England ‘will be serious World Cup contenders’ if they win grand slam
Lancaster makes four changes to England team to face Wales
England's Owen Farrell has ben recalled to the team to face Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
England’s head coach, Stuart Lancaster, believes his side will become serious contenders to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup if they can secure their first grand slam since 2003 and prevent Wales from retaining their Six Nations crown at a hostile Millennium Stadium tomorrow.
Wales and England have been drawn in the same pool in 2015 and Lancaster says a morale-boosting grand slam is “definitely” a vital plank in his pre-tournament planning. “It would give you inner confidence and belief that you can win in big games and finals,” said Lancaster, having made four changes to his side for the Cardiff showdown.
“The reality is that come 2015 we’re going to be playing Wales in a huge pool game. The more experience you can get of playing under the pressure of those type of games the better for the players.”
Lancaster, who has recalled Tom Croft, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs and Joe Marler to the starting XV, also believes Cardiff is the toughest place a title-chasing England team could be heading. “Both sides have got the chance to win the championship, so effectively it’s a shoot-out. But if you’re going to win a World Cup you’ve got to deal with that pressure.”
Wales, who will take the title if they win by seven points and England do not outscore them by two tries or more, have sprung a surprise by naming the loosehead prop, Gethin Jenkins, as captain and not Sam Warburton.
Rob Howley, the Wales coach, said: “I think as a coach you have a gut feeling about a player and you always take a player’s form into consideration. The way Sam played against Scotland my gut feeling was that I would rather he focused on his own game.”
England will make a final call today as to whether they will agree to the sliding roof at the Millennium Stadium being closed. “It’ll be based around the weather forecast,” said Lancaster. “Ideally we want to play in the dry but it is forecast to be light to heavy showers. I’ve spoken to the groundsman who’s been great. If rain is forecast, we’d like it shut.”
Howley spoke to Warburton about the captaincy before deciding to invest it in Jenkins, who led the side for the fourth time against Italy in last year’s Six Nations.
“As a coach you have a gut feeling about a player and given the way Sam played against Scotland, I would rather he just focused on his own game,” said Howley. “That is how I saw it and part of this job is about making difficult decisions. I think it is in the best interests of the preparation of the team for the weekend that Gethin is the captain.”
Recovering from injury
Jenkins replaces Paul James in the front row for his 98th cap after recovering from a calf strain. Howley’s decision meant that Warburton did not have to attend the team announcement, when he would have been asked about his potential Lions head-to-head with the England captain, Chris Robshaw. The issue appears to be less about leading the team – which Warburton did last Saturday in the 32 minutes Jones was missing without any diminution in his contribution to the team’s performance – and more about the pre-match rituals.
“Sam was man of the match against Scotland and we do not want to change that,” said Howley. “The way he has taken the decision speaks volumes for him: one of the squad’s qualities is the selflessness of the players. It is always about what is best for the team.”