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Wales finale is all part of the process
11:50am Friday 15th March 2013 in Sport
STUART LANCASTER believes England need to go into the 2015 Rugby World Cup having tasted Grand Slam glory – and there will be no better opportunity to achieve it than against Wales in Cardiff.
Tomorrow’s showdown at the Millennium Stadium will be a seismic title decider, with England chasing a first RBS 6 Nations clean sweep in a decade and Wales looking to retain their championship crown.
Everything will be on the line and for England to triumph in those circumstances, just 14 months into their development as a team, would be a staggering achievement in its own right.
Lancaster recognises it would also be a significant staging post in his four-year plan to bring the Webb Ellis Cup back to Twickenham in 2015.
‘‘When I took over I didn’t have a 2013 Grand Slam down as a target. The long-term plan is to build a team with the required experience by 2015,’’ Lancaster said.
‘‘As part of that experience you want the players to play in a game that’s akin to a final, which is basically what this game is.
‘‘It’s a brilliant experience for the players and it will certainly help us with that longterm plan.
‘‘(To win a Grand Slam) would give you that inner confidence and belief that you can win in big games and finals.
‘‘We’ve got other challenges coming our way – we’re going to Argentina in the summer, we’ve got three autumn internationals, we’ve got the 2014 Six Nations and we’ve got a three-Test tour to New Zealand.
‘‘Learning to win in the southern hemisphere will be part of it as well – but the reality is that come 2015 we’re going to be playing Wales in a huge pool game.
‘‘The more experience you can get of playing under the pressure of these type of games the better for the players.’’ England have won 12 Grand Slams but they have never sealed one in Cardiff and Lancaster feels there would be no better fixture in which to create a slice of history.
‘‘I don’t think (there is a better fixture), not in the context of where we are,’’ Lancaster said.
‘‘Both sides have got the chance to win the championship, so effectively it’s a shootout. In that sense to go to Cardiff and try and win a Grand Slam is a great test.’’ England go into the match at full strength after Joe Launchbury (elbow) and Geoff Parling (shoulder) passed breakfast-time fitness tests yesterday to keep their places in the second row.
Lancaster has made four changes from the 18-11 win against Italy. Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs return in the half-backs, Tom Croft has replaced James Haskell at blindside flanker and Joe Marler got the nod ahead of Mako Vunipola.
Farrell missed the win against Italy with a thigh strain but he has been brought straight back, with Lancaster expecting his ‘‘unique’’ fly-half to thrive in the Millennium Stadium cauldron.
‘‘He has what very few young players have particularly in the fly half position that big game temperament and the ability to rise to the occasion,’’ Lancaster said.
‘‘He doesn’t seem fazed by an occasion. Indeed the bigger the occasion, the more he seems to step up.
‘‘He has been outstanding in terms of providing leadership and direction to the team. The execution of his core skills – goal-kicking, linekicking, his passing ability, his strong defence – has been excellent.
‘‘He leads that defensive line and that defensive press very well.’’ Wales boss Rob Howley has once more put the team dynamic before individuals with his choice of captain.
Howley appointed Toulon prop Gethin Jenkins as the third different skipper of this season’s Six Nations campaign, following Sam Warburton and Ryan Jones.
Like Warburton and Jones, Jenkins offers previous experience of the role, latterly against Italy a year ago.
Jones broke a bone in his shoulder during last weekend’s victory over Scotland, and he is replaced in the backrow by Justin Tipuiric, with Warburton wearing Wales’ number six shirt.
Howley has decided for a second successive game not to reinstall Warburton – last season’s Grand Slam skipper – as captain, preferring instead to let him concentrate on his own game.
That approach worked a treat at Murrayfield five days ago when Warburton delivered a man-of-the-match display.
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