George North returns to face England in Wales' most experienced team

Paul Rees
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

Wayne Pivac’s response when asked if he agreed that England were boring was immediate. “People can think what they like,” said the Wales head coach. “They have only lost one game in how long and they are playing a winning brand of rugby.”

It was probably not the response Pivac’s predecessor, and master jouster, Warren Gatland would have resorted to, but the new regime is more focused on refining performances than winding up opponents. And, anyway, statistics from the opening two rounds of this year’s Six Nations show that Wales have taken fewer risks than England, playing a territory rather than possession game.

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It has earned them two victories, both against teams that had a player sent off, and Pivac has named the most experienced team in Wales’ history, armed with a combined 902 caps, for Saturday’s encounter. George North, who will win his 100th for his country, and Jonathan Davies are restored to the midfield, the wing Josh Adams is back from suspension, Liam Williams moves to full-back and replaces the concussed Leigh Halfpenny, Kieran Hardy starts at scrum-half and Josh Navidi returns to the back row.

Davies has not played for five weeks and has only made a handful appearances since being injured during the 2019 World Cup. He will start out of position at inside-centre, although he played there at the end of the Autumn Nations Cup late last year. Pivac had more attacking options at 12 and 10, but Callum Sheedy and Willis Halaholo are on the bench and Nick Tompkins is not in the matchday 23.

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“Jon puts more strings on our bow,” said Pivac. “He is a left-footed kicking option and he has never let Wales down. We had some big decisions to make but it was only a few weeks ago that we were scratching our heads about the make-up of the midfield. Sometimes when you move guys it gives them a new lease of life.

“We are working on getting the balance right in our attack. It has not been as polished as we would have liked and although it was nice to score a few tries against Scotland, this weekend is a different proposition. It is about getting the balance between field position and knowing when to strike.”

A second tournament victory over England since the 2015 World Cup would earn Wales the triple crown and keep them on course for a grand slam having finished fifth in Pivac’s first season in charge with their only victory coming against Italy. “England are the team to beat and are all the more dangerous after dropping their first game” said the head coach. “We have to improve from Scotland because a repeat of out first 20-30 minutes there would put us out of the game. There is pressure on both teams for different reasons.”