England are five point favourites in their crucial Six Nations match against Wales on Sunday and on recent form they should not be able to cover that spread by winning the match by one converted try at least. Wales won the reverse fixture last year by 30-3 in Cardiff and the trends over a longer period of time suggest England should have to overcome a smaller deficit in the handicap markets.
In the history of one of the most prestigious internationals in the rugby union calendar there’s nothing between the two sides in terms of matches won. Both nations have beaten the other 56 times and there have been 12 draws in this series of matches. However England have scored 1603 points in 124 matches while Wales have scored 1432. That means the respective points scoring averages are 12.93 and 11.55, equating to an average points difference of 1.38 in England’s favour.
The most relevant matches in terms of trends are those over the last 10 years during which spell Wales have won six matches and lost four. Wales have won the last three fixtures but England won the previous two. In matches at Twickenham in the last decade England’s win/loss record is three to two. Wales beat 19-12 in the last fixture at Twickenham in 2012.
Since 2007 over ten matches between the sides England have scored 217 points and conceded 204. The figures are distorted by a tally of 62 points at Twickenham that year and if you take that match out of the equation Wales have outscored their neighbours by an average of five points in the nine qualifying matches. Disregarding that freak result matches at Twickenham have been evenly matched.
Four sides have won two matches and lost one in the Six Nations this season to date which means the fourth round of fixtures this weekend will determine which nations can still win the title ahead of the final group of matches. England have a superior point’s difference over Wales of 16 points to date. Collateral form against Ireland gives an England an edge in this match but comparing respective results is not an exact science as the dynamics change from match to match.
It is fair to say both sides played their best match in the championship in the latest series of fixtures but in current form Wales might feel more confident of victory. They were outstanding when beating France in Cardiff last month when England beast Ireland by just 3 points. Winning away from home in these internationals is always tough but on form this is a match that Wales can win.
One of the old chestnuts of international rugby was that Wales’s players were working class boys from the valleys while their England counterparts were public school educated. It was often seen as a case of the struggling Welsh against the rich boys from the mother country and the stereotyping helped to build up Welsh passion and fervour. Over the years the trademark Welsh view is that rugby union in England is elitist.
However, the most likely starting 15 for England on Sunday will include 13 players from a state-school background. The romantic view of a Toffs v Taffs contest fuelled the desire to beat the English but now the game in England at the highest level is much more inclusive than in the past. The England management have tried to reconnect with the public by promoting grounded values.
In England rugby union and league will never get the coverage and interest that football generates. There is still a public perception that union is played by privileged men from public schools. However, Stuart Lancaster, the rugby union coach, is trying to emphasise the mix of players in the context of the social spectrum.
There is a system now in place that encourages participation in the sport from all educational groups. A cross section of background will being more empathy and support from a nation that still has soccer as the national sport. The traditional avenues for promoting talent are being expanded into new areas and the coach is fortunate to have a wide net in England.
With the 2015 World Cup being staged in England there is an opportunity to showcase the sport to a wider audience and refute the misconceptions. Before then England have an edge over Wales in that more men are playing the sport at an early age. The elite players now have a career path and can enter the profession after leaving school before going into further education. In Wales it’s not a minority sport but the population means fewer players are good enough to play at the highest level.
In terms of the fixture at the weekend England are facing a Welsh side with more experience of Six Nations and British Lions rugby. When England take on Wales at Twickenham their backline will be up against several Welsh Lions. In significant team news Wales may select Lions centre Jonathan Davis even though he has not played since November due to a chest injury. He is expected to feature alongside Lions centre Jamie Roberts, with George North moving to the left wing.
Davis is seen as a special case and in normal circumstance a player with no playing experience over the last three months would not be selected for such an important match. However, he give the coach a nice problem in that his selection would strengthen a winning side. Including Davis increases the amount of high intensity rugby experience in the side.
England will be without Billy Vunipola for the match against Wales but that may not be too significant. He has been ruled out of the remaining two rounds of the Six Nations because of an ankle ligament injury. Vuniploa earned his place in the side through his form for Saracens but Ben Morgan is an able deputy. He has impressed from the bench in three internationals to date so the side will be not weakened by Vunipola’s absence. However on balance he and his teammates may not avoid defeat in this crucial match.