TOMORROW evening in Cardiff is what international rugby is all about. There is a grand slam, or at least a Six Nations title, up for grabs, the renewal of a fierce rivalry between England and Wales, and there is sure to be an electric atmosphere. It has all the makings of the best game of the championship.
It is also hugely important in the development of this England team under Stuart Lancaster. If they do win the grand slam then that’s great, but the bigger picture is making sure they are on the right track to arrive at the 2015 World Cup as one of the favourites. This is a very significant step on that journey.
The one big challenge for Lancaster’s young team is to summon a dazzling performance of the kind we know they are capable. Despite their 100 per cent record, we haven’t seen them rediscover the form they showed against New Zealand in the autumn. An exciting display is overdue, so hopefully we will see one tomorrow.
I’m only happy when England win, and as long as they do I don’t mind too much how entertaining it is. But if you want to take on the best teams you can’t rely on winning ugly; you have to go out and play and look for big points. If England go into their shells and try to eke out a win in Cardiff they could be in trouble.
I think the changes made by Lancaster will help in that respect. Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs, who both return, have been tremendous. The endeavour was there against Italy last week and has been all tournament, England just need to seize opportunities when they make them. That is what marks out a good team in any sport.
Wales were quickly written off but have got better with each game. They have a strong scrum and line-out, their backs can play, Leigh Halfpenny is a good kicker, they have a mean defence and they will be determined to deny England a grand slam on their turf. They represent a huge obstacle.
The teams look evenly matched and I expect it will come down to who handles the pressure and executes their chances better. I have to back England, but I only see one score separating the two sides.
England’s most capped player Jason Leonard is a Senior Advisor for Besso Insurance Group, an independent Lloyd’s Insurance Broker specialising in all forms of Commercial and Personal Lines insurance www.besso.co.uk