Six Nations: Tough test awaits England against Wales in Cardiff
George North will return to the starting lineup to face England in the Six Nations opener and will be glad that he does so in Cardiff’s Millennium stadium which will provide four walls of red support. A cauldron of highly-charged, intense emotion, which at some point is likely to spill out onto the pitch.
Wales are odds-on 1/2 favourites with Coral to win, and North is 7/4 to cross the whitewash anytime. Recently in an interview, the 22-year-old said he needed to “pull his finger out”, to impress coach Warren Gatland.
“I think he’s (Gatland) set things out early, which is good for me, I know where I stand,” said North. “I think everyone knows the kind of character Gatland is, he likes to call on individuals when he knows there’s more to come, myself included.”
While he has been impressive for Northampton in the Aviva Premiership, he acknowledges that his form for his country needs to improve.
“I know that I’ve not been firing on all cylinders in a Welsh jersey which is something I’m keen to rectify this campaign,” he continued.
“The sort of atmosphere and ethos we feel in Wales is that you’re only as good as the last game and no man is bigger than the jersey and if you don’t play well you’ll lose it, so hopefully I’ll pull my finger out.”
He is not the only potential match-winner for Wales, however. In Leigh Halfpenny, they have a player who can create something from nothing, and is 5/1 to cross anytime, while England will have to be careful that they don’t concede too many penalties. Halfpenny’s 86 per cent success rate from his boot significantly outstrips opposite number Owen Farrell, who won’t actually feature in the match due to a knee injury. This could be where the game is won or lost.
England are to field what is a relatively inexperienced, though nonetheless potentially exciting 15; crucially it will be elder statesmen James Haskell (recalled to the side) and captain Chris Robshaw who will provide the calming influence. They are 9/1 and 11/1 respectively to score at try anytime.
However, in George Ford, Jonny May, Anthony Watson, George Kruis and Jonathan Joseph, the visitors have an exceptional crop of young talent. No test is more daunting than a trip to the Millennium Stadium to face an impressive Welsh side.
Fly half Ford is going from strength to strength for England and he will have identified this as the game that he really steps up. His combination play with Ben Youngs will be crucial, and the pairing are key to making England tick. With the recently recalled Danny Cipriani set to be named on the bench, England actually have deceptive strength in depth.
This may be the opening match, but it could well decide the title. Whichever team keeps their cool in the heat will finish victorious.
Wales: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Alex Cuthbert, 13-Jonathan Davies, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-George North, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Rhys Webb; 1-Gethin Jenkins, 2-Richard Hibbard, 3-Sampson Lee, 4-Jake Ball, 5-Alun-Wyn Jones, 6-Dan Lydiate, 7-Sam Warburton, 8-Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: 16-Scott Baldwin, 17-Paul James, 18-Aaron Jarvis, 19-Luke Charteris, 20-Justin Tipuric, 21-Mike Phillips, 22-Rhys Priestland, 23-Liam Williams.
England: 15-Mike Brown, 14-Anthony Watson, 13-Jonathan Joseph, 12-Luther Burrell, 11-Jonny May, 10-George Ford, 9-Ben Youngs-; 1-Joe Marler, 2-Dylan Hartley, 3-Dan Cole, 4-Dave Attwood, 5-George Kruis, 6-James Haskell, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 8-Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16-Tom Youngs, 17-Mako Vunipola, 18-Kieran Brookes, 19-Tom Croft, 20-Nick Easter, 21-Richard Wigglesworth, 22-Danny Cipriani, 23-Billy Twelvetrees
*Please note; all odds were correct at time of publication.