Wales vs England women: Skilful Alex Matthews can be England’s new inspiration - Catherine Spencer

Teams play at Cardiff on Sunday

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The Independent Online

After the atmosphere and bright lights of Friday night in Cardiff, the Wales versus England clash continues with the women playing each other in their opening fixture at Swansea.

England undoubtedly go in to this match as firm favourites, coming off the back of a World Cup-winning year and a hugely dominant win-loss ratio against Wales that any team would hanker after: 30-1 since 1987. However, it will not be as easy as it may seem.

There has been some well-documented though unpredicted change in the England coaching set-up with head coach Gary Street leaving his post less than two weeks before the start of this tournament.

Graham Smith remains as forwards coach and will probably lead the majority of the training, though he will also leave after this Six Nations.

Nicky Ponsford, head of performance, has emerged as the acting head coach and Jo Yapp, captain of the 2006 World Cup finalists, has been fast-tracked into the backs coaching role.

England also have a new captain in second-row Tamara Taylor. She is a great player, vastly experienced having played for England for 10 years – and a natural leader.

World Cup captain Katy Mclean is currently out in Brazil along with 13 other members of the current squad aiming for Rio 2016 Sevens qualification. Their unavailability for Six Nations due to the priority that has been given to sevens rugby in the build-up to 2016 will have a massive impact.

Sarah Hunter, who has led the side in the past when Katy has been unavailable, will be unavailable for at least the first half of the tournament through injury, so although England are world champions and still the team to beat, there are chinks in their armour and Wales will cling on to this. In similar circumstances in 2009, Wales earned a shock victory  over England – that one  success for them so far – so an upset cannot be completely discounted.

England’s back line must be one of their youngest but has some incredibly exciting players, such as Sydney Gregson and Abbie Brown.

In the forwards, and playing in my old position at No 8, is Alex Matthews and for me she is the player to watch – incredibly talented, skilful and powerful.

Wales will provide a nice start and will be a test, but they are rebuilding too and their team are also young. Ireland away will prove a much tougher proposition for England, while France in the last fixture will be their toughest challenge.

Whether England’s management decide to draft any of their experienced sevens players back for that game will depend on the team’s earlier performances.

By the end of today I would predict that along with Ireland’s victory over Italy there will also be wins for England over Wales and France over Scotland, and this be the shape of the rest of the championship.

We will see two mini-battles, with England, Ireland and France fighting it out for the title, while Wales, Italy and Scotland will be aiming to avoid the wooden spoon.

Catherine Spencer is a former England captain who won 63 caps between 2004-11

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