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Twickenham a fortress? England look far from at home as they get out of jail against Wales

England celebrate a hard-fought win at Twickenham
England celebrate a hard-fought win at Twickenham - Reuters/Toby Melville

Fortress Twickenham? Not yet, not by a long way. Steve Borthwick’s side may have set themselves the target of making the English headquarters a horrible place to play for opposition teams but for long periods of this absorbing contest it was Wales, not England, who looked far more at home. It was England who got themselves out of jail.

Indeed, Steve Borthwick’s side had to wait until the 72nd minute to take the lead for the first time of his utterly absorbing contest when George Ford landed his second penalty after Mason Grady had been shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. Even then England were forced into a rear-guard defensive action as Wales came again at the death.

And so England remain unbeaten moving to the top of the table following Scotland’s narrow defeat by France, but one senses it is a youthful Wales side who will have taken more from this courageous performance.

Remarkably, Warren Gatland’s side have now lost their first two matches by a combined total of three points while England’s two wins have come from a total of five. The fine margins of this championship.

England’s triumph was one of containment, not domination, but it was enough. Just. And if you are looking at a glass half-full, Borthwick’s side have already matched the total wins for each of the last three Six Nations campaigns.

What seems certain is that the same again is unlikely to be enough for their final three rounds, away to Scotland, home to Ireland and away to France. Acid tests that will show us exactly where England’s rebuilding phase stands.

For the record, England have not beaten Scotland or Ireland in the Six Nations since 2020 and France since 2021, which should put some sense of context to those supporters who may be thinking out loud about Grand Slam hopes.

While the efforts to improve the atmosphere and match experience at Twickenham seemed evident, more frustratingly for the England supporters was the fact that it was hard to discern any real sense of progress – both in attack and defence – from the victory over Italy in Rome.

What England did have and in spades was resilience, and boy did they need it. Gatland had demanded that his side carry on from their stunning second-half display against Scotland and, despite a power-play opening from England, they found a way to counter Felix Jones’ blitz defence, changing the point of attack, challenging the gainline and looking for the space in the wide channels.

England were trailing by nine points at the interval and facing a Welsh side who were confounding the odds and bringing fluidity and variety to their attack. Tommy Reffell was magnificent in his breakdown and carrying impact.

You have to go back to 2006 for the last time Wales scored a first-half try at Twickenham but they have scored two here, with a penalty try from a driving maul and then a brilliantly-created finish by Alex Mann, who scored a second try on his only second cap.

England had started the contest with a menacing power play, dominating territory and possession in the opening quarter but Wales remained undaunted, growing in confidence from their defiance. England were not helped by a yellow card for Ollie Chessum for making contact with the head of Wales prop Kieron Assiratti after he dipped following a big tackle by Sam Underhill, and a second for Ethan Roots for collapsing a maul that resulted in a penalty try.

Borthwick, however, can at least take heart from the fact that his players found a way to win. The indiscipline of the first half was arrested, with just one penalty concession after the break denying Wales the platforms they had exploited in the first.

The defining moment of the game seemed to be just before the hour mark, when Wales came close to scoring their third try when Cameron Winnett found a soft-shoulder on Elliot Daly out wide and then found Josh Adams, only for the pass inside to go forward with the line beckoning.

A score then could have taken the game away from England, but it would be Wales’ last real shot. A try by Fraser Dingwall cut the deficit to a point and when England moved in front after Ford’s second penalty, there was a sense of inevitability about the finale.

Ultimately England’s work-rate and dogged determination, spearheaded by Ben Earl up front and Freddie Steward from the back, was enough to grind out a victory chiselled out of grunt and effort. Earl’s first-half try typified their resilience, picking up from the base of the scrum after Ioan Lloyd had been caught in front of his own posts and smashing through three defenders.

With a fallow week ahead, England at least have time to fine-tune their efforts, with a focus required on fast-tracking their attacking game ahead of the visit to Murrayfield, where defending alone will not be enough in the Calcutta Cup.

The return of George Martin, Manu Tuilagi and Luke Cowan-Dickie from injury will at least add ball-carrying menace to the squad.

As for Wales, the harsh facts show that for all their bravado, they have lost their first two games, but glimpses of a future identity and potential could be discerned from their performances. England are winning, but the same clarity is not yet there.


England just edge Wales: As it happened


07:57 PM GMT

'England must shake off an ugly legacy'

“Although they have heralded another new dawn under Jamie George, there is an ugly legacy of recent years that England must shake off. To trouble the top echelons of the Test scene with any consistency, their conversion rate in the opposition 22 must be addressed. Frankly, it has been crippling them.”

Our Senior Rugby Writer Charlie Morgan has given his analysis of the match and you can read more from Charlie here.


07:39 PM GMT

England head coach Steve Borthwick speaking to the BBC

 “I think as you look at it, I am proud of the way the players stayed in the fight, that is the way a team finds a way to win - it is a young team with blend of experience.”

On the Six Nations:

“What is important to recognise is this phenomenal competition, whilst that was not a classic flowing rugby contest.

“The hard fought game, the theatre and drama of it was so significant. There would have been a few people who had raised hear rates in the stands, I know I did!”

On two wins from two games: 

“It is important the players and families enjoy tonight, then we will reconvene on Wednesday.”


07:36 PM GMT

Dingwall's first Test try


07:34 PM GMT

Attritional game


07:32 PM GMT

Your thoughts

  • Robert Cutts: “England have the players and the potential, they just need to work on it and set a proper game plan.”

  • Richard Jay: “England will actually fight like terriers to avoid losing to Ireland, just like they did in the RWC semi v the Boks; it could be a great contest.”

  • Chris Brooks: “Another only just win. Looks like a long way to go with this England. Not a lot to shout about.”

  • Ian Lumsden: “How many times do England attack and then kick the ball away? It’s lack of ideas, confidence, pace or they’re acting to orders. Meanwhile last week’s star, Roots, and Underhill are distinctly lacking in punch.”

  • Pat Eardley: “Particular praise to Steward, Itoje, Ford, and Earl. Well done England, a work in progress, yes, but you do keep winning.”


07:25 PM GMT

'England far too disjointed'


07:22 PM GMT

England full-back Freddie Steward speaking to the BBC

“We are pleased, you have to be when you win at the end of the day.

“We won ugly, we were up against it in the first half, but we showed enough to come through.

“We have a big test at Murrayfield next, but happy to be two from two.”

On England’s yellow cards: 

“The message at the start of the week was we wanted the discipline to be good, 10 minutes in and we had 13 on the field - that is the way it goes at times.”

On defence:

“We have had Felix Jones come in and implement this new system, it will take time and eventually it will come good I am sure.

“We are coming together well, the mood in camp is good. we are still building and transitioning but we will come good.”


07:21 PM GMT

Your reaction

Remember you can continue to have your say on the game at Twickenham.


07:19 PM GMT

Wales centre George North speaking to the BBC

“Still at the processing stage at the moment, first half we wanted to go big and start hard.

“We were right in the fight, but second half we were off the pulse completely.”

On discipline: 

“It was costly [Mason Grady’s yellow card] but again if you flip it around if he intercepts it, then he scores.

“We went through some really good defensive sets, but it is a tough place to come.”

On the young talent playing for Wales: 

“I think all of them [did well], we are in a fortunate place. These boys are stepping up and have an opportunity to put their name on the jersey.

“To get a string of performances together is confidence to them.

“The boys know we have a great opportunity and you have to embrace it and take it with both hands.

“These boys are the next big push for us. We need to look at ourselves quickly and then go to Dublin.”


07:17 PM GMT

Wales head coach Warren Gatland speaking to ITV

“In fairness to England they came into the second half with a kicking strategy and game, they got some reward out of it. We probably didn’t manage it as well as we could have.

“We are going to be a good team, it’s just going to take us a little bit of time. Some players are learning about game management, and they learn it from experiences.

“We did some good things and things that we will tidy up going forward. It’s disappointing but it’s a young side that is going to continue to improve.

“I thought we showed some great character, and it was a game there for us to win and I am proud of the effort.”


07:14 PM GMT

England head coach Steve Borthwick speaking to ITV


07:13 PM GMT

An unforgettable moment


07:12 PM GMT

Player ratings

You can have a read of our player ratings with Daniel Schofield and Fiona Tomas from today’s game at Twickenham.


07:04 PM GMT

England captain Jamie George speaking to ITV

“I am relieved. We had so much thrown at us in that game, we said the bare minimum this England team is going to show is fight and character.

“Going down to 13 men we scrapped our way through, the control we showed there is huge - positive signs for me. Doing things our way, the England way.

“The set-piece got a bit more control and we were not afraid to play and scored some good tries. We threatened the Welsh line and our defence is looking a lot better and that is what we want to base our game on.

“Confidence and belief in what we are doing, we love defending. It is what this English team is going to be about going forward.”

On the fans: 

“We have been so outspoken that the record at Twickenham has not been good enough we want to change things and relate to the crowd.

“Show some passion and belief playing for England, I want to thank everyone for their support, it is special.”


07:02 PM GMT

England's kicking game and Ford


07:00 PM GMT

Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins speaking to ITV

“Absolutely gutted, that game was there for us to win and we didn’t take it. We weren’t accurate enough, I am really disappointed.

“When you come to Twickenham you know it is going to be a physical battle and you have to match them, I don’t think we did that.

“I don’t think we can use being a young team as an excuse, if we are here, we are good enough. I think we’ve created the chances but we just weren’t accurate when finishing.”


06:57 PM GMT

Maggie Alphonsi on X


06:47 PM GMT

The thoughts of man-of-the-match Ben Earl

“Pretty knackered! That was a proper test match it came down to them fine margins, the ball was in play for a long time, the boys dug in and we are really pleased.

“We rode it out with 13 men to a certain degree, we have been speaking about an identity and we keep building that - we are really pleased.

“We are trying to impose ourselves on every facet of the game, Freddie Steward was world-class today. In defence our line-speed in most parts was exceptional.

“In attack we want to move the ball and today we made good strides with that today.

“I guess the most exciting thing is we have not even scratched the surface. We rest up for a couple of days then get back to work.”


06:44 PM GMT

Clarification on Ford controversy, or is it?

The law states if the kicker moves in any direction on his approach to kick. But Ford was not approaching to kick, he was positioning himself to get ready to kick so it still feels like the wrong decision. It may come down to perspective or opinion but it feels like the referee got it wrong.


06:42 PM GMT

Data insights from Sage


06:40 PM GMT

England World Cup winner Matt Dawson on BBC Radio 5 Live

“Monumental defensive set from England. Mr. Felix Jones I applaud you my friend.

“The organisation at the death, 80 minutes of hardcore rugby and England are swarming all over what looks like a drunken Welsh side.

“I am overwhelmed by both sides.”


06:37 PM GMT

Full-time

Care kicks it out and England win, just. They were behind for much of the game but they manage to find a way to win the game.


06:36 PM GMT

80 minutes: England 16 Wales 14

Wales want a penalty for contact from Ford on Dyer in the air but nothing is given so England will have a line-out with what will be the final play of the game.


06:35 PM GMT

79 minutes: England 16 Wales 14

Wales kick over the top but Steward is on hand to catch, break and kick through. The ball bounces away from him in the Wales 22 and Wales have it but they are a long way from the England line. Seconds remain.


06:34 PM GMT

78 minutes: England 16 Wales 14

Wales have the ball inside their own half but they are not going far, if anything backwards. Into the final 90 seconds.


06:31 PM GMT

76 minutes: England 16 Wales 14

England build good momentum into the Wales 22 but Reffell comes up with a huge turnover and Wales are awarded a penalty. They kick towards the halfway line and there are just four minutes to go.


06:28 PM GMT

73 minutes: England 16 Wales 14

Wales have a line-out just inside their own half but the throw is not straight so England have the scrum. More time ticking away.


06:25 PM GMT

Penalty England

The easiest of penalty kicks and Ford gives England the lead. Wales will be down to 14 for the rest of the game.


06:25 PM GMT

71 minutes: England 13 Wales 14

It is deemed there was enough cover so no penalty try but Grady is sent to the bin. The penalty is in front of the posts so Ford will go for goal to give England the lead for the first time today.


06:24 PM GMT

71 minutes: England 13 Wales 14

England break from the maul and move the ball wide, but Grady deliberately slaps the ball down. Has to be a yellow card. Is that a penalty try?


06:23 PM GMT

70 minutes: England 13 Wales 14

What a brilliant kick from Ford. It looked like there was nothing really on for England so from his own half Ford kicks towards the corner and earns England a 50-22, 10 metres out from Wales’ line.


06:21 PM GMT

Data insights with Sage


06:20 PM GMT

68 minutes: England 13 Wales 14

Changes aplenty at the moment. England make a change at scrum-half as Care comes on for Mitchell.

Wales make a double change as Basham and Rowlands replace Mann and Beard.


06:15 PM GMT

Try England

England go through the phases agonisingly close to the Wales line. Eventually they make the right decision to ship it out wide and it is Dingwall who goes over in the corner for his first Test try. The conversion is a tough one from the touchline and Ford misses to the left. One-point game.


06:12 PM GMT

61 minutes: England 8 Wales 14

A lot of time is being wasted at the scrum but England have a penalty. They opt against the posts and go to the corner. England five metres out...


06:10 PM GMT

59 minutes: England 8 Wales 14

England win a scrum just outside the Wales 22 as Adams knocks on. It should be a penalty as Wainwright was in front of Adams and therefore was offside but the scrum is all that is given.

Wales have brought on Domachowski at loosehead prop in place of G Thomas.


06:07 PM GMT

56 minutes: England 8 Wales 14

Wales come very close to scoring their third try. They beat the England defence on the fringes as Winnett breaks through inside Daly on the wing. Winnett finds Adams outside him, who offloads inside but Wales knock on.


06:06 PM GMT

55 minutes: England 8 Wales 14

Wales are making a double change of their own in the front-row as Elias and Griffin come on for Dee and Assiratti. Griffin, who plays his club rugby at Bath, is on for his debut.


06:02 PM GMT

51 minutes: England 8 Wales 14

Wales are not far away from adding a third try. Lloyd finds Dyer on the left touchline with a crossfield kick and he kicks it through. It rolls into touch but it was adjudged to have touched an England player so Wales have the line-out.

England stop the maul well and win the scrum inside their own 22. England make a double change in the front-row as Genge and Cole replace Marler and Stuart.


05:58 PM GMT

Penalty England

Ford’s kick is good and the gap is reduced to six points. 8-14.


05:58 PM GMT

47 minutes: England 5 Wales 14

England have an absolute gift of a penalty as all the Wales players are offside from a kick behind their own try-line so England have a penalty five metres out pretty much in front of the posts. England choose to go for the posts...


05:55 PM GMT

43 minutes: England 5 Wales 14

England think they might be in the corner but Winnett’s good tackle, aided by Adams, on Daly sends him into touch close to the Wales line.


05:53 PM GMT

42 minutes: England 5 Wales 14

England have a penalty on halfway from a scrum and Slade sends a kick into the Wales 22. An early attacking opportunity for England at the start of this second half.


05:50 PM GMT

Second half

We are back under way at Twickenham. Wales lead by nine points.


05:50 PM GMT

Data insights from Sage


05:49 PM GMT

HT verdict

A nine-point lead for Wales and how they deserve it. Warren Gatland had demanded that his side carry on from their stunning second-half display against Scotland and despite a power-play opening from England, they have done just that. You have to go back to 2006 for the last time Wales have scored a first-half try at Twickenham but they have scored two here, with a penalty try from a driving maul and then a brilliantly-created finish by Alex Mann, who scored a second try on his only his second cap. England have not helped themselves, losing two players to the sin bin in the first half, but Wales have found a way to counter England’s blitz defence, changing the point of attack, being bold in possession, and looking for the space in the wide channels.

Tommy Reffell has led the charge superbly, in attack and at the breakdown. The only significant mistake was Ioan Lloyd’s attempt to run the ball from under his posts, and from the scrum, Ben Earl powered over. There is still time for England to regroup, but the momentum for now is with Gatland’s side.


05:45 PM GMT

Ford controversy

Debate will be raging surrounding the conversion that never was for Ford. The law states that the defending team can charge when the kicker begins his approach to the ball. Ford made a step to the side in preparation, but was not approaching to take the kick. It looks like the referee has not applied the law correctly there and England can probably feel aggrieved there.


05:43 PM GMT

HT verdict

Wales have been so streetwise at Twickenham. A lot of the stats have been very even at halftime with the glaring exception of discipline. While England have had two players sent to the sin-bin, however debatably, Wales have yet to concede a single penalty in the match. That is despite Tommy Reffell attacking each and every breakdown he is close to.


05:35 PM GMT

Half-time

That is that for the first half at Twickenham and Wales lead 14-5 at the break. England had two yellow cards in that first half.


05:34 PM GMT

Try Wales

Wales have their second try of the game and it is Alex Mann. Reffell offloads to T Williams as Wales break through the England defensive line. It is a simple two-on-one which Wales execute as Mann goes over for his second try in just his second cap. The conversion is successful from Lloyd.


05:29 PM GMT

34 minutes: England 5 Wales 7

England are now up to a full compliment of 15. Chessum has also passed his HIA so is coming back on. Play is stopped before an England line-out inside Wales’s half after Underhill folds G Thomas in half.


05:25 PM GMT

32 minutes: England 5 Wales 7

Wales go through 25 phases in and around the England 22 but the England defence holds firm and Wales knock on. England are able to clear a long way down the field.


05:19 PM GMT

Data insights from Sage


05:18 PM GMT

25 minutes: England 5 Wales 7

England try to be clever with a line-out inside their own 22 but knock on and Wales have the scrum in a dangerous position.

England are given an easy escape as they are awarded a free-kick.


05:16 PM GMT

24 minutes: England 5 Wales 7

Chessum has only just come back on after his yellow card but is going back off for an head-injury assessment. Coles comes on for him.


05:14 PM GMT

23 minutes: England 5 Wales 7

England concede their sixth penalty already and Wales go for the corner. Chessum is back from his sin-bin. Wales come off the top of the line-out but an offload goes forwrad.


05:13 PM GMT

Try England

What a finish from Earl. England are down two forwards at the scrum and Freeman comes in from the backs for a seven-man scrum. Early picks up from the base of the scrum and just powers through multiple Wales defenders. He reaches out for the line and scores. Wales charge and Ford is adjudged to have moved so Wales are allowed to prevent the conversion from being taken.

Elliot Dee charges down George Ford's conversion
Elliot Dee (right) charges down George Ford's conversion before he even got to it - Adrian Dennis/Getty Images

05:09 PM GMT

18 minutes: England 0 Wales 7

Lloyd is caught out trying to run it out from deep and Itoje swallows him up. England are awarded the scrum, but they only have six forwards on the pitch at the moment.


05:07 PM GMT

Penalty try Wales

Wales win the line-out and get the maul going towards the line. It goes to ground and referee James Doleman deems that England have pulled it down illegally. A penalty try is awarded and a yellow card is given to Roots. England down to 13 and seven points down.

Ethan Roots and Ollie Chessum both sat in the sin-bin for England
Ethan Roots (left) and Ollie Chessum both in the sin-bin for England - David Rogers/Getty Images

05:06 PM GMT

16 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

Wales win a penalty inside the England half and instead of going for goal, they opt to go for the corner and Lloyd’s kick is superb. Wales have a line-out five metres out.

Wales doing a good job of subduing this England side and, by extension, the crowd. They scrambled to stop Freddie Steward’s early break and relieved pressure following a trademark Tommy Reffell jackal. Despite spending about 10 seconds of this first 15 minutes in the England half, they now have a chance to go ahead.


05:04 PM GMT

14 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

As expected the review from the bunker did not take long and Chessum’s yellow card will remain a yellow as the degree of danger was deemed not high.


05:02 PM GMT

12 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

Chessum is sent to the bin and will go under review in the bunker for contact with Assiratti’s head. That should stand as a yellow and it would be very harsh to upgrade it to a red as it was low to the ground.

After an enterprising start by England, they must now see out the next ten minutes with 14 men after Ollie Chessum was sin-binned on advice of the television match official, Brendon Pickerill. Seems incredibly harsh as firstly there was a late change of movement and also Chessum appears to make contact with Kieron Assiratti’s shoulder before any potential head contact. Unfortunately rugby continues to tie itself in knots over the use of technology.


05:01 PM GMT

12 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

It took a while for the replays to come but Chessum could be in some trouble here...


04:59 PM GMT

12 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

Play is stopped before an England line-out not far from the Wales 22 as Wales’ tighthead prop Assirratti was down. The TMO has stepped in for a potential high tackle by Chessum on the aforementioned Assiratti...


04:56 PM GMT

10 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

England waste the chance as they knock on close to the Wales line and Wales can clear.


04:54 PM GMT

8 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

Ford drives a grubber kick back into the corner. Wales win the line-out but the maul stalls and England win a scrum just five metres out from the Wales line. Big, early opportunity for England.

England’s game plan seems quite nicely connected early on. Their defence is pressurising the way Wales clear and their kick-return is looking penetrative. They really need some points to show for the promise, though.

“Power play now, power play now,” shouts Jamie George as the teams assemble for the five-metre scrum.


04:51 PM GMT

6 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

Daly runs a great line through the Wales defence and puts a grubber kick through towards the corner but it rolls into touch five metres out from Wales’ line. Wales win the line-out and clear their lines.


04:49 PM GMT

4 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

Wales have a penalty just outside their own 22 for an England offside. They kick into the England half.


04:48 PM GMT

3 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

England win the line-out and go through a few phases but Reffell wins a crucial penalty at the breakdown for Wales to clear their lines. Huge intervention from the Reffell there.


04:48 PM GMT

2 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

A terrific break from Steward through the Wales defensive line brings England into the Wales 22 after just a minute of the game. Ford goes for the crossfield kick and Dyer catches it ahead of Slade but is into touch so England have a line-out five metres out...


04:45 PM GMT

Kick-off

We are under way at Twickenham.


04:39 PM GMT

Anthem time

Both sides have emerged from the tunnel at Twickenham and it is time for the national anthems. Before the anthems Twickenham remembers England and Wales players who have died in the last year, including former Wales fly-half Barry John, who died just a few days ago. Wales’ ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ followed by England’s ‘God Save The King’.

Both Jamie George and Warren Gatland were right in their comments about Twickenham. As Gatland said, this is not a stadium that holds much trepidation for any visiting team. With most fans stocking up on drinks 15 minutes before kick off, no one is going to mistake it for a bearpit, although both anthems were sung with gusto. George is also correct that you can only create an intimidating atmosphere by being an intimidating team. This is their first opportunity to put a marker down in that respect.


04:35 PM GMT

Reminder of the team news

England XV: 15-Steward, 14-Freeman, 13-Slade, 12-Dingwall, 11-Daly, 10-Ford, 9-Mitchell; 1-Stuart, 2-Marler, 3-George (capt), 4-Itoje, 5-Chessum, 6-Roots, 7-Underhill, 8-Earl

Replacements: 16-Dan, 17-Genge, 18-Cole, 19-Coles, 20-Cunningham-South, 21-Care, 22-Smith, 23-Feyi-Waboso

Wales XV: 15-Winnett; 14-Adams, 13-North, 12-Tompkins, 11-Dyer; 10-Lloyd, 9-Williams; 1-Thomas, 2-Dee, 3-Assiratti, 4-Jenkins (capt), 5-Beard, 6-Mann, 7-Reffell, 8-Wainwright

Replacements: 16-Elias, 17-Domachowski, 18-Griffin, 19-Rowlands, 20-Basham, 21-Hardy, 22-Evans, 23-Grady


04:34 PM GMT

Live from Twickenham

Beno Obano, Jamie Blamire, Charlie Ewels, Ben Spencer and George Furbank are the reserves who joined England’s warm-up.

Jamie George has led the hosts in a half-lap back towards the changing rooms in a bid to swell the noise. Think that’s new. Not entirely sure it worked, though, with so many spectators yet to take their seats.


04:25 PM GMT

Live from Twickenham...

As both teams continue with their warm-ups, plenty of the green seats around the pitch remain empty. Supporters were clearly, like us in the press room, watching that madcap Murrayfield finale. Just like last weekend in Rome, the trio of Kevin Sinfield, Richard Wigglesworth and Felix Jones oversaw the England backs in some attacking scenarios.


04:23 PM GMT

Wayne Barnes: How I would prepare to referee England

New Zealand referee James Doleman is the man in the middle at Twickenham, so how will he have prepared for today’s game?

Unfortunately, we can’t ask Doleman. But we can ask our new columnist Wayne Barnes, regarded as the world’s best ref before his retirement, what he would have done in the build-up to this match:

When I started refereeing professional rugby, even before the biggest of my early games, preparation was nearly non-existent. Before my first Six Nations match between Italy and France in 2007, a chat over a cup of tea with the assistant refs and the television match official the morning of a game was about as far as the preparation went.

However, that all changed when I realised the comparison between my legal career and my rugby one. As a barrister, my preparation was meticulous. I knew the facts of my cases inside out, I’d considered possible lines of enquiries the prosecution may make, and I’d prepared what I would say in numerous different scenarios. I didn’t want anything to take me by surprise in the courtroom. Why should it be any different on the rugby pitch?

By the end of my career, my preparation became almost an obsession. I wanted to have a picture of how teams played, what individual traits players had and I also wanted to imagine what certain situations during the game might look like.

This made me less likely to come across something I’d never seen before during the match. It also meant I could pass on messages to coaches and players in the hope that I would then be able to blow my whistle less. Never was it about having preconceived ideas, just trying to ensure the game flowed better.

By the Friday night of a Test week, I would have pulled my thoughts together, scribbled them down onto a single page in my notebook and that book would sit on the table in the middle of my changing room. Moments before kick-off, I had something to look at and to remind me of the challenge ahead.

I never had to referee England in my 111 Test matches. Perhaps that’s why the English players and I have always had a good relationship … but I have refereed them numerous times for their Premiership clubs...

To read the types of notes Barnes would have jotted down about today’s England team if he was about to referee this match, click here


04:00 PM GMT

Key talking points – part five

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso to make a mark?

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso tackles Monty Ioane into touch
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso made his debut against Italy last week - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

The Exeter wing pledged allegiance to England and made his debut off the bench against Italy, despite being born and raised in Cardiff. It prompted Wales boss Warren Gatland to remark last month that his decision had not gone down well across the border, although Gatland also insisted that preparations for England had not involved the 21-year-old being mentioned, stating: “It doesn’t add any extra spice. Good luck to him. I hope things go well for him.”


03:55 PM GMT

Key talking points – part four

Lloyd in the spotlight

Ioan Lloyd in action for Wales
This will be a baptism of fire for Ioan Lloyd - AFP/Adrian Dennis

Former Bristol back Ioan Lloyd makes his first Wales start today, and it will be in the No 10 shirt after taking over from the injured Sam Costelow. The 22-year-old featured twice as a substitute during Wales’ 2020 autumn campaign, but it was more than three years until he reappeared on the international stage, replacing Costelow against Scotland last weekend and helping to orchestrate a spectacular second-half fightback. Lloyd is among several players in Wales’ match-day 23 never to have played Test rugby at Twickenham, but the visitors need him to thrive.


03:47 PM GMT

Key talking points – part three

Pump up the Twickenham volume

The fans get so greet the players as they enter Twickenham
The fans get so greet the players as they enter Twickenham - PA/Andrew Matthews

England return to headquarters for the first time since they were booed during a shock World Cup warm-up defeat against Fiji. Steve Borthwick’s team went on to finish third in the World Cup, and they host Wales on the back of an opening Six Nations victory over Italy. The Twickenham atmosphere in recent times has undoubtedly been flat, and changes introduced to the match-day experience include an increase in length of the players’ walk through the crowds from their bus to the changing room.


03:44 PM GMT

Key talking points – part two

Half-century for North

George North speaks to the press
George North will make his 50th Six Nations appearance - PA/Ben Birchall

Wales are boosted by the return after injury of centre George North for their trip to south-west London. North, who wins his 119th cap, is the solitary player in today’s match-day 23 to have been part of a winning Wales team at Twickenham, while he also clocks up 50 Six Nations games. Only four other players have reached a half-century in the competition for Wales – Alun Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams. North, who made his Six Nations bow against France in Paris 13 years ago, remains an integral part of head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.


03:43 PM GMT

Key talking points – part one

England’s magnificent seven

Inside Twickenham
England want to make Twickenham a cauldron of noise - AFP/Glyn Kirk

England have a strong record against Wales at Twickenham since losing to them in 2012. Centre Scott Williams’ late try clinched a Six Nations Triple Crown that day, but Wales have come unstuck on five subsequent Six Nations visits. The shining light from a Welsh perspective was their 2015 World Cup pool victory over England, but it is seven defeats on the bounce at English rugby headquarters following that 28-25 success, with England winning four Six Nations Tests, two World Cup warm-up games and a summer international. Wales can take heart from five of those reversals being by six points or fewer, but they face a tough ask to turn things around.


03:39 PM GMT

'I don't find Twickenham intimidating at all'

Warren Gatland and Wales arrive at Twickenham
Warren Gatland and Wales arrive at Twickenham - PA/David Davies

England v Wales clashes are always spicy enough without an antagonistic grenade thrown into the mix. Eddie Jones was the master, but Warren Gatland is hardly shy in winding up the opposition ahead of a big match. And the atmosphere at Twickenham is always fertile ground for having a pop.

This week, England captain Jamie George explained how head coach Steve Borthwick and his players were desperate to make Twickenham “a horrible place to play” and “a fortress again”, but Gatland is adamant there’s no fear from within the Wales camp.

“No, because the first four times I went there we won; three Premiership finals and a Heineken Cup final [with Wasps].

“I don’t find it intimidating at all! It’s great when you come in the gates and everyone is outside and you’ve got the fans there, it’s a great stadium to enter. I love the atmosphere and it’s even more special if you can walk away with a win. And that’s not easy to do.

“For me, it doesn’t hold any trepidation. It’s about starting well and stopping the crowd singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot too early. Silence them a bit – that becomes an important factor.

“But we’re not afraid to go to Twickenham, I can promise you.”


03:26 PM GMT

A reminder of the teams...

England XV: 15-Steward, 14-Freeman, 13-Slade, 12-Dingwall, 11-Daly, 10-Ford, 9-Mitchell; 1-Stuart, 2-Marler, 3-George (capt), 4-Itoje, 5-Chessum, 6-Roots, 7-Underhill, 8-Earl

Replacements: 16-Dan, 17-Genge, 18-Cole, 19-Coles, 20-Cunningham-South, 21-Care, 22-Smith, 23-Feyi-Waboso

-----

Wales XV: 15-Winnett; 14-Adams, 13-North, 12-Tompkins, 11-Dyer; 10-Lloyd, 9-Williams; 1-Thomas, 2-Dee, 3-Assiratti, 4-Jenkins (capt), 5-Beard, 6-Mann, 7-Reffell, 8-Wainwright

Replacements: 16-Elias, 17-Domachowski, 18-Griffin, 19-Rowlands, 20-Basham, 21-Hardy, 22-Evans, 23-Grady


03:22 PM GMT

Live from Twickenham...

A fire engine has just driven past me on my walk to Twickenham and blared “Come on Wales, you know you can do it” out of its tannoy; a message which was received by groans and feint boos from the crowd of English fans I found myself in.

I know you drive in red, guys, but know your audience!


03:16 PM GMT

'For a Welshman, there is no better place to win'

Good afternoon and welcome to what promises to be a blockbuster clash between England and Wales.

These two old rivals collide at Twickenham today with Steve Borthwick’s new-look team aiming to build on their winning start against Italy in Rome.

While it is assumed England’s opponents will always play with emotional intensity, spurred on by facing the tournament’s most unpopular team, Red Rose scrum coach Tom Harrison bristles at the idea that the passion flows in one direction only.

“It’s an interesting assumption to presume Wales would have an extra desire than us,” Harrison said. “There is rivalry both ways. This England is a special group. They’ve trained and gelled really well together.”

Dafydd Jenkins has highlighted the enormity of victory at Twickenham if Wales can end their long wait for a Six Nations away win against the English.

It has only happened twice since the tournament began 24 years ago, with Exeter lock Jenkins bidding to emulate previous Wales captains Ryan Jones (2008) and Sam Warburton (2012) in toppling England on home soil.

Jenkins, the youngest Wales skipper since Sir Gareth Edwards in 1968, was a junior school pupil when Scott Williams’ late try secured a Triple Crown triumph at Twickenham during the 2012 campaign.

And he is geared up for a huge effort this afternoon after Wales showed glimpses of their potential via a spectacular second-half fightback against Scotland last weekend, even if they ultimately lost by a point from 27-0 behind.

“I wouldn’t say it is like any other game, because England and Wales is special,” Jenkins, 21, said. “There’s massive history behind the game. It’s a must-win game for us because of the place we are in the tournament.

“It’ll be the best place to win. For a Welshman, there is no better place. If you win over there, you gain a lot of respect from them. It’s huge for us.”

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