Wales v England, Six Nations, March 16
Five reasons why...England will beat Wales
March 15, 2013
Will Owen Farrell's competitive spirit propel England to victory? © Getty Images
On the eve of the Six Nations title decider between Grand Slam-chasing England and defending champions Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, we debate which side will take the glory.
To conclude things, ESPNscrum senior editor Graham Jenkins offers five reasons why he thinks England will be celebrating come full time.
England possess plenty of quality but arguably their biggest weapon is the wrecking ball of a centre that is Manu Tuilagi. England have undergone a radical transformation since the 2011 Rugby World Cup and so has Tuilagi - from ferry-jumper to world class centre. His game-breaking ability is a huge asset with his power and pace more than enough to trouble the best defences in the world. He may not always breach the line himself but his Sonny Bill Williams-like ability to ride a tackle and feed a team-mate ensures more often than not that he causes carnage.
The San Francisco 49ers
Stuart Lancaster was a largely unknown quantity when he took the England reins with many suggesting that the former PE teacher was a gamble. He may not have had the international experience of some of his rivals for the post but a lifetime of studying coaching and management philosophies has proven equally fruitful. Lancaster has devoured the secrets to success offered by the likes of former NFL coaches Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi, who steered the 49ers and the Packers to greatness, legendary basketball coach John Wooden, rugby league coach Wayne Bennett and British cycling guru Sir Dave Brailsford and conjured his own blueprint for long-term excellence. The results have been as rewarding as they have been refreshing.
Many questioned how Owen Farrell could have been shortlisted for last year's IRB Player of the Year honour but he has since silenced his critics with a string of eye-catching and pivotal performances in the England No.10 shirt. His boot has kept the scoreboard ticking over while his passing game has also attracted widespread praise - in particular an arrow-like effort that put lock Geoff Parling over against Scotland. His venomous competitive spirit and temperament may be seen as a potential weakness but it is also a priceless commodity that is set to serve Farrell and England well on Saturday and beyond.
The Italy No.8 was constant thorn in England's side at Twickenham last weekend and his latest heroics almost propelled the Azzurri to an historic first victory over Stuart Lancaster's side. England recovered just about enough composure to keep their Slam dreams alive and will be grateful to Parisse and co for revealing the fault lines in their armour. Those concerns will have been addressed this week in training and as a result you can expect a sharper and fully focused England to take to the field in Cardiff.
No fear factor
Few rugby arenas can rival the atmosphere generated by a capacity Millennium Stadium on a Six Nations match day - especially when Wales are in the hint for the title. But this England side, although relatively inexperienced, are brimming with belief and have no reason to fear any side or any venue having stunned world champions New Zealand and kicked on in the Six Nations. Spearheaded by captain Chris Robshaw, who only a few short months ago was not even on the British & Irish Lions radar but is now expected to feature strongly - maybe even as captain, they have quietly and efficiently gone about their business and forged an impressive team spirit. In the words of Lancaster: "Our attitude and desire to work for each other is strong."
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.