Highlights: Wales secure record-equalling 11th straight win

It might not have been easy viewing for many Wales rugby fans this weekend.

A lacklustre win over Italy was followed by their next Six Nations opponents England dismantling France.

What looms on the horizon now will fill the Welsh nation with excitement and trepidation in equal measures as Warren Gatland’s side host the resurgent England in Cardiff.

The only unbeaten two Six Nations sides prepare for that Principality Stadium showdown on 23 February in what could be the tournament’s defining fixture.

The build-up will reach fever pitch over the next two weeks with the Eddie Jones and Gatland battle forensically analysed.

Jones has already labelled Gatland’s side as the best Welsh team of all time and said the Principality Stadium is no fortress.

England have been the dominant side of the tournament and the performances this weekend could not have been more contrasting.

An experimental Wales side limped to an unconvincing win over Italy, while England hammered France to follow up their opening victory against Ireland.

Gatland admitted if Wales replicated their performance against Italy they would be embarrassed by England.

You might think there would have been some joy in Rome on Saturday evening among the squad after the class of 2018/19 became Wales’ joint most successful side.

Statistically at least as an 11th straight Test win equalled the exploits of the 1907-1910 legends and this is what Jones was referring to.

But there was a flat atmosphere afterwards that emulated their unconvincing performance on the field against Italy.

The experimental side showed 10 changes from the team that beat France. It didn’t work despite the result.

The most you can say is Wales have two wins ahead of the visit of Jones’ England chariots in the gladiatorial Principality Stadium atmosphere.

Jonny May scored a first-half hat-trick against France as England maintained their perfect start to the Six Nations

As soon as Wales sealed the win all roads from Rome led back to Cardiff. Defeat England and the forgettable occasion at the Stadio Olimpico will become a distant memory.

The prize for the players is to etch their names in Welsh rugby history books with a 12th successive win by defeating their most fierce rivals and propel the nation towards Six Nations glory.

The magnitude of the occasion is not lost on Gatland.

“Once you are on a run like this you don’t want it to go,” said the Wales coach.

“I think everyone before the start of the tournament thought the decider might come down to that last game with Ireland but now there are just two of us still in the chance for a Grand Slam and the Triple Crown as well.

“So there will be no lack of motivation. It will be electric in the Principality Stadium, and it gives us a chance to be at home and the nice thing is we have two weeks together.”

Underdogs tag

Wales’ recent record against England is not good. They have not beaten England in the Six Nations since the 30-3 triumph in 2013 and the visitors have won the last two tournament matches in Cardiff.

The only recent success was the memorable World Cup pool triumph in 2015 and Jones has won the four games he has coached England against Wales.

After an indifferent 2018, the Red Rose machine is flourishing once more with a pair of bonus point victories based on a combination of power, poise and sublime tactical kicking game.

Six Nations 2019: England demolish France 44-8 at Twickenham – highlights

In contrast, Wales might have won in Paris and Rome but have nowhere near reached top gear in a stuttering start.

So England will be firm favourites, a scenario which suits the Wales coach.

“The England performance against Ireland was the best I have seen from an England team in the last five years,” said Gatland.

“Tactically they were outstanding. We have probably helped ourselves a little bit by not playing as well as we could have and as a result everyone will start talking England up.

“Sometimes that’s easier to help motivate yourself if that does happen.”

Chopping and Changing

In those victories in Paris and Rome, Gatland has used 31 players with the World Cup in Japan later this year in mind.

You would expect his starting side against England to mostly mirror the team that beat France.

The concerning thing is the uncertainty of his starting half-backs. Gatland’s decision of who wears nine and 10 against England will be the main selection talking point over the next few days.

Dan Biggar kicked 14 points in the 26-15 victory over Italy

He used two different combinations with Aled Davies and Dan Biggar starting in Rome after Tomos Williams and Gareth Anscombe began in Paris.

Scrum-half Gareth Davies has come off the bench on both occasions while Rhys Webb continues in international exile in France for now.

Welsh rugby also loves a number 10 debate and there will another one raging until Gatland unveils his side.

Anscombe struggled to control the game in the French rain, while Biggar failed to ignite the Wales backline in Rome.

Many felt the 10s started the wrong matches with Biggar more accustomed to thriving in the rain and Anscombe more suited to unlocking the Italian defence.

Gatland’s decision on who wears the fly-half jersey will dictate how he plans to tame England.

What Gatland will not have is the luxury of continuity in selection following his Italian experiment.

“On reflection the number of changes we made, we did not have that continuity that potentially we would have had if we had kept a number of the same players from the French game,” said Gatland.

“If I had it over again you might question if it was the right thing to do but we have done that, got the win. I will try to look at that as a positive.

“Hindsight is a great thing. For us to get two victories and two away wins is an outstanding start. Things are in our own hands, with two big home games to come.”

Source link