Six Nations: Champions England to continue title charge with win over Wales
Simon Mail previews England's home clash against Wales and expects the Six Nations champions to maintain their winning start to the competition...
"England have had the edge over Wales in recent meetings winning the last three clashes and five of the last six games."
England v Wales
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The most intriguing match of the second weekend in the Six Nations pits champions England against Wales at Twickenham. Both teams claimed impressive bonus-point wins in their first match and are likely to come into this clash with plenty of confidence. Even though this is just the second round, the winner of this game will be in a strong position to go on and challenge Ireland for this year's title.
Eddie Jones has won the competition during both of his years in charge and the only defeat in his reign came in last season's final match against Ireland. The way in which his team started the competition in Italy was ominous with England running in seven tries during their 46-15 victory. Unlike last year's matches, the team made a fast start with a couple of Anthony Watson tries setting them on their way.
Much has been made about the injuries which have weakened the squad in the build-up to the tournament but there seems little wrong with the strength in depth at Jones' disposal. Sam Simmonds has certainly made the most of his opportunity and the Exeter forward capped his Six Nations debut with two tries in an eye-catching display of pace and athleticism. With Jones able to bring on Jonathan Joseph and Jack Nowell from the bench, it is clear England have still got a wealth of quality options available to them.
England have made two changes to the side which won comfortably in Rome. Joseph comes in to partner Owen Farrell at centre with Ben Te'o dropping to the bench while Danny Care replaces the injured Ben Youngs. Care will become England's most capped scrum-half with his 78th cap surpassing Matt Dawson's total. Saracens' Richard Wigglesworth could make his first appearance since the 2015 World Cup from off the bench.
Wales brushed aside any injury concerns of their own with a superb performance in their one-sided 34-7 win at home to Scotland. Warren Gatland opted to start with ten Scarlets players and his faith was repaid with all the points scored by them including two tries from full-back Leigh Halfpenny (pictured below). Wales ruthlessly punished mistakes by Scotland and their excellent defence denied Gregor Townsend's team.
Gatland has decided to stick with exactly the same side for this weekend's game. The players have been rewarded for their excellent performance in Cardiff and the only change to the squad sees winger George North brought onto the bench in place of centre Owen Watkin. The decision to resist changes is a sensible one and underlines Gatland's confidence in his team after such a promising display against Scotland.
England have had the edge over Wales in recent meetings winning the last three clashes and five of the last six games. Jones has also won all of his matches at Twickenham and England are unbeaten at home in the competition since 2012. This underlines the size of the task on Wales' hands although Gatland has won three times at the stadium in eight visits so will not be short of self-belief.
The hosts are short-priced favourites for this match and the handicap is pitched at 12 points but England have only beaten this once in their last 11 games against Wales. Instead, it could be worth taking the favourites to cover a seven-point handicap in the second half. England have covered this in their last three games and showed against Australia in November and Italy their ability to finish teams off as the match progresses. With the likes of Te'o and Jack Nowell to come off the bench, England could pull away in the closing stages.
Watson has an excellent record against Wales with a try in his last two appearances against them and three in four matches. The England winger looked very sharp against Italy with his two early tries and will be one of the main attacking threats for the hosts. Simmonds is a tempting bet, after his performance last week, but Watson looks the most likely scorer and is worth backing at 6/4.
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