6Nations Preview with @TheCoalFaceBlog & @Total_Flanker – Wales v England

WalesEnglandDeciderAfter an intriguing Six Nations which threw up plenty of surprises the title will be decided in the final round, with the entire competition resting on the result of the clash between Wales and England at Millennium Stadium.

An English side brimming with confidence following their demolition of the world champions late last year has been the pace-setter throughout the competition, but a rejuvenated Wales side, who have finally managed to recapture the form which helped them to the title last year, is finishing fast.

To get the inside word on what might happen in Cardiff this weekend we’ve enlisted the help of Barry at Total Flanker to give us an English perspective, and the lads at TheCoalFace to respond for the Welsh.

Which side starts this match as favourites?
 England started really well, but have been going downhill. Wales started poorly, but have been improving steadily. Our team has more experience of big game pressure like the RWC2011 semi-final and last season’s Grand Slam decider against France. We also have the home advantage. All things considered I think this is a 50:50 game with no real favourite. Honestly? Wales. Home advantage. Vastly experienced. Been there, done it, bought the t-shirt. And at their current stage of development that will suit England just fine.
What strengths do your team bring to this encounter?
Warburton and Tipuric in the backrow together will give Wales a clear advantage at the breakdown. Sheer bloody-mindedness, mainly. The attacking game has faltered badly, we’ve very little go-forward upfront, a lack of guile behind and insufficient pace in the back three. But we’re still bloody difficult to play against and if it turns into a tactical kicking duel then in Farrell, Goode and Brown we have the players to pin Wales in their own half and apply pressure. It’s not very exciting but can be damned effective.
What weaknesses do the opposition have which your side will look to exploit?
England have no genuine openside. Playing against Warburton and Tipuric with no poacher is going to cause England problems. Nothing obvious, just what’s between the ears. Shaun Edwards talks about whether England can handle the pressure, but his Wales team haven’t exactly shown themselves to be the masters of mental fortitude in recent times and when games are tight they lose more often than not.
Who will be your side’s key player?
Nailing kicks at goal is crucial at this level, so Leigh Halfpenny has to be our key player. He’ll put his body on the line and won’t let us down in defence either. Tom Croft. Selecting Croft is a huge gamble. He’ll bring athleticism and lineout prowess but he’s going to have to get through a heck of a lot of tackling on Saturday, something that James Haskell is probably better suited to. If Lancaster had to gamble I’d rather he’d have gone for Billy Vuniopla at number 8.
How will the match unfold?
I’m expecting the scores to be very close until the end. It’ll be all about power and wearing each other down for the first 60/70 minutes. The game will probably hinge on own moment, a bit like it did last year. It’ll be one mistake or one moment of magic that separates the sides. Wales 19 – 12 England It’ll be brutal. Anyone expecting a festival of running rugby is likely to be disappointed. After the Italy game England will, if anything, rein in any attacking instincts and play an aerial game, and I expect Wales will do likewise. It won’t be pretty, but it’ll still be edge of the seat stuff. I only hope Steve Walsh doesn’t ruin it by awarding a series of scrum penalties (unless it’s to England!). It’s going to be very, very tight. I can see either side winning, but not by very much. If pushed I’d say England by 3-6 points, but it could just as easily be Wales by the same margin.