SHAUN Edwards hopes that Wales’ recent experience of big occasions can help them in what he admits is “a huge game” against RBS Six Nations title rivals England on Saturday.
Grand Slam-chasing England have not completed a tournament clean sweep since 2003, while they suffered final-hurdle 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 hoping that experience will help us on Saturday.
“The fact that England beat the All Blacks in such a resounding way [in November] gave a lot of kudos to the Six Nations. There is a lot of pressure on them. England have not won a Grand Slam for ten years, but we are concentrating on ourselves.”
Wales’ interim head coach, Rob Howley, is not due to announce his starting line-up until Thursday, but current skipper Ryan Jones arrived home from Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon 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 No 8 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 on Saturday 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 No 6 shirt. Prop Jenkins, meanwhile, is back in training after missing the Scotland trip due to a calf muscle injury.