No fixture gets Wales more fired up than facing England in the Six Nations at Principality Stadium and Saturday’s clash promises to be another epic encounter after both teams triumphed in the opening round of this season’s tournament.
The key to the outcome, however, could lie in interim home coach Rob Howley focusing solely on the here and now, whereas Eddie Jones appears to have one eye on the future with his selections.
With Warren Gatland taking time out to focus on this summer’s Lions tour of New Zealand, Howley has opted to go back to the tried and trusted players who have served Wales so well, with title triumphs in 2012 and 2013 and competitive efforts over the past three years.
This policy is perhaps best highlighted in the respective choice of back-row forwards, with the Wales trio of Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty boasting 130 Test caps between them, while fit-again substitute Taulupe Faletau can add another 62 international appearances to that list.
In contrast, England’s back three only have a total of 20 caps combined and it is asking a lot of young players to fill such crucial positions in what is sure to be a white-hot atmosphere, so we’re taking 91/100 for Wales with five points start and also 37/20 for a home victory.
England have won three straight head-to-head meetings in the Six Nations, but the last couple were only by four and five-point margins with a more settled side – and Wales can point to a famous 28-25 World Cup triumph at Twickenham during that period.
The Dragons also prevailed at this venue in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013, with several of those results earned when underdogs.
It took a while for Wales to take control of the scoreboard against Italy last weekend, but it always felt like they were easily the better team in Rome, as they attempted to play running rugby with an assured confidence from the outset.
England will pose more of a threat up front and at set-pieces, but the feeling is that Wales will again be the more comfortable outfit with the ball in hand.
“There is huge excitement in the camp ahead of Saturday for what is set to be a massive Six Nations encounter,” Howley said. “We were really pleased with the result out in Rome and are looking to build on that performance this weekend.”
Having fly-half Dan Biggar and wing George North passed fit is a major boost to morale, with both players bringing more valuable experience to the party.
England eventually quelled some strong French resistance at Twickenham to secure a 15th straight Test win, but they desperately missed the go-forward usually provided by Billy Vunipola and brother Mako, while Chris Robshaw’s work-rate was another notable absence.
With Jack Clifford now replacing Tom Wood in the back row, the fear is that Wales will have just too much strength and tactical nous in that department.
“Playing Wales in Cardiff is one of the biggest games in world rugby and we’re excited,” declared Jones. “These are the games you want to be part of as a player and a coach. We have a young team eager to play well at the great Principality Stadium.”
Whether this fixture comes just too soon in the development of some of those international careers is the big question!