Six Nations: Stuart Lancaster - Winning in Wales would make Grand Slam sweeter

Bullish England coach relishing 'cup final' in Cardiff and says experience will do young side world of good

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The Independent Online

Stuart Lancaster has made it clear to Wales that if they're anticipating much shaking in boots from England on Saturday in the Six Nations Championship decider in Cardiff, they're in for a serious disappointment. The red-rose head coach was in bullish mode, refusing to indulge the hosts with hat-doffing and showing no fear in talking up his side's Grand Slam hopes.

"To win a Grand Slam, there's no bigger place to do it than against champions Wales in Cardiff," Lancaster said. "This game is like a cup final, and our young side need to become accustomed to such huge occasions. Wales comprise some 600 caps compared to our 280-odd, but then New Zealand turned up at Twickenham in December with 700 caps, but experience didn't triumph that day.

"Experience is not the only factor needed to win big games. If that was the case we'd have never beaten New Zealand. It will come down to goal-kicking and taking your points when they're on offer. We're hard to beat because we're strong at the basics. Our set piece is strong, our defence is strong, but most important our attitude and desire to work for each other is strong."

Lancaster has made four changes to the team that stumbled to an 18-11 Twickenham win over Italy last weekend, recalling half-back Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs for the more experienced pairing of Toby Flood and Danny Care, while Joe Marler returns to loose-head prop, swapping a seat on the bench with Mako Vunipola, and Tom Croft takes the blind-side jersey from James Haskell.

While insisting that Flood did nothing amiss against Italy – indeed he kicked all of England's points – Lancaster believes Saracens stand-off Farrell is a special talent. "Owen possesses something rare for a lad of 21, a temperament that guarantees the bigger the game the better he responds," Lancaster said: "He made his England debut against Wales 12 months ago and has developed at an impressive rate.

"During this Six Nations, Owen has displayed excellent leadership qualities, core-skills execution, defence and organising ability under intense pressure. He never appears fazed.

"With Mako and Danny, it's not about doing anything wrong against Italy and all about how we like to balance who starts to go flat out and who comes on to make an impact. Mako and Joe are young props with tremendous qualities while Danny and Ben have similarities yet bring different dynamics at scrum-half.

"It's great to see Tom Croft back after suffering so serious a neck injury last year. He brings an added dimension to our line-out while James, who covers Nos 6, 7 and 8, brings a huge physicality to the party when he comes off the bench."

The good news for England is that locks Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling came through a serious line-out fitness test at 8.30am today, Launchbury proving that his hyper-extended elbow has recovered fully, as has the shoulder Parling injured against Italy.

Most interesting is the way Lancaster has changed the image of the bench from a form of relegation to a lethal weapon. His selections focus heavily on hammering home the 23-man team ethic, something into which his players have bought with increasing enthusiasm.

Either most or all his replacements have some game time, and it is planned way in advance – assuming injury is not a factor. It is how Lancaster and his coaches ensure that their teams finish the stronger in the final quarter.

And he is also consistent in his dual targets. "We must focus on winning and achieving in the here-and-now while developing an England squad who will be battle-hardened by the time they take on the massive pressure of being 2015 World Cup hosts," Lancaster explained.


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