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England Respectful Of Wales But Confident Of Six Nations Triumph

posted 14 Mar 2013, 09:28 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 14 Mar 2013, 09:29 ]

England coach Stuart Lancaster is wary of Wales' big game experience but says his side has the belief to win Saturday's Six Nations finale and secure a first grand slam since 2003.

 BAGSHOT, NEAR LONDONENGLANDUNITED KINGDOM (MARCH 14, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Wales possess plenty of experience when it comes to lifting the Six Nations trophy but England have spades of self-belief and are confident they can complete the grand slam, coach Stuart Lancaster said on Thursday (March 14).

Speaking at England's plush Surrey hotel just a couple of hours before boarding a bus for Cardiff, Lancaster heaped praise on the Welsh but warned his team was ready to confront the challenge.

"They (Wales) have got a very experienced side, in terms of the number of caps, I think they've got about 600, depending on who they pick, but it's around about 600 in their starting team to our 280 odd," Lancaster said.

"They have played in big games and they have closed out those grand slams over the last few years. They've got a lot of experience and obviously playing at home, for any team, it's a big advantage.

"But we go into the game with strong self-belief ourselves. We've won four out of four in the Six Nations which is a difficult tournament to win games in consistently and we've got that New Zealand game as well. So we're pretty confident but very respectful of the opposition."

England last completed the grand slam in 2003, the same year they went on to lift the World Cup.

Under Martin Johnson in 2010, England won the Six Nations but were denied the grand slam by Ireland when they lost on the last weekend in Dublin.

While it has been a decade between drinks for England in terms of grand slam success, Lancaster was reading little in history.

"What's happened gives you a reference point but doesn't define what will happen on Saturday," he said. "What will define what happens on Saturday is how Walesand England manage the situation, manage the pressure of the occasion, are composed and accurate in skills and decision making under pressure. And that's going to be the game on Saturday.

"There's no relevance to what happened last year or the year before or anything really."

England's progress under Lancaster has been impressive. They have not lost a single Six Nations match away from home since he took over at the start of 2012. With all roads leading to the 2015 World Cup, being hosted by England, excitement is growing that Lancaster could be moulding a more than competitive side.

Lock Geoff Parling has been among the leading lights in Lancaster's new era and told Reuters this weekend was an opportunity to write some history, regardless of what might or might happen in the future.

"I think when this group of players first got together a year ago, people were talking about the journey to the World Cup," Parling explained.

"But you can't think about that at all when there's a game like this at stake. These are the sort of games that can give you memories for the rest of your career. So it's a huge game, we know what's at stake and we just can't wait."

England came from behind at halftime to beat France before they starved off a fast finishing Italy in their last two fixtures. While it has not been perfect at times, such calmness under pressure has been a highlight of their performances.

Number eight Tom Wood hopes they will resist any temptations to go outside what has worked so well for them in 2013.

"The bigger the occasion, the bigger the game (and) the tendency is to get carried away and try things that you don't normally do, try and solve problems on your own, try and pull off the miracle play," Woods said. "And a lot of these big occasions come down to focus for the 80 minutes. Just control and doing the simple things well and that's what we're focussed on really."

England have made four changes to their starting team with flyhalf Owen Farrell back at 10 after missing the Italy match with injury.

Flyhalf Farrell, 21, missed last week's 18-11 victory over Italy with a thigh strain but comes back in for Toby Flood, while scrumhalf Ben Youngs will start in Cardiffhaving edged out Danny Care.

Farrell, 21, is almost symbolic of England's youthful but promising charges and said the opportunity to be the first England team in a decade to complete a grand slam was exciting.

The Saracens flyhalf has scored 139 points in 14 appearances for Englandincluding 42 in this championship.

"It's what everyone dreams of getting involved in when they play in the Six Nations, a chance to go through it and not lose a game," Farrell said. And there's no better place than to do it than to go down there at the Millennium Stadium."

Tom Croft, who appeared as a replacement against Italy 11 months after breaking his neck, starts at blindside flanker instead of James Haskell while Joe Marler is back at prop for Mako Vunipola in the two other changes from last weekend.

England: 15-Alex Goode, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Brad Barritt, 11-Mike Brown, 10-Owen Farrell, 9-Ben Youngs; 8-Tom Wood, 7-Chris Robshaw(captain), 6-Tom Croft, 5-Geoff Parling, 4-Joe Launchbury, 3-Dan Cole, 2-Tom Youngs, 1-Joe Marler.

Replacements: 16-Dylan Hartley, 17-Dave Wilson, 18-Mako Vunipola, 19-Courtney Lawes, 20-James Haskell, 21-Danny Care, 22-Toby Flood, 23-Billy Twelvetrees.