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6 Nations

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

Wales Dealt Six Nations Double-Blow

Wales’ Six Nations title defence has been dealt a massive blow already with two stars facing surgery to fix injuries picked up on international duty

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(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Wales will be without both Jonathan Davies and Rhys Patchell for some part of the 2020 Six Nations campaign due to injury it has been confirmed.

Davies, a key member of the Welsh squad for the past number of seasons sustained a knee injury during Wales’ recent Rugby World Cup campaign, and Scarlets have announced that he will undergo surgery on the injury.

The recovery time for the for the centre is set to be six months, meaning he will miss the entire Six Nations tournament in what could be a critical blow as they look to defend their title. While it also means that he could potentially miss the entire club season for Scarlets.

As for Patchell, things aren’t as severe as Davies, but the fly-half is still set to miss the start of the Six Nations with a shoulder injury, which he too will have surgery on.

He is expected to miss between 12-16 weeks due to the injury in what is a cruel blow for a player that has suffered with injury previously, but had shown some brilliant form in recent times.

It is a far from ideal start to life at the helm for new head coach Wayne Pivac as he heads into his first tournament with the team.

As well as these injuries there are also further concerns regarding the likes of stars Liam Williams and Josh Navidi, who are both currently sidelined through injury, with the former looking likely to miss some part of the Six Nations.

Wales are looking to bounce-back during the tournament following a fourth-place finish at the World Cup, with all players hoping to impress Warren Gatland’s successor.

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6 Nations

Munster Star in Six Nations Fitness Race

Munster have confirmed that one of their key men is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines which could put his Six Nations spot in doubt

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(Photo by Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Munster fly-half Joey Carbery is set for yet another spell in the sidelines according to head coach Johann van Graan due to injury.

Van Graan confirmed that Carbery is still suffering from an ankle injury which he sustained during Ireland’s Rugby World Cup warm-up game against Italy and is not able to put a return date for his comeback  due to the nature of the injury. 

“He is going to be out for some time. We got to make sure he gets his strength back and we get that ankle fully functional. From Joey’s point of view, obviously, he wants to play but his body is not right. Because of the type of injury he is definitely not going to be back in the next few weeks, I can tell you that,” he said on Carbery. 

The out-half was selected ahead of Leinster’s Ross Byrne in Ireland’s World Cup squad despite carrying the injury. However, it was reiterated throughout the tournament that he had fully recovered, which now appears to be untrue. 

His head coach also told reporters that the 23-year-old will not undergo surgery on the injury. When asked about the possibility of Carbery playing before Christmas van Graan admitted he is hopeful but he cannot be sure right now. 

“I hope so. At this stage it is very difficult for the medical team to determine that. Because he has had it for quite a while the most important thing now is Joey’s health. He is a Munster player. He is under my watch now so we have got to look after him. He is very important for the national team, I believe, for the future of Irish rugby,” he added. 

It is a massive blow for the Munster player who only moved from Leinster ahead of last season, and after starting brightly in the red jersey he picked up a hamstring injury that left him out for large portions of the season. 

The fear for Carbery now however is that due to the nature of the injury and the inability to place a return date, he could face a race to be fit for Ireland’s Six Nations campaign at the start of February next year. Carbery will hopefully be back in action and back to match fitness by then as he will want the chance to impress new head coach Andy Farrell during his first tournament at the helm.

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6 Nations

Japan Could Receive Six Nations Invitation

Following their incredible performances during this year’s Rugby World Cup it appears as though hosts Japan could be set for inclusion in one of the biggest international tournaments according to reports

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(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Japan are to be handed an invite into the Six Nations after their impressive showing at this year’s Rugby World Cup, according to a report by the Mail Online.

The report by Martin Samuel claims that the World Cup host nation, who went all the way to the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, are to “receive a shock invitation” to European rugby’s elite international competition. 

It was previously thought that a move to the Rugby Championship would make more sense and that it was on the cards as the Southern Hemisphere nations were impressed by the brand of rugby that Japan played. 

However, it appears as though the tournament organisers are hesitant to bring them into the championship straight away, and are looking to include them within the next four or five years. Which would see them join come the end of the next World Cup cycle and see them miss out on some valuable development time ahead of the tournament. 

The report is clear that although formal talks between the Brave Blossoms and the Six Nations are yet to take place that World Rugby have been made aware that leading figures within the European organisation are very interested in the prospect. 

It would be a brilliant opportunity for the Japanese as they look to expand interest in the sport within the country and are in a prime position to do so with interest at an all time high following the success of the tournament in the Land of the Rising Sun. 

They have earned respect especially within Europe following wins over Six Nations side’s Scotland and Ireland during the group stages of the World Cup with Japan now sitting ahead of the former in 8th position in the World Rugby rankings due to their performances. 

Japan were among several tier two nations backing the making of a Nations Championship which would have allowed the likes of Fiji and themselves compete against the best nations around on an annual basis and with these developments it will raise further questions as to why the competition isn’t being developed. 

We will have to wait and see how things progress over the coming weeks and months but it seems as though Japan are in with a bigger chance than ever before in being added to one of the biggest international tournaments on the planet.

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