Wales v England - John Spencer wants to see Red Rose set free

AS a former England captain, it pains John Spencer to see the national side struggling to find any rhythm in this Guinness Six Nations, especially considering he feels Eddie Jones’s side are capable of so much more.
England's Henry Slade is tackled by Italy's Niccolo Cannone and Luca Sperandio during the Guinness Six Nations. Picture: PA.England's Henry Slade is tackled by Italy's Niccolo Cannone and Luca Sperandio during the Guinness Six Nations. Picture: PA.
England's Henry Slade is tackled by Italy's Niccolo Cannone and Luca Sperandio during the Guinness Six Nations. Picture: PA.

The defending champions face Wales in Cardiff this afternoon knowing there is no margin for error having already suffered a shock home loss to Scotland before a routine win over Italy.

Wales have had their own issues in recent months but arrive at the Principality Stadium in good shape and knowing a Triple Crown is within their grasp.

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Indeed, having defeated Ireland and nudged past Scotland at Murrayfield, victory over England would not only deliver that and put them top of the Championship but also leave them on course for a Grand Slam.

Nevertheless, Spencer, the Yorkshireman who won 14 caps for England between 1969 and 1971, feels it is imperative the visitors look at their own game first.

“I’ve been disappointed with England’s performances over the last couple of matches,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“I think we’re capable of a lot more than what we’ve shown; we seem to be playing with harnesses on.

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“I’m ashamed to say it but I think we have lacked visible spirit, too.

“So far, I really feel that the other side has beaten us on both occasions with their aggression and their desire to win.

“That’s a strange thing to say about England as I do have the utmost respect for guys like Owen Farrell, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly.

“They are all really good guys. But that’s how I’ve seen it.”

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Grassington-born Spencer knows that trio well having been British & Irish Lions tour manager in New Zealand in 2017.

When he assesses England’s issues, he believes a lack of consistency in selection could be problematic.

Eddie Jones has now had six years in charge and you tell me what his centre partnership is,” added the Wharfedale RUFC president, who, as a centre, played for Headingley, Cambridge University, the Barbarians and the Lions as well as captaining his country on four occasions.

“If you ask 20 different people, they’d have 20 different partnerships. Manu Tuilagi at inside centre, there’s Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph, Ollie Lawrence and Farrell as well as several contenders in the Premiership.

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“Has he got a firm stand-off yet with George Ford back there? They stop and change so much.

“You need something really settled and England have not had that from World Cup to World Cup. Yet we know England have the talent.

“Watching London Irish v Bristol last Sunday, that was some match. It was just wonderful to see a load of creative rugby.

“I really enjoyed it. If England could just adopt that sort of attitude to their games I think they’d come out of their shells and it would be to their strength.”

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Spencer, 73, conceded England have one positive in their favour: the Principality Stadium being empty.

“I always found Cardiff the toughest away venue,” he recalled.

“A lot of people would say Ireland but I’d always say Wales.

“The Welsh are a robust and abrasive crowd which I mean in a good way; they are a very patriotic crowd.

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“Playing in Cardiff on Saturday, it will be better for the English without a crowd!

“But Wales have a good side. It’s good to see Jonathan Davies back.

“He was the star player on our Lions tour three years ago.

“He is a great player. Alun Wyn Jones knows how to gee up a side. I do think it will be a really tough game. And a close one.”

With that in mind, Wales have learned how to edge close encounters so far in this tournament, beating Ireland 21-16 on their last outing in Cardiff before defeating Scotland by a solitary point.

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Jones – and Spencer – will hope England are ruthless and creative enough to make sure it never gets that close. And, thus, keep their own title hopes alive.

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