With Wales’ Six Nations opener against England a little over a week away we look at how the sides backline compare.
The question is which of England’s likely starters would make it into the current Wales backline. Part of the issue is that whilst the current Welsh backline pretty much picks itself, the current England side is much harder to predict.
With this in mind we look at each position in the backline below and determine whether the likely English or Welsh player would start in a combined team;
9. Scrum Half
Rhys Webb vs Danny Care
With Mike Phillips seemingly out of favour it looks likely that Warren Gatland will once again be starting Rhys Webb in the number 9 shirt during the Six Nations. Meanwhile Stuart Lancaster has the dilemma of which scrum half to start, however it’s likely Danny Care will regain his spot in the starting lineup.
Whilst Webb has been in fine form so far this season, Care’s form has been somewhat indifferent for Harlequins, and at times downright disappointing for England. If Care can regain last seasons form during the Six Nations it’s likely he would start ahead of Webb, however on current form you would have to opt for Webb.
Winner – Rhys Webb
10. Fly Half
Dan Biggar vs George Ford
Wales look to have finally settled on their fly half for the World Cup with Biggar having wrestled the number 10 shirt from compatriot Rhys Priestland. For England, the recent injury to Owen Farrell has guaranteed that George Ford will carry on where he left off during the Autumn International series.
Both Biggar and Ford have looked impressive for club and country so far this season making this particular battle a lot closer than many of the others. Whilst Biggar probably has the edge on consistency, Ford has a little bit more creativity. Having just led Bath into the European Cup Quarter Finals I think Ford has done just enough to edge this contest.
Winner – George Ford
11. Left Wing
George North vs Jonny May
George North has come in for some criticism of late, not least from Welsh head coach Warren Gatland thanks to his mixed performances for Wales over the last 18 months. Meanwhile May has been impressing for England with a series of tries during the Autumn Internationals including a very memorable one against the All Blacks.
This particular contest pits too young wingers with very differing talents against one another in this side. The reality is that whilst May has shown glimpses of his talent for England, he hasn’t done enough at this stage to justify his inclusion ahead of North, especially if the Welshman can re-find some of his earlier form.
Winner – George North
12. Inside Centre
James Roberts vs Billy Twelvetrees
Welsh centre Roberts looked to be previously struggling for form after a big money move to the French capital, however he now seems to have bedded in and is performing well. England centre Billy Twelvetrees looks likely to start with a number of other key players unavailable through injury.
For me this particular contest is a bit of a no-brainer really. Whilst Twelvetrees undoubtedly has his merits despite a general lack of consistency, especially for England, he is nowhere near the all round level of Roberts. The Welsh centre has re-found some of his best form this season and will be a key player for Wales in Cardiff next week.
Winner – Jamie Roberts
13. Outside Centre
Jonathan Davies vs Luther Burrell
Davies forms one half of an established Welsh centre partnership outside of Jamie Roberts, and looks set to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For England that centre partnership is much less established however with Luther Burrell not having featured since last years Six Nations where he played alongside Billy Twelvetrees.
Once again there is a clear winner in this contest, especially given that Burrell is an inside rather than outside centre by trade. Davies has looked in fine form this season for both club and country whilst Burrell’s form has been mixed at times. For me Davies also has a slightly broader skillset which sets him apart in addition to his experience.
Winner – Jonathan Davies
14. Alex Cuthbert vs Anthony Watson
Much like his colleague George North, Cuthbert has come in for some criticism recently after a series of disappointing performances for both club and country. England look likely to play the in-form Anthony Watson against Wales after his recent performances for Bath and England despite his relative lack of experience.
Cuthbert’s try-scoring form for Wales over the years means he will always be a consideration in these situations, however Watson’s form currently puts him ahead of the Welshman for me. As this side is based on current form Watson has to edge in ahead of Cuthbert given his game changing ability, although he still has a lot to prove.
Winner – Anthony Watson
15. Full Back
Leigh Halfpenny vs Mike Brown
Halfpenny has been a key man for Warren Gatland’s Welsh and Lions side and should therefore just about edge out an in-form Liam Williams for the full back spot. Meanwhile last years player of the tournament Mike Brown heads into this years competition under pressure after a series of mixed performances for both club and country this season.
Last season this would have been a non contest such was the form of Mike Brown for England, however now it is a much closer affair. Both players offer something a little bit different to one another so it’s hard to compare like-for-like. On current form though I’d have to go for Halfpenny who has played well for Toulon and Wales this season.
Winner – Leigh Halfpenny
The Final Line-Up
9. Rhys Webb (Wal), 10. George Ford (Eng), 11. George North (Wal), 12. Jamie Roberts (Wal), 13. Jonathan Davies (Wal), 14. Anthony Watson (Eng), 15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wal)
That works out as five Welsh players in the backline to England’s two. Whilst some of these contest could have gone either way, it does raise the question as to whether or not England’s backline will be good enough to claim a victory in Cardiff next week.
Who do you think will emerge victorious from the Millennium Stadium?