Sunday 11 August, make a date in your sporting diary. England play Wales at Twickenham. Okay, it's not 2 November, not the World Cup final but it is the first time fans can see just what work has been done behind the scenes in the training camps of both England and Wales. Some will tell you the fixture is a friendly. Well, it's not a World Cup or Six Nations clash. It isn't Bill Shankly's `life or death' sporting scenario but it's a game any fan of either nation will not want to miss. Here's a couple of reasons why.
Wales have won fourteen games on the trot. Wales are five wins from breaking the world record for tier one consecutive victories. England feel the run should have ended when the two teams met in Cardiff during last season's Six Nations encounter; Wales believe their superior game management made their victory a merited one.
Another win for Wales and they really will be believing that they have a psychological edge, should they meet. And, given the nature of the draw, that is possible. As early as the quarter final. England – with home advantage – need this win more than any other in the four match warm ups. It is not the end of the world but it is so much more than bragging rights.
Wales fought back from a half-time deficit to earn a decisive win over England in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
When England welcome Ireland on the 24 August, they will be looking to put in a performance first and foremost. For all the experimentation that is a fascinating part of the pre-competition warm up England will expect to win their two Twickenham games as well as Italy in Newcastle at the very least.
Sure, it is not flag of St George stuff but it is fabulous from the perspective of a purist. That Ireland game, for example. Eddie Jones had a great idea of his squad before the 2018/19 season ended but there remain places to be filled. There remain questions to be answered. Jones is preparing England for any and all eventualities, so he says. If that is the case the Wales and Ireland games will be an opportunity for players to step into the boots of first team regulars like Mako Vunipola who is expected back but he will not be hurried. Ben Moon's scrum and defence or the dynamism of Ellis Genge at tight head? Who knows if Mako is missing, Joe Marler could roar back into the frame.
England impressively defeated Ireland in their opening game of this year's Guinness Six Nations campaign.
As for scrum half, Jones is very much a Ben Youngs man but the scrum half is returning from injury. Is he going to be sharp enough to reclaim his place? Will his box kicking presence tell England fans exactly how they expect England to play in Japan? And if he is struggling does Danny Care dart back into contention ahead of Saracens two scrum halves?
Then there is the eternal England question. What will be the shape of the midfield. Farrell, Tuilagi and Slade for a balance with a blaster at inside centre or Tuilagi out wider, at 13, where he is best. Ford and Farrell perhaps! Well, unlikely but you get my point. There is so much more going on at Twickenham in August than a couple of friendlies.
For fans, it is an opportunity to see the months of practice being turned into something, if not perfect, then good enough to send England to the Far East with great expectations. Against teams of the organisational calibre of Wales and Ireland, nothing less than high quality performances will result in wins. Are the games about performance or result? Both. One leads onto the other. The games won't tell us whether Europe will win the World Cup but rugby savvy supporters will have a little more idea. Not quite the real thing, these games are final dress rehearsals. These are once in four yearly experiences. I can't wait to see them.
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