England are odds-on favourites to beat a shaken and stirred-up Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, and the chance is clear for the visiting midfield of Owen Farrell, Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade to prove they can grab hold of a Test and shape it as they see fit.
Strike talk among Wales players in the build-up, compounding two comprehensive defats to Ireland and Scotland in the Six Nations rounds one and two, make it feel as if the Welsh will be trading on emotion over form at a packed Principality Stadium.
Wales conceded 35 penalties across those two matches, and anything similar on Saturday will give Farrell and his boot the chance to pile pressure on through an England pack who found renewed belief and set-piece solidity in the win over Italy last time out.
England won in Llanelli in the Autumn Nations Cup in 2020, and while they have lost their last three Six Nations trips to Cardiff, the disarray of the hosts is surely a factor this time round.
Wales are giving the 6ft 5ins Cardiff centre Mason Grady a debut alongside Joe Hawkins – they were the Wales under-20s’ centres last year, and maybe head coach Warren Gatland is hoping for a flavour of the unheralded teenaged full-back Keith Jarrett shattering the English in 1967.
“He’s a big boy,” England’s attack coach Nick Evans said of Grady on Friday. “But we’ve done our research and looked at how they operate.
“It’s a good challenge for us, to keep us on our toes, but the focus is on what we can do.
“Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade have had a game under their belt, Ollie deserved his man of the match [against the Italians] and gives us a real focal point.
“Sladey is a brilliant tactician and that ball player out in the centre we’ve seen for Exeter and in the England jersey before.”
This reporter had England to finish fifth, pre-Six Nations, and they may recall the two occasions Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric have started against them together have been big Welsh wins.
Courtney Lawes on the bench is an inspirational figure laid low by injuries this season, so there is a doubt there, and the likes of Freddie Steward, Jack van Poortvliet, Ollie Chessum and Alex Dombrandt – the latter a former Cardiff Met student – are tasting a unique atmosphere for the first time.
Anthony Watson is another thoroughbred, lightly-raced of late due to injury, but trusted to bring a course-and-distance experience on his recall to the wing for England, having scored in five matches against Wales – four of them in the Six Nations (2015, 2016, 2020 and 2021).
Steve Borthwick has been gently withering in his assessment of the team bequeathed to him in December by the sacked Eddie Jones.
Asked about Wales losing 11 of their last 14 Tests, the England head coach said: “I don’t mean this to be any bland statement, but with the focus of trying to lift the team from where the England team have been to where we want to take it, you’ve got to spend pretty much every minute concentrating on yourself.
“If you don’t get your basics right, you lose Test matches. We’re trying to get that understanding of how we want to play. It’s a very base level now but we’ll grow from that.”
An England win would keep them in the hunt for the Six Nations title – but anything is possible from a Wales collapse if the first 20 minutes goes badly, to a wave of fervour in adversity submerging Borthwick’s emerging team.