Wales v England - RBS Six Nations match preview
Last Updated: 16/03/13 4:53pm
Coach Rob Howley says he will crack open the beer for his Wales players if they deny England the Grand Slam and retain the Six Nations title on Saturday.
Wales need to win by eight points or more to retain their championship crown, a position that did not likely when they were beaten at home by Ireland in their opening game, extending their losing run to eight international matches.
Since then, victories over France, Italy and Scotland - all away from home - have put Wales in a position where an eight-point victory, seven if they stay ahead on try-count, will see them retain a Five or Six Nations title for the first time since 1979.
"The players have been absolutely fantastic over the last five weeks and have put themselves in a position (to challenge for the title), after regaining momentum," Howley said.
"They will deserve a beer on Saturday night if that happens."
With wet weather forecast this weekend, Howley and England counterpart Stuart Lancaster have agreed that the roof of the Millennium Stadium will be closed for Saturday's showdown.
Howley's preparations were disrupted by the injury to captain Ryan Jones, outstanding in their last three matches.
He sprung a selection surprise by appointing Gethin Jenkins as skipper rather than Sam Warburton.
Lions prop Jenkins is fit to return to the team so Paul James drops to the bench and Justin Tipuric comes into the back row in place of Jones, though he will start at openside with Warburton switching to the blindside.
Lancaster has made four changes, with Owen Farrell fit to take back the reins from Toby Flood at No 10, whilst up front Joe Marler and Tom Youngs are restored to the starting line-up and there is a first England start since breaking his neck last year for Tom Croft.
Croft came off the bench in last week's nervy victory over Italy, and Lancaster said: "The way he played when he came on against Italy, the way he's trained, the presence he's brought to the team...tipped the balance."
Lions coach Warren Gatland added more spice - if any more was needed - by admitting he sees the Cardiff crunch as a final trial for the Lions squad.
There will be Lions battles all over the pitch, and one key match-up will be the battle for the captaincy where Warburton and Chris Robshaw - two leading candidates - go head-to-head.
Chris Ashton will be desperate to outshine Alex Cuthbert and George North, and the midfield battle will be fascinating, with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies up against Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt, with all four potential tourists.
Lancaster says victory on Saturday would give England the belief that they can not just host the 2015 World Cup - but win it.
"To win a Grand Slam would give you that inner confidence and belief that you can win big games and finals," he said.
Wales team: 15 Halfpenny, 14 Cuthbert, 13 J Davies, 12 Roberts, 11 North, 10 Biggar, 9 Phillips; 1 Jenkins, 2 Hibbard, 3 A Jones, 4 A-W Jones, 5 Evans, 6 Warburton, 7 Tipuric, 8 Faletau.
Replacements: 16 Owens, 17 James, 18 Andrews, 19 Coombs, 20 Shingler, 21 L Williams, 22 Hook, 23 S Williams.
England: 15 Goode, 14 Ashton, 13 Tuilagi, 12 Barritt, 11 Brown, 10 Farrell, 9 B Youngs; 1 Marler, 2 T Youngs, 3 Cole, 4 Launchbury, 5 Parling, 6 Croft, 7 Robshaw, 8 Wood.
Replacements: 16 Hartley, 17 Wilson, 18 Vunipola, 19 Lawes, 20 Haskell, 21 Care, 22 Flood, 23 Twelvetrees.