Sat, Sep 26, 2015 - Page 18 News List

England, Wales ready for Cup’s first must-see clash


England’s Owen Farrell runs with the ball in a training session at Pennyhill Park near Bagshot, southwest of London, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

After a buildup dominated by talk of who is playing and who is not, England and Wales must smell blood in the water for the first too-big-to-miss pool match of the Rugby World Cup.

The teams today butt heads at Twickenham under lights somewhat undermanned, and covered in question marks on two different areas of vulnerability: England’s inside backs and the Wales front row.

England start without their mavericks, flyhalf George Ford and outside center Jonathan Joseph, composers of ambition and the team’s back-line resurgence over the past year. Ford was dropped, while Joseph hurt a pectoral muscle and might not play another Pool A game.

In are No. 10 Owen Farrell, reliable and stalwart; No. 12 Sam Burgess, the league convert who has a big-game head, but a small rugby union resume; and No. 13 Brad Barritt, another comfort choice.

In a match in which the tournament hosts have the most to lose, this is to be the trio’s first start together.

The selections appear to have sent England’s backs into a shell, but coach Stuart Lancaster said: “There is no panic.”

He defended Farrell-for-Ford by saying Farrell proved it was his time from performances in training, and in replacement appearances.

So, too, had Burgess, Lancaster added. Burgess, a loose forward at his club, had been pitted against his fellow center rivals in training games for the last three months and fared well, according to Lancaster. Lancaster had been impressed by both of their impacts off the bench, albeit against tiring teams.

Barritt prefers inside center rather than outside, and he is not well-known for sharing the ball, but Lancaster did not want to start less-experienced outside center Henry Slade, even after the latter played with flair in the warm-up games.

Lancaster backed them to be more than a white wall in midfield and show some creativity.

“Just because we have played the back line we have, don’t assume we will just play route one,” Lancaster said. “There has to be some subtlety in that.”

They match up against Dan Biggar, the blunt Jamie Roberts and the silky Scott Williams, who gave England some message board material by claiming it would be easier to defend Burgess than Joseph.

After saying of Williams, “Who’s that?” Burgess shook the Welshman’s comment off.

There is good reason England go into the match with a slight edge. That would be Twickenham, where Wales has won only twice in the last 25 years, in 2008 and 2012. Those were Grand Slam teams. Special.

While England’s inside backs look like they are baiting Wales to crash against them, Wales’ tackling cannot be ignored either. Their siege defense has been extraordinary and makes one wonder how long they can keep holding out.

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