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England vs Wales Six Nations preview

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Article Published: Friday 24 February 2012

England caretaker coach Stuart Lancaster's faith in one of the most inexperienced English Rugby sides of recent times will be put to the test when they face a seasoned Wales team in the Six Nations at Twickenham.

For decades England have been accused of being risk-averse but Lancaster has made some bold choices for a match on Saturday which could go a long way in determining if he succeeds Martin Johnson on a permanent basis, with the likes of Nick Mallett waiting in the wings.

Now though the question is whether England can follow their coach's lead.

England have won their opening two matches in the 2012 Six Nations but these have been scrappy one-try victories away to Scotland and Italy, arguably the two weakest teams in the tournament.

Both tries were scored by fly-half Charlie Hodgson as a result of his charge-downs.

But Hodgson is out of Saturday's match with a cut finger and Lancaster has decided to shift his Saracens team-mate Owen Farrell, still only 20 and playing just his third Test this weekend, from centre to fly-half where he has performed with distinction for Premiership champions Sarries.

Although the average age of both line-ups is 25, World Cup semi-finalists Wales's starting side boast a combined 488 caps to their England counterparts' 182.

Indeed England will be fielding their most inexperienced Championship side since 1989 at Twickenham on Saturday, with Lancaster already looking to the 2015 World Cup on home soil.

In all seven members of England's 1st XV -- captain Chris Robshaw, No 8 Ben Morgan, locks Geoff Parling and Mouritz Botha, scrum-half Lee Dickson, fly-half Farrell and centre Brad Barritt -- will be making their first Test start at Twickenham in front of a sell-out 80,000 crowd.

And the match will also be Lancaster's first home game in charge.

Hodgson's injury and Lancaster's decision to shift Farrell to stand-off has opened up a space in which powerful Samoa born centre Manu Tuilagi can be recalled in midfield

England will certainly need his physical presence for the days when they had all the strength behind the scrum and Wales made up in guile for what they lacked in size are long gone.

The truth is Wales have both size and skill in a back division where teenage wing George North is the standard bearer and the centre duo of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies a handful for any defence.

Nor can England take scrum superiority for granted against a Wales side eyeing the Triple Crown and boosted by the return of captain Sam Warburton and lock Alun-Wyn Jones.

However, Wales will have a new hooker in Ken Owens because of injuries and lineout specialist Parling will look to put pressure on the throw of the Scarlets forward.

"Owen's temperament speaks for itself," said Lancaster of Farrell after avoiding the safety first option of recalling fit-again 46-cap outside-half Toby Flood to his starting side.

How England will score a try remains uncertain but Lancaster said: "We've worked hard on keeping width and depth in attack.

"But games are not won just by scoring tries, they are won by pressure, defence, kicking goals."

Wales, who've scored six tries this tournament, have won just once at Twickenham since 1988.

That was four years ago when a 26-19 win in coach Warren Gatland's first game in charge set up a Grand Slam.

This season wins over Ireland and Scotland, with Rhys Priestland directing operations at fly-half and full-back Leigh Halfpenny proving as good a goalkicker as Farrell, have taken Wales to the top of the table.

Wales ought to be too strong for England, even if they lost to South Africa, France and Australia at the World Cup.

But favouritism does not always sit well with the Welsh.

However, lock Jones said: "People are saying we are the favourites, and we need to be comfortable with that because it is what happens when your performances and confidence grow."


England (15-1)

Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Lee Dickson; Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (capt), Tom Croft; Geoff Parling, Mouritz Botha; Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Alex Corbisiero

Replacements: Rob Webber, Matt Stevens, Courtney Lawes, Phil Dowson, Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Mike Brown

Wales (15-1)

Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Michael Phillips; Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Dan Lydiate; Ian Evans, Alun-Wyn Jones; Adam Jones, Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins

Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Paul James, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams

Referee: Steve Walsh (AUS)


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