowers Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge, who have impressed for their club sides this term. Both players have enjoyed successful youth careers, having represented the England under 18’s and U20 level.
Another young gun that Eddie Jones will be pinning his hopes on this Sunday is Eliot Daly. The Wasps centre did make an appearance for the national side against Ireland in the Six Nations and got two caps for the Barbarians in 2013. He's a gritty outside who also possess a monstrous boot.
Jones will have a host of veterans to call upon, though, with Harlequins duo Mike Brown and Danny Care both available for selection. The aforementioned Harlequins men are likely to be joined in the starting backline by incumbent flyhalf George Ford, Bath inside centre Jonathon Josephs, and wingers Marland Yarde and Luther Burrell.
In the pack, one suspects that Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, and one of Kyle Sinckler or Ellis Genge will make up the starting front row. We're likely to see Courtney Lawes and Joe Lauchbury in the second row while the back row should feature James Haskell, New Zealand-born Teimana Harrison, and Chris Robshaw.
Someone at the Welsh Rugby Union must have disturbed a grave or had a run in with a vindictive Voodoo priest as the Dragons have once again been struck by an injury crisis that will see skipper Sam Warburton, his understudy Justin Tipiric, mercurial fifteen Leigh Halfpenny, and winger Alex Cuthbert all miss out due to injury.
That’s not where the Dragons' squad woes end however, as they still have a plethora of players unavailable due to club commitments. Veteran centre Jonathon Davies is unavailable due to his club Clermont still having four rounds of Top 14 action to contend with. The Dragons may be able to call on his longtime partner in crime, Jamie Roberts, though as his club Harlequins are out of the Aviva Premiership running.
If Roberts does get the nod, then he’s likely to link up with 20-year-old Tyler Morgan who was extremely impressive for Wales at last year’s World Cup.
Another man who won’t take to the Twickenham field this Sunday is prop, Thomas Francis. The big man will line up for Exeter against Saracens 24 hours earlier instead. His place is likely to be taken by Samson Lee who has just overcome a concussion.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Dragons however as they do have some of their stalwarts available for selection. George North, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Talepau Faletau, and Dan Biggar are all fit and free from club commitments, although coach Warren Gatland may choose to give some of his fringe players a start and bring these veterans on in the second stanza.
I fully expect this to be the case for Dan Biggar. The physical ten has had a taxing season with the Ospreys, and his understudies, Reece Priestland and ex-Waikato Chief Gareth Anscombe, could do with a run out.
The Stats That Matter
The two sides enjoyed contrasting Six Nations campaigns with the English whitewashing their way to Six Nations glory while the Dragons only managed to win three of their five fixtures on their way to a runners-up medal. It must be remembered, though, that the Dragons pushed the English close during the Six Nations meeting between the two sides, eventually going down by four points in an absolute nail bitter at Twickenham.
England head coach Eddie Jones is yet to taste defeat at the helm of the Roses, while Warren Gatland has a fifty percent success record against the English.
England have won three of the last five clashes between the two sides with two of those victories coming at Twickenham. Wales did manage to win last year’s World Cup encounter at Twickenham by 28 points to 25 however.
Most games tend to be won by less than ten points; the last winning margin that past the single digits mark occurred back in 2013 with Wales running out 30-3 victors at the Millenium stadium. It’s been a lot tighter since then though, with the last three games being won by five points or less.
Verdict: England 13/20
England are about to embark on a game-changing tour of Australia, which, in my opinion, will signal their revival on the international stage. I reckon they've got this Welsh sides number even if they are missing their 'Saries stalwarts.