The RBS Six Nations is set to kick off with a bang as Wales host England on Friday night. With our full RBS Six Nations betting preview already posted, it is time to look at the individual matches in more detail, as the try to get out of the blocks the quickest. England are going as favourites to win the tournament this year, and that is largely down to two factors. First of all, they showed much attacking improvement over the autumn, and the second factor is that they have three home matches at Twickenham during this year’s campaign. The trip to Wales is the tough opener for Martin Johnson’s men though, as they have lost on their last three visits to the Millennium Stadium. The strengths of England will be all in the pack, and that is where they really have to take Wales on, as the home side are much weaker in that department. While England developed something of an unexpected running game against the Southern Hemisphere teams during the autumn, it was clearly something that was new to the set up. While it produced a lot of exciting rugby for the Twickenham crowd to enjoy, the tactics were still in their infancy, as there were still many flaws in the English game. The defense in midfield was particularly lax, with Mike Tindall taking a lot of the blame on his shoulders. The England backs still seemed to be playing on a wing and a prayer at times, trying their best to play expansive rugby, but not fully communicating or understanding the players around them, and those all important partnerships and understandings have fully yet to develop. Martin Johnson won’t be able to field his ideal fifteen due to injuries, but if Toby Flood exerts the kind of control from fly half as he did against Australia at the back end of last year, they should be fine. It all comes down to decision making.
At least there is a lot more promise there, and England really should, and have to do better than their third place finishing in the Six Nations this year. There is a World Cup looming later in the year, and England have to be ready. These five matches are invaluable contests in the context of the World Cup, and the trip to Cardiff will really test their mettle. They were bullied out of their game by South Africa in the Autumn, who really took England on up front and took a lot out of the England game. England have lost captain Lewis Moody and Courtney Lawes, which will have a big pack on the mobility of the pack. There is thoughts that England may just revert to their old, boring kick and chase, aim for territory game, instead of showing the kind of adventure which helped England beat Australia last year. There really isn’t a lot to choose from between the teams, in particular, England, France and Ireland in terms of winning the championship, and a Grand Slam seems a very distant dream for any of them. England need to lay down a marker by beating Wales, and if that victory comes, and banking on the three home victories, by the time they go to Ireland in the final round of matches, the result may not matter. England are stronger than they were twelve months ago, but they still lack that killer instinct, that ruthlessness which comes so naturally to the Southern Hemisphere teams. If the England pack get their momentum going, and get rolling against the Welsh, then they should win. The England defence in the back line still needs some work, and they will come under the cosh by Wales, who will probably take a running game to the Auld enemy.
Wales though are not in any kind of form. They haven’t won a test match in seven attempts now, and their terrible draw against Fiji somehow seemed worse than a defeat. They won’t have Gavin Henson in the set up, no influence from Martin Williams, and there seems some indecision from coach Warren Gatland, as to how the three quarters line is going to set up. As always, Wales are talking the big talk, but really they could find themselves in a mighty struggle through the Six Nations this year, if they do not get themselves off to a good start. It’s not that they do not have attacking threats at all, because they do. They are often one of the more exciting and adventurous teams with the ball in hand, but the trouble with them, is that they really do not have any defensive prowess at all. They will be vulnerable to big score lines being ran up against them, because their pack is not the strongest (even less so with Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones out), and there are serious gaps in the Welsh midfield, which teams can easily exploit. On paper you would put England down for a win and expect nothing less, but the Welsh will of course have that all important home advantage on the night, and that is worth a few points in the bag. However, they really don’t have the heavy hitters that England do, and because of the frailties in the Welsh line and at set plays, you would expect England to win this one, probably not by a big margin, because the English will be made to scrap and work hard.
There have been 119 Wales v England matches throughout history, and things stand pretty much even. Wales have won 53 encounters, while England just have the edge with 54 wins in the meetings. Twelve of those 119 matches have ended in draws. What makes for interesting reading is the average points per game, and Wales have ran in 11 points on average, while England have just under 13 points per game on average against the Welsh. There really is not much to call between the two sides in the statistics, the biggest win for Wales over England was 25-0 thrashing, and England’s biggest win was a massive 62-5 thumping of the Welsh. This should be a cracking match, and has every potential to be an open, running affair, full of counter attack. It could be a bit cagey at first, but as the game wears on and teams settle down and get a feel for the ball, it will get sprayed around. Look for second half tries when legs are tiring.
Last Year’s Result: England 30, Wales 17
England Last Year’s Six Nations Finishing Position: 3rd
Wales Last Year’s Six Nations Finishing Position: 4th