England v Wales: Key battles

As the clock counts down to the biggest game of the Rugby World Cup so far, Stuart Lancaster and Warren Gatland have named their respective sides as England and Wales prepare to meet each other in a match which is likely to have a huge impact on who makes it through to the knockout stages. So here are a few of the individual match-ups that could be crucial in deciding the outcome of this titanic clash.

Jenkins v Cole

The contest at scrum-time has become a big talking point ahead of this match, and much will depend on how the  British and Irish Lions pair of Gethin Jenkins and Dan Cole match up against one another. Veteran Jenkins continues to be one of the first names on Warren Gatland’s team-sheets and his work in the loose remains exemplary, with him often acting like an extra back-row forward at times with his energy around the park. However, his capabilities in the scrum have been questioned of late, with a number of yellow cards picked up over the last few years for infringements at the scrum. Up against one of the most consistent scrummagers in the game in Dan Cole, Jenkins will be targeted by the England pack and will have to keep his discipline to allow Wales to have a solid platform and prevent England building momentum.

Lawes v Davies

The inclusion of Bradley Davies has come as a surprise to many, with Gatland choosing to go with the extra physicality of the Wasps lock forward over the mobility of Luke Charteris. Gatland has likely chosen Davies to negate the influence of England enforcer Courteney Lawes. The Northampton second-row has developed into one of the game’s most fearsome tacklers and has become a vital component in an England pack that has become one of the strongest in international rugby. Their towering presence at the line-out will be another intriguing sub-plot in a match that could swing either way.

Wood v Lydiate

The two unsung heroes of their respective nations, Tom Wood and Dan Lydiate continue to excel in the No.6 jerseys for their respective countries and their defensive battle may hold the key to deciding what is likely to be a tight test match. Dan Lydiate remains a favourite with Gatland, with his faultless tackling technique providing the likes of Warburton and Faletau with plenty of opportunities to turnover ball at the breakdown. For England, Tom Wood has developed into one of their most consistent performers and as well as providing defensive muscle, is also a strong ball-carrier. Two players so closely matched, whichever player edges their contest, is likely to come out on the winning side.

Youngs v Davies

Experience against youth – certainly in test match rugby – as 2013 British and Irish Lion Ben Youngs comes up against Wales’ Gareth Davies. With over 50 international caps to his name, Youngs is a proven performer and has excelled for England in the last year, as he reclaimed the No.9 jersey from rival Danny Care. Sharp around the fringes and quick to get the ball away, Youngs is a man opposition defenders dare not take their eyes off and if England’s pack provides a solid platform he could flourish. With only 5 caps to his name Gareth Davies remains something of a rookie at this level, but having provided a real cutting edge from scrum-half for the Scarlets over the last few years, he will be one to watch for English defenders. A similar type of player to Youngs, Davies has come in to replace the injured Rhys Webb and like Webb, knows his way to the try-line.

Farrell v Biggar

Again two similar types of players, the kicking battle between Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar is likely to prove pivotal in the outcome of the match. Having impressed after coming off the bench against Fiji last week, Farrell has done enough to usurp rival fly-half George Ford for the big game, with his tactical kicking, game management and strong defence getting him the nod over the more creative Ford. For Wales, Dan Biggar has developed into one of the most important players for coach Warren Gatland. A player who initially struggled at international level, Biggar has developed into one of the most efficient fly-halves in the game with his faultless kicking, brave defence and accuracy under the high ball some of his biggest strengths.

Burgess v Roberts

Without doubt the biggest battle of them all, as the two heavyweight centres go head-to-head. Human wrecking-balls Sam Burgess and Jamie Roberts will look to barge their way over the gain-line while also providing their raw power to prevent their opposite number from causing too much damage. A big call by Stuart Lancaster given Burgess’ lack of experience at centre in these types of games, but up against one of the most-feared centres in world rugby in Roberts, Lancaster obviously feels the need to go like-for-like with his own big ball-carrier. An intriguing battle, which almost definitely will have a massive impact on the result.

Brown v Williams

The loss of a British and Irish Lions player of the series would hit any team hard, with Leigh Halfpenny’s injury on the eve of the tournament casting a shadow over Wales’ chances. However, Scarlets full-back Liam Williams is an able replacement and arguably provides Wales with a greater attacking presence from deep. Up against one of the finest attacking full-backs in world rugby, Williams will have to be at his defensive best to stop Mike Brown, himself fresh from a man-of-the-match performance against Fiji last week. Expect both teams to look to these players to provide the attacking intent to outdo the opposition.

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