Preview: England vs. Wales -- Will Lancaster's selection gamble pay off against patched up Wales?

It's fair to say the 2015 Rugby World Cup has started with a pretty loud bang, but ahead of the biggest game of the tournament so far the competition's amplifier may just have been turned up to 11. England's Pool A clash with Wales has been described as a "decider" and it cannot be overstated how big an advantage the victor will gain in the race to qualify for the last eight. Injuries to several key Welshman looked to have given the hosts the edge, but could Stuart Lancaster's midfield gamble have handed the initiative straight back to Warren Gatland's men? There's only one way to find out...

Team news

Knocks picked up by Jonathan Joseph and Ben Morgan in the win over Fiji have forced Lancaster into a reshuffle, but it his decision to axe playmaker George Ford in favour of Owen Farrell that has hogged the headlines. League convert Sam Burgess makes his first competitive union Test start, with Brad Barritt shifting over to take Joseph's No.13 shirt while Billy Vunipola comes in for Morgan. James Haskell and Alex Goode are promoted to the bench, where Joe Launchbury remains.

Gatland has rung the changes following Wales' stuttering eight-try win over Uruguay last Sunday. Liam Williams is fit enough to start at fullback, while Hallam Amos retains his place on the left wing. George North, Jamie Roberts, Dan Biggar, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau all return to bolster the starting XV. There is no place in the 23-man squad for veteran scrum-half Mike Phillips or the versatile Matthew Morgan. Prop Samson Lee is able to take his place on the bench.


Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Brad Barritt, Sam Burgess, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw (captain), Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Rob Webber, Mako Vunipola, Kieran Brookes, Joe Launchbury, James Haskell, Richard Wigglesworth, George Ford, Alex Goode.


Liam Williams, George North, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts, Hallam Amos, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Gethin Jenkins, Scott Baldwin, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (captain), Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Aaron Jarvis, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland, Alex Cuthbert.

Key head-to-head

There can be few harsher environments for a competitive debut than an England-Wales fixture and Burgess can expect a severe examination as he comes up against British and Irish Lion Roberts. Picked ostensibly for his defensive attributes, and big-game appetite in league, the Bath man will not allow himself to be pushed around. Yet, this is unquestionably his biggest challenge, and possibly the largest gamble of Lancaster's career. Farrell and Barritt must be watchful that Roberts doesn't get too much space, while not letting him act as a decoy for Scott Williams. However, if England's defence is sound then Burgess' physical attributes could prove devastating in attack against what is -- in places -- a patched up Wales side.

Key stats

*Since Warren Gatland took over as Wales coach, his side have won five and lost five against England.

*Of the two previous meetings at Rugby World Cups (1987 and 2003), each side has a win apiece, although, Wales hold a 33-31 aggregate lead.

*There has not been a draw between the two old rivals in more than 32 years. The last stalemate was played out in February 1983, as a Five Nations game in Cardiff ended 13-13.


Unibet have England as fairly considerable favourites given their home advantage, with Lancaster's men priced at 7/25 to win on Saturday night. Wales are a rather more attractive 29/10, while the draw is 23/1. Red Rose wingers Jonny May and Anthony Watson are 15/2 to score the first try, while the shortest Welshman is North at 10/1.


Twickenham is expected to enjoy a sunny spell this Saturday, which will cheer fans arriving at the ground ahead of kick-off. By the time the players take to the pitch the temperature is expected to be around 15 degrees celsius, with a light westerly breeze.


Ever since the draw was made this has looked like a crucial game for both sides. Wales' woeful record against Australia means they realistically must get something from it to keep the momentum of their campaign alive. Injuries have not helped but the XV Gatland has selected is still competitive. Lancaster is fighting fire with fire in midfield, and while his side have their own problems, if they can rediscover the spirit they showed in the Six Nations then victory is theirs. The contest should be nail-bitingly close, but the one thing Farrell provides is a level head and laser-like precision off the tee. Both attributes will be needed at Twickenham.