England focused on beating Wales despite sympathy over contracts


George Ford, left, jokes with team-mate Anthony Watson during the England training session at Pennyhill Park (Picture: Getty)

Steve Borthwick and his England team have every sympathy with the plight of Wales’ players in their dispute with the Welsh Rugby Union but remain focused on beating them in Cardiff tomorrow.

England have made one change to their starting XV for the Six Nations clash, with Anthony Watson replacing knee injury victim Ollie Hassell-Collins on the left wing.

There are two adjustments to the bench, where Courtney Lawes makes a first appearance since July, having recovered from concussion, neck, glute and calf issues, while Ben Curry also returns.

England’s quest for a first away win under Borthwick and first victory at the Principality Stadium since 2017 was in danger of being cancelled because of the threat of Wales’ players going on strike.

A contract dispute with the WRU was only settled on Wednesday and Borthwick empathised with Warren Gatland and his squad. ‘Myself and everybody with the England team, we have incredible sympathy for what the Welsh players have gone through,’ Borthwick said.

‘No player, no professional athlete, should have to deal with that level of uncertainty and anxiety. We really sympathise with them.

‘From our point of view, we’ve focused on the game and being the best prepared team we possibly can be. Other stuff we can’t control, so we just concentrate on what we can do. To be part of a fixture like this, it’s terrific. We embrace it and we can’t wait to get down to Cardiff. There has been a buzz around 
training all week.’

Watson’s presence in the No.11 jersey is an important moment for the 28-year-old (pictured), who celebrates his first England start in almost two years, having suffered a serious knee injury and subsequent niggles. Borthwick coached him at Leicester and is clearly a fan, saying he was ‘magnificent’ at the Tigers and hailing his professionalism.

England squad

F Steward; M Malins, H Slade, O Lawrence, A Watson; O Farrell (capt), J van Poortvliet; E Genge, J George, K Sinckler, M Itoje, O Chessum, L Ludlam, J Willis, A Dombrandt.

Replacements: J Walker, M Vunipola, D Cole, C Lawes, B Curry, A Mitchell, M Smith, H Arundell.

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