Six Nations 2015: Wales will be England’s toughest test, says Sackey
Paul Sackey runs the rule on England's Six Nations prospects
Paul Sackey says England will face their toughest test against Wales in the opening Six Nations match at Millennium Stadium on Friday.
Stuart Lancaster’s side are set to embark on a key Six Nations campaign in what is set to be a crucial year for England rugby.
This year’s Six Nations is expected to be very competitive as players look to earn places for the Rugby World Cup in September.
England need to soak up the physicality by playing them in the right areas and putting them under pressure in their danger zone
And former England international Sackey can’t wait for the Six Nations to start, although he was cautious over the Red Rose’s prospects.
“I’m not sure they are the favourites,” Sackey told The Sport Review in an exclusive interview.
“I’d like them to be and they are always going to be up there as one of the top teams.
“Wales are arguably the toughest opponent England will face so this game is a big test for them.
“But I think if they can get through it unscathed then we’ve got a good chance of winning the Six Nations.”
Sackey, who played for England from 2006-2009 and was part of the World Cup squad in 2007, reckons Lancaster’s squad has shown overall improvement since last year’s Six Nations, as well as making a good impression during the autumn internationals.
“I felt the forwards in particular were outstanding,” he said.
“I thought they dominated and probably helped the team through the games because the backs were very uncertain in what they were doing.
“They were very indecisive, there was not that ‘go for it’ mentality that England normally have in the back.
“I think that 10, 12, 13 combination didn’t work as well as we had liked it to have but that can still improve.”
During the autumn internationals, England narrowly lost to New Zealand and South Africa before picking up wins against Samoa and Australia.
A combination of errors at the back cost England dearly in their first two matches, but there were plenty of positives, too, particularly their performance against the All Blacks.
Wales, meanwhile, won two matches but showed signs of fragility and naivety at the back against New Zealand and Australia, which they done in the past against the southern hemisphere sides.
However, the Welsh have always proven to be a difficult opponent against England. Warren Gatland’s men memorably won 30-3 against Stuart Lancaster’s men in 2013 to seal successive Six Nations crowns.
But what makes Wales such a challenging opponent for England?
“They are really powerful in every position and they bring a lot of physicality to the game,” said Sackey.
“You look at George North for example, he’s a big and really powerful character and very difficult to stop.
“Wales always pride themselves on being very physical and England need to soak up the physicality by playing them in the right areas and putting them under pressure in their danger zone.
“They are going to have to put the Welsh backs under pressure and just try soak up whatever Wales bring to them.”
Taking Wales out of the equation, Sackey is wary of France’s strengths, adding that les Bleus can be a real threat to England’s title hopes this year.
“I always think France can beat anyone on their day,” Sackey added.
“If they are on form and on a day good they are unstoppable.
“They’ve got outstanding players and as a team they can be unbelievable.
“But the French mentality can be a problem for them because if they lose, their heads and confidence go down.
“I always look at France in their first game and see what sort of mentality they have because if it’s good they are going to be difficult for teams to beat.”
Paul Sackey is taking part in the new urban obstacle race Adrenaline Rush for Macmillan Cancer Support on 30th May 2015. For more info www.theadrenalinerush.com
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