England can land the grand slam in Cardiff


Saturday 5pm

IT HAS been an enthralling 2013 Six Nations Championship and the tournament winner will be decided from the titanic clash between England and Wales in Cardiff on the final weekend.

England are in the hunt for a grand slam and Wales know a win would prevent that at the minimum, while an eight point or more triumph would bring the home team successive titles.

The Red Rose survived a scare in an 18-11 victory over Italy last weekend to leave only tomorrow’s rivals standing in their path to a clean sweep.

It was clear that Stuart Lancaster’s side felt the pressure at Twickenham against Italy as they failed to score a try for the second time this tournament in a nervy performance. England’s hard going win meant they missed an opportunity to extend their points difference over Wales.

Toby Flood’s boot proved the difference and although he is set to return to the bench, with Owen Farrell’s inclusion, it’s reassuring that the fly-half is kicking well. His six penalties were all that England could muster to leave the window ajar for Wales. A grand slam is out of reach, but the Welsh would love nothing more than to spoil England’s party.

Wales will have to attempt the feat without Ryan Jones, who suffered a broken bone in his shoulder last weekend. Lancaster has no such selection problems and Farrell’s return will improve England’s attack that has scored one try in three matches.

The Welsh only crossed the line once in a 28-18 triumph over Scotland that was littered with penalties.

But it has still been a superb turnaround for the defending champions after being beaten at home in the opener 22-30 by Ireland.

At the break they faced a 20-point deficit and since then they have showed the class that carried them to the grand slam a year ago.

They improved on that form to secure wins in France, Italy and Scotland and will be confident of causing an upset back on home soil. However, Wales have lost their last five internationals at the Millennium Stadium.

Interim coach Rob Howley knows Wales have to play on the front foot with an aggressive attacking line and that does leave gaps for England to counter-attack.

There was no space in midfield in the France and Italy games, so Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt can use that to their advantage here.

Looking at the head-to-head record between the nations, it is England who hold a narrow lead of 56 to 55, with 12 draws. England delivered two years ago when they were in Cardiff for the Six Nations, completing a 26-19 win.

The last 10 matches have been split with five wins apiece, but Wales have won the last two, coming on the back of three successive defeats. England and Wales have played out some close games recently and the average winning margin over the past four internationals stands at seven points.

England are potentially just 80 minutes away from a famous grand slam and the Italy game was the reminder they needed that the job isn’t complete yet. With a renewed focus, England are worth backing at 8/11 with Coral to win a fifth straight Six Nations game this year in a fitting finale.

Sporting Index have the England/Wales supremacy spread at 0-3 and I’d be a buyer at that price.

■ Pointers…
England to win at 8/11 with Coral
Buy England’s supremacy at 3 with Sporting Index