Jonathan Davies: Game plan at risk amid civil turmoil

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The Independent Online

Wales coach Steve Hansen is having to prepare his squad to face the mighty task against England while a civil war threatens to rob him of his best players. While England can quietly lick the wounds of Paris and re-construct that towering self-belief of theirs, Wales are being nagged by the prospect of their players downing tools in support of the clubs' battle against the WRU.

As well as formulating a game plan that can give them a fighting chance at Twickenham, Hansen has to keep their minds focused on their preparations and away from the politics – not very easy when they were threatening to boycott Welsh training tomorrow. Dithering over a new structure has led to this so the WRU must act quickly to restore stability.

Meanwhile, Hansen has to convince his players that they have a sporting chance on Saturday. It would be fatal just to think of the 90 points England have hit them with in their last two meetings and plan damage-limitation.

I trust the coach is working them hard on a positive approach aimed at knocking England out of their comfort zone early on. When this team is allowed to settle at Twickenham you can see their confidence and ambition rising so Wales's best chance is to get among them straight away.

It won't be easy because England will be intent on blasting the memory of the French defeat out of their minds and the pace and intensity will be tremendous from the start.

This is the time the Welsh defence will have to be at its most solid. They should pack their defenders tight, with no holes in the middle, and force England to go outside. They must push up and push out and make it difficult for Dan Luger and Austin Healey to go anywhere but wide. If the Welsh play Craig Morgan and Rhys Williams on the wings they will have the pace to handle them.

Wales don't want Jonny Wilkinson or Jason Robinson to cut them in the middle because that makes it easy for support players to get to them so they have to hold their line and not get pulled out of position.

Discipline has to be rigid. It is vital that they stay half a yard behind the back-foot at the rucks and, once the ball is out, go up together and be prepared to make big hits like France did. They have to be ball-and-all tackles because players like Will Greenwood, Wilkinson, Healey and the back row are excellent at offloading.

There are other lessons to be learned from the French. Wales must win their ball from set-pieces and it has to be quick ball. The French scrum-half Fabien Galthié showed how to exploit the fringes of England's defence around the rucks and mauls with sniping breaks.

He got behind the English defence, support flowed in behind him and two tries resulted. The French also exposed an England weakness when they broke them on the right and then quickly spread the ball wide with the help of two long passes to the far left and Imanol Harinordoquy's try was the result. It was the perfect example of how quick ball and a sudden change of the point of attack can work wonders.

Wales have the necessary pace behind to exploit openings. Tom Shanklin is not likely to be fit so I would move Dafydd James or Gareth Thomas to the centre to ensure that Wales have the benefit of the young pace of Craig Morgan and Williams on the wings.

With Kevin Morgan at full-back, Wales would have a back three capable of taking advantage of any openings.

England can be relied upon to play 15-man rugby because I do not expect their coach Clive Woodward to deviate from his master plan. If he didn't do it during the French match, he certainly isn't going to change it now. Neither do I see him making more than the odd change. Although, if Lawrence Dallaglio comes through his comeback game for Wasps against Sale he may find his way on to the bench which wouldn't be a cheering sight for any opponent.

Iestyn Harris had a more promising game for Cardiff last weekend but will probably be among the replacements. My only fear is that he'll be thrown on late if Wales are taking a hammering and the game is gone. He doesn't need impossible situations at this stage of his indoctrination.

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