Six Nations

Wales, England in crunch clash as France plan revolt

2019-02-23 09:48
Warren Gatland (Getty)

London - Wales and England will put their Six Nations Grand Slam ambitions on the line when they meet at Cardiff's Principality Stadium on Saturday.

The only unbeaten teams in the tournament, Wales and England have won their opening two matches.

And if anyone needed reminding of what this fixture means to Welsh fans, there was a clear message on Saturday's front page of the Western Mail, Wales' national newspaper.

It carried photographs of Wales wins over England at the end of every decade from 1949 until 2009.

"Can you see the pattern? 2019: Time To Do It Again!" proclaimed the banner headline.

It would have come as no surprise to Eddie Jones, with the England coach insisting earlier this week: "They (Wales) have been saying they're ready to rip off heads. 

"So they're full of emotions and they'll bring that to the field and we know Wales teams at home want to come out hard."

But Jones insisted it was vital England kept their composure, the Australian adding: "Just be calm but at the same time tough and have a real steel about us."

Wales will go above third-placed England in the world rankings, with a win but Jones has loftier ambitions for his side.

"We want to be the world's best team, that's our aim," he said.

"We know we are a while from there but we are moving in the right direction."  

Wales are on an 11-match unbeaten run, with victory over the old enemy required to break their all-time record set from 1907-1910.

Jones, however, has won all four of his matches against Wales since taking over as England coach after the 2015 World Cup and his side now sit atop the Six Nations table after bonus-point victories over both Ireland, the reigning champions, and France.

Wing Jack Nowell and prop Ben Moon replace the injured Chris Ashton and prop Mako Vunipola respectively in the only two changes to the England starting side that thrashed Les Bleus 44-8 last time out. 

"It's a massive challenge playing against an England team that is playing really well and with a lot of confidence and we've got to make it difficult for them," said Warren Gatland, in his final Six Nations campaign as Wales coach before he stands down after this year's World Cup in Japan.

Gatland has made the bold decision to select fellow native New Zealander Gareth Anscombe over the benched Dan Biggar at flyhalf.

Anscombe, the son of a Cardiff-born mother, is seen as the more attacking player, while Biggar, is viewed as the superior defensive stand-off and goalkicker.

The weekend's action starts with Scotland looking to end their 20-year wait for a win in Paris.

Scotland will be without several injured players, including flyhalf Finn Russell who plays club rugby for Paris-based Racing 92.

France, yet to win in this season's Championship, have lost 10 of their 13 matches since Jacques Brunel took over as coach in December 2017.

France captain Guilhem Guirado said playing Scotland was a chance to "save our honour because we were given a lesson two weeks ago (by England)". 

"There will definitely be a revolt compared to our last match," Guirado added.

Brunel has ditched experienced Clermont halfbacks Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez in favour of the novice Toulouse duo of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.

But Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, himself now at Clermont, warned his men to expect a French backlash.  

"They're a very dangerous team, they're hurting from what has been said in the media, we're expecting them to come out all guns blazing," said the scrumhalf.

Italy will try to end a woeful sequence of 19 successive defeats in the Six Nations against all opponents when they face Ireland in Rome on Sunday.

Sergio Parisse, Italy's long-serving captain, has been sidelined with suspected concussion playing for club side Stade Francais and Azzurri coach Conor O'Shea, the former Ireland fullback, has made four changes to his side in total.

Ireland counterpart Joe Schmidt may have rested captain Rory Best and given a first Six Nations start to 32-year-old hooker Sean Cronin, but he has retained a back division featuring flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, the current world player of the year.    

Read more on:    england  |  wales  |  six nations  |  rugby

 

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