Preview: England vs Wales

Sunday's Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham should be closely fought.

Wales may not like to embrace the favourites tag, but it's out of their hands. This side has been together for some time and is seen as a surefire semi-final contender for the World Cup. Defeating an English team with comparatively insignificant inexperience is therefore expected. So can they live up to it?

Despite their dominance against France, questions linger as to whether Warren Gatland's selections and tactics are growing stale. This has partly been addressed by the sparky addition of Rhys Webb, but there's no guarantee that Wales would fare as well as they did when Jake Ball stepped in if, say, Adam Jones was to drop out late on.

Against Ireland, Wales and 'Warrenball' were comprehensively shut down. They failed to convince at home against Italy. The scoring margin over France was impressive but Philippe Saint-André's team were woeful. Twickenham is their best chance to prove that Dublin was simply a blip, that the Dragon is still as fierce.

That's certainly how England coach Stuart Lancaster will have viewed last year's apocalypse in Cardiff – a one-off punch; painful and thought-provoking, but not destructive. The way that Wales obliterated England was incredible, although it's often forgotten that Wales only led 12-3 with 55 minutes gone. The rest was so outstanding, though, it doesn't even matter.

England will start this time with five new backs, with Mike Brown on fire in his actual position of fullback, added to four changes in the pack. Now in their third year it feels wrong to keep describing Lancaster's team as new, but the changes keep on rolling.

They will be thriving off the win over tournament favourites Ireland two weeks ago, and the impact of the Twickenham crowd can't be underestimated – the stadium was deafening in the dying seconds of the Irish win.

Wales, though, bring a settled squad, including 11 British & Irish Lions of which two are returning in the form of Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones.

Taulupe Faletau, Jamie Roberts and George North provide continued excellence, meaning that minor dips in form for the likes of Leigh Halfpenny can be accommodated. Dan Lydiate has been at his wood-chopping best but bled penalties in Dublin. Some facets of Wales' game just aren't quite clicking as perfectly as we've seen before, but they remain a cut above Scotland, Italy and France.

While England have opted to not rush Manu Tuilagi back in, despite him playing 80 minutes against Newcastle, Wales have brought back Davies with only 105 under his belt. It doesn't smack of panic – George North filled in well against France – but underlines the importance of Davies to Gatland and Wales. Don't be surprised if England send the big runners his way early on.

Every inkling and indication for Sunday points towards a titanic classic, far from the one-sided decimation of 2013. If England are truly always improving, then back-up the Irish scalp by adding this one to the collection. If Wales are still the best Europe has to offer, then nothing but victory is acceptable.

England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 David Attwood, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 George Ford, 23 Alex Goode.

Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jon Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Liam Williams.

Ireland vs Italy preview

Scotland vs France preview

Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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