Preparation has been underway for what has been dubbed by some as England's biggest test of metal to date; taking on Wales in their own backyard. With such close proximity to the home World Cup, Stuart and his young side will be happy with nothing less than victory and a chance to prove that the depth in the squad is very much present, despite an injury list as long as your right arm. While opportunities are present for new faces to build a name for themselves on the international stage, the return of a number of British and Irish Lions in to the squad will no doubt provide vital experience and stability in the most testing of environments.
Over in Wales Warren Gatland announced his starting XV two days ahead of schedule, and it came as little shock to many as to who is lining up to face England this Friday. As always, Wales will want to attack England with a physicality and dominance that has come to be expected from this experienced Welsh side: with 648 test caps shared between the starting XV alone Wales will want to impose themselves early on upon a relatively young English side. The Millennium Stadium is one of the toughest away venues that England will face in the RBS 6 Nations, and the crowd will undoubtedly endeavour to make England uncomfortable, roof opened or closed.
For England, this particular encounter will see a new centre partnership in Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph which could set up a mammoth battle against opposite numbers Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. Although, the focus may be on England's new injection of pace from the back three with the inclusion of wing Anthony Watson off the back of a successful Autumn, and Jonny May who is fast cementing his claim to the no. 11 shirt. With Owen Farrell's untimely absence, eyes will undoubtedly be fixed on George Ford. The young fly half will be tested to the extreme by the lively atmosphere of the Welsh crowd, as well as the pressures from home for a convincing away victory.
The history between the two Nations will do much to raise the tempo and excitement in the build up to round one, with a fraught and tension-filled encounter expected. Despite England's injury list, on paper there isn't a lot to tell the two teams apart. While both camps will maintain that their focus is on the game at hand, no doubt eyes will be looking forward to the next time these two teams will meet; the group stages at the 2015 World Cup.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny 14 Alex Cuthbert 13 Jonathan Davies 12 Jamie Roberts 11 George North 10 Dan Biggar 9 Rhys Webb 1 Gethin Jenkins 2 Richard Hibbard 3 Samson Lee 4 Jake Ball 5 Alun Wyn Jones 6 Dan Lydiate 7 Sam Warburton (C) 8 Taulupe Faletau Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin 17 Paul James 18 Aaron Jarvis 19 Luke Charteris 20 Justin Tipuric 21 Mike Phillips 22 Rhys Priestland 23 Liam Williams
England: 15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Luther Burrell 11 Jonny May 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs 1 Joe Marler 2 Dylan Hartley 3 Dan Cole 4 David Attwood 5 George Kruis 6 James Haskell 7Chris Robshaw (Capt) 8 Billy Vunipola
Replacements; 16 Tom Youngs 17 Mako Vunipola 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Tom Croft 20 Nick Easter 21 Richard Wigglesworth 22 Danny Cipriani 23 Billy Twelvetrees
|Nicknamed 'The Cauldron', the Millennium Stadium is a tough |
place to travel to.