Six Nations 2013: Five areas that England must address to win Grand Slam in Cardiff

It could be heartache for red rose brigade unless they sort key issues

1 Managing the body count

Owen Farrell has recovered from the thigh strain that cost him his place against Italy – he put himself through a long kicking session yesterday and emerged in one piece, much to the relief of the coaching staff – so his return at No 10 is pretty much guaranteed. What the England hierarchy do not know is how many of their injured locks, if any, will be in optimum condition for the extreme test awaiting them in Cardiff.

Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes are all struggling, with shoulder, elbow and arm problems respectively. Parling, substituted after 45 minutes against Italy, is still under assessment while Launchbury, his fellow first-choicer, will miss today's training – the one serious run-out before the big day. While Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, said there were grounds for optimism in each case, he also acknowledged that a concentration of orthopaedic trauma in one position was far from ideal.

England must generate plenty of heat in the boilerhouse against the Welsh pairing of Ian Evans, an effective stoker of the fires, and Alun Wyn Jones, who raised the temperature significantly on his return to the side in Scotland. If the visitors go cold in this department, they will lose.

2 Ending the try famine

When it comes to crossing the whitewash, England have outscored only two teams this season: an underbaked Fiji in November and an unusually conciliatory Scotland in February. As the ubiquitous Sir Clive Woodward said somewhere, to someone, on some media platform last weekend, they cannot expect to keep winning through character and penalties alone, for there will come a point when they meet opponents sufficiently disciplined to deny them shots at goal. Or, just as likely, run into a referee who refuses to award them penalties in kickable range. It is worth mentioning that Steve Walsh – a New Zealander who now considers himself Australian, and a red-rose bête noir whichever way you cut it – will be in charge of matters at the Millennium Stadium.

The back three combination is not working terribly well. Alex Goode has attacking ideas coming out of his ears but is no one's idea of a strike runner, while Chris Ashton is a strike runner bereft of ideas. Meanwhile, Mike Brown's impersonation of a Test-class wing grows less convincing each time England leave an empty space in the "tries scored" column. For this game, however, realistic alternatives are thin on the ground.

3 Closing the creativity gap

Messrs Goode, Ashton and Brown could, if they so wished, lay some of the blame at the feet of the first-choice midfield trio, all of whom are extremely valuable in parts, like a golden curate's egg. Farrell's fire-and-ice temperament – the God-given gift that makes him that rarest of rugby creatures: the genuine "Test match animal" – is of enormous benefit to England, but the X-factor No 10 in the squad is Freddie Burns. Brad Barritt? One of the world's great defenders, but blessed with few powers of invention. Manu Tuilagi? Still something of a one-trick pony, even though the trick is unusually good.

Lancaster missed a chance to incorporate the attacking potency of Billy Twelvetrees – not to mention the Gloucester centre's kicking – when he paired Barritt and Tuilagi against France. Somewhere along the line, he will have to readdress the issue: if he does not, Twelvetrees could join the likes of Mathew Tait as a lost talent.

Wales will be strong in this area, even though Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies have yet to revisit the heights of last year's Grand Slam ascent. Tuilagi may yet make one or both of them look daft, but on balance, the home side have the edge.

4 Solving the back-row conundrum

Ryan Jones, that hard-bitten veteran of thousands of ruck-and-maul conflicts, did not look best pleased when his game against Scotland was cut short by injury, so it may well be that Wales will run two dyed-in-the-wool open-side scavengers, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric, this weekend. As England have no out-and-out scavenger – captain Chris Robshaw generates more than his fair share of turnover ball, but is not a natural groundhog – this could cause all manner of grief.

The brain-teasers do not end there. Ben Morgan, currently the most dynamic of England's ball-carrying loose forwards, is still unfit, so Tom Wood will have to continue at No 8 – hardly the ideal position for a man who operates best from the side of the scrum rather than its base. Lancaster must decide whether to stick with James Haskell and his overt physicality or promote Tom Croft from the bench, a move that would bolster the line-out and make the visitors significantly more dangerous in open field.

At his best, Croft plays like a modern-day Ian Kirkpatrick, that All Black titan of the 1970s. But Kirkpatrick rarely played in a back row that was skinned alive on the floor.

5 Understanding the history

The good news, from England's perspective? Margaret Thatcher is no more, politically speaking. Whoever leads Wales this weekend will not spend the half-hour before kick-off ranting about the closing of the coalmines. The bad news? The Welsh never forget an insult. If red-rose games in Ireland are weighed down by a history that has nothing to do with chasing a ball around, matches across the Severn also come with a "them and us" dimension. It's a class thing, basically.

Lancaster said yesterday that all this extraneous matter would be nothing more than a "reference point", adding: "It's not in my nature to hide away from the fact that this is a title match, a Grand Slam match, but equally, it's not in my coaching philosophy to talk up the historical stuff."

Even so, the wider context of Anglo-Welsh relations can easily mess with players' minds. England have never previously travelled to Cardiff in search of a Slam – their two previous clean-sweep games against Wales were the successful one at Twickenham in 1992 and the mess-up at Wembley in 1999 – but many fine red-rose teams have come unstuck on the banks of the Taff, to the sound of hymns and arias.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution