Despite the protestations of Irish supporters, it's the England-Wales fixture that many pundits and armchair experts have pegged as definitive in the ultimate destination of the Six Nations trophy in 2016.
England – who delivered a pair of home ties against their two most difficult opponents – and Wales, who enjoyed an outstanding World Cup despite the kind of injury list that would bring the NHS to its knees, will battle it out in the penultimate fixture of the tournament. It was always likely to be here that glory is achieved and hopes shattered.
Many different elements go into deciding the outcome of a rugby match, but one quick glance at the Six Nations league table reveals that England hold most of the aces here: they have won more matches, scored more points and tries, and conceded fewer points and tries than any of their opponents. Most crucially, of course, they have more points to their name in the only column that really counts.
Wales, however, are unbeaten in three outings, and coach Warren Gatland has claimed that his side are stronger now than when they beat England in the World Cup in September. Whichever way you look at it, this meeting bears all the hallmarks of a classic.
In match-ups where the two combatants have such proximity in terms of ability and heart, it often makes sense to check the historical data to see if one has an obvious advantage over the other, and unfortunately it's barely possible to separate them here.
Dating back more than a century, there have been 127 meetings between England and Wales. Eddie Jones’ men hold the slenderest of advantages – leading 58-57 as they do in the head-to-head reckoning – with the 12 stalemates reflective of how closely fought matches between these old enemies are.
Home advantage tends to be a factor in sporting pursuits of all shapes and sizes, and once again that appears to be the case here. If we consider just matches played at Twickenham, England hold a clear 36-20 lead. Similarly, the last five encounters played at the home of rugby union in the Six Nations returned a verdict of 3-2 in the home side’s favour. Again, the stats dictate a close affair, but England seemingly just have the edge.
Priced at 8/15 to win the match by Coral Sports, it is hard to ignore the cocktail of signs that point towards an England victory. They boast flair and guile in attack, organisation and discipline in defence and the small matter of 80,000 or so supporters cheering them on. To clinch the Six Nations on home soil is the stuff of boyhood dreams, and the England players look set to realise their ambition.
It is likely to be a close contest, however. Four of the last five meetings between these two teams have ended with a winning margin of 12 points or less – no wonder Coral Sports has set the handicap mark at +/-5.
Many stat fans will already have noted that more than half of England’s points in the tournament have been scored in tries, while the Welsh tend to rely heavily on the laser-like kicking of Dan Biggar. But with England so well-drilled in the defensive phase, they are unlikely to give many penalties away – thus all but eliminating Wales’ biggest threat.
One assumption that seems a statistical likelihood is that England should win by a reasonably comfortable margin. So the -5 point handicap - 10/11 with Coral Sports - looks a viable investment.
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