- Rowntree says team are in a good place ahead of Wales clash
- Happy with wealth of options in the back row
Forwards coach Graham Rowntree believes that the current England set-up are better prepared than ever when they face Wales at the Millennium Stadium this evening.
Stuart Lancaster’s side will run out in Cardiff aiming to bag their first grand slam since 2003, having beaten Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy over the past six weeks.
Wales suffered a 30-22 loss to Ireland in the opening round of this year’s competition but have found form and can still mathematically win the competition if they beat England by seven points or more, or if England fail to outscore them by two tries.
While England have faced stern tests away from home over the past 12 months, with an away match at the Stade de France last year, a summer tour to South Africa and a recent close fought match against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Rowntree says they are in the right mindset and prepared for the challenge of playing Wales in Cardiff.
“It’s one of the greatest theatres to come and play in,” he said. “With the roof closed it will be very noisy and a lot of the guys have said this week this is why they play the game, for these challenges. We are still a young group dealing with different challenges, we had the same at the Aviva and the same in South Africa and at Stade de France last year so this is another experience for us but now I think probably more than any of those games we are better prepared for it.”
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Tom Croft has been named in the starting line-up at blindside flanker, after returning from a neck injury which ruled him out for eight months, and Saturday’s match will be his first international start since last year’s RBS 6 Nations. James Haskell, who started at blindside against Italy, will begin on the bench but Rowntree is expecting performances from not just his starting XV but also the impact substitutes.
“We are very fortunate to have the luxury of Tom Croft coming back from injury at a critical time for us and James will come off the bench and make the same impact he has done for us previously. That’s not to say he has not played well for a start but now we have got an embarrassment of riches there for all the back row.
“The balance is critical in terms of carrying and Tom gives us more of a line out threat as well and I have been delighted with all of their work rate throughout the series.”
Work rate has been a real emphasis from the coaching staff throughout this year’s tournament, with several players consistently hitting the top tackle and breakdown stats. Players such as Tom Wood have averaged 18 tackles a game, while Manu Tuilagi continues to be a threatening ball carrier, getting over the gain line seven times against France.
Aggressive pressure in defence is one main area of focus and Rowntree says at the breakdown and in contact England will be looking to overpower Wales.
“One of our bedrock statements is that aggressive pressure, particularly at the breakdown and in our defence and we have building that nicely for the last year.
“It would mean everything to win the match. We build our foundations on basics and we are still learning about dealing with pressure. We speak about performance though, getting the performance right and hopefully the victory will follow.”