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Gatland: Wales can't afford to give England fast start again

(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

By FOSTER NIUMATA

Associated Press

(AP) -- For the blockbuster Six Nations rugby match in Cardiff on Saturday, Warren Gatland gave two warnings about starting late.

One was for England. The other was for his Wales side.

The coach mischievously cautioned the England players not to be late hitting the road to Cardiff on Friday otherwise they would find themselves stuck in traffic.

"Travelling through Newport at 5 p.m. isn't the best thing to do," Gatland cautioned. "There's a good chance there'll be tractors and buses holding them up."

The second advice was for Wales to avoid getting stuck behind England by 5 p.m. on Saturday, not long after kickoff. That's been sorely learned, too.

In its last five matches, England has scored a try in about the first two minutes. The feat is remarkable. This month, England scored after 91 seconds against Ireland , and 64 seconds against France , both times launching impressive bonus-point wins.

"It's important they don't get off to a quick start," Gatland said.

No kidding. Wales knows what it's like to be stung so early; England scored in the third minute of their match a year ago at Twickenham. The scrumhalf's box kick was regathered, and a grubber kick by the inspirational Owen Farrell found Jonny May on the end. England fans were soaring, Welsh fans were silenced, and Wales spent the rest of the game chasing vainly.

This time they're at Principality Stadium, which Wales assistant coach Rob Howley believed gave the home side a five-point start. But that won't matter if England is on the board quickly again. Howley urged Wales to start well and make their fans sing.

"We have to give something to the crowd," Howley said. "It's important to play the game on our terms."

But what exactly will that game be? Wales, like only England, has won its first two games, but the first was gift-wrapped by France , and the second was a stuttery scare against Italy by a much-changed side.

"I don't think anyone knows where we are. Only ourselves," Gatland admitted. "People look at us, and think, `Probably haven't played that well.' I'm not sure what England are really expecting on Saturday but I can tell you a different animal will turn up."

Gatland has gone back to the team which France lost to, restoring Gareth Anscombe at flyhalf ahead of British Lion Dan Biggar, who started off the week limping. Anscombe failed to kick well in Paris, but he won't have to endure rain in Cardiff. With him will be Gareth Davies, the third starting scrumhalf in three games, who has been picked for his defensive qualities. The halves' relative lack of experience will be targeted by England, which has showed a ruthless intelligence in its two wins.

England suffocated the Irish with relentless line speed, overpowering them at the tackle and stripping possession or preventing the Irish from recycling. Ireland struggled to get its game going. Then a poorly selected France was sliced and diced with chips and grubbers, giving May a first-half hat trick.

May has 13 tries since the start of 2018, more than anyone in world rugby, and he started his binge with a pair against Wales a year ago. He'll be marked by George North, who is bigger but not faster.

England has beaten Wales in their last five championship matchups, thanks to being smarter, more composed, and more decisive. Their differences were seen in the way both opened the week. England sought to underline leadership and responsibility by bringing in former national soccer captain John Terry. Wales went for passion with a private show in the stadium changing room of "Grav," the one-man play on the life of Ray Gravell, the former Wales and British Lions center, actor, and TV presenter.

Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde wished they played this game straight afterward. But passion rarely tends to sustain teams for 80 minutes. Smart thinking does.

And England coach Eddie Jones had a warning of his own: "(Wales) have won 11 in a row and it's Warren's last game against England in the Six Nations before he takes over somewhere. It could inspire them or it could be a ball and a chain."

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Lineups:

Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Cory Hill, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens, Rob Evans. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin.

England: Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (captain), Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Ben Moon. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Harry Williams, Joe Launchbury, Brad Shields, Dan Robson, George Ford, Joe Cokanasiga.

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Updated February 21, 2019