England's Grand Slam chance is ahead of schedule
Stuart Lancaster believes England need to go into the 2015 Rugby World Cup having tasted Grand Slam glory – and there will be no better opportunity to achieve it than against Wales in Cardiff.
Tomorrow’s showdown at the Millennium Stadium will be a seismic title decider, with England chasing a first RBS Six Nations Championship clean sweep in a decade and Wales looking to retain their championship crown.
Everything will be on the line and for England to triumph in those circumstances, 14 months into their development as a team, would be a staggering achievement. Lancaster recognises that it would also be a significant staging post in his four-year plan to bring the Webb Ellis Cup back to Twickenham in 2015.
“When I took over I didn’t have a 2013 Grand Slam down as a target. The long-term plan is to build a team with the required experience by 2015,” the head coach said. “As part of that experience you want the players to play in a game that’s akin to a final, which is basically what this game is. It’s a brilliant experience for the players and it will certainly help us with that long-term plan.
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“To win a Grand Slam would give you that inner confidence and belief that you can win in big games and finals.”
England have won 12 Grand Slams but they have never sealed one in Cardiff and Lancaster feels there would be no better fixture in which to create a slice of history.
“I don’t think there is a better fixture, not in the context of where we are,” he said. “Both sides have got the chance to win the championship, so effectively it’s a shootout. In that sense to go to Cardiff and try and win a Grand Slam is a great test.”
England go into the match at full strength after Joe Launchbury (elbow) and Geoff Parling (shoulder) passed fitness tests yesterday to keep their places in the second row.
Lancaster has made four changes from the 18-11 win against Italy. Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs return in the half-backs, Tom Croft has replaced James Haskell at blindside flanker and Joe Marler got the nod ahead of Mako Vunipola.
Farrell missed the win against Italy with a thigh strain but he has been brought straight back, with Lancaster expecting his “unique” fly-half to thrive in the Welsh capital.
“He has what very few young players have particularly in the fly half position that big game temperament and the ability to rise to the occasion,” Lancaster said. “He has been outstanding in terms of providing leadership and direction to the team.
“He leads that defensive line and that defensive press very well.”
England opened their campaign by running four tries past Scotland but their three victories over Ireland, France and Italy were down to character, resilience and defensive fortitude.