Six Nations: Welsh five-point plan to stop England's Grand Slam
Wales have the weapons and know-how to hit England in grand finale in Cardiff
Sunday 10 March 2013
If England beat Italy at Twickenham today they will march into Cardiff seeking a first Grand Slam since 2003. They will also run into the team that has picked up three Grand Slams in the past nine years and are the Six Nations champions.
So where better for Stuart Lancaster's men to prove they are becoming real contenders for the World Cup on home soil in 2015 than the seething cauldron of the Millennium Stadium, and against a Welsh team that has just won three games in a row on the road?
So where can Wales hurt England and how will they try to deny them a prize that was last lifted by Martin Johnson's future world beaters?
Defensive resilience: Wales kept Scotland at bay
Wales have gone three games without conceding a try and 272 minutes since Brian O'Driscoll crossed the line in round one. The way they kept Scotland at bay in the closing moments of yesterday's game showed how much pride they put in their defence.
As Shaun Edwards always preaches, "defence wins titles". Wales made 102 tackles against the Scots and had a 97 per cent completion rate. If Sam Warburton and Co can do that again next weekend then they might just be able to shut out England's attack as well.
Goal-kicking: Halfpenny will be at home
Leigh Halfpenny may have had a first-half wobble at Murrayfield, missing three successive penalty shots into the wind, but after that he was back to his perfect best.
He has the range and accuracy to hurt any team in the world and picked up 223 points in Edinburgh. He was man of the match in the away wins over France and Italy, winning both games with his boot, and is to be feared and respected.
Given a chance to strike from anywhere 60 metres out from the English posts at the Millennium Stadium he will fancy his chances – especially with most of the crowd behind him!
Front row: Jones is Grand Slam rock
The all-British & Irish Lions front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones might have fragmented, but both props should be in contention, with Richard Hibbard the favoured man in between them. Jones is the rock on which the Welsh Grand Slams of 2005, 2008 and 2012 were built and has been a powerhouse this season. The French failed to get advantage up front in Paris, the Italian scrum crumbled against him in Rome and the Scots were the latest to fall.
Which rookie loose head Stuart Lancaster puts in against him – Joe Marler or Mako Vunipola – will face arguably the top tight-head scrummager in the northern hemisphere.
Jenkins will know all about Dan Cole, but with more than 100 Tests behind him should have enough in his locker to nullify him. If his calf injury is still troubling him then Paul James, rated by Leinster coach Joe Schmidt as the most destructive loose head in Europe last season, is a more than capable deputy.
Putting Hibbard in the middle of the front row has given further solidity. Hibbard against Dylan Hartley could be interesting.
Back three: Attacking ability
Wales' combination of little and large – the tiny Halfpenny in conjunction with the gigantic flyers George North and Alex Cuthbert – at the back has remained their secret weapon for much of this season.
But the attacking ability they contain can cause havoc in any defensive alignment, as Cuthbert's try in Rome proved. If England kick badly, Wales can and will punish them. Knocking down North and Cuthbert is not easy, while Halfpenny is like an eel wriggling through gaps.
History/pressure: England are haunted
England haven't won a Grand Slam since 2003. Just look at the players and team they had then compared to know. Where there is talent now, there was that and experience a decade ago. When England had the chance to shoot for Grand Slam glory in Dublin two years ago, they failed. Will that prey on their minds? The last time England met Wales with the Grand Slam at stake we all know what happened: Wembley – Scott Quinnell charge, Scott Gibbs dance and Neil Jenkins conversion. The spirit of '99 will be hanging in the air all next week.
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