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Alex Spink: The time for talking is over

05 Feb | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Alex Spink: The time for talking is over

Stuart Lancaster's team insist they have learned from their 2013 drubbing but Wales will take some convincing.

Alex Spink previews tomorrow’s RBS Six Nations opener between Wales and England

The talking is almost done, the finishing touches made to preparations for this key Rugby World Cup dress rehearsal.

All it needs is for the weather to behave itself, given that England have decreed that the Millennium Stadium roof must remain open on the basis of dry weather being forecast.
With 57 England wins to Wales’ 56, this has always been a closely contested fixture. Except, that is, for England’s last visit to Cardiff two years ago when Wales rampaged to a record 30-3 win.
The memory of that occasion, when England had their Grand Slam dream shattered and a Six Nations title ripped from their grasp by Wales, has haunted Chris Robshaw’s men ever since.
However they try to dress it up this is a revenge mission. They want to set the record straight, as well as lay down a marker for the pivotal World Cup pool match to be played between the two nations at Twickenham on September 26.
That will not be easy. There are six changes to the England side which beat Australia last time out, eight men who have not before played in the  Millennium Stadium spotlight.
Wales are coming off a morale-boosting victory over South Africa – their first southern hemisphere Big Three scalp in years – and have a history of peaking in the Six Nations.
The word from across the Severn Bridge is that Wales front-loaded their campaign with heavy fitness and conditioning work.
That would have done them few favours in the November internationals but the fruits of their labour should benefit them in the coming weeks, making them a reasonable bet for the title.
Holders Ireland, who enjoyed the best autumn of the Home Nations, merit favourite’s status, ahead of England. Wales, who have home advantage against both rivals, are only third.
But Warren Gatland’s side have been underestimated many times before, responding with three Grand Slams since 2005.
Contrast that with England’s dismal record of no Grand Slams and just one title since Martin Johnson lifted the World Cup on that unforgettable night in Sydney 12 years ago.
The headlines this week have been hogged by England recalls for ‘old timers’ Danny Cipriani and Nick Easter. But it is 21-year-old fly-half George Ford, making his first start in the championship, who is the pivotal figure.
Expect Wales to send their juggernaut midfield star Jamie Roberts down Ford’s channel all evening, trying to knock him off his game – if not out of THE game.
England will counter by playing to their traditional forward strengths and concentrating on field position and their set-piece platform rather than on trying to win Try of the Season.
They have learned the merits of pragmatism the hard way. With 225 days until the World Cup kicks off they have injuries and self-doubt. They need to find themselves in the coming weeks.