England v Wales Six Nations Rugby 16:00 Sat
Stuart Lancaster’s new look England face the first real test of their bright new era when they play hosts to Wales as heavy odds against underdogs with Paddy Power in the 6 Nations at Twickenham on Saturday.
England have so far managed to pick up wins in both of their games so far against Scotland and Italy, with scrappy but resilient performances in adverse conditions, but now they will be expected to put meat on the bones of claims they are a different proposition from the team that failed so miserably at the World Cup last year.
Their performance in that tournament spelt the end of Martin Johnson’s time as head coach with Lancaster appointed on an interim basis until the end of the 6 Nations, with the former Leeds Carnegie director of rugby angling for the job on a full-time basis.
A win against Wales would certainly do his chances of that happening no harm whatsoever, but that is easier said than done as Warren Gatland’s side represent one of the toughest challenges currently on offer in world rugby.
Wales, desperately unlucky to miss out on a place in the World Cup final last year, have so far come through both of their opening games with their 100% record in this year’s tournament still intact, and their desire to make up for the loss to their fierce rivals in the 6 Nations last year will be a motivating factor as they head to Twickenham.
Charlie Hodgson, England’s fly-half against Scotland and Italy, will miss the game through injury, meaning youngster and kicker in-chief will step into the number 10 role from inside centre, while Manu Tuilagi comes into the midfield having overcome an injury that has kept him out of the 6 Nations to date.
Lee Dickson, Scarlets No.8 Ben Morgan and Leicester lock Geoff Parling will all make their first starts at Twickenham, with Ben Youngs, Phil Dowson dropping to the bench while Tom Palmer misses out altogether.
Toby Flood and Courtney Lawes come back into the squad having also overcome injury, but will have to make do with a spot on the bench.
For Wales, captain Sam Warburton will start having missed his country’s 27-13 win over Scotland, while George North is also included, Alun-Wyn Jones is preferred at lock to Ryan Jones and hooker Ken Owens will make his debut.