CARDIFF, February 1 – Shaun Edwards has told Wales to stiffen their defence or see England's back three run riot in the Six Nations opener at the Millennium Stadium here on Friday.
Wales have failed to win in their last seven Tests while England, beaten last time out by world champions South Africa in November, have not tasted success in the Welsh capital since 2003 — the same year they won the World Cup under the captaincy of now team manager Martin Johnson.
Wings Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto, along with full-back Ben Foden, have added an extra dimension to England’s game and that was seen to impressive effect during their 35-18 victory against Australia at Twickenham in November.
Wales defence coach Edwards’s day job with English Premiership side Wasps means he is well aware of what could lie in store for his adopted nation and the former Great Britain rugby league star is desperate for Warren Gatland’s men to avoid giving possession away cheaply.
"England were pretty lethal from turnover ball against Australia — that was probably the performance of the home nations during the autumn series," Edwards said Monday.
"England’s back three can be lethal from turnover ball, and it is something we need to improve our defence on.
"It was definitely our Achilles’ heel in the autumn.
"When we turned the ball over, we were punished by some pretty special teams. We have to react more quickly than we did in the autumn."
Both Wales coach Gatland and Johnson are set to name their teams on Wednesday, with both bosses having to find cover for several injured first-choice players.
In Wales, a selection debate again surrounds playmaker James Hook who has appeared in several positions behind the scrum in a Test career that has yet to do justice to the Perpignan-bound player’s undoubted talent.
Hook could start at outside-half — his favoured position –, centre or full-back yet he might have to be content with a place on the bench if Gatland sticks with Lee Byrne at No 15, Stephen Jones at fly-half and Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in midfield where Tom Shanklin and Andrew Bishop miss out through injury.
Wales will be without injured props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones.
The Ospreys duo of Paul James and Craig Mitchell are in line to come into the front-row, with Wasps’s Andy Powell pushing for a start at No 8.