Jonathan Davies: Our 1988 recipe is still the right one: parity up front and supremacy behind

Wales still have the quality backs to do the damage
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The England coach, Andy Robinson, claims that Wales are the favourites to win the big clash at Twickenham on Saturday. He won't find many Welshmen supporting his view - in fact, most of them are not looking forward to the match at all.

Then again, we weren't all that confident this time last year when we played England - and that was the start of the Welsh Grand Slam.

Where I do agree with Robinson is in the importance of a match he rates as the most crucial of his career. It's also Wales's toughest test under Mike Ruddock's regime. Whoever wins will have genuine reasons to think they can have a tilt at the title; that's how much confidence and momentum they will take from it. It was the surge of self-belief they got from beating England that took Wales to the Slam last year, and Robinson is relying on his men gaining the same boost this time around.

History is certainly on England's side. The last time Wales beat them at Twickenham was 1988, and you can tell how long ago it was because I played. We beat them well, too, if I may say so, and although it is among my happiest memories I would be delighted if the 1988 team lost the tag of being the last to win at Twickenham.

Then, it was two tries from Adrian Hadley after flowing passing movements that won the day - and we had the better backs last year, too. But the essence of that victory was that the Welsh forwards gained parity, and then there were enough opportunities to gain a much bigger winning margin than 11-9.

The only way that is going to happen this time is if Wales can hold their own again up front. If they can cope in that department, they still have the quality in the backs to do the damage.

At least we don't have to waste time figuring out the tactical approaches to the game. England will attempt to pound the resistance out of the Welsh pack, and if that is achieved they will invite their backs to pep up their confidence by slicing through the shattered ranks.

Any thoughts that Robinson would elect to start with a more expansive plan went when Olly Barkley withdrew through injury last week. At inside-centre, Barkley would have been a magnificent foil for Charlie Hodgson, offering a left-right kicking option and extra creativity in the thinking department. They have no other natural footballer to put in that position. The option now will be limited to a direct gain-line approach.

It is difficult to guess who Robinson will play in the centre or even at full-back. Mark Cueto and Ben Cohen are likely to be the wings and Josh Lewsey is certain to play, but whether at centre at full-back I wouldn't like to guess. But with Tom Voyce in such good form and players such as Mike Tindall, Stuart Abbott and Mark van Gisbergen available, the final back-division choice is intriguing.

Whoever they pick, the main task will still belong to the forwards. They will be out to overpower Wales up front, and my worry is that if England do get well ahead they will acquire the confidence to start cutting loose, and that could be extremely dangerous for Wales. Wales simply cannot afford to get caught in a physical battle. If they can just win their own ball and cut down on errors, they will have a chance.

The problems will come if England get good field position. When that pack get a foothold in the Welsh 22 they are going to take some holding.

It doesn't help that Wales are missing six of the Grand Slam team, plus a couple of other lively first-team contenders, but Ruddock has prepared his spirited squad well.

In the backs I fancy they will miss Tom Shanklin more than Gavin Henson and I would play Gareth Thomas in the centre, where he can be the fulcrum of the attack which is Wales's main chance.

France, who play England and Ireland in Paris, are my favourites to do the Grand Slam this year, but whoever comes out of Twickenham with their self-belief hoisted high will give them a run.

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