- The two former captains and flankers of England and Wales share their thoughts ahead of Saturday’s game
- They reveal their memories of what it was like to play in such huge games against one another
- Both believe that home advantage might be the difference between the two teams on the day
What are your fondest memories of the England v Wales battles you've each played in?
MW: It would have to be in 2005 when Gavin Henson slotted that kick in Cardiff to kick-start our Grand Slam season. I don’t think I'd ever beaten England up to that point and it was my 50th cap as well so I led the team out. Looking back on it, that team hadn’t beaten one of the top sides and to beat England, the old enemy, at home was a real turning point. Welsh rugby had a lot of success in the subsequent ten years.
LM: My first capped game at Twickenham was against Wales. I remember being nervous as anything. I started that game and actually dropped the first kick off that came to me. That didn’t happen very often, before Nugget (Martyn) jumps in there! But I regained my composure and we went on to have a decent game, beating Wales by forty points. I loved playing the Welsh and loved playing against Nugget as well, it was always a good battle.
MW: A good memory for me was 2008, first game up in Twickenham. Lewis jokes about dropping that ball but he was very effective at chasing kick offs. We'd worked on it all week to stop Lewis challenging the kick off from Jonny Wilkinson. So Jonny put the kick up and I slightly veered to my left to stop Moodos (Lewis) getting to it and gave a penalty away as the very first act of the game - it must have been two seconds on the clock! It was never an easy battle against Moodos.
How do you view the strengths of England at the moment?
LM: I like the way Eddie Jones has gone about his business. He's talked about Itoje and how he wants to use the bench. He picked a pragmatic team to play Scotland for the first game. He used the Italy game to blood a few new faces and for me that was the birth of Itoje. I do see that young man as a cracking number six. I just don’t know if he's big enough to make it in the second row but I really enjoy his sheer presence and aggression on the pitch, he's tenacious. From second row, back row and across the centres too, you've got guys fighting for places now which is encouraging.
MW: They look a very well drilled, well organised unit. What's also been really impressive for me has been the bench impact across all three games. They've got 23 top quality players, they had a good win against Ireland and I think the score actually flattered Ireland a bit. I think England blew them away first half, they just couldn’t score. Unfortunately for Wales I think England look in a really good place.
So what about Wales and the expertise they have in the back row?
MW: They've gone with the Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau line up. You know what you get with those guys. We've got one of the best number eights in the world, one of the best defensive openside flankers in the world and probably the best defensive six. They're very comfortable with each other and like going out as a trio, plus they know how to win big games. I think that's the one edge Wales have got over England this weekend; they've won big crunch games together as a group. This English team haven’t done that yet.
Looking at the match on Saturday, who are the key men who will influence the result?
LM: I think England should go into this game feeling pretty confident, it's a home match and they've spoken about making it fortress Twickenham again. They're coming up against a Welsh side that have put in some good performances although they've not started games as well as they would have liked. Certainly it was impressive the way they dispatched Scotland in that last thirty minutes when that looked like it was going to be a tight game - Jamie Roberts playing out of his skin as the battering ram - he's been sensational!
I'd be confident with the number of English players playing well. Billy Vunipola is probably the form player of the tournament so far, the most consistent in terms of ball carries. He might make a similar number of carries to other people but the damage he does is significantly greater. You could compare him to Faletau who is a cracking player but you don’t see the same explosivity.
As a back row unit, I think Wales may have the edge defensively but in Vunipola I think England have the edge in a carrying perspective. I don’t think Wales will be as generous as Ireland were if England don’t score the opportunities they have - it's about taking what's on offer.
MW: There's no doubt, I agree with Lewis - Vunipola has been the player of the tournament so far, he's been outstanding and Wales will have to keep an eye on him. Shaun Edwards will be working hard and I guarantee he'll have something up his sleeve to deal with him. He (Vunipola) gives England go-forward and with the nines in Care and Youngs, that makes them very dangerous particularly with a back line that are trying to put width on the game.
From a Welsh point of view, Jamie Roberts has been sensational. Jon Davies at outside centre is just finding his feet at international level again but for me the key man for Wales is Dan Biggar. He was amazing at the World Cup. It would be unfair of me to say that he single-handedly won that game against England at the World Cup, but without him England would have won that game quite comfortably. We're going to have to have one of those performances again from him. He loves the big occasion and the bigger the game, the better Dan plays.
What are your predictions for the result?
MW: It's a tournament decider. If Wales beat England they'll win the tournament. They'll beat Italy at home a week later and finish on nine points. For England, it depends on what happens with France v Scotland but they'll still have to go to Paris and make sure they win that game so it's not as clear cut for them. That point from the game against Ireland, while it was disappointing as a draw, could be the key point that helps Wales win the title!
In terms of Saturday's match, it's not that I don’t want Wales to win but I think at home at Twickenham with World Cup memories still fresh in the memory of that England squad, I think they will just nick it by one score. I'll say England by three.
LM: I do think it'll be an England win. I think if they get it right with the backs on song and the forwards delivering quality ball and go-forward with Billy Vunipola creating space, then I'd like to think we're two scores better than Wales. I'm going to go for England by seven points.