Ross Moriarty is the only recognised No.8 left in the Wales squad. Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

Wales v England Always Matters . . . Especially If You’re The No.1 Team In The World

The dress rehearsals ahead of the World Cup are primed and Robin Davey says a Wales squad with 14 wins behind them should want to keep the habit – even if it means some chopping and changing.

It’s World Cup warm-up time and though the matches may be friendlies before the real thing gets under way next month, don’t tell that to the Wales or England camps.

The outcome in Japan this autumn is what really counts, of course, but there is no such thing as a friendly when Wales and England get to grips with one another.

That will surely be the case on Sunday when the age-old rivals lock horns at Twickenham, and it will be exactly the same for the return encounter in the Millennium Stadium a week on Saturday.

Whoever loses (assuming it’s not a draw) will claim the result is not important, rather the way they played and the coaches will pick out the positives.

But make no mistake, it does matter. For this is Wales against England, a game of great intensity no matter what and with the World Cup around the corner points-scoring will be vital for confidence and morale.

There are many who claim four World Cup warm-up matches is two too many – Wales are also playing Ireland twice – and that really it’s all about money with the respective Unions needing the cash in the absence of the normal November internationals.

That’s all true enough. But we are where we are and four so-called friendlies it is, though for all that coaches, staff and fans will be holding their breath that there are no serious injuries.

Last time out, prior to the 2015 World Cup, Wales lost Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny to major injuries in the friendlies which ruled both out of the tournament.

With two matches against England and another two against Ireland it is difficult to imagine all three teams will emerge without any injuries. Let’s hope it’s not Wales who will be on the receiving end.

Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny in action against Australia. Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

It will be a particularly poignant period for inspirational head coach Warren Gatland as the Ireland clash on August 31 will be his last in Cardiff before he heads for home after the World Cup.

He is sure to receive a big reception as fans wave farewell to the coach who has guided Wales to three Grand Slams during his time at the helm.

He announces the side to face England on Friday when there will be considerable interest in just who he does call on.

It is, of course, inconceivable that he will go with anything like the same XV for all the matches and he is sure to give the entire squad an opportunity before whittling it down to 31 ahead of departure for Japan.

Wales have already been dealt a savage blow with the loss of Taulupe Faletau, one of the best No.8s in the world, but who has spent much of the past year sidelined by a succession of arm and shoulder injuries.

So, Gatland will want to wrap Ross Moriarty, the only other recognised No.8 in the squad, in cotton wool, as much as he can with a forward of such belligerence.

It is most unlikely any of the key players will figure in more than two of these warm-up matches, but the back row will be important given that another key member, Ellis Jenkins, also won’t make it.

That means it’s even more likely that Aaron Wainwright, who has been one of the real discoveries in Welsh rugby, will be on the plane to Japan, while Josh Navidi will also be a crucial member as he can play across the back row.

One of the most encouraging parts of Gatland’s reign is the way he has developed depth in the squad, having given numerous players a chance, sometimes controversially.

Apart from Wainwright, Adam Beard and Dillon Lewis are among those who have emerged up front while Josh Adams has been on fire on the wing and Tomos Williams is another real threat.

Josh Adams of Wales. Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

But above all, Wales has arguably the finest captain in the world in charge in Alun Wyn Jones, whose leadership will be vital, especially as he has now settled his future with the Ospreys after considerable doubt about where that future lay.

A so-called friendly it is at Twickenham on Sunday, but for all that Wales will start the game as the number one ranked team in the world if Australia beat New Zealand in Perth the day before.

They also have the confidence borne from a record-breaking 14 wins in a row behind them, something even the great team of the Seventies couldn’t manage.

On the way to that achievement Wales have beaten South Africa (twice), Australia, England and Ireland and they also beat England at Twickenham in the last World Cup, edging a thriller, 28-25.

They won the last clash between the sides 25-13 at the Principality Stadium while Eddie Jones’ England suffered a disappointing Six Nations campaign.

They are in some disarray, Jones unsure of what his best XV is, whereas Wales are the form team in the Northern Hemisphere.

Every reason to go for the double, then. Now that would be some send-off to the World Cup.


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