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Wales v England – The Key Battles

Six Nations Round 3: Wales vs England

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Written by Oliver Green
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Two sides looking to maintain their unbeaten starts to the 2019 Six Nations will meet at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

Eddie Jones’ England have already beaten majority favourites Ireland in their own back yard in round one, and swept aside France two weeks ago at Twickenham.

Meanwhile Wales, led by Warren Gatland, produced a remarkable comeback to scrape past the French in Paris, and stumbled to victory over Italy with a much-changed side.

With both sides’ prospects of a Grand Slam on the line, this historic rivalry looks set to be reignited once again.

Ahead of this monumental clash, we’ve taken a look at some of the key battles where this game could be won and lost.

Rob Evans vs Ben Moon

With Mako Vunipola injured, Ben Moon is one of two enforced changes for England. He will take on the returning Rob Evans at loosehead, who was seemingly ‘rested’ for Wales’ game against Italy.

Moon has played just 37 minutes so far this campaign; during the emphatic victory over France. The Exeter Chiefs man only made his England debut during the autumn internationals, and has just 5 caps to his name.

In contrast, Evans made his first appearance for Wales four years ago, and has made 32 appearances for his national side.

With that being said, it is clear that the Welshman has experience on his side in this matchup. He will have also benefited from missing the Italy game, and be in peak condition for Saturday.

Moon was a surprise call-up to the England squad for some, and he will have to assert his dominance in the early stages in Cardiff if he wants to prove his doubters wrong.

Evans may be superior in the scrum, but if Moon can replicate his industrious, hard-working performances he has put in for Exeter this season, he may come out on top in terms of metres and tackles made across the course of the game.

Gareth Anscombe vs Owen Farrell

Owen Farrell’s displays in the first two games of this competition have further cemented his status as one of the world’s best fly-halves.

With no disrespect to Gareth Anscombe, who is a tremendously intelligent number ten, it would take a serious performance from Welshman to outshine Eddie Jones’ golden boy.

Farrell’s stats so far dwarf those of his counterpart – he has already racked up 29 points compared to Anscombe’s 6, he has a higher goal-kicking accuracy (71% compared to 60%), and he has a higher average gain (27.5m compared to 18m).

It is not just Farrell’s attacking prowess that makes him such a daunting opponent; his defensive play has improved massively over the last few seasons. He has already made 22 tackles across the first two rounds.

Anscombe has however shown what positive impact he can have on this Wales team. Prior to his introduction against Italy, Wales were lacklustre in attack and looked pedestrian at times. With Anscombe’s kicking from hand, the Welsh backs looked far more dangerous and dynamic.

Gatland’s decision to select Anscombe ahead of Dan Biggar for such a crucial game highlights his trust in the 27-year-old.

If Anscombe is to come out on top in this battle though, he will primarily have to be more clinical from the tee. A 60% kick success rate against this England side will not go unpunished.

George North vs Jonny May

Jonny May is yet another England player who seems to be hitting their best form in this year’s Six Nations. He currently leads the way in the try-scoring charts with four, and was electric in England’s demolition of France.

In comparison, George North is beginning to look back to his rampaging best after a difficult period with injuries. His brace against France in round one demonstrated his devastating pace, power and finishing ability.

He was one of the victims of Warren Gatland’s many changes for the game against Italy, so the game on Saturday will be his first chance to add to his tally.

North’s defensive ability will also be under scrutiny against England, should Jones’ side be as dominant as they have in the first two games. His sheer physical presence may offer a different challenge for England’s back three who have been so fluid so far this competition.

Although May and North may not be playing directly opposite each other on the pitch, their roles as their respective team’s talisman makes this a key battle.

It may be the case that the winger that is more clinical when they get the chance, and whoever scores more points on Saturday, is on the winning side.

Gareth Davies vs Ben Youngs

Ben Youngs seems to have finally established himself as Eddie Jones’ first-choice scrum-half, amid stiff competition in the position during the head coaches reign.

The Leicester Tigers man has started both games in the Six Nations, and has missed just 11 minutes across the two rounds.

In comparison, Gareth Davies is Warren Gatland’s third different starting number nine. Davies has played just 46 minutes across Wales’ first two games, with Tomos Williams and Aled Davies favoured ahead of the Scarlets man.

Despite this, Davies has managed to gain more metres than Youngs so far in the competition – The Welshman has made 22m, compared to the Englishman’s 17m.

Youngs however, has been much more secure in possession. Davies has twice as many handling errors (4) than Youngs (2), in a much shorter space of time.

This highlights a new Ben Youngs that Eddie Jones has moulded; he has cut out silly mistakes from his game, albeit at the expense of some the poaching he was known for in his younger years.

His change in style may have negatively impacted his individual stats, but his overall contribution to the team has been massively positive.

Davies will try to be as much of a nuisance to the England back-row as he can in Cardiff, and if he is able to retain possession, his small gains may prove to be vital to any Wales success.

6 Nations

Official. Eddie Jones signs new England Deal.

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England men’s head coach Eddie Jones and the RFU have agreed a contract extension which will see him continue his role until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
 
Jones joined England Rugby at the end of 2015 and has coached the men’s national side on 54 occasions winning 42, drawing one and losing 11 – giving him a win ratio of 78%, the highest in the history of England coaches.
 
Under Jones, England has won two Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam in 2016, a 3-0 away Test series win against Australia in the same year, an unbeaten run of 18 matches equalling New Zealand’s record and were finalists at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. 
 
Jones said: “The extension is a great honour for me, but in the current environment, it is only right to acknowledge what a difficult time the world is facing.  We are all looking forward to a time when we can get back to playing rugby and use the sport as a force for good in bringing people back together. I never thought coming here four years ago I would be doing a second four years but the circumstances are right. Obviously it is important for the team that we keep improving and my focus will be solely on that.
 
“I am excited about raising the standards again. We have a great team. We set out four years ago to be the best team in the world and unfortunately we missed that by 80 minutes. Now we want to be the team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen. It’s a big ambition but I believe we are capable of doing it. We have players with an enhanced reputation, we have a team that is expected to do well, so it’s a great opportunity for us to keep moving forward.”
 
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO said: “My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU are with everyone impacted by COVID-19, both across the country at large but also within our own rugby union community. In exceptionally difficult times, we are pleased to be sharing some good news.  We are delighted that Eddie will continue as head coach to run England’s campaign to take us to the 2023 Rugby World Cup. His record since joining speaks for itself and he has proven why he is one of the best coaches in world rugby. The progress shown by England since 2015 has been indisputable and having fielded the youngest-ever team to play in a World Cup final, we know even more growth is possible. We are all excited by what this squad can do and having Eddie leading the team is very important to us. 
 
“We reached an understanding soon after returning from Japan but there were some things that we wanted to make sure worked for both sides. We have announced Eddie’s contract extension a few weeks later than planned as our focus was diverted to support the English rugby community during this difficult time, we are now turning our attention to developing plans to support the rebooting of rugby and a winning England team will provide a vital role in that.”
 
Ahead of the Guinness Six Nations Jones confirmed Simon Amor and Matt Proudfoot would join Steve Borthwick and John Mitchell as his assistant coaches. Jason Ryles will join later in the year as skills coach following Borthwick’s departure towards the end of the season.

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6 Nations

RFU CEO gives COVID-19 planning & support update

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(Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Bill Sweeney – RFU, CEO

My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU continue to be with everyone impacted by the difficult and exceptional situation we are all facing, both across the country and within our own rugby union community.

Earlier today we held a virtual board meeting and I am writing to advise you of the actions that have been agreed to offer a support package directly funded from the RFU worth £7m to provide support for community clubs in England.  

IMPACT

To support clubs we are today announcing that the RFU will be providing a £7m relief package for community clubs. The package includes monies ring fenced and diverted for the community game as well as additional funding. These measures include:

•       An early release of £800,000 cash due to clubs through the ticketing fund.  

•       Early release of final funding payments (£600,000) to Constituent Bodies and suspension of the activity plans against which this was allocated, enabling them to utilise this to provide “immediate support grants” to clubs most in need. In addition £400,000 will be made available to Constituent Bodies who elect to match fund from their own reserves.

•       A suspension of the Quarterly loan repayments for clubs with outstanding loans due in March (£335,000).  

•       The creation of a £5m support loans programme, offering loans of between circa £2k and circa £10k to clubs, with deferred re-payments for six months and repayable over three years. 

We will be providing more details on this financial package in the coming week. We will also be issuing regular club recovery updates with practical advice on how government grants can be accessed as well as other business management advice. 

We welcome government interventions which will provide business rate holidays and grants for clubs.

The RFU will continue to provide a free helpline to assist clubs with legal and tax related matters: https://www.englandrugby.com/participation/running-your-club/legal-and-administration

Significant progress has been made on the process for considering the implications of ending the season early. We will ensure a fair and balanced outcome for the game and are now committed to update on this by the middle of April.

No one can predict every possible outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak particularly with regard to the duration of this crisis and we are managing in the unknown. We have modelled three potential scenarios and are working on an assumption based on a medium term impact with a view to a return to rugby in the autumn. We will continue to monitor against this assumption and review and revise planning where necessary.

The RFU had budgeted for a loss making year within a four year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and hosting only two home Six Nations games. The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the country. 

The RFU’s biggest asset is also a major cost and the closure of Twickenham Stadium has a significant impact on the revenues we can generate to re-invest back into the game. In that sense we are like every other club in the Union, when we do not stage matches and events we do not generate revenue.

Based on our planning assumption we estimate RFU revenue losses over the next 18 months to be approximately £45-£50 million and have a firm plan in place to mitigate this. The RFU Executive Team will be taking a cut in remuneration in excess of 25%. In addition, combined Board fees will be reduced by 75%.

WELFARE  

We are continuing our support to ensure colleagues and communities are given help to follow government advice and are providing recommendations on how to stay fit and healthy and a range of new content will be made available to players and fans across our social media channels. 

We are discussing with government and the NHS the role the RFU and Twickenham Stadium can play in providing volunteers as well as support for the NHS including accommodation, parking and meal provisioning.

I am confident that rugby will play a big role in energising communities across England after this difficult period. In the meantime, we are working hard with the wider rugby community to take the necessary measures to safeguard a financially resilient Union so that we can.

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Rodney Parade to help in fight against coronavirus

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(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Rodney Parade has become the latest sporting venue to open its doors to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Newport stadium has been provided free of charge as a base for front-line NHS staff to check if they have the virus and are able to continue working. At this stage only NHS staff are eligible to be tested at Rodney Parade to see if they have COVID-19. Dragons managing director Mark Jones said: “The health service and care workers are doing an incredible job in such difficult circumstances so we are happy to offer our help and support in any way we can.

“Playing our part in the local community is at the heart of what we’re about at the Dragons and in times of crisis people stick together. We would urge everyone to follow the latest NHS advice on protecting themselves from the virus, particularly to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.”

A statement from Aneurin Bevan Health Board read: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is essential for delivering services for the people of Gwent. It is fundamental during this time when the most vulnerable people need us most.

“We have set up a drive-through facility to test staff for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and help us get our teams back in to work on the front line. The testing site is located at Rodney Parade in Newport and we ask that everyone practises the stay-at-home guidance and does not visit the site.

“Everyone at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board would like to thank the team at Rodney Parade for their community-focused approach and accommodating us during these difficult times.”

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