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Wales have the mental steel to beat England Posted over 4 years ago

The consensus seems to be that Wales will go to Twickenham next week as favourites to beat England. I am not so sure about that, even if I think we will win. It is not a ground where we have enjoyed much success over the years. It is one of the toughest places to play.

Wales and England are at the top of the Six Nations after both winning their first two games, but the perception of the sides is markedly different. Wales have played with directness and pace, scoring six tries through their three-quarters while England’s two tries have both come from Charlie Hodgson chargedowns.

They have created nothing through the hands and have not had to play much rugby to beat Scotland and Italy. They will be more dangerous in front of their own supporters and they have the capacity to be expansive. They will certainly have to play more rugby to beat Wales.

An area where I think Wales will have an advantage is the breakdown. England do not have an out-and-out seven and they have to generate quick ball. Wales have used three players in the position so far, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric against Ireland and Aaron Shingler last Sunday against Scotland, without any change in their effectiveness.

Wales use Dan Lydiate to tackle ball-carriers around the ankles with players like Warburton and Ryan Jones on hand to challenge for the ball. If a turnover is not on, they quickly stand back and allow possession to be recycled. They wait for their chance and it is a phase, probably the most important in the game today, where we have become strong.

It allows Wales both to turn over opposition ball regularly and to get quick possession to the backs. They are adept at knowing when to use the width of the pitch and when to go through the middle.

Wales are playing with confidence and, dare I say, a touch of arrogance; a good arrogance because it is based on self-belief and a knowledge of what they are capable of as individuals and as a team. It allows them to overcome seamlessly the loss of players like Warburton, Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Matthew Rees and George North, all of whom have missed part or all of the campaign so far.

This is a different Wales from a year ago and the change, while acknowledging the strides made in physical conditioning, is mental. Attitudes have hardened and there is a sense, as we saw in the final minutes in Dublin, that they can come through on the right side in tight matches.

I visited the Wales camp last week and could sense, through talking to the players and watching them train, that there is an even stronger belief than we had in the World Cup. They are enjoying what they are doing, and that is reflected in the way they play.

A few years ago, we would have struggled to combat so many injuries and we may have started to fret after being held by Scotland in the first half. There is no sense of panic in this group: they wait for the moment and in 15 minutes they saw off the Scots, Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny, twice, finishing off flowing moves.

It is probably just as well that I have retired from international rugby because I am not sure I would get into this side. Cuthbert did not have his best game against Ireland, not coming out for the second half after taking a bang to the head, but he was outstanding last Sunday, looking for the ball and making an impact.

Leigh is playing as well as I have seen him and when George North went off, there was no disruption, despite his importance to the team. James Hook came on at full-back, Leigh moved to the wing and Wales carried on. When you have someone of Hookie’s quality on the bench, you know you have strength in depth.

Wales are playing better rugby than England, but Twickenham will be closely fought. England have dangerous strike players in Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and David Strettle. They have hardly been used yet and they will be impatient for the ball.

England have been using Ashton out of position on the left wing. I am not sure why, but given that he has hardly had a pass you cannot say if it has worked. He was highly effective on the right in Cardiff last year and he always takes some watching.

I think England will develop their attack, but at this moment they are behind Wales in that aspect. With the way our pack is going and our ability behind, I see us winning at Twickenham, but everyone will know that victory will have to be earned. It will not come easy.

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Shane Williams played 87 caps for Wales and 4 for the Lions. He is Wales’ most capped winger and with 58 tries to his name is his country’s leading try scorer; and third on the list of international try scorers. Shane was first selected for Wales in 2000 by Graham Henry though suffered from injury and doubts over his size in his early years in the national side. He recovered from both and was part of the Wales Grand Slam winning sides of 2005 and 2008, and was named IRB Player of the Year in 2008. The diminutive winger became the darling of the Cardiff crowd as he sidestepped his way around the best defences in the world. Shane retired from international rugby in 2011 and will finish his playing career with the Ospreys at the end of the 2012 season.

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