Six Nations shootout in Wales is World Cup benchmark for England

England's head coach, Stuart Lancaster, believes his side will become serious contenders to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup if they can secure their first grand slam since 2003 and prevent Wales from retaining their Six Nations crown at a hostile Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Wales and England have been drawn in the same pool in 2015 and Lancaster says a morale-boosting grand slam is "definitely" a vital plank in his pre-tournament planning. "It would give you inner confidence and belief that you can win in big games and finals," said Lancaster, having made four changes to his side for the Cardiff showdown.

"The reality is that come 2015 we're going to be playing Wales in a huge pool game. The more experience you can get of playing under the pressure of those type of games the better for the players."

Lancaster, who has recalled Tom Croft, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs and Joe Marler to the starting XV, also believes Cardiff is the toughest place a title-chasing England team could be heading. "Both sides have got the chance to win the championship, so effectively it's a shootout. But if you're going to win a World Cup you've got to deal with that pressure.

You've got to go pool stages, quarter-final, semi-final and final, which means winning week after week. The Six Nations is a fantastic tournament to build that belief. To go to Cardiff and try and win a grand slam is a great test."

Wales, who will take the title if they win by seven points and England do not outscore them by two tries or more, have sprung a surprise by naming the loosehead prop, Gethin Jenkins, as captain and not Sam Warburton. Rob Howley, the Wales coach, said he wanted Warburton to concentrate on his game rather than the captaincy. "I think as a coach you have a gut feeling about a player and how he feels and you always take a player's form into consideration," said Howley. "The way Sam played against Scotland my gut feeling was that I would rather he focused on his own game."

With Ryan Jones injured, Howley could alternatively have gone for Alun Wyn Jones but has plumped for the experienced Jenkins. "You have to make those difficult decisions when they come and it is in the best interests of the national team this weekend that Gethin Jenkins captains this side," insisted Howley. Mike Phillips will become Wales' most capped scrum-half when he wins his 77th cap, surpassing Dwayne Peel's previous record.

England will make a final call on Friday as to whether they will agree to the sliding roof at the Millennium Stadium being closed for the occasion. "It'll be based around the weather forecast, to be honest," said Lancaster. "Ideally we want to play in the dry but it is forecast at the moment to be light to heavy showers. I've spoken to the groundsman at the Millennium Stadium who's been great. If rain is forecast, we'd like it shut."

Powered by article was written by Robert Kitson, for The Guardian on Thursday 14th March 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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