11 August 2023

Talking points as England host Wales in World Cup warm-up

11 August 2023

England and Wales meet at Twickenham on Saturday in their second World Cup warm-up Test.

Wales won the opening encounter, scoring 14 unanswered second-half points as tries from Gareth Davies and George North saw them home 20-9.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the key points heading into their latest clash.

England summon the cavalry

England have assembled their big guns as they enter must-win territory just two games into their World Cup warm-up campaign. Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Jamie George are among the front-line stars in action at Twickenham, and potentially only Ellis Genge and Tom Curry are missing from the strongest XV. With the pivotal opener against Argentina on September 9 fast approaching, England need a reassuring performance and to avoid a fourth successive defeat that would continue a worrying downward spiral.

Momentum key for Wales

Wales have not won back-to-back Test matches since November 2021 when they beat Fiji and Australia, so there is a need to build on last weekend’s impressive 20-9 warm-up victory over England. Head coach Warren Gatland has made 15 changes as the clock continues ticking towards his World Cup squad announcement, and Saturday’s encounter will be the final opportunity for many players to impress. Wales have lost on their last six visits to Twickenham since the 2015 World Cup, which underlines the size of challenge ahead, but there were hints of a feelgood factor returning as a 65,000 crowd roared them home in Cardiff.

Dewi Lake in the spotlight

Flanker Jac Morgan led Wales with distinction at the Principality Stadium last Saturday, putting himself in pole position to skipper his country at the World Cup. Gatland, though, has said he will use the August schedule to assess captaincy candidates, and 24-year-old Ospreys hooker Lake now steps forward on his international return after shoulder and knee injuries meant he did not play Test rugby last season. Lake is a proven performer at the highest level, and he is likely to soak up the extra responsibility that awaits him.

Vunipola and Earl take centre-stage

If given the chance, Daly and Henry Arundell will provide thrills on the wing, but it is in the back-row where England’s most interesting picks reside. Vunipola makes his first Test appearance since the autumn – and because of a knee injury his maiden outing of any description since April. As the squad’s only specialist number eight and most destructive carrier in the forwards, he needs to hit the ground running. Earl, meanwhile, is rewarded for his perseverance with a full debut after winning all 15 previous caps as a replacement. Dynamic in attack, the Saracens openside can help ignite England.

Warren Gatland’s stamp is all over Wales

Last season’s Six Nations campaign – which marked Gatland returning for a second stint as Wales head coach – was one to forget, with a fifth-placed finish being accompanied by major off-field issues that almost led to a players’ strike. Fast-forward five months, though, and Wales appear to be a different beast. Demanding training camps in Switzerland and Turkey were followed by victory over England – “too fit for them” were Gatland’s words as he left the Principality Stadium last weekend – and it has been the New Zealander in his element, relishing a fourth World Cup campaign and loving nothing more than a chance to prove the doubters wrong.

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