Eddie Jones insists England’s climax to the Autumn Nations Cup group phase is against a Wales side desperate to rescue an abysmal year by upstaging their greatest rivals.
Wayne Pivac’s under-pressure regime bought some breathing space with a comfortable win against Georgia last weekend to end a six-Test losing run, but concerns over Warren Gatland’s successor remain.
England appear to be heading in the opposite direction after bullying Ireland at Twickenham but Jones, who has named George Ford at fly-half in the only change to his stating XV, knows the stakes at Parc y Scarlets make Wales dangerous opponents.
“We’re expecting a really tough, brutal sort of game. Wales are in a situation they probably relish. They’ve been written off,” Jones said.
“They’re playing at the heart of soul of Welsh rugby at the Llanelli ground, so there’s a lot of symbolism for them, and nothing would make their season sweeter than having a win over England.
“Twelve months ago they were Grand Slam champions and three points away from making a World Cup final.
“They’ve got the same players. They’re a talented team and we’ll have to be at our best to make the best of the chances we get.”
Saturday’s Llanelli showdown will be played behind closed doors and Jones said: “Fans add to the drive of a team, but they don’t make the drive. They are an important part of the game but the Welsh team have an enormous pride.
“We know they have an enormous rivalry with the England team and nothing makes their season better than upsetting the English, so we expect a very driven team.
“We’ve had a great week’s training and we’ve just got to tidy up our attitude for the game to make sure we are 100 per cent ready to go at the start and play with an intensity that Wales have never faced before.”
Ford will act as chief conductor after making his comeback from an Achilles injury as a replacement in last Saturday’s resounding 18-7 victory over Ireland.
The midfield adjustment is partially a result of Ollie Lawrence suffering a hip problem and the knock-on effect is to see captain Owen Farrell join Henry Slade in the centres for the first time since the 2018 tour to South Africa.
“We just feel this is the best 23 for this particular game. There’s the tactical application to the way we want to play against Wales. George fits that bill,” Jones said.
“We want to play a certain way against Wales and having George at 10, Owen at 12 and Sladey at 13 suits the sort of game we want to play.”
While the starting XV, including the pack that submitted Andy Farrell’s men in such brutal fashion, has been retained en masse, Jones has made several adjustments to the bench.
Jack Willis is poised to win his second cap after being included in a six-two split between forwards and backs alongside fellow flanker Ben Earl and lock Jonny Hill.
Ellis Genge has held off the challenge of Joe Marler to supply loosehead prop cover for Mako Vunipola.
For this first time this autumn Marler was available, having recovered from a knee injury, but Jones has opted to leave him out of the 23, potentially in a nod to his history with Wales.
Had he been picked, the Lions front row would have been making his first international appearance since grabbing Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones by the genitals in March, an offence that incurred a 10-week ban.
Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie wins back his place as an explosive deputy to Jamie George following his battle with a knee complaint and Anthony Watson supplies back three cover having shaken off an ankle issue.
RFU donates tickets to NHS for fans’ return
The Rugby Football Union is to donate 400 tickets to NHS workers as Twickenham prepares for the return of fans when England play their final match of the Autumn Nations Cup on December 6.
London’s tier two status means a crowd of 2,000 is permitted when Eddie Jones’ men contest what is expected to be the showpiece event of the tournament – most likely against France – on Sunday week.
“Twenty per cent of the seats for the game will be gifted to local NHS workers,” RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said.
“The remaining will be for the players’ families, local rugby clubs, sponsors and around 1,000 seats will be on sale with prices starting from £75.
“This is an opportunity for us to operate a socially distanced event as a small step forward in our plans for the return of fans to stadia.”
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