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Big-game experience can help Wales
10:18am Tuesday 12th March 2013 in Sport
SHAUN EDWARDS hopes that Wales’ recent experience of big occasions can help them in what he admits is ‘‘a huge game’’ against RBS 6 Nations title rivals England on Saturday.
Grand Slam-chasing England have not completed a tournament clean sweep since 2003, while they suffered finalhurdle falls in 2000, 2001 and 2011 and Wales ended the Five Nations era by thwarting them 32-31 at Wembley 14 years ago.
Wales, in contrast, have achieved three Six Nations Grand Slams – 2005, 2008 and 2012 – with current squad members Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones and Ryan Jones being part of all three.
The reigning champions could possibly have 12 players in their starting line-up against England who featured when Wales clinched last season’s Grand Slam by beating France, and nine who started the 2011 World Cup semi-final loss to Les Bleus in Auckland.
‘‘I am pleased that we’ve had the experience of being in big games before,’’ Wales assistant coach and defence specialist Edwards said.
‘‘Most of our team has played in a Grand Slam game, some in two, some in three.
‘‘They’ve also played in a World Cup semi-final, and I am just really hoping that experience will help us on Saturday.
It is a huge game.
‘‘The fact that England beat the All Blacks in such a resounding way (in November) and scored all those points against them, I think gave a lot of kudos to the Six Nations.
There is a lot of expectation and a lot of pressure on them. England have not won a Grand Slam for ten years, which is a long time, but we are concentrating on ourselves.’’ Wales boss Rob Howley is not due to announce his starting line-up until Thursday, but current skipper Ryan Jones arrived home from Edinburgh on Sunday with his right arm in a sling and he must be considered a major doubt.
If Jones does not make it, then last season’s Grand Slam captain Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric could realistically expect to pack down alongside number eight Toby Faletau in the back row.
Another option, though, would be to keep Warburton in the openside role that saw him destroy Scotland at the breakdown three days ago and play Andrew Coombs at blindside.
Although Coombs made three successful Six Nations starts at lock this season, he has played most of his rugby for Newport Gwent Dragons in the number six shirt.
One of England’s biggest challenges promises to be unlocking a Wales defence that has not conceded a try in 275 minutes of Six Nations action – almost three-and-a-half games.
Scotland went the same way as France and Italy in suffering shut-outs, but England have scored at least one try against Wales in 11 of the countries’ 13 previous Six Nations meetings.
‘‘The lads are very determined to concede the least tries in the competition. We’ve had a history of doing that in the last few years,’’ Edwards added.
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