England play their first game since winning the Six Nations title when they face Wales in a World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham on Saturday, with manager Martin Johnson keen to see his side tested.
“It’s a pre-season game in one sense but when we get there on Saturday and it’s a full house, it’s a Test match, and that’s what we want – we want the games to be as intense and as hard as we can make them, because that’s what the World Cup is going to be (like) when we get there,” said Johnson.
Players on both sides will be keen to prove their worth as they bid to make it into their countries’ respective 30-man squads for next month’s World Cup in New Zealand.
England beat Wales 26-19 when the teams last met, in the Six Nations and, as well as the memory of that loss, Wales – embarrassingly defeated last time out by the Barbarians in a match they unusually classified as a cap international – will also be keen to make amends for four years ago.
An under-strength Wales were thrashed 62-5 by England in a warm-up match in 2007, and although current coach Warren Gatland was not in charge for that fixture, he is well aware of the hurt it caused Welsh fans.
“The guys are in great shape physically, and I think it is going to be an absolute full-on Test match from both teams,” said the New Zealander ahead of the first of two back-to-back games with England, who next weekend will travel to Cardiff.
“We know what happened in 2007,” said Gatland.
“These two games against England, coming out of that, will give us a lot of confidence of where we are physically.
“I know England will try to come and dominate us physically, and that’s a big challenge for us.”
Prop forward Matt Stevens will make his first England appearance in nearly three years following a drugs ban after being named in the starting XV.
Stevens, now with Premiership champions Saracens, won his last England cap in November 2008, but shortly afterwards, while a Bath player, he tested positive for cocaine and was banned for two years.
However, impressive displays for Saracens have seen Stevens earn a recall and Johnson, England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain, said: “Matt is a very smart player, obviously he can do the work in the tight phases but he is a very smart rugby player as well.”
Meanwhile 20-year-old Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, who comes from a family of Samoa rugby stars, is set to make his England debut after being named in the midfield, having qualified on residency grounds.
The England team features several players making Test comebacks.
Backrower Lewis Moody missed this season’s Six Nations title-winning campaign with knee ligament damage but was named captain on Thursday of a side featuring Tom Croft at blindside flanker and James Haskell at No.8.
England great Jonny Wilkinson starts at five-eighth in place of Toby Flood and Johnson said: “Jonny has trained as he always does, he has been absolutely outstanding and he’s still got a lot in him.”
Wilkinson will be up against a longstanding rival No 10 in Stephen Jones, who will become Wales’s most capped player when he makes his 101st Test appearance this weekend.