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England ready for revitalised Wales

By Mitch Phillips in Brisbane
November 09, 2003 06:35 IST
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Wales's performance against New Zealand last week enabled their long-suffering fans to once again puff their chests with pride, but probably came a week too early for the players.

Superb handling, sharp, incisive running, and driving loose forward play earned the Welshmen four tries and respect, and put a spring in the step of the whole squad.

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Unfortunately, it also got the alarm bells ringing in the England camp and when the teams run out for their quarterfinal on Sunday, the Six Nations champions will be far better prepared than were the All Blacks, who still scored 53 points and won last weekend's game.

England's wily defensive coach Phil Larder has seen just about everything in his long career in both rugby codes, but even he admitted that the Welsh performance had taken him by surprise. "Wales made 10 linebreaks against a New Zealand defence which is very solid and I don't remember any team doing that in the last few years," he said.

England's defence has been the best in the tournament so far with just two tries conceded, but coach Clive Woodward still is not happy. "It might be the best defence here on paper, but we left in a soft try against Uruguay," he complained. "Defence will be our number one objective on Sunday."

Though England did allow prop Pablo Lemoine to slip through in the 111-13 victory last week, a more relevant pointer was their dogged defence during a ten-minute Uruguayan pounding of their line earlier in the match.

It was a reminder of the brick wall they had thrown up against New Zealand and Australia during their notable away victories in June and of the pride each player feels when ensuring their line is not breached.

Wales coach Steve Hansen has kept faith with impressive young number eight Jonathan Thomas and is going with the lively back three of Shane Williams, Mark Jones, and Gareth Thomas, but England's old hands will be ready and waiting for them. That is if they ever get the ball.

"We are going to go against a pack that is probably the biggest in world rugby," said Hansen. "We have to get some parity at set pieces and around the park if we want to compete."

Other bigger and stronger packs have tried and failed to do that during England's rise to the peak of the world game and it is hard to see captain Martin Johnson and his vastly experienced teammates allowing Wales to succeed.

It might take a while, as it did during the teams' Six Nations clash in Cardiff earlier in the year, but England should be able to absorb the Welsh fire and eventually set their own runners free to chalk up a sixth successive victory over their rivals.

Ben Cohen, fullback Jason Robinson and Dan Luger may not have the sheer pace of their All Black counterparts, but they have a strength and directness that makes them a formidable back three.

England are proven in midfield, have an experienced scrumhalf in Matt Dawson, and, even if Wales can keep it tight, there is Jonny Wilkinson. The flyhalf has been slightly offbeam so far and will be desperate to slot every available shot at goal.

England prop Jason Leonard will equal Frenchman Philippe Sella's world record of 111 caps in the 111th meeting between the two old rivals and if England get the basics right he should be around next weekend to get his 112th.

England, however, have been hit by some injuries.

Fullback Josh Lewsey, who scored an England-record-equalling five tries in the 111-13 victory over Uruguay, has been ruled out after straining his right hamstring during training on Saturday.

He has been replaced in the starting XV by Dan Luger, who will play on the wing, with Jason Robinson switching to fullback. Centre Stuart Abbot moves on to the reserves' bench.

Earlier, Iain Balshaw withdrew from the bench with a knee injury. Luger, who was not named in the original 22, was called up first as a bench replacement for Balshaw. Now, he makes the starting lineup.

England -- 15 Jason Robinson, 14 Dan Luger, 13 Will Greenwood, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Ben Cohen, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Matt Dawson, 8 Lawrence Dallaglio, 7 Neil Back, 6 Lewis Moody, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Martin Johnson (c), 3 Phil Vickery, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Jason Leonard.
Replacements: 16 Dorian West, 17 Trevor Woodman, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Joe Worsley, 20 Kyran Bracken, 21 Mike Catt, 22 Stuart Abbot.

Wales -- 15 Gareth Thomas, 14 Mark Jones, 13 Mark Taylor, 12 Iestyn Harris, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Jonathan Thomas, 7 Colin Charvis (captain), 6 Dafydd Jones, 5 Robert Sidoli, 4 Brent Cockbain, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Robin McBryde, 1 Iestyn Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Mefin Davies, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Gareth Llewellyn, 19 Martyn Williams, 20 Dwayne Peel, 21 Ceri Sweeney, 22 Kevin Morgan.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

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