England vs. Wales: Top Tussles Set to Determine Six Nations Clash

Jason PettigroveContributor IMarch 9, 2014

Stuart Lancaster will be hoping to reverse the dismal result against Warren Gatland's Welsh side from 12 months ago
Stuart Lancaster will be hoping to reverse the dismal result against Warren Gatland's Welsh side from 12 months agoDavid Rogers/Getty Images

England host Wales at Twickenham on Sunday with both teams invitingly in with a chance of winning the Six Nations title.

A packed house at the home of rugby promises to provide a wonderful atmosphere, which should be matched by the action out on the pitch.

Stuart Lancaster's men hold the slight advantage going into this game, their points difference over Warren Gatland's Wales side seeing them ahead in the table, despite both countries being equal on four match points.

Lancaster will no doubt be looking to avert a disastrous record 30-3 defeat at the hands of the same opposition at the Millennium Stadium 12 months ago and has already responded to Welsh jibes ahead of the game.

England were just a point from a Grand Slam victory going into the game, with Wales needing a seven-point margin to claim the title.

That Lancaster's troops were never in it says much about just how good the Welsh were on the day, and ominously for England, one of Wales' chief destroyers, Jonathan Davies, returns from a long-standing injury for this game.

Let's take a look at some areas where this game will be won and lost.


Andy Farrell vs. Leigh Halfpenny

Leigh Halfpenny will punish any English indiscipline.
Leigh Halfpenny will punish any English indiscipline.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

England's Jack Nowell has stoked up the tension pre-match by telling Gavin Mairs of the Daily Telegraph that he "absolutely loved" the thought of beating a team that "hate you" and "want to do anything to beat you up."

If such "hatred" is allowed to boil over in the early stages, then it's a given that the boots of Leigh Halfpenny and Owen Farrell will come to the fore.

Wales' Halfpenny has, by his standards, not had the best Six Nations so far. However, three missed attempts in three games when you have seen a dozen successes is hardly a cause for concern.

Farrell has had less success between the sticks. Whilst nine of his attempts have been successful, the normally cool-headed youngster has missed four.

Add in a failed drop goal and we begin to question whether Farrell can cope with the pressure-cooker atmosphere these games generate.

Stats courtesy of @AcccentureRugby, h/t Wales Online.


Adam Jones vs. Joe Marler

Joe Marler cannot afford another performance akin to that of a year ago.
Joe Marler cannot afford another performance akin to that of a year ago.David Rogers/Getty Images

At the Millennium Stadium, England were torn apart by the sheer force and dynamic of the Welsh scrum. 

Time after time, the Red Rose were pushed back or gave away a penalty. To coin a phrase, they were given "a right good going over."

In amongst it, and putting in some real graft, was Adam Jones, the shaggy-haired Welsh destroyer.

Joe Marler simply could not live with him on the day and it was little surprise when coach Lancaster hauled him off just after half-time.

Since then, we've seen a change in the rules at scrum down. Chris Hewett of the Independent gave the details:

The change concerns the put-in. At present, the referee tells the scrum-half to feed the ball when he is satisfied that the front rows are properly bound and the packs are square and stable.

This loads the dice against the team in possession, whose hooker has to raise a foot to strike the ball against the opposition’s eight-man shove.

The International Rugby Board experts believe this to be too great a disadvantage and have come up with a system under which a "silent signal" – a tap on the back or a nod, to be agreed before the match – replaces the "yes nine" call.

It's a significant decision which could well affect the outcome of the game, although referee Romain Poite is one who allows a scrum contest and rewards dominance.

With that in mind, we can expect Jones to get after Marler again, and the Englishman has to be on his game to withstand another onslaught.


Billy Twelvetrees vs. Jamie Roberts

If Billy Twelvetrees can contain Jamie Roberts, we could be looking at England's match winner.
If Billy Twelvetrees can contain Jamie Roberts, we could be looking at England's match winner.Sang Tan/Associated Press

England's Twelvetrees is looking forward to a monumental battle against British Lions colleague Jamie Roberts.

The latter has undoubtedly been the Welsh player of the tournament so far and is rejoined by Jonathan Davies for the first time since Wales' crushing victory over the same opponents a year ago.

It's a fearsome partnership for Twelvetrees to disrupt, but he will need to do so for England to have any chance in this match.

Roberts is especially adept at the break and offload, and that has to be curtailed in its early stages.

If proof were needed at just how dynamic and incisive the Welshman can be, we only need review the evidence from the Millennium Stadium.

Rather than be overawed by Roberts' excellence, however, the skilful and intelligent Twelvetrees must look to impose his own brand of running rugby as early as possible.

Ireland's assistant coach Les Kiss identified just what the Englishman brings to the table, per Gloucester Citizen:

He's like a New Zealand second-five eighth, and does facilitate what they are trying to achieve in attack and offers them the ability to go both sides of the ruck.

It keeps you alive across the field, and I think Twelvetrees' game is critical for that.

Davies will be a little rusty and the toil of a full 80 minutes at the coal face may not suit him.

If the agile and exciting Twelvetrees takes advantage, he could yet be the match winner.