SW Londoner’s top five key battles to watch in England v Wales Rugby World Cup 2015 clash

As far as rugby rivalries go there are few as highly anticipated, hotly contested and feverishly charged as England and Wales.

Having played each other 126 times over 134 years, the record stands at 58 wins for England and 56 for Wales, with 12 draws.

In Warren Gatland’s eight years at the Wales helm, the record stands at five each. This is the biggest of them all.

In anticipation, we’re running the rule over the matchups which will be critical to deciding the outcome of the Pool A match.

1. The elephants in the room – Sam Burgess and Jamie Roberts

It would be criminal to think about Saturday without weighing up the potentially seismic midfield collisions between 6ft 3″, 17 stone Roberts and 6ft 5″, 18 stone Burgess.

Though similar in stature, in international rugby experience they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Roberts, 28, has 70 caps for Wales, is a stalwart of two Lions tours, and was named Lions man of the series in 2009.

Burgess has three England appearances and an unsuccessful outing for the second-string Saxons.

His selection is perhaps premature but his cameo against Fiji was undoubtedly his most assured performance in the centre for England or Bath, and he does bring a much vaunted ‘big game temperament’ from his time in rugby league.

Roberts mixes size with a real eye for space, Burgess is more direct and relies upon his offload.

Either way Twickenham is going to see two very big men, running extremely hard, and no one is really sure of the outcome.

2. The captains – Chris Robshaw and Sam Warburton

Wales captain Warburton heaped praise on Robshaw during the week, appluadingthe England skipper’s soft hands and breakdown acumen, but there will be no time for pleasantries on Saturday evening.

Both men have been criticised for their captaincy and style of play in the past but rarely have bad games for their countries.

England’s best performances, most notably the 38–21 victory over New Zealand in 2012, have always stemmed from breakdown domination and Robshaw (along with Tom Wood) is critical to their success in this department.

3. The playmakers – Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar

George Ford has been the undisputed first choice fly-half since November 2014. He started every single game in the Six Nations and has been extensively praised for the life he has brought to an England back line that struggled for so long to find a creative spark.

To drop him now is a brave call from Lancaster and if things go awry it could stand out as a pivotal moment.

In his place comes 24-year-old Farrell, who does bring an abundance of quality to the international field.

He is icy cool under pressure, devilishly competitive, his place-kicking is exceptional and his confrontational defence could nullify the sizeable threat Jamie Roberts poses in the fly-half channel.

Biggar has the considerable kicking boots of Leigh Halfpenny to fill, but his domestic form, 86% success rate in comparison with Halfpenny’s 76%, suggests he is more than capable.

Both are astute tactical kickers and will look to find space behind stand-out full backs Liam Williams and Mike Brown in the critical territorial battle.

4. The cornerstones – Dan Cole and Gethin Jenkins

Cole, with 53 caps, is England’s most experienced starter while Jenkins has 116 appearances for Wales and five for the Lions.

Both are surprisingly adept at the breakdown while Jenkins memorably scored from 40m against Namibia in 2011.

If you had asked the England forward coach an area where they might seek to exploit Wales two months ago, he would have highlighted the scrummage.

Long an England strength, the scrum has come under fire in recent weeks.

Seeing Fiji take the upper hand at set-piece is undoubtedly a worrying sign but Cole has vociferously defended his front row colleague Tom Youngs and the two Leicester men will be out to impress against Wales.

Jenkins is six years older, but in an area where experience is worth its weight in gold Cole will have to fight tooth and nail to ensure England can gain set piece supremacy.

5. The heavyweights – Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau

Cousins Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau will be charged with getting their respective teams on the front foot.

Vunipola, who comes in for the injured Ben Morgan, was exceptional off the bench against Fiji and is a real ‘hard yards’ man.

According to the England management he is the fittest he’s ever been, having lost eight kilos, but he’s still England’s heaviest player at 20 stone.

Although he looked underpowered in Paris during the warm-up game he’s been exceptional for the vast majority of his 20 caps.

Vunipola is no slouch, but Faletau is the more dynamic of the two and brings a real X Factor, as well as constant go-forward to the Welsh back row.

Whoever wins this gain-line battle will give their team a significant foothold in the match.

England versus Wales kicks off at 8pm tonight, live on ITV from Twickenham.

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