England stick, Wales twist for Twickenham test

England stick, Wales twist for Twickenham test


Preview: England vs Wales (Saturday, 4:45pm)

Wales have made seven alterations with England unchanged for the crucial contest at Twickenham.

The hosts stick with an identical squad from round one, save for the inclusion of Ellis Genge who replaces Beno Obano as the substitute loosehead prop.

Their visitors have switched nearly half their team though, with a number of players stepping up from the substitutes bench to the starting XV after playing a part in their thrilling second half turnaround in defeat to Scotland last Saturday.

Half-backs Tomos Williams and Ioan Lloyd step up to start, along with front row duo Elliot Dee and Keiron Assiratti – with Gareth Thomas joining them at loosehead on his return from injury.

George North also comes into the side at outside centre after his own recovery, while try scoring substitute Alex Mann makes his first start in the back row to take the place of the injured James Botham.

Gatland alluded to Wales’ poor start last weekend in his comments about the team, perhaps explaining why so many who took the field at the first whistle of their round one encounter missed out this week.

“We have been critical and tough on ourselves this week,” he said.

“That first half was nowhere near the standards we expect. We simply cannot start the same way this Saturday.

“We showed in the second half against Scotland what we are capable of. Now it is about building on that performance and playing with some tempo from the off.

“This is a massive game, not only because of the history and what it means to everyone in Wales, but it is an opportunity to get things on track a bit more.”

Uncapped prop Archie Griffin and fly-half Cai Evans could make first appearances for their country off the bench, with Ryan Elias, Corey Domachowski, Will Rowlands, Taine Basham, Kieran Hardy and Mason Grady also in the 23.

Gareth Davies, scorer in Wales’ only victory against England at Twickenham in the last 12 years at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, is dropped out of the squad entirely.

A bullish Gatland cited England being in a “rebuilding phase” as a reason for his team to be confident, with the New Zealander eyeing a record-extending fourth win at Twickenham as coach of the Welsh team.

But whilst England had five new faces for their narrow in in Rome last weekend, they will feel settled in naming their first unchanged starting XV since the 2019 World Cup final.

They will also be boosted by their exceptional Twickenham record against Wales since defeat in the 2015 tournament, with seven consecutive wins following that home humiliation.

One thing England will be wary of, however, is their tendancy to allow Wales back into contests after running up early advantages, especially given their visitors’ roaring fightback last week.

In Six Nations games at Twickenham between 2016 to 2022 England ran up leads of 19, 12, 17 and 17 points again, only to ultimately win by four, six, three and four points again by the final whistle.

Head coach Steve Borthwick is wary of the threat a young and fearless Welsh team will pose, but happy to be able to keep some continuity in front of a full house at HQ.

“We know there are areas of our game to improve as we prepare for this Saturday’s game against a spirited Wales team.

“With a new player group and a number of new caps, we have tried to develop our game on both sides of the ball. Such changes take time and I was pleased how quickly the players settled and adapted last weekend against Italy.

“We’re delighted to be back playing in front of a sold-out Twickenham Stadium this Saturday. The visit of the Wales team is always a fixture that creates a special atmosphere.”

England: Steward, Freeman, Slade, Dingwall, Daly, Ford, Mitchell; Marler, George (c), Stuart, Itoje, Chessum, Roots, Underhill, Earl.

Replacements: Dan, Genge, Cole, Coles, Cunningham-South, Care, F Smith, Feyi-Waboso

Wales: Winnett, Dyer, North, Tompkins, Adams, Lloyd, Williams; G Thomas, Dee, Assiratti, Jenkins (c), Beard, Mann, Reffell, Wainwright.

Replacements: Elias, Domachowski, Griffin, Rowlands, Basham, Hardy, Evans, Grady.

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