Time:Saturday 10th February (16:45)
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Referee: Jerome Garces
England and Wales are set to contest a mammoth clash in the leafy London suburb of Twickenham on Saturday in the second round of Six Nations fixtures.
In what is being billed as a vital clash for both sides, England have most aspects in their favour – home advantage, strength in depth and the guidance of arguably the world’s greatest coach in Eddie Jones.
But if there is one thing that has proven near impossible to predict over the years, it is the result of the fixture between these two great rivals.
Wales, buoyed by their success against a Scotland side who enjoyed a good autumn, have named an unchanged starting line-up for the game.
George North replaces centre Owen Watkin on the bench in the only change to the match day 23, due to insurance needed because of a minor strain suffered by Josh Adams, according to Warren Gatland.
The supposed new style adopted by Wales certainly paid dividends against the Scots – critics might say this was more to do with the prevalence of Scarlets in the Welsh ranks than any strategy enacted by the coaching team.
Pursuing the same strategy against England might be a little risky.
With the dominance of the English pack, particularly with regards to the scrum, any handling or breakdown errors are likely to be punished.
England are in great, enduring form themselves having only lost one game since Eddie Jones took over following the 2015 World Cup debacle.
They put Italy, admittedly not the most daunting of opposition, to the sword last Sunday in a scintillating attacking display.
Every time England entered the 22 of their opponents, they seemed to come away with points.
The English XV will not experience the same good fortune against the Welsh defence, famously aggressive in its line speed, but Wales will still have to be wary of the Ford-Farrell axis and outstanding individuals such as Anthony Watson.
But this attacking threat isn’t exclusive to England’s lightning backs; forward stars such as relative newcomer Sam Simmonds could pose a danger to the Welsh try line.
Given how potent England were last Sunday, it should come as no surprise to supporters that wholesale changes in the match day 23 have not materialised.
Danny Care replaces the injured Ben Youngs (knee), after the latter went down early on in Rome, with 34-year-old Richard Wigglesworth named among the substitutes.
Jonathan Joseph replaces Ben Te’o o change the dynamic of the midfield; elsewhere, Owen Farrell and George Ford have both troubled Wales in the past and will be relied upon to do so again on Saturday.
Wales may seek to target perceived English defensive weakness out wide, so it is likely that combating this has been a key priority in training this week for Jones and his men.
And on the subject of training, Wales have drafted in players from the Cardiff Blues regional side to play the roles of English attackers so they can hone their defensive skills.
Wales coach Gatland has also been using the pre-game preparation time to indulge in a few mind games aimed at the England camp.
The New Zealander has talked up his side’s fitness in comparison to that of England and claimed he was “intrigued” by Jones.
Whatever Gatland may say, to put it bluntly – England should beat Wales.
Wales should certainly be considered underdogs, despite their excellent performance at the Principality Stadium last week.
The match could be closer than a lot of people predicted before the Championship began, but ultimately the English pack and the presence of the excellent Farrell could be the catalysts for victory.
It would be folly to write Wales off though, and in Leigh Halfpenny they have a world-class, if not the world’s best, goal kicker.
Wales’ back row is an embarrassment of riches too – even without Lions Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau, they still come up with the goods to compete fervently at the breakdown.
And Wales’ back line (which could have been mistaken for that of the Scarlets) demonstrated how effective it could be in open play last weekend; the same is also true of England, however.
While England should shade this, there is no doubt that Wales could yet have their day and stun their rivals over the River Severn – 2013 Six Nations anyone?
Prediction: England by 3.
1 – Rob Evans
2 – Ken Owens
3 – Samson Lee
4 – Cory Hill
5 – Alun Wyn Jones
6 – Aaron Shingler
7 – Josh Navidi
8 – Ross Moriarty
9 – Gareth Davies
10 – Rhys Patchell
11 – Steff Evans
12 – Hadleigh Parkes
13 – Scott Williams
14 – Josh Adams
15 – Leigh Halfpenny
(Featured image: Ian Adams)