HARRY MADLEY PREVIEWS THE SIX NATIONS CURTAIN-RAISER AND BEN CLEMINSON WITH HIS BEST BETS FOR THE NORTH LONDON DERBY
THE ANTICIPATION surrounding the opening fixture of the Six Nations will reach its climax at 8.05pm this evening as Wales host England at the Millennium Stadium, a venue which has seen the Red Rose win just once in their last six visits.
To add extra spice to what is already a well-documented feisty international rivalry, the pair find themselves in the same World Cup group later this year.
Stuart Lancaster has seen his list of high-profile casualties expand to 12, partly due to the ferocious matches in the last group stage of the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Tight-head David Wilson hasn’t recovered from a neck injury, allowing Dan Cole, who made his debut against Wales exactly five years ago, to win his 46th England cap.
The England coach will be disappointed not to see the familiar pairing of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes team up in the engine room. It does, however, give 24-year-old George Kruis and 6ft 7in Dave Attwood the opportunity to go head-to-head against established Welsh second rowers Alun Wyn Jones and Jake Ball.
The England forward pack, renowned for being consistently dominant is not the perceived area of vulnerability. Rather, it’s the inexperienced backline which will look to be exploited by the men in red.
With powerhouse Manu Tuilagi still side-lined, England have struggled to find any balance in their midfield.
Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph have been given the responsibility to contain the tried and tested combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in the centres.
Warren Gatland, who’s XV boasts 290 more caps than their counterparts’, has made just two starting changes to the side which toppled South Africa in Wales’ most recent outing in Cardiff. Richard Hibbard replaces Scott Baldwin at hooker while George North, scorer of 19 international tries in 45 appearances, slots back on the left wing.
History highlights that Wales is a difficult place to go for the English, having won just 20 times in their last 61 trips. With eight English starters making their first appearance at the Millennium Stadium the odds are in favour of tonight’s hosts. A small buy of Wales’ supremacy at 5 is advised. Total points are pitched at 34-37 and that is worth a sell in what might be a slog.
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