Six Nations 2024: England and Wales prepare for ‘biggest game’

Venue: Twickenham Stadium Date: Saturday, 10 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales & Radio Cymru; live text on BBC Sport website and app; watch on ITV1 & S4C

It will be more than just bragging rights at stake when England and Wales renew their long-standing rivalry at Twickenham in the Six Nations on Saturday.

The hosts will want to continue building momentum as they try to whip up a frenzy on their return to Twickenham, while Wales are looking to kick-start their campaign after defeat by Scotland.

Steve Borthwick’s home side are unchanged from their opening win over Italy, but the visitors make seven changes for their short trip to a ground where recent history has not been kind to them.

Fortress Twickenham

England have made no secret of an ambition to fortify their London base, but they will have to quickly erase the bitter memory of the World Cup warm-up defeat by Fiji in their last home game.

That first ever loss to the Pacific Islanders came five months after England’s record home defeat at the hands of Antoine Dupont’s France.

Under the leadership of new captain Jamie George and backed by the vociferous Twickenham crowd, this is an England side intent on setting the record straight.

Hooker George wants to entertain and “put smiles on faces” among the England fanbase. Victory in Rome showed glimpses of greater attacking endeavour despite England being outscored 3-2 in tries by the Azzurri.

Wales arrive at Twickenham without a victory in their last seven visits.

Wins in 2008 and 2012 paved the way to Grand Slams, before they dumped the hosts out of their own World Cup in 2015, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Head coach Warren Gatland said he has always “loved going to” Twickenham in an attempt to ease the pressure on his young players, but they will have to banish thoughts of their nightmare start against the Scots.

Wales trailed 27-0 before launching a fightback to reduce the deficit to a single point in Cardiff, but an equally slow start in a hostile English environment could leave them with an insurmountable task.

Where could the game be won?

England will continue to implement their new blitz defence to try to thwart the Wales attack, but that could present the visitors with opportunities in the wide channels.

Lock Ollie Chessum was out of sync with his team-mates and caught out for both of Italy’s first-half tries, but the hosts will have worked on their cohesion with defence coach Felix Jones all week so expect a more polished set-up.

However, wing Rio Dyer starred in Wales’ recovery last weekend and if Gatland’s players can negate England’s rush defence in midfield, they could exploit the flanks.

Elsewhere, it is a case of tried and tested against a relative newcomer looking to create his own legacy at fly-half.

The experienced George Ford will collect his 93rd cap for England, while opposite number Ioan Lloyd will win only his fourth in his first start for Wales.

Ford has promised more attacking impetus for England.

From a Wales point of view, with the injured and inexperienced Sam Costelow unable to retain his spot from the Scotland game, Lloyd could stake a claim to keep the famous number 10 red jersey for the remainder of the tournament, six days on from the sport losing Barry John, one of the greatest to ever wear it.

Lloyd, a 22-year-old versatile back, led the Welsh recovery last week with his movement and distribution and could unleash the power of outside centre George North, returning from injury to make his 50th Six Nations appearance.

Forward supremacy

England’s pack were relentless in carrying hard and puncturing holes in the Italian defence.

Debutant Ethan Roots stood out with his athleticism and ability to manoeuvre the royal blue shirts, while Maro Itoje stamped his authority at the breakdown and in the line-out and Chandler Cunningham-Smith came off the bench to impose himself in the loose.

Wales’ forwards capitulated in the first half last weekend before fronting up in the second, led by Aaron Wainwright, Alex Mann and young captain Dafydd Jenkins.

Wainwright and Mann both powered over from close range, while 21-year-old Exeter lock Jenkins, who will test his line-out skills against the formidable Itoje, says Twickenham is the “best place to win” as a Welshman.

That sentiment was echoed by prop Gareth Thomas, who told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Everyone in Wales would love to play England. It’s the biggest game in the year for us.”

Expect plenty of grit and aggression in the first set-piece.

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