After a week hiatus, the Guinness Six Nations tournaments roars back into action. Wales and England is the box office test match this weekend; shadow boxing aplenty in the lead up to this fixture so expect explosive opening exchanges. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.
Gatland places trust in Anscombe
The main talking point from the Welsh selection was who was named at fly-half. A straight shootout between the experience of Dan Biggar or the attacking flair Gareth Anscombe. Gatland has made his decision. The ten jersey goes to Anscombe and shows faith in the Cardiff Blues man to deliver in a hot test match environment.
This is a good decision from Gatland. It runs the rule over Anscombe in a test match fixture where he will be put under immense pressure in defensive, kicking and attacking game management. It will provide further evidence for the Welsh management can they depend on Anscombe to deliver in the RWC 2019 if Dan Biggar is unavailable due to injury. Anscombe is the insurance policy for Wales at ten if Biggar goes down with injury in Japan. Rhys Patchell may have things to say on that statement but for now, the Cardiff Blues player has the control of the ten jersey. He needs to deliver and make a positive impact to retain the jersey long term.
As I have said from the outset of this tournament, I have liked Wales to go extremely close to win this championship. The scheduling of games, their unbeaten form heading into the tournament, the emergence of young talent to challenge the existing marquee names has driven the side further on. Their performance against Italy may have been patchy at times but they provided the likes of Wainwright and Watkin with valuable test match minutes and they impressed.
The pack looks mobile and solid in the set piece. Ken Owens is a reliable line out thrower and with an array of line out options in Hill, Jones, Tipuric and potentially Navidi; they will look to execute well in this set piece early doors. The scrum is also solid and Tomas Francis role is key as he packs down against Ben Moon who is playing superbly this season. Francis needs to pose questions early for Moon and hope to sway the official crew to set the platform. No Mako Vunipola is a blow for England in this contest. An intriguing contest nonetheless.
The back row unit for Wales has mobility, breakdown and ball carrying nous aplenty. Navidi has been a standout for Wales in this tournament. His skill set is superb and his ability to create turnover ball will require England’s back row unit to pay particular attention to the Cardiff Blues player. Ross Moriarty has got the game time required in recent weeks to make an impact in this test match. Justin Tipuric is a world class back row operator and his all round game complements Navidi and Moriarty perfectly.
The back line from Wales is vastly experienced in the three quarters. Davies and Parkes forming a consistently high performing partnership. Davies’ game management at key times will be pivotal. The Welsh back three will be fully aware of what happened to Ireland’s back three in the opening round; they received an artillery aerial bombardment where England targeted Earls, Stockdale and Henshaw. Williams, Adams and North will need to be prepared for this defensive onslaught. Their attacking play has been excellent but the key this weekend is how good they are defensively.
Eddie Jones deflecting the pressure off his players
You love him. You hate him. Eddie Jones if he was your national team coach, you would love. You would love him if you were a media rat packer or fan as his sound bites always deflect the pressure and criticism away from his players. Jones has placed the pressure this weekend firmly on Wales; he is contend with England’s progress in the tournament so far but you know that he is not really?
The England demolition of France in round two came at a cost. Mako Vunipola who impressed against Ireland and France cameo is unavailable for selection for the rest of the tournament. Ben Moon gets the nod to stake the claim for the prop jersey; it is a good depth chart evaluation for Eddie Jones and management with RWC 2019 fast approaching.
The pack looks formidable even without the services of Mako Vunipola. There are still question marks on the composure of Kyle Sinckler, he just cannot avoid getting involved in incidents that he has no business been involved in. Sinckler will cost his side dear soon, whether it is this weekend for an act of indiscipline remains to be seen but his temperament will be tested by the Welsh pack.
Quality half back pairing in Youngs and Farrell who has elevated his game to new levels for his country this season. His kicking game and attacking calls have been nothing short of sensational. The Tuilagi factor has helped Farrell no end; the Leicester Tigers center has reveled with fast ruck ball. Jonny May try scoring exploits to the fore but it will be interesting to see if Wales can defensively test the Leicester Tigers wing with deft kicking in behind the player. Jack Nowell at full back provides creativity and solidity under the high ball, further proof that Eddie Jones has lost confidence in Mike Brown.
It is the marquee NH rugby test match this weekend. Wales and England have had epic tussles in Cardiff in recent fixtures, this will be no different. The question is whether Wales can cope with the kicking game and pack physicality of the visitors? Can Gareth Anscombe deliver? England have impressed in this tournament but there is something about this Welsh side that impresses me this season. The balance of the side looks solid and if Anscombe and the back three can deliver an assured performance against an England side who will pepper all four players early doors, then no reason why Wales cannot win this. A very close fixture, slight edge for Wales given the attacking options on the bench late.