Maybe the most heated rugby rivalry in the Six Nations Championship takes centre stage and top billing in round three. England and Wales are both on course for a Grand Slam (shudder the thought) and Saturday evening’s game should not only be a competition between which nation’s legendary ex-player can provide more inept BBC Commentary (we’ll take Guscott over Davies in that contest) but also a competition to see which backline is the boshiest (where we plump for the Welsh).
England have been deeply unimpressive in the tournament so far, arguably outplayed by more physical teams with the inability to convert physical dominance into points – Scotland can’t score tries, Italy couldn’t kick snow off a snowy rugby ball – and were rescued by a pair of blockdowns by Charlie “Dan Akroyd” Hodgson. But scoff as we might about the English, they’ve survived two away trips and come up smelling of Orc and now have a chance to bring the much fancied Welsh crashing back down to earth in Fortress Twickers.
Last year, England were reveling in their two victories over Australia (one down in the southern hemisphere in June 2010 and a really whomping at HQ in November) and were really starting to believe their own press – turns out we can learn something from the Martin Johnson team after all – and put a hurting on a Welsh side on the opening Friday night in Cardiff on the way to a Championship only marred by their blitzing in Lansdowne.
Scotland showed last weekend that a defense more aggressive than the Irish could stultify the big hard-hitting runners in the Welsh backline, but conversely the Welsh showed themselves to be extremely clinical when the cracks started to appear against a 14 man defense by creating intense pressure in the tight before leaving the Big Bopper, JJV Davies or Cuthbert (who had a fine game) running against an extremely stretched Scottish backline.
Meanwhile the English backrow looked deeply unconvincing and was outplayed by the more dynamic and aggressive Scots, in particular by Rennie and Denton, and will be coming up against another of strong point of the Welsh team. If the English choose their own Welshman at No8 Ben Morgan, things could be interesting, but the combination of the relentless Faletau, Lydiate, the re-born Ryan Jones, Tiporuc or God’s-gift-to-mankind Sam Warburton will dominate the pedestrian Dowson-Robshaw-Croft axis. If the Welsh has perpetrate turnovers in key areas, they have shown that they have the game intelligence to capitalize on pressure and produce scores. Assuming post-magnet Rhys Priestland has his kicking boots, this means penalties and more than likely tries.
Bookies have the Welsh as narrow favourites but logic suggests that the Welsh are more than three points better than the English. Welsh by 7.