England Remain Unbeaten Under Jones After Victory Over Wales

What a sensational and thrilling Six Nations clash. England won it 21-16 in Cardiff but it could have gone either way.

Wales will feel aggrieved having been dominant for long periods but for the most part unable to turn pressure on the White Rose line into points.

Indeed they spurned two very kickable penalties – Lee Halfpenny was as usual at his brilliant best with the boot – which would have got them home.

But it was two tries to one in England’s favour and they just about deserved to sneak it. Mind you, as with France a week before, it was the substitutes off the bench in the last 30 minutes who were the stars.

Danny Care came on for Ben Youngs who had an average game by his standards and threw an intercept on the Welsh line which nearly saw Dan Biggar go the length of the pitch.

Dylan Hartley never quite put it together either, the first to be replaced – by Jamie George.

Ben Te’o injected some pace and power in midfield, James Haskell was immense and Kyle Sinkler won the killer turnover as England looked to play out the last three minutes.

Joe Launchbury got man of the match but Courtney Lawes was immense. He was simply everywhere. Elliott Daly was excellent too.

It appeared for some while that Wales’ terrific back row led by Sam Warburton and Ross Moriarty against England’s relatively inexperienced six, seven and eight was going to make the difference.

England Make Fast Start But Wales Roar Back

After early exchanges of penalties England went into an 8-3 lead as Youngs squirmed over following heavy English pressure.

But then Wales came to the fore.

Halfpenny got another penalty and then just before half time Liam Williams struck with a planned move which saw him race from his wing to carve through a gaping hole in England’s centre-threequarters, with Jack Nowell unable to get across in time to take his man.

Was there more than a hint of crossing? No obstruction ruled the referee. From there Wales held on through the penalty exchanges and could even have gone further ahead.

Daly Scores Wonderful Try To Secure Victory

But at 16-14 down England had the better of the last 20 minutes and made it count when all seemed near lost.

With the crowd baying as the referee ignored two apparently blatant Welsh infringements, the ball was kicked clear only for England to mount a last ditch attack which saw Daly take a despairing Alex Cuthbert on the outside to cross at the corner.

Wonderful stuff from Daly but one had to feel sorrow for Cuthbert. In for the injured George North and not in the best of form, he has played many times for his country and has mostly put in solid if rarely brilliant performances. Would North have got Daly? Probably. However, ifs and buts count for nothing in sport.

Victories over Wales in Cardiff are always special.

What is it they say? If you can still win when not playing at your best you have to be a decent side, and England are.

2017 Old Mutual Wealth Series (Autumn Internationals) On Sale Now!

The Autumn Internationals are one of the major highlights of the international rugby calendar as the best sides from the Southern Hemisphere head to Europe for their end of season tours. In 2017 England face three crucial fixtures at Twickenham Argentina, Australia and Samoa.

Please see our Twickenham Autumn Internationals hospitality page for more information.

England Name Side for Wales Six Nations Clash

Eddie Jones has made two changes to his England side as the defending Six Nations champions head to Cardiff to face Wales – for one of the most anticipated and historic fixtures in world rugby.

After a tense opener against France, where a late Ben Te’o score secured a record breaking 15th consecutive Test Match victory, Jones has recalled Jack Nowell and Jack Clifford to the side.

Nowell was one of the substitutes to make a major impact from the bench last weekend and he has ousted Jonny May on the left wing – who drops to the bench. The Exeter Chiefs flyer has been in fine form since returning from injury and his return will be a major boost to the side.

Elsewhere Clifford makes his first Six Nations start for England, with Tom Wood dropping to the bench. The Harlequins flanker will bring some much needed energy and ball carrying ability to the back-row.

Jones said on Clifford’s inclusion, “He is a hard-working, young player. He has got a good record against Wales, he had a superb game against them in May, he knows what he is going to expect and we’re looking forward to him making an impact in our back-row play.”

Alongside Maro Itoje and Nathan Hughes, Clifford will form part of an exciting but inexperienced back-row. James Haskell is not considered ready for starting position and will again be looking to make a huge impact off the bench as one of England’s ‘finishers’.

England and Jones ready for ‘one of the biggest games in world rugby’

After Ireland’s defeat to Scotland in week one of the Six Nations, England know that a victory will put them in pole position for a second Grand Slam in two-years.

And Jones says his side are ready for the challenge ahead saying: “It’s been a great week of focused preparation and we can’t wait to play Wales.

“Playing Wales in Cardiff is one of the biggest games in world rugby and we’re excited. These are the games you want to be part of as a player and a coach.

“It’s a game that is going to be decided on the basics of the game. You do the fundamentals of the game well and you win the game of rugby. We have a young team eager to play well at the great Principality Stadium.”

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Joe Marler, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 3 Dan Cole, 4 Joe Launchbury, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Maro Itoje, 7 Jack Clifford 8 Nathan Hughes

Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jonny May

2017 Old Mutual Wealth Series (Autumn Internationals) On Sale Now!

The Autumn Internationals are one of the major highlights of the international rugby calendar as the best sides from the Southern Hemisphere head to Europe for their end of season tours. In 2017 England face three crucial fixtures at Twickenham Argentina, Australia and Samoa.

Please see our Twickenham Autumn Internationals hospitality page for more information.

RBS Six Nations 2017 Round One Preview

‘Rugby’s Greatest Championship’ returns this weekend as Europe’s elite sides battle it out in the opening round of the RBS Six Nations 2017. Round one of this historic tournament see’s Scotland take on Ireland, England welcoming France to Twickenham and Wales travelling to Italy.

England v France – Twickenham – Saturday 4th February 4.50pm

England enter the Six Nations as the defending Grand Slam champions and the world’s No.2 ranked side behind New Zealand.

After a perfect 2016 which saw Eddie Jones’s side register 13 consecutive Test Match victories (14 including the win over Uruguay in 2015); England know victory on Saturday will see them surpass their longest ever winning streak of 14-games, set in 2002/03.

But after a series of major injury blows, the hosts know that they face a stern examination of their credentials against an improving French side.

The loss of the Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Chris Robshaw and George Kruis has prompted a switch around in the pack. Nathan Hughes will continue to deputise in the absence of Billy Vunipola, while Tom Wood will continue at openside flanker.

World Rugby Young Player of the Year, Maro Itoje, will switch to blindside flanker from second row. While Joe Marler returns at prop after a remarkable recovery from a fractured leg.

The backline has a much more settled feel, with just one change from the side that faced Australia, with Elliot Daly returning on the wing. On the bench England welcome back James Haskell and Jack Nowell from injury and will be hoping for major impact from two of their finest players.

France produced some fine efforts in the Autumn Internationals and will be looking to continue that form at Twickenham. Livewire scrum-half Baptiste Serin will be one of the real danger men for the visitors.

Remi Lamerat and Gael Fickou are named as the centre partnership in the absence of the injured Wesley Fofana, with Mathieu Bastareaud omitted from the matchday 23, while Fijians Virimi Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci continue on the wings.

Prediction: Injuries will be no excuse for Eddie Jones, he will be expecting his side to make it 15 consecutive wins. Twickenham looks to be returning to the fortress of old and despite the recent resurgence of France, England should come out on top.

England 27-19 France

Scotland v Ireland – BT Murrayfield Saturday 4th February 2.25pm

This game has the potential to be one of the highlights of the tournament and is the perfect way to start the Six Nations 2017.

After their unbelievable autumn which saw them beat the All Blacks, Ireland and their coach Joe Schmidt will be expecting to claim another Six Nations title in March. But the men in green will begin the Six Nations without star fly-half Johnny Sexton.

In his place Ulster’s Paddy Jackson will step into the number 10 shirt. In the back row, Schmidt has been able to name arguably the strongest in the competition with CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip all starting.

In the centres all eyes will be on the pairing of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw. The highly-rate Ringrose has been compared to Brian O’Driscoll and makes his first Six Nations start. While Henshaw will be looking to cement his status as the best inside centre in the British Isles.

Scotland also enjoyed a fine autumn series and are many peoples outside tips for tournament success. In Vern Cotter’s final Six Nations, Scotland will be finally looking to deliver on the promise of recent performances.

Centre Huw Jones returns to the side after injury, and will feature in a talented back division alongside Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell and Sean Maitland. The talented Gray brothers continue in the engine room, while Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson and Josh Strauss complete the back-row.

Prediction: A game filled with stars, both sides have bags of attacking potential. Ireland are one of the tournament favourites and have the pedigree to go all the way, whereas Scotland will be looking to fulfil their potential. But Ireland should just edge a tight encounter.

Scotland 24 – Ireland 26

Italy v Wales – Stadio Olimpico Sunday 5th February 2.00pm

The final game of the weekend see’s Wales travel to Rome to face Conor O’Shea’s Italy in a fascinating encounter.

With Warren Gatland away on Lions duty, Rob Howley has taken temporary charge of Wales. With Alun Wyn-Jones now leading the side, Sam Warburton switches to blindside flanker with Justin Tipuric starts at number seven.

At inside centre Scott Williams is preferred to the experienced Jamie Roberts, and will partner Jonathan Davies. While Rhys Webb returns at scrum-half and will play alongside Dan Biggar.

Conor O’Shea enters his first Six Nations in charge of Italy and after a historic victory over South Africa, he will be hoping to build a level of consistency that has been lacking for a number of years.

Prediction: This is a potential banana-skin for Wales despite fielding a near full strength side. Italy showed in the Autumn they are trying to expand their game and O’Shea will have them fully primed and firing for this game. Italy could cause an upset.

Italy 23-20 Wales

Twickenham Six Nations Hospitality Packages on Sale

See the oldest fixture in International Rugby with Eventmasters official VIP England v Scotland – Twickenham Six Nations Hospitality Packages.

England romp to victory in Old Mutual Wealth Cup at Twickenham

Six Nations champions England completed their preparations for the summer tour of Australia with a convincing 27-13 victory over Wales in the Old Mutual Wealth Cup clash at Twickenham.

Despite missing several key players who contested the Aviva Premiership Final on Saturday, England were simply too good for their rivals, outscoring them five tries to one on a glorious afternoon at the home of rugby.

After losing out narrowly in the Six Nations, Wales were desperate to get the victory ahead of their three match series against World Champions New Zealand. Warren Gatland’s side were fastest out of the blocks and took the lead early on, as prop Rob Evans crashed over from close range.

Eddie Jones’s side gradually began to work their way into the game and hit back with a try of their own as centre Luther Burrell picked a superb line off Ben Youngs to smash through the tackle of Dan Biggar and touchdown.

Ten minutes before half-time England scored their second of the afternoon and it was no surprise to see Anthony Watson cross for his 12th international try in 21 caps. A flowing move down the left side saw Watson breakthrough two tackles and produce a superb finish.

The hosts trailed 13-10 at the break, but they could have easily been in the lead but for the misfiring boot of George Ford.

England dominate second half at Twickenham; now they head to Australia full of confidence and looking for a series win

It took England just four minutes to take the lead; off a well worked line-out move Ben Youngs sniped through the ragged Welsh defence and touchdown. Ford again missed from the tee, but they now led 15-13.

Just two minutes later England scored their fourth of the afternoon. After Dan Cole’s fingertips appeared to touch a pass from Biggar, the ball dropped to number eight Jack Clifford who showed great speed to race from the halfway line and score.

After 60 minutes the lead was extended further. After several powerful carries deep into the Welsh 22 the ball was moved wide and lock Courtney Lawes showed brilliant awareness to hand-off Jamie Roberts and send Marland Yarde over for a simple score.

There were no further additions to the score and England took the inaugural Old Mutual Wealth Cup 27-13.

After the game Jones was angered by comments about the performance of Ford who kicked just one from seven off the tee, saying: “We scored five tries, one was a bit how’s your mother, and the other four were scored by backs.

“If you score four tries against Wales your stand-off is doing something right.

“The thing that strikes me is that we’ve just beaten Wales five tries to one and we’re talking about a guy who can’t kick a few goals.”

Now England can look forward to three test matches against The Wallabies. Head Coach Eddie Jones will be delighted with the performances of some his fringe players on Sunday.

Joe Launchbury was rightly awarded Man of the Match after a stellar effort; another reminder of his immense talents. In the back-row Jack Clifford and Teimana Harrison brought real dynamism and power.

While the backs again showed that they continue their development and Luther Burrell earned a spot on the plane with Manu Tuilagi ruled out with injury.

After the summer tour England return to Twickenham for the Autumn Internationals and then the 2017 Six Nations.

For more information please see our Twickenham Autumn International hospitality packages and our Twickenham Six Nations hospitality packages.

England v Wales – Old Mutual Wealth Cup Preview

Sunday’s inaugural Old Mutual Wealth Cup at Twickenham will see England take on Wales, with both sides preparing for major summer tours to Australia and New Zealand. The game will be a rematch of the classic Six Nations encounter and will be anything but an end of season friendly.

Eddie Jones was able to select a strong squad for the game, but he will be without his contingent of Saracens and Exeter players who will be contesting the Aviva Premiership Final on Saturday. But the Australian has named four uncapped players in the match day 23.

Harrison to make England debut

Northampton Saints star Teimana Harrison will make his England debut at blindside flanker, after a stellar season with the East Midlands giants.

The 23-year-old went to the same high school as Six Nations winning skipper Dylan Hartley (Rotorua Boys School) and qualifies for England through his English father. After enjoying a breakout season, Jones has rewarded him with a Test Match debut and place in the squad for the Australia tour.

At number eight Jack Clifford will make his full debut, after several appearances off the bench during the Six Nations. While James Haskell will continue his role at openside flanker, with Matt Kvesic offering cover from the bench.

While Tommy Taylor and Ellis Genge could make their England debuts from the bench; along with centre Ollie Devoto.

In the backs Luther Burrell returns to the inside centre jersey for the first time since last August, while Marland Yarde starts on the wing in the absence of Jack Nowell.

Eddie Jones said, “This is an important Test match and a great opportunity for us to play some positive, physical rugby. We are a young team learning our craft, Wales are an experienced team; it’ll be great test for us.

“We can’t wait to get back Twickenham to play in front of a massive crowd. England versus Wales is a special occasion and we look forward to giving our loyal fans something to cheer about.”

Gatland selects strong team for England clash

Warren Gatland has been able to select a near full strength Wales side for the Old Mutual Cup clash, with Sam Warburton and Jonathan Davies the only notable absentees.

Gloucester’s Ross Moriarty replaces Warburton, winning his sixth Wales cap. While Dan Lydiate moves to openside flanker and takes over the captaincy.

In the backs the likes of Dan Biggar, George North, Jamie Roberts and Liam Williams all feature, meaning this will be a proper Test Match.

The Wales coach said: “It will be an important hit-out for both teams and as ever it will be an important Test match as it’s England v Wales at Twickenham.

“There is a lot of continuity in our squad and a great amount of experience and that is going to be vital over the next five weeks.”

This will be a must-see encounter.

For more information please see our Twickenham Autumn International hospitality packages and our Twickenham Six Nations hospitality packages.

England pick squad for Old Mutual Wealth Cup game at Twickenham

Eddie Jones has selected a strong 26-man squad for England’s Old Mutual Wealth Cup match against Wales at Twickenham on Sunday.

The Six Nations champions will be without their contingent of Saracens and Exeter Chiefs players including Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, George Kruis and Jack Nowell; who are contesting the Aviva Premiership Final on Saturday.

However they are able to recall several of the stars who shone during their Grand Slam winning campaign, while some uncapped players could get the chance to showcase their talents.

One of the notable omissions is Danny Cipriani who has enjoyed one of his finest seasons and will join up with Wasps ahead of the 2016-17 season.

After a training camp in Brighton, Cipriani was unable to force his way into the squad for the Australia tour, but will travel with the England Saxons to South Africa.

Jones said on the 28-year-old: “It’s never the end. The door is always open. He came down to Brighton and put his best foot forward. He’s got some work to do on his game if he’s going to dislodge the other two boys.”

With Owen Farrell struggling with a rib injury, it could be a case of Jones holding Cipriani back in case he has to call upon him for the Australia tour.

England could field exciting back-row for Wales clash

England v Wales was probably the best game of the 2016 Six Nations as the hosts avenged their World Cup defeat with a 25-21 victory.

The battle at the breakdown was crucial that day and will again be a pivotal area of the game on Sunday and Jones has given himself the option of fielding an exciting and dynamic back-row.

Teimana Harrison has been one of the Premierships form players in the second half of the season, forcing his way into the squad for the Australia series. The 23-year-old has the ability to cover openside and number eight, while his work at the breakdown has been superb.

Matt Kvesic is another who has really impressed this season in a struggling Gloucester side, he has maintained a high-level of performance and is a master of stealing ball at the ruck.

While Jack Clifford made steady progress throughout the Six Nations during his first season of international rugby. Like Harrison he is a versatile performer and has been a constant in Jones’s plans and could get his first start.

With world ranking points and the Old Mutual Wealth Cup at stake, this will be anything but an end of season friendly as both sides prepare for huge summer tours of Australia and New Zealand respectively.

Predicted England Rugby XV v Wales:
15. Mike Brown
14. Anthony Watson
13. Jonathan Joseph
12. Ollie Devoto
11. Marland Yarde
10. George Ford
9. Danny Care
8. Jack Clifford
7. Matt Kvesic
6. Chris Robshaw
5. Courtney Lawes
4. Joe Launchbury
3. Paul Hill
2. Dylan Hartley ©
1. Matt Mullan

For more information please follow the links to our Twickenham Autumn International Hospitality Packages and Twickenham Six Nations Hospitality Packages.

Six Nations 2016 – England v Wales Review

England secured their first Six Nations title since 2011 after their 25-21 victory over Wales at Twickenham, moved them three points clear of Wales and four clear of France who failed to beat Scotland on Sunday. Now all eyes will be focused on Paris as Eddie Jones’ side go for a first Grand Slam since 2003.

Wales tore into England in the last ten minutes but were only allowed to because outrageous officiating gifted them an undeserved way back. Prop Dan Cole was shown a yellow card on 72 minutes after a series of English infringements.

But then play was stopped after the TMO highlighted an incident of possible foul play.

Television appeared to show a blatant eye gouge by Welsh replacement Tomas Francis, only for the TMO to rule the replays were ‘inconclusive’, claiming there was only one angle of view.

So what? It was as clear as a bell for all in the stadium and all watching at home – why would you need a second look?

Yet instead of a deserved red card, a yellow at the very least, Francis, though he may yet face a ban, was outrageously allowed to stay on to make it 15 v 14 and Wales escaped with just a penalty against them.

And, given Cole was the man on the receiving end, there was an argument to say his yellow should have been rescinded. And in all this controversial South African referee Craig Joubert, at the centre of the South Africa v Scotland furore in the World Cup, who to be fair had a good game for the most part, dithered.

And it wasn’t the only dodgy moment for the TMO.

Late in the first half was another flashpoint. Any rugby person from the extra 5th XV upwards could have told you that from short in Cole had got over the line and achieved downward pressure.

What is the point of having a TMO if the system bottles the big incidents?

Itoje shines as England claim first Six Nations title in five years

Nevertheless it was a wonderful, thrilling and open game which the Six Nations was desperately needing.

England were utterly dominant in the first half with young second row Maro Itoje rightly the man of the match. It was an immense performance from a star in the making, tipped by many to become as iconic as the great Martin Johnson.

Itoje was everywhere, making a try for Anthony Watson, putting in big tackles, stealing Welsh lineout ball and securing turnovers.

Prior to the game, as we watched on a big screen at Moseley Rugby Club, one of our number was hailing the 9/2 odds on the combination of an England win and a Watson try. Had he actually made the bet he was in the money.

He didn’t but it was an astute prediction. England led 16-0 at half time, battered Wales and should have been further ahead.

Wales came back in the second half, got an opportunist try from Dan Biggar in charging down George Ford, and then risked all. Owen Farrell penalties pegged them back and England led 25-7, containing their foes well.

But, as the substitutions poured on – are they really all necessary – it seemed to disrupt England’s rhythm while adding something to the Welsh effort.

Then came the Francis/Cole farce and suddenly England, a man down, were under the cosh with George North and Talupe Faletau scoring in quick succession. Hearts were in mouths as they hung on desperately in the final seconds.

But they made it through to the end without further hurt. They were the best side and the best side won.  A great England positive go-forward performance with a flawless kicking display by Farrell who notched 20 points from six penalties and the conversion of Watson’s try.

And there were also big games from Watson, Mike Brown, Jack Nowell and James Haskell. Victory achieved despite an ordinary performance from Billy Vunipola while Manu Tuilagi had a mere cameo late on.

The Triple Crown won, defeat by Wales in the World Cup avenged, Six Nations championship victors in the wake of the French defeat to Scotland, and England move on to Paris in search of the Grand Slam.

It will be very hard against the French but England perhaps deserve the icing on the cake given the massive improvement Eddie Jones has instilled into a side left a shambles just a few months ago.

England v Wales Hospitality Review – Merits

Prior to this huge Six Nations encounter guests enjoyed outstanding hospitality inside the Merits Complex situated within the shadow of Twickenham Stadium. On arrival our guests were greeted with a Champagne Reception, served by our VIP hostess team along with the complimentary bar which was available throughout the day.

DSC_0533We were delighted be joined by some legends of both English and Welsh rugby both before and after the game who gave their insights and opinions. Former England and British and Irish Lions international Tim Stimpson was joined by four former internationals as Tim Payne (Wasps, England and British Lions) and Paul Grayson MBE (Northampton Saints, England and British Lions) Mark Regan MBE (Bristol, England and British Lions) and Lee Byrne (Ospreys, Clermont, Wales and British Lions) entertained the Merits crowd.



Our #MeritsVIP competition once again went down a treat as two guests each won an England shirt signed by all the former England internationals in attendance and personalised by our MC Tim Stimpson. This combined with the superb food and the wonderful result made it a truly memorable day.

Lets hope we are celebrating a Grand Slam title next Saturday!

Six Nations 2016 – Tuilagi returns for England v Wales

Manu Tuilagi will return to England’s match day squad for their crucial Six Nations title decider against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday 12th March.

The bulldozing centre hasn’t played for England since their tour of New Zealand in June 2014 and has played only recently returned to action after 15 months out with a groin and hamstring injuries.

The 24-year-old is one of the world’s most explosive and powerful centres on his day and has an excellent strike rate for England with 11 tries in 25 internationals. He has made a pleasing return to rugby and scored his first Premiership try for two years in Leicester Tigers victory over Exeter Chiefs on Sunday.

Tuilagi will replace Saracens full-back Alex Goode in the 23-man squad and looks set for his Six Nations return off the bench, with Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph continuing their effective partnership.

Flanker James Haskell has praised Tuilagi’s return to the England squad saying: He is a threat and a very special player. I don’t often look at people and think ‘I wish I had some of his genes’. He is pace, power and strength personified.

“He will have an impact, he always does. I’ve played with him against some of the best teams in the world and he causes everybody trouble.

“Even if he has a bad day, someone will still get taken down or he’ll run through someone. Very few players have the ability to do that.”

Eddie Jones makes changes ahead of Six Nations title decider

England head coach has also called-up Northampton Saints prop Kieran Brookes to the 23-man squad for game with Wales. The 25-year-old has replaced his club teammate Paul Hill and will now look to add to his haul of 15 caps.

Another man who could come onto the bench for the game is Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, who is providing cover for Jamie George. The Saracens hooker has made big impacts off the bench in all three games, but suffered an arm injury in training last Thursday.

England v Wales is always a huge game, but this Six Nations title decider is one of the most anticipated in recent memory.  Wales and Warren Gatland know what it takes to win these big games.

While England look a different proposition under Eddie Jones and the majority of the squad will be looking for revenge after their World Cup defeat against Wales in the autumn.

England v Wales a Six Nations title decider

England v Wales at Twickenham looks set to be the Six Nations decider … though France will have something to say about that. And the two couldn’t be closer matched. Especially if Eddie Jones, as he has hinted, does indeed bring Manu Tuilagi into the 23.

Tuilagi at his best can break tackles and punch holes in the line. Fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of the Leicester wrecking ball in the white shirt and Welsh brute Jamie Roberts on the opposing side.

After only recently returning from long term injury, Tuilagi would almost certainly start on the bench given England’s preference for the Ford-Farrell combination, but he remains a formidable presence.

The big question is whether the old adversaries will cancel each other out.

If anything, Wales have the edge. Not much in it between the front five, but Wales have the better ball-winning back row.

England have the guile of Jonathan Joseph in the centre, with wingers Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell playing well. But man for man the Welsh three quarters have greater flair.

So long as it doesn’t degenerate into a kicking contest, both for position and at the posts, which it may well do, then we are in for a cracker.

England must keep their discipline and not give away silly penalties. They will be looking for Billy Vunipola to have another big game.

But England must do more than just try to muscle the Welsh into mistakes. Wales have an excellent defence and are adept at hitting on the break. In winger George North they have a match winner.

Clash of coaches will be pivotal to Six Nations hopes

The battle of the coaches, Jones v Warren Gatland will be as interesting as what happens on the pitch. Two canny individuals from the Southern Hemisphere who will be plotting and scheming to get one over on each other.

Mind games and motivation are their specialty.

Don’t expect Mourinho-style rants, just deeply thought-out daggers at the heart, albeit in true rugby fashion, mutual respect reigns. Short of a draw, one will be disappointed and each will be eager to ensure it isn’t him.

Gatland has an excellent record in the Six Nations.

As Wales on Sunday have pointed out, since he arrived from New Zealand at the beginning of 2008 to take charge of Wales, both countries have played 43 championship matches. And their records are identical. They have both won 31 times and drawn on one occasion, with 11 defeats.

That puts them comfortably ahead of the next best performing team, Ireland, who have claimed 24 victories. On try count, the English are ahead, having scored 97 to Wales’ 86, although the Welsh defensive record is slightly superior. They have conceded just 46 compared to the 47 England have leaked.

But there’s one crucial category where Wales lead the way – trophies. They have won the Six Nations title three times since Gatland took up the reins – in 2008, 2012 and 2013.

The first two of those were Grand Slam campaigns, while a further title was added in 2013 when Rob Howley was in charge with Gatland on a Lions sabbatical.

In contrast, England have lifted the championship trophy just once, in 2011, when a defeat to Ireland saw them fall short of the Slam at the final hurdle. This time only England can win the Grand Slam following Wales 16-16 draw against the Irish. But England have to go to France and come away with the spoils.

Wales will be desperate to deny England a Triple Crown. That is the incentive for England and it is a big one. As well, of course, some measure of revenge, were it possible, for that Welsh defeat in the World Cup.

England are at home with the crowd behind them. It will be close, but I forecast England to just nick it.

Please follow the links to our Twickenham Six Nations hospitality packages page.


Image Credit – Sum_of_Marc (Flickr)