England are closing in on a perfect start to the reign of new coach Eddie Jones, but in order to get there they will have to avenge a defeat that did so much to bring about the downfall of the previous regime. It was a defeat to Wales at London’s Twickenham last September that stunned World Cup hosts England and, along with a subsequent defeat to Australia, led to their ignominious exit before the quarterfinals. Coach Stuart Lancaster paid for the failure with his job, with the arrival of hard-nosed Australian Jones signaling a new era in English rugby.
Thus far the signs have been positive, with Jones leading England to three straight victories to begin the Six Nations—the showpiece annual tournament for rugby’s northern hemisphere elite. They go into their fourth match on Saturday knowing that a victory, coupled with a Scotland win over France, would seal the title with a game to spare. Yet, they must first face their demons against a Wales side that lie just a point back in second place and has their own designs on the Six Nations crown.
Jones, of course, wasn’t involved when the sides last met, yet he has already stoked the flames of the rivalry in the buildup to their latest tussle, accusing Wales of scrummaging “100 percent terribly illegally.”
“They pre-engage all the time, which is against the laws of the game,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live. “They get penalized one or two times at the start of the game, but the referee gets sick of penalizing it. Because if the referee keeps penalizing it, you know what happens? The referee gets criticized.
“We really want to have a scrum contest on Saturday—it's an important part of the game—so we are really hopeful the referee enforces the law in that area. We’ve got the stronger scrum, so we want the laws enforced.”
Wales, though, have launched their own attack on England’s scrummaging, with forwards coach Robin McBryde making it clear his team will be keeping a close eye on England’s prop Joe Marler
“He definitely needs to scrummage legally otherwise we will be pointing the finger,” he said. It was very disappointing, especially in that England game [at the World Cup], where we fell on the wrong side of decisions given against us and we felt the problem lay elsewhere.”
Wales drew their opening match of the campaign at defending champions Ireland, but have since beaten Scotland and France in Cardiff. And coach Warren Gatland, who won the Six Nations with Wales in 2008, 2012 and 2013, has named an unchanged lineup to take on England.
Jones has also kept with the same 15 players that followed up wins over Scotland and Italy by beating Ireland two weeks ago, although there will be a place on the bench for center Manu Tuilagi, as he makes his return to the international fold after a near two-year absence. Only eight of the players selected by England played in the fateful defeat to Wales at last year’s World Cup.
Kickoff time: 11 a.m. EST
Live stream info: The match is available to purchase through Premium Sports.