Stuart Lancaster will send England out to attack Wales full on at Twickenham in Six Nations encounter
STUART Lancaster, the interim England coach, says his side will have to play with more attacking brio at Twickenham on Saturday to pose a real challenge to Wales.
Lancaster names his side to play the RBS Six Nations' leading scorers on Thursday and would only point to there being “one or two changes” to the team who beat Italy in Rome last weekend.
With Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson set to replace out-of-sorts Ben Youngs and dynamic Llanelli Scarlets No8 Ben Morgan in line to step into the back row ahead of Phil Dowson, Lancaster will need to be mightily impressed by the showings of Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi and fly-half Toby Flood in Tuesday's double training sessions to throw them straight into the fray after their returns from injury.
Both will feature in the match-day squad and both will be charged with bringing more thrust and creativity to England's attack whenever they might appear.
“Our mentality will be to play as much as we can,” Lancaster said. “Weather conditions are always a factor but if they are as they are now, then Walesas well as ourselves will have an attack-minded mentality. We’ve got to have that improvement in our game.”
Lancaster dismissed the notion that England have shown little of value in attack in their opening games, their two tries coming from Charlie ‘Charge-down’ Hodgson.
“A lot of people are forgetting our second half against Italy,” said Lancaster. “We didn’t get the tries but there was enough there to be able to reinforce the positives to the players in showing them that it can work and that this is the way to play in the future.
"When we held our shape and got width into our attack, then we looked a far better side.”
The temptation to thrust Tuilagi straight back into the side will be offset by concerns over his match fitness following two injury lay-offs since the World Cup. A fractured cheekbone followed by a hamstring problem have restricted the 20 year-old to just five appearances.
“Manu looked sharper against Saracens on Sunday than against Exeter the previous week,” said Lancaster. “The nature of hamstring injuries is that you can’t do a lot of speed work.
"To play international rugby you have to be at the sharp end of domestic rugby. Clearly players such as Manu are contenders but we have to take into match-sharpness as well as the cohesion of the side.”
The player most under threat from Tuilagi’s return is Brad Barritt.
The Saracens centre has acquitted himself well, however, and England will be reluctant to dispense with his reliability in the tackle at Twickenham. The man himself says that he relishes the challenge for his place.
“It’s great for the team when you get that sort of competition for places because it’s a sure sign you are going forward as a side,” Barritt said. “That pressures makes you work harder and inspires you. We’re competitive beasts – that’s what we are.”
Lancaster acknowledged that England would have to play with a pace that eluded them against Scotland and Italy.
The need is all the greater given that Wales are a settled and experienced side and have one of the most obdurate as well as threatening defensive systems in the championship.
Warren Gatland’s assistant coach Shaun Edwards has spent four years getting them to this point.
“Their line speed is impressive and their defensive system is hard to break down,” Lancaster said. “They’ve got talented, physical players who are in form and have got confidence.
"They leave a lot of people on their feet, often have a scrum-half in the line with the wings pushing up. There are a lot of players to move around and the only way of doing that is to play with some tempo and width.”
England have no fears about the physical battering that is headed their way from a Wales back line who are likely to be almost two stone a man heavier.
“They’ve all got two legs and without them they can’t run,” Barritt said. “It’s about putting bodies on the line. I came up across some big Afrikaner boys when I was growing up as one of the few of English stock in Durban. We’re more than happy to match Wales in the physical stakes.”
On that rests so much, as does the ability of England to draw on the support of the Twickenham crowd in their first home game of the championship. Wales have won only once there in 23 years.
“A lot of our players are playing at Twickenham for the first time,” Lancaster said. “The power of a home crowd has to be a factor. We want the supporters to get behind us. We’re definitely going to give it our all.”
Charlie Sharples, the Gloucester wing, has been ruled out with a dead leg while Harlequins hooker Chris Booker was summoned on Monday as cover for Bath’s Lee Mears who has a biceps injury.