Wales vs England: Grand Slam winner predicts this key battleground in Cardiff

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 7:45pm

By Jacob Bentley-York @JBentley_York

Wales and England will both be desperate to win every individual battle on Saturday when they clash in Cardiff but Robert Sidoli reckons the second row will be a particularly keenly fought area and one that could dictate the result.

Wales coach Warren Gatland was able to rest captain Alun Wyn Jones last week as his side beat Italy 26-15 in Rome but his opposite number Eddie Jones has not had such good fortune in the second row.

Maro Itoje has failed to recover from a knee ligament injury suffered in the first game of the tournament meaning Courtney Lawes and George Kruis will start together for the second time in a row.

The pair have 96 caps between them but ex-lock Sidoli reckons that Jones' athleticism as well as his 122 caps of experience may prove telling.

"It's going to be fascinating battle, in particular the dimensions in the second row with Courtney Lawes and George Kruis against Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Beard and [Cory Hill]," Sidoli told The Brian Moore Show (weekdays 3pm-7pm).

"I think both are capable winning their own ball and I don't see much turnover in the line up to be honest it will be more about what they can bring around the park. 

"With Alun Wyn in the contact areas it's kind of like your next back rower and I think England will suffer in that area without Itoje who is obviously excellent at that element, but on the set pieces I reckon it'll be quite neutral."

The roof is likely to be closed when Wales and England kick off at 4.45pm on Saturday afternoon in front of 78,000 fans.

Jones' men have won on their last two visits to Cardiff, although both times by just one score, and no-one is expecting either side to run away with the game this time around either.

"There’s always a lot of excitement when it’s the build up to playing England in Cardiff especially when they seem to be on a winning high," Sidoli added.

"It certainly brings an extra edge to an encounter that is always full of passion and intensity. 

"I feel if you have momentum you want to maintain it so I think in that respect I think the challenge will be harder for England.

"They have two wins and both were very physical encounters against the Irish and the French and that will be something we will have looked at.

"I think they are trying to develop more depth with the World Cup in mind, but I hope the extra preparation time in the last week has given them the opportunity to sharpen up on their creativity. 

"I think the consensus is that Wales will need to be more creative in attack if they are going to beat England at the weekend."

Much of the pressure for that creativity will fall on full-back Liam Williams, who will fill the hole left by Leigh Halfpenny, unavailable since November because of an increasingly concerning concussion issue.

Sidoli added: "Behind the scenes Leigh does so much homework so it's no coincidence that he covers every blade of grass and controls the pendulum of defence and it's very rare that the ball will bounce when he's in the team.

"Over the last two games England have scored a lot of tries from kicking so it's obviously an area where Halfpenny would address those threats. 

"However, we have Liam Williams who has been excellent in that regard, and we are very blessed to have two good players in the back line so I think we have it covered." 

England are the only side to have picked up bonus points in both of their opening games and are the tournament's top-scorers with 76 points so far.

And Sidoli reckons Shaun Edwards' defensive plan will be at the heart of any hopes of a Wales victory.

He said: "I think they're going to be narrow as it's a Welsh defence fueled by the intensity of the crowd against what I see as a very creative and attacking England team. 

"If we can nullify the offloading capabilities of say a [Billy] Vunipola then we have a good chance. 

"It's equally a big game for our ten and our defence as they have to marshal Tualigi and if the trust is there we can control the middle of the park."

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