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Rugby | Six Nations

Chris Robshaw © Gallo Images

Grand finale as England face Wales



It's never difficult to tell when there's a major rugby match in Cardiff but Saturday's Six Nations title clash between Wales and England intensified the usually expectant atmosphere.

Unlike many grounds of similar size, the 74,500 capacity Millennium Stadium is right in the heart, physically and some would say spiritually, of the city centre so even the casual visitor to the Welsh capital can't ignore the build-up on a 'big game' day.

And they don't come much bigger than the 124th meeting between England and Wales, the showpiece of Saturday's final day of the 2013 Six Nations.

An entertaining first round promised much but this has not been a vintage Championship, with bad weather as well as bad rugby a factor.

But conditions won't be an issue in Cardiff after England agreed to the closure of the Millennium Stadium's retractable roof and now a rousing finale is in prospect.

England coach Stuart Lancaster and captain Chris Robshaw, in only their second year in their respective roles, are on the brink of overseeing a first Grand Slam for the Red Rose since their World Cup-winning year of 2003.

But Wales, who won the Grand Slam last season, could deny England the title, never mind the Slam.

Victory by seven points – a feat Wales have managed four times in the last six years against England – would see the hosts retain the title for the first time since 1979, provided they maintain their superior try-count.

A victory by eight points would secure the title outright.

Wales is the one country among the Six Nations where rugby union, rather than football, can claim to be the national sport and Saturday's meeting with arch-rivals England dominated the front, as well as back, pages of Welsh papers.

National daily the Western Mail boasted an incredible 70 reasons why Wales should win.

These ranged from those rooted firmly within rugby, such as the fact Wales have won three Grand Slams since 2005, to those that playfully pandered to anti-English stereotypes.

For example number 55 stated: "Fuel: A nation built on faggots (off-cuts of offal, usually pork) and cawl (a stew with cabbage and leeks regarded as Wales's national dish) is always going to beat one (England) fed on picnics and champers (champagne)." Wales, beaten by Ireland in their tournament opener, have gone three matches without conceding a try.

Meanwhile England have managed just one try in their last three outings, seemingly becoming more restricted in their play the closer they've come to European rugby's greatest prize.

Now, after a deeply unconvincing 18-11 win over Italy at Twickenham, they travel to a ground renowned for its raucous home support.

"It's a huge occasion for English rugby, and there is a massive opportunity out there for us," said Harlequins flanker Robshaw, a contender to captain the British and Irish Lions on this year's tour of Australia

"It's one thing talking about it in a room or on a training pitch, it's another thing doing it in front of 70,000 people."

As if to prove Robshaw's point, England have lost four of their last five Grand Slam deciders but, then again, Wales have lost their last five fixtures at their Millennium 'fortress'.

Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips urged his team not to get caught up in the mathematics of the match.

"They (England) are a great side, they've beaten New Zealand and had a great run. Beating them by one point would be a great achievement."

England have made four changes, recalling half-backs Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell and prop Joe Marler, with Leicester back-row Tom Croft making his first test start in 12 months following a career-threatening neck injury.

Interim Wales head coach Rob Howley lost one captain in Ryan Jones to injury and passed over another in Sam Warburton after the flanker indicated he wanted to remain in the ranks following last week's man-of-the-match winning display against Scotland.

Instead fit-again loosehead prop Gethin Jenkins returns to captain Wales.

Saturday's other two fixtures are not without significance.

The Italy-Ireland match in Rome could be star centre Brian O'Driscoll's final match in an Irish, if not a Lions, jersey after he hinted at retirement earlier this season.

France, who only scraped their first point of the Championship in a 13-13 draw with Ireland last week, will be desperate to avoid finishing bottom of the table for the first time since 1999 when they face Scotland, who've already won twice under interim Australian coach Scott Johnson, in Paris.

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