TWICKENHAM, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – Manu Tuilagi will hope to get England off to another speedy start when they face Wales in the Six Nations Championship at Twickenham tonight.
Victory would see Eddie Jones’ men claim the Triple Crown and stay in title contention.
England have scored a try in the first ten minutes in 16 of their past 30 Tests since the start of 2018, winning 75 per cent of those matches where they cross their opponents’ line in the opening quarter of the first half.
Powerhouse centre Tuilagi has often played a key role in establishing England’s initial dominance, be it his stunning try after 90 seconds in a superb World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand in Japan last year or punching holes in midfield during a 24-12 win over Ireland at Twickenham a fortnight ago.
“I try to get us over the gainline early on, get some momentum,” Tuilagi explained. “With Eddie (Jones), you’ve got to go straight from the start.”
The Leicester midfielder likened England’s approach to the way he prefers to play chess, having taken up the board game during the World Cup.
“If I’m in white, I’ll attack,” Tuilagi explained. “If you’re in white you have the opportunity to attack first. When you attack you have to go all in.”
Wales, under new coach Wayne Pivac, will be looking to avoid a third successive Six Nations loss for the first time since 2007 following defeats by Ireland and France.
But Jones remains wary of the reigning Grand Slam champions, after England saw a 10-3 lead at half-time turn into a 21-13 loss to Wales in Cardiff last year.
“You’ve got to remember they beat us last year so we owe them one,” said England coach Jones.
“They’ve lost two games in a row. They’ve got a new coach and they’ll want to make a statement on Saturday.”
Jones has made two changes to the side that beat Ireland, recalling wing Anthony Watson and back-row Mark Wilson for their first England appearances since the World Cup final defeat by South Africa last November.
Watson has recovered from a calf problem while Wilson, who has made only one start for Sale since knee surgery, replaces the injured Sam Underhill.
Pivac has recalled Liam Williams after an even lengthier injury lay-off, with the Scarlets wing, in for the injured Josh Adams, not having played since Wales beat France in a World Cup quarter-final in Japan on October 20 due to an ankle problem.
The New Zealander, who succeeded compatriot Warren Gatland after the World Cup, has also selected Josh Navidi, out since mid-January with hamstring trouble, instead of benched back-row Taulupe Faletau.
“The key was to get enough volume into them,” said Pivac.
“We’ve done that, and we think they are both ready to go,” added the Wales coach, who has also called up scrum-half Tomos Williams instead of Gareth Davies and chosen prop Rob Evans over Wyn Jones following the 27-23 loss to France in Cardiff.
Meanwhile, wing George North has been passed fit after failing a head injury assessment during the France game while fly-half Dan Biggar, a key figure for Wales, starts after overcoming a knee injury suffered playing for English club side Northampton.
Wales’ back division also includes Saracens centre Nick Tompkins.
The 24-year-old, who made his Test debut in the Championship opener against Italy, was born and raised in England but qualifies for Wales through his grandmother.
Thursday saw the Six Nations announce that England’s scheduled tournament finale against Italy in Rome on March 14 had been postponed on health grounds as a result of the deadly coronavirus.