04 August 2023

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

04 August 2023

World Cup preparations will move up a gear for Wales and England when they meet in Cardiff on Saturday.

Their first tournament warm-up fixture comes five weeks before World Cup openers that see England face Argentina and Wales tackle Fiji.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some key talking points ahead of the game.

Last chance saloon

England’s line-up is littered with fringe contenders who have the opportunity to mount a compelling final argument for selection in Steve Borthwick’s World Cup squad, which is named on Monday. The identity of the 33 who will travel to France has mostly been decided, but a small handful of spots still have a question mark hanging over them. Debutant flanker Tom Pearson, wing Joe Cokanasiga and centre Joe Marchant are among those hoping to give Borthwick a nudge before the final selection meeting on Saturday evening.

Wales need a performance

Wales, to put it bluntly, lost their way after the spectacular high of a first away victory over South Africa 14 months ago. In 10 subsequent Tests, just two wins were recorded – against Argentina and Italy – while a miserable home defeat to Georgia effectively cost head coach Wayne Pivac his job. Warren Gatland was then appointed for a second stint as Wales boss, but an underwhelming fifth-placed finish in the Six Nations generated more questions than answers. Saturday’s Principality Stadium encounter might effectively be a ‘friendly’, yet the importance of a Wales win cannot be overstated in terms of restoring some confidence and optimism for suffering supporters.

Captain Morgan in charge

Ospreys flanker Jac Morgan will captain Wales for the first time in what is effectively the first of three World Cup leadership auditions. Gatland has said that he anticipates appointing a different skipper for each warm-up Test – England home and away, followed by South Africa in Cardiff – before announcing his final 33-player squad and leader later this month. Others in the captaincy frame include Dewi Lake, Dan Biggar, Will Rowlands and Adam Beard, but 23-year-old Morgan has been handed a golden opportunity to stake his claim. If Wales get it right, he could prove difficult to dislodge.

Smith calls the shots

Marcus Smith is not among those on trial at the Principality Stadium after Borthwick confirmed he will take three fly-halves to the World Cup. Unburdened by the need to pull a rabbit out of the hat to secure his place at the tournament, the instinctive Harlequins playmaker can focus on providing England with the generalship his position demands. Smith stands apart as an attacking fly-half, but his game management and organisational skills will have benefited from having worked alongside veteran ringmasters Owen Farrell and George Ford throughout the summer.

Century for Halfpenny

Full-back Leigh Halfpenny will become the ninth player to win 100 Wales caps when he runs out against England. It is a red-letter day for the 34-year-old, who has overcome major injury setbacks during recent seasons and now looks firmly on course to make Wales’ World Cup squad. He is just the fifth Welsh back to reach three figures after Stephen Jones, Gareth Thomas, George North and Biggar, while only Jones and Neil Jenkins have more amassed more points for Wales than Halfpenny’s current figure of 785. Almost 15 years after he made his Test debut, he now joins an exclusive club and can be guaranteed a rapturous reception for such an impressive achievement.

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