The England flanker James Haskell has predicted a “smash and grab” raid by Wales at Twickenham in Saturday’s crunch World Cup pool match, warning team-mates and supporters not to be fooled by the focus on Welsh injuries.
Haskell is a strong candidate for a place on the bench for England after being omitted from their last two matches, including last Friday’s opening World Cup win over Fiji, with Billy Vunipola’s possible recall at No 8 against Wales leaving Ben Morgan vulnerable to being dropped.
Wales have prospered under head coach Warren Gatland, with a physical style dubbed “Warrenball” based on the centre Jamie Roberts hitting hard in midfield and a blitz defence orchestrated by Gatland’s right-hand man, Shaun Edwards.
The Welsh may justifiably believe they have suffered too much of a different kind of “smash”, with the Cardiff Blues centre Cory Allen ruled out of the World Cup yesterday, following three other backs – Jonathan Davies, Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny – out of the competition.
But Haskell, who spent his formative years under Gatland and Edwards during their time at Wasps, said: “Warren is very good at the media, he plays that game very well. I think with these guys coming to Twickenham, it will almost be seen as a smash and grab. They’ll relish whatever press they’ve got about injuries this week because, secretly, they have such a good team, such a physical team, a good game plan and seasoned professionals across the board. They’ll want to come in, be super physical, and put a statement in.
“There’s talk about their injuries but Warren thrives on that backs-to-the-wall situation. He and Shaun have this fantastic partnership, they have a mentality that works very well for a period of time like a Lions tour, or like a World Cup, where they set themselves a goal and a belief, and they deliver it with passion and encourage the boys to play like that.”
Wales have further injury worries over the props Paul James and Samson Lee, as well as second row Alun Wyn Jones, but the back division, while much changed from the line-up anticipated less than a month ago, could still feature Lions series and Grand Slam winners Mike Phillips, Dan Biggar, Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams, Alex Cuthbert and George North – unless Cuthbert is edged out by the much less garlanded Hallam Amos of Newport-Gwent Dragons.
“Not too much” was the England wing Jonny May’s reply yesterday when asked what he knew of Amos, the Stockport-born flyer, who will turn 21 on Thursday.
“As soon as the Wales team’s named [on Thursday, like England’s] we’ll look into what they do,” said May, although he was more clued up on North, the 54-capper who plays for Northampton.
“He is a talisman for them and a world-class player,” May added. “There is no special plan but we’ll have to mark him because he’s a threat.”
England will have their team decided before training today, according to scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, who was one of a handful of players to make eye-catching contributions off the bench against Fiji, prompting conjecture over Ben Youngs’ selection at No 9.
“I’m always pushing hard,” said Wigglesworth, “but I wouldn’t worry too much about Youngsy’s form – he’s been exceptional for a long while now.”
Haskell did not deny the assertion there was a split in England’s camp between starting and squad players by the end of the 2011 World Cup. Asked if a lesson had been learnt, he said: “It’s difficult for me to comment because I was playing a lot [in 2011] and I did not have to go through that experience. But we’ve got a really good set of guys here, who are very positive when they don’t get the call.”Reuse content