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Richard Hill assesses the back-row battle
On paper, the back-row battle between England and Wales this weekend might appear something of a mismatch.
Welsh trio Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau boast more than 100 caps between them and were all key players on the Lions tour to Australia.
None of England’s back-row on Sunday – Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood and Ben Morgan – were selected for that trip and they have half as many caps as their counterparts.
Yet Richard Hill, a man who certainly knows a thing or two about back-row play, believes England’s trio can get the better of their opponents at Twickenham on Sunday.
“Absolutely they can,” insists the 40-year-old, who won 71 England caps and the 2003 World Cup during a stellar career. “Against Wales, they will be pitting themselves against the best back-row in Europe.
“And you’ve got to admit that the Welsh three came off on top in Cardiff last year [when Wales won 30-3]. But the margin between these players is very, very tight. It’s all on the day.
“I’ve been impressed with England’s back-row during the Six Nations. Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood are such hard-working players.
“They do a lot of work in both defence and attack. We’re also very lucky to have two such dynamic number eights in Billy Vunipola and Ben Morgan.
“They are capable of always getting over the gainline. We missed that in the last Six Nations and it’s added an extra dimension to England’s play.”
Vunipola, 21, suffered an ankle injury in the win over Ireland and will miss both Sunday’s match and England’s final game against Italy.
Hill admits: “That’s definitely a blow, because Billy has been very impressive and looks like he can develop into a special player.
“But Ben has done an outstanding job off the bench in the previous games and is a very able deputy, so I don’t see too much of a problem.”
Hill was part of one of the most vaunted back-rows in rugby history, alongside number eight Lawrence Dallaglio and open-side Neil Back.
The 40-year-old former Saracens player says a lot of people forget the strength in depth that England had in that era though, with Lewis Moody, Joe Worsley and Martin Corry always pushing for selection.
“We knew that if we weren’t performing, then these guys were ready to come in, and they didn’t give a monkeys about our reputations,” Hill says.
“So that was what really spurred us on to play well and keep our places. I think England will be striving to develop that same kind of strength in depth now.
“That’s why England’s back-row will want to make a point on Sunday – to their own team as much as wanting to get one over the opposition.”
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