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England v Wales - how the squads compare

January 11, 2018

England versus Wales has always been one of the great rivalries of international rugby, a contest dating back to the origins of the Six Nations tournament in the 1880s. This year's encounter at Twickenham will be the continuation of a mighty tradition.

While history buffs will have great fun looking back down the years and famous matches and great players, fans booking corporate hospitality for the latest encounter on February 10th will be focused more on what the teams can produce now.

The smart money will be on England winning, given their spectacular form since Eddie Jones took over. But while the relentless winning machine the Australian has produced has sealed two wins over the Welsh so far, nobody should take another for granted. If anything motivates a Welshman, it is the thought of beating the 'big brother' on the other side of the Severn Bridge. 

Wales had a rather mixed autumn, albeit one that finished positively with a 24-22 victory over South Africa, and have been in something of a transitional phase, but they can be expected to bring some exciting new players to Twickenham.

Hadleigh Parkes is definitely a player to watch. He certainly doesn't fit the description of 'young', given he is 30, but he made a rapid impact against the Springboks with two tries. Born in New Zealand, the centre moved to Wales three years ago and had just qualified in time to make his debut. His emergence could provide a significant challenge to England in a key area of the field and certainly stiffened up a side that was afflicted by a series of injury absences over the autumn period.
Nonetheless, given good fitness the Welsh can still put out several stars who would get into most squads in world rugby. Leigh Halfpenny is the third-highest point scorer in Welsh international rugby history. Dan Biggar is an outstanding fly-half. George North is a fine winger and will hope to be fit after a recent knee injury ruled him out for the rest of January.

Wales will, however, definitely be missing Sam Warburton, who led the British and Irish Lions in the drawn series in New Zealand last summer and has been recognised with an OBE in the new year honours list. 

Whoever takes the field for Wales at Twickenham, England will know not to underestimate them. Moreover, the home side will need to call on its own formidable strength in depth in order to prevail.

England's own autumn was blighted by injuries, while at the same time Eddie Jones took the chance to rest some players, part of a long-term plan to manage player workloads 18 months from the next World Cup.

Maro Itoje was one of those players who spent time enjoying a little rest, but looked set to have longer on the sidelines after breaking his jaw while playing for Saracens in November. However, the injury was not as bad as expected and the forward is now back in action.

A further boost from Saracens has come in the imposing shape of Billy Vunipola, who had knee surgery in September and is also now back in club action. Indeed, the return of Vunipola at number 8 could deal with one obvious problem, after Nathan Hughes was ruled out of the start of the tournament with injury.

The fact that the pair have been able to join in the England squads' training weekend will leave England's Six Nations opponents with much to fear. Yet it was in the absence of top players - Owen Farrell was also among those rested - that Jones was able to add more experience, including a dozen new caps. That does not mean all the rookies will get further chances, but it does show that there is a deep well of talent from which England can draw, to the envy of most other nations. 

At the very top of the tree are Itoje and Farrell, both nominated for World Rugby's 2017 Player of the Year award. But it is the way England back up their top talent that makes them such a frightening prospect to play against. A prime example of this was the 30-6 thrashing of Australia, when Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May and Danny Care all came off the replacements bench and played the role of 'finishers' to perfection by scoring late tries to crush the Wallabies.

Jones will hope this formula works again and that England's squad strength will bring another victory. But never underestimate Wales; there is still enough quality and passion to make this another great game to add to the long list of epic encounters between the sides down the years.

Image: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

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