sport news England players claim they fear a backlash against Wales... but the reality is ...

England made a familiar journey west on Friday, full of respect for a rivalry which they could leave in ruins on Saturday. Eddie Jones’s squad travelled along the M4 as diplomats with deadly intent.

Neighbours collide in Llanelli in the final round of the Autumn Nations Cup pool stage, but the ramifications of their latest encounter extend beyond the confines of this contrived tournament.

After so many years of highly competitive cross-border conflict, the old enemies may discover on Saturday that there is now a gulf between them.

England go into their match against Wales on Saturday unusually as overwhelming favourites

England go into their match against Wales on Saturday unusually as overwhelming favourites

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A jarring mismatch appears on the cards. Both sides of the Severn are expecting a Red Rose triumph — possibly a defining one.

For a generation, this has been a fervent tussle for supremacy, but a Welsh win this time would be regarded as a monumental upset.

The rivalry was re-established during Warren Gatland’s successful era in charge of Wales, in which neither side could establish long-term dominance over the other. They met 18 times between 2008 and 2019, with 10 victories for England and eight by Gatland’s men. The overall points difference in that period was a mere six in favour of the English.

Wayne Pivac's side are a shadow of their former selves after losing six matches in eight games

Wayne Pivac's side are a shadow of their former selves after losing six matches in eight games

Now, there are signs of a divergence. Jones has England thundering ahead, with their pack imperious and their defence supreme. England have so much firepower and so many Test-class players to call upon across the board, especially up front.

By contrast, Wales are in trouble, following six defeats in eight matches since Pivac took over. They have several injury casualties and not enough pedigree cover.

They have had management upheaval and been forced to circle the wagons in the face of piercing criticism, while insisting that a tactical shift is under way which will require time and patience.

Those are luxuries which don’t exist on a day like this. England have the capacity to inflict terrible harm on vulnerable opponents.

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The bad news for Wales is that the visitors are determined not to take them lightly.

The clash against the old enemies has for some time been a fervent tussle for supremacy

The clash against the old enemies has for some time been a fervent tussle for supremacy

THE BIG MATCHUPS 

W Jones v Sinckler 

Wales have picked a front-row designed for scrummaging - with Wyn Jones adding his 120kg frame and sheep-farming strength. They fronted up against Georgia but England's scrum has been their sharpest weapon this autumn. Unless Jones can hold his own, Wales could spend the day playing off scrappy ball.

AW Jones v Itoje 

Warren Gatland will be keeping a particularly close eye on the two men tipped as Lions captains. Itoje is looking stronger with every game, leading England's physicality with a dominant performance against Ireland's James Ryan. Jones has been labelled a fading force but will be looking to make a statement.

Biggar v Ford 

As

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