Wales will look to nurture seeds 
of doubt planted in English minds

Wales Jonathan Davies leads the celebrations for Alex Cuthbert's first try during the RBS Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff in 2013.
Wales Jonathan Davies leads the celebrations for Alex Cuthbert's first try during the RBS Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff in 2013.
Have your say

Last year’s defeat to Wales has hung around this developing England team like a deadweight.

No matter the strides made in Argentina last summer.

No matter the victory over Australia in the autumn, and the fright of their lives they administered to world champions New Zealand at the end of 2013.

And no matter the courageous manner in which they sprang back to life against Ireland two weeks ago, to give further substance to the belief that they are a growing handful for the best in the world, and in the more immediate term, to reinvigorate their Six 
Nations title campaign.

On each of those occasions, backs have been patted and the praise has been plentiful – and constructive – yet always at the back of the mind there is Cardiff.

The Welsh capital 12 months ago was the scene of the darkest hour of Stuart Lancaster’s two-year reign, one whose shadow even now causes a shiver to creep down the spine.

England went to the Millennium Stadium knowing a victory would secure a first Six Nations grand slam for a decade.

Even a defeat by fewer than seven points, as galling as that would have been, would have given England the Six Nations title.

As it was, they were annihilated; pulverised in the set-piece and out-manoeuvred in the loose as they crashed to a 30-3 defeat.

It was as sobering as defeat gets.

The nations lock horns again tomorrow on the penultimate weekend of the season with the title situation not as cut and dried as last year, but with the stakes just as high.

For although Ireland and France are both two wins from winning the championship themselves, tomorrow’s game at Twickenham pits the best team in the northern hemisphere for the last few years in Wales, and the pretenders to that crown, England.

That they will meet in south west London in a World Cup pool game next September adds to the significance of this latest renewal of hostilities.

For Wales so far have posed an unanswerable conundrum to Lancaster. They are the only country he has yet to get a positive result against, having lost both their pivotal Six Nations contests over the last two years.

England under Lancaster may have suffered more defeats to South Africa, but they did at least draw with the Springboks during their summer tour of 2012.

Tomorrow’s appointment is Wales’s last visit to Twickenham until they meet in the World Cup.

It means the clash will have psychological ramifications far beyond the outcome of this year’s tournament, just as the Red Dragon’s flaying of the feeble Red Rose did at a rocking Millennium Stadium last March.

Warren Gatland knows the importance of the game in the bigger picture, as much as the here and now.

“We have two big games at Twickenham in the World Cup against England and Australia,” said the Wales head coach.

“If we can win on Sunday, that is four in a row against England and if we then win the Six Nations as well, you start having a few doubts.”

As important as the future and the present may be, the immediate past of this fixture has dominated the build-up.

And as much as Lancaster and his staff and players say otherwise in public, privately there has to have been some acknowledgment of how that lowest of lows can inspire their revenge mission tomorrow.

For captain Chris Robshaw, last year’s catastrophic collapse serves only to show how far the team has come since.

“I don’t think there’s any point in replaying last year’s game. What it shows is what not to do,” said Robshaw, who added that England have opted against watching the match back as a motivational tool.

“Of course people remember what happened and they probably always will because you remember those types of occasions.

“We probably switched off a little bit, chased the game too early and eventually it played into their hands.

“By that stage the game was gone and it was a long way back.

“We’re now a lot better at dealing with those situations, about how we get back into the game.

“Last year doesn’t have too big an influence on Sunday. Of course it was disappointing and they are a side that have beaten us and we haven’t beaten them.

“But look at what is up for grabs for us on Sunday – a Triple Crown, and that’s massive.

“We (this group) haven’t won that before, especially on home soil.

“And the winners potentially go for a decider next week.

“There’s too much at stake this year to worry about what happened before.

“We’ve come a long way since then.

“As forwards we talk about this all-court game, about mixing it up, playing what’s in front of us.

“And the backs have come on massively.

“You look at the way they are playing at the moment, scoring tries and creating things.

“The nine (Danny Care) and 10 (Owen Farrell) are putting us in the right place, bossing the team around. They’ve been outstanding.”