Tuesday 16 July 2019

Talking over as titanic tussle takes centre stage

England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Getty Images
England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Peters

A two-week build-up to Wales' potential Grand Slam decider with England was always going to be too long for Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland to both keep schtum.

Under the sheer weight of press conferences and embargoed chin wags, eventually one of them was going to break ranks.

On Thursday, when naming his team, Jones pulled the pin by claiming Gatland's men, who the England coach has labelled the "greatest Wales team ever", would be ready to "rip players' heads off", while calling on his own boys to "knock out" today's opponents. Starter's gun fired.

Gatland responded because (a) he had to and (b) he was bored, by describing England travelling to Cardiff in rush hour on Friday as a "significant mistake", while apparently encouraging supportive local farmers to trundle their tractors up the Newport tunnel to delay England's coach on the M4. What japes.

England are narrow favourites, and rightly so considering the dominant manner of their wins over Ireland and France, but Wales are in this fight.

Missing

Eleven wins from 11 and a player pool which allows Gatland to field a back-row of Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty and Josh Navidi, despite missing Taulupe Faletau, Aaron Shingler, Ellis Jenkins, James Davies and Dan Lydiate through injury, means Wales have rarely been in better shape.

Such is the faith Gatland has in 21-year-old blindside Aaron Wainwright, Wasps flanker Tomas Young does not even get a look-in on the bench.

As expected, Leigh Halfpenny does not feature as he continues his rehabilitation from concussion, but in Liam Williams Wales have a No 15 with the guile, pace and footballing ability to strike fear into any opposition defensive line.

Gatland's mind has been fixed on a greater prize and avoiding the scenario he found himself in during the 2015 World Cup, when he effectively ran out of fit, top-class players in his squad to face South Africa in the quarter-finals.

Gatland's team selections have been questioned before but generally he's been proved right.

The only way that workmanlike but uninspiring two-try win over Italy could come back to bite him would be if the outcome of the Six Nations comes down to bonus points on the final weekend, but that possible scenario can wait.

Mercifully, the talking is nearly done.

Wales - L Williams; G North, J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; G Anscombe, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens, T Francis; C Hill, A W Jones J Navidi, J Tipuric, R Moriarty. Reps: E Dee, N Smith, D Lewis, A Beard, A Wainwright, A Davies, D Biggar, O Watkin .

England - E Daly; J Nowell, H Slade, M Tuilagi, J May; O Farrell (capt), B Youngs; B Moon, J George, K Sinckler; C Lawes, G Kruis; M Wilson, T Curry, B Vunipola. Rep: L Cowan-Dickie, E Genge, H Williams, J Launchbury, B Shields, D Robson, G Ford, J Cokanasiga.

Wales v England,

Live, BBC1/Virgin Media, 4.45

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