England are set for a stern test when they host Wales at Twickenham on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
ENGLAND vs WALES (Saturday, 18:45)
This is sure to be the headline clash in the second round of the Six Nations, and while England will certainly come into the contest as favourites, coach Eddie Jones will know that Wales will be more motivated than ever to execute an ambush successfully in London.
Wales opened this season’s campaign with a clinical 34-7 victory over Scotland, and although England were also comfortable winners as they thrashed Italy 46-15 last weekend, it took over an hour before they established complete control in that clash.
First-choice scrumhalf Ben Youngs is now the latest player to join England’s lengthy injury list, and in his absence, the battle between Danny Care and the experienced Gareth Davies should be a compelling one.
England are unbeaten in the Six Nations at Twickenham since 2012, and another win should be expected, but it may be closer than some might imagine.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 George Kruis, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 George North.
SCOTLAND vs FRANCE (Sunday, 17:00)
France were the real surprise package from the opening round of action, and really should have finished off what would have been a shock but deserved win over Ireland.
In the end, Les Bleus were denied by a stunning Johnny Sexton drop goal after a remarkable 41 phases of play, but France would have still taken major confidence from this first performance under new coach Jacques Brunel.
By contrast, Scotland would have been bitterly disappointed by the manner in which they meekly capitulated against Wales, which has led coach Gregor Townsend to make as many as six changes to the run-on XV.
Scotland should respond with a more competitive performance at home, but a rejuvenated French team may well come up trumps.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Gordon Reid.
Subs: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Dave Denton, 21 Ali Price, 22 Chris Harris, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
France – 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Maxine Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Adrien Pelissié, 17 Ben Arous, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Serin Baptiste, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Benjamin Fall.
IRELAND vs ITALY (Saturday, 16:15)
Ireland will know that they have already used their get-out-of-jail card against France, and will now be looking for the sort of performance that justifies many pre-season predictions that they could be title favourites.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has opted to shake things up a bit by making four changes for this clash in Dublin, and it is quite a surprise to see South African-born CJ Stander rotated to the bench.
Meanwhile, Italy have included their Saffa, Braam Steyn, in one of three changes to their team, and they will be hoping to build on a gutsy opening-round effort against England.
However, it’s the hosts who should be confident of claiming a bonus-point win.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Italy – 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Sebastien Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Subs: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Maxime Mata Mbanda, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward.
Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images