Tuesday 17 September 2019

England are leaving nothing to chance for Welsh invasion

Halfpenny a concern for Gatland as he misses out on Captain's Run at Twickenham with illness

Wales' Leigh Halfpenny. Photo: PA
Wales' Leigh Halfpenny. Photo: PA

Mick Cleary

Dylan Hartley believes England "have looked under every stone" in their preparations for the visit of a fit, fiery and fresh Wales to Twickenham today. The visitors arrive intent on exploiting their extra couple of days rest and running their opponents ragged in the closing stages, much as they did at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The past does not haunt this England side, though, and not only because they are under different management. Their focus is on the moment. The fact that they have not lost a Six Nations match at Twickenham in six years does not bolster them unduly.

Nor does the potentially draining experience of only returning on Monday from their 46-15 win over Italy the previous day in Rome, while Wales had their feet up from mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Eddie Jones dismissed suggestions hinted at in the Wales camp that this would prove beneficial to Wales, who have long claimed to be fitter than other teams, particularly in the latter part of matches, even if they had a late scare yesterday when Leigh Halfpenny (right) missed the captain's run through illness.

"The turn-around might have been difficult if we'd only just found about the fixture," said Jones. "But we've known for 18 months. And if the turn-around is difficult for you, then it means you've not used your 18 months well. We have used it well."

So muh for one pre-match hypothesis, that a foreshortened preparation time hampers a team. Into the dustbin of throwaway notions must also go the worth of the verbal volleys fired across Offa's Dyke in recent days, about as relevant now as that hoary invective of Phil Bennett, the former Wales captain and fly-half, who once reminded his team-mates that the English had taken their land, their steelworks, their mines and their identity. All piffle.

The modern era demands detail and rigour, not wild emotion. In the general regard, England are well equipped. Their set-pieces were excellent in Rome, their attack lively and the fact that they got caught narrow twice by Italy has been corrected by the inclusion of Jonathan Joseph.

Jones has also long made a point of "dislocating expectations" in England's preparation, switching hotels in midweek even when at home, using irregular-shaped footballs and sponge balls in training, flicking training routines about, all so that something as run-of-the-mill as a six-day turn-around does not bother his team one jot.

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Nor will the foul weather forecast, nor the presence of 10 Scarlets in opposition ranks, the same players who did a number on Bath in the Champions' Cup away from home. England are tight knit and self-contained, greater than the sum of their parts.

Rhys Patchell will also not be unsettled by the pre-match sledging. The 24-year-old fly-half knows that he has to be clear-headed. He is well aware, too, that he will have white-shirted marauders hunting him down.

Patchell's running was a threat against Scotland, but England will not give him that scope. That there are potential fault-lines in his game is illustrated by the fact that he has won only six caps in five years.

The tone will be set not by the passionate swirl of tribal loyalties being expressed up in the packed stands, but by the grunt of the tight fives, the athleticism and cleverness of the lineout jumpers and the voracity of the back-row. The sides are evenly matched there, though there looks to be better balance in the Welsh back-row.

Wales are outsiders, just as they were three years ago at the World Cup. This England, though, are tougher and more settled, qualities enough for that Twickenham bastion to remain intact yet again. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

England - M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, J May; G Ford, D Care; M Vunipola, D Hartley (C), D Cole, J Launchbury, M Itoje , C Lawes, C Robshaw , S Simmonds. Reps: J George , A Hepburn , H Williams , G Kruis , S Underhill, R Wigglesworth , B Te'o, J Nowell .

WALES - L Halfpenny; J Adams, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell,G Davies; R Evans, K Owens, S Lee, C Hill, AW Jones (C), A Shingler, J Navidi, R Moriarty.

Reps: E Dee, W Jones, T Francis, B Davies, J Tipuric, A Davies, G Anscombe, G North.

REF - J Garces (France)

England v Wales,

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