Posts Tagged ‘2015 Rugby World Cup’

Tomorrow evening Wales take on England in Cardiff in the opening match of the 2015 6 Nations. Two years ago England were at the end of a thrashing by Wales in their last game of the Championships (see my blog about the match here), losing 30-3 to a rampant Wales. At Twickenham last year England comfortably beat Wales, winning 29-18. Wales and England have been playing each other since 1881, with 125 matches played between them. England have won 57, Wales have won 56, and 12 matches have been drawn. So, it couldn’t be much closer really between the two countries.

Over the last 10 years Wales have had the upper hand over England, since 2005 Wales and England have played each other 13 times with Wales having won 7 times and England 6 times. However, three of these matches were World Cup warm-up matches, so if we just look at the 6 Nations matches then Wales have won 6 of the 10 since 2005, winning at home in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2013 and away in 2008 and 2012. We have lost once at home to England in the 6 Nations since 2005, namely in 2009. Wales have beaten England twice in Twickenham in this period, in 2008 and 2012, both Grand Slam years!

The Wales v England match was also the first match of Wales’ 2005 6 Nations campaign, and was the beginning of Wales’ most recent “golden era” during which we have won three Grand Slams (2005, 2008 and 2012) and four 6 Nations titles (2005, 2008, 2012 and 2013). When we beat England in that 2005 match it was the first time we had beaten them since 1999, when we beat them 32-31 due to a last-gasp try by Scott Gibbs.

Tomorrow evening’s match is important for both sides. Win your first match in the 6 Nations and a team can rapidly gain momentum; conversely losing it can suck away a team’s self belief and can mean bleak prospects for the rest of the tournament. Added to that are the additional factors that England’s last visit to the Millennium Stadium was an absolute drubbing, and that the two sides are in the same group in the World Cup later this year.

Whereas the Welsh team is at full strength with all of Gatland’s first choice players available, the same cannot be said for England who have a horrendous injury list. In fact, if Wales had so many first choice players out injured we probably wouldn’t even have a team to put out ;), but England has so many more professional rugby players than any other country that they can also boast unparalleled strength in depth.

Gatland made the unusual step of announcing the Welsh team two days early, on Monday rather than yesterday. He said it was because he would be telling the players themselves on Monday and decided he didn’t want the team selection to leak out in the intervening two days. But, I suspect it is more to do with England’s extensive injury list and Gatland playing mind-games with his opposite number Stuart Lancaster by highlighting how settled the Welsh team is. This is exactly Gareth Thomas’ take on it too, see below. Apart from the question as to whether Gatland would start with Liam Williams in the back three, the rest of the team had pretty much picked itself and most Welsh rugby fans could have named it two months ago after we beat South Africa 12-6 in Cardiff.

Is Gatland's decision to name the Welsh team two days earlier than planned a question of playing mind-games with his England opposite number?

Is Gatland’s decision to name the Welsh team two days earlier than planned a question of playing mind-games with his England opposite number?

Make no mistake, tomorrow evening’s game is massive for us here in Wales. Having been to a 5 Nations match in Twickenham (back in 1983! It was England v France), the atmospheres do not compare. All of Cardiff is taken over by rugby fans on an international day, with the iconic Millennium Stadium being right in the centre of the city. Also, the design of the stadium with the steep stands means the crowd are nearly on top of the pitch, creating an atmosphere which is just not found in any other rugby stadium.

England can expect to be faced with a wall of noise from 74,000 passionate Welsh fans. I have not heard whether the roof will be closed or not, Gatland has stated that he wants it closed but it requires both teams to agree so it will be up to England to decide. But, whether open or closed I think we can expect a ferocious encounter, and I am confident Wales can win and level the series between the two rivals at 57 wins each.

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It wasn’t a pretty game, but it was all about the result; and finally it went Wales’ way. Wales beat South Africa 12-6 to end the Autumn Test series on a high, and to register only our second ever win over the Springboks in 108 years. Really we should have won by more, we squandered several try scoring chances; but we also nearly threw the game away in the last few minutes. A poor penalty kick for touch by South Africa saw Welsh replacement Scott Williams fumble the ball, giving the Boks a 5-metre scrum and a golden opportunity for a try. Thankfully the Welsh forwards, who were immense all afternoon, disrupted the South African scrum and Wales cleared their lines.


The official man of the match was Dan Biggar, who had probably his best ever game in a Welsh shirt. His tactics were spot on, and his tackling was incredible. In fact, the tackling of the whole Welsh team all afternoon was incredible, they smashed the South African players back over the gain-line time and time again. Finally, after eight years since our last win over a southern Hemisphere ‘big three’ (Australia in 2008), Wales have taken another scalp to show that we can compete with the best in the World. So many times in the last few years Wales have gone into the last 10 minutes ahead of either Australia or South Africa, only to lose the match. All Welsh rugby fans are hoping that this win will help us develop that self-belief and psychological edge to win these close matches.

All the national teams are building up for next year’s World Cup, and Wales are no exception. Warren Gatland said that this Autumn series, and the 6 Nations which starts in just under nine weeks, are both just preparation for the World Cup. As I’ve mentioned before, Wales find themselves in the ‘group of death’ with both Australia and England, and our next match is against England in Cardiff. England too won on Saturday, beating Australia to end up with the same results from their Autumn tests as Wales – two wins out of four but only one win over one of the ‘big three’. The last time England came down to Cardiff, in March 2013, they were chasing a Grand Slam but we thrashed them 30-3. If Wales can beat England in February then I think it will go a long way to our feeling a psychological supremacy when they meet in the World Cup in October.

As Wales captain Sam Warburton said in the press conference after Saturday’s win, Wales need to make beating a southern hemisphere giant a regular occurrence, not something we do once in a blue moon. We have dominated Northern Hemisphere rugby for most of the last decade; now is the time Wales need to step up to the next level and start beating the big three regularly. We have the fitness and commitment, hopefully Saturday will give us the self-belief that we can do it.

The regular Sunday round-up of the weekend’s rugby action on BBC 2 Wales is called ‘Scrum V’. Last nights review of the game and look ahead to our opening match of the 6 Nations against England ended with the credits rolling to The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’. Let’s hope this isn’t another false dawn in the roller coaster that is Welsh rugby!

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The wait is nearly over. Tomorrow, at 3pm, the much anticipated showdown between England and Wales in this year’s 6 Nations will kick off. The build up in Wales over the last ten days has been relentless, it is certainly the most anticipated game since last year’s Championship decider between the old rivals in Cardiff. As I have mentioned before, not only will tomorrow’s game go a long way to deciding who is out of contention in this year’s 6 Nations, but also either Wales or England will go ahead in the 124-match series.

One thing I have not mentioned so far is that this game also has important implications for next year’s Rugby World Cup, which England are hosting. Because Wales dipped outside of the top eight in the World rankings when the draw was made, we find ourselves in the same group as Australia and England, with only two countries qualifying from each group. Tomorrow will be the last time England and Wales will meet at Twickenham until the match in those group qualifying matches, so winning tomorrow may play a vital part in determining who manages to get through to the knock-out stages next year.

Thankfully for Wales, we have a nearly full-strength team for the first time this 6 Nations. World-class centre Jonathan Davies is back after tearing his pectoral muscle in our loss to South Africa in November. He and Jamie Roberts have formed a formidable centre partnership over the last few seasons, and shone together in the Lions team in Australia last summer.

Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones are both back in the starting fifteen for tomorrow's showdown with England.

Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones are both back in the starting fifteen for tomorrow’s showdown with England.

Alun Wyn Jones is also back from the foot infection which made him withdraw at the last minute against France, so with the exception of Ian Evans, who is out of this year’s 6 Nations due to a disciplinary action ban, Wales are nearly at full strength. In a last-minute change announced yesterday, Luke Charteris has had to pull out with an injury, so his place will be taken by Jake Ball (who looks like W.G. Grace reincarnated) who played so well against France two weeks ago. It should be a cracker of a game, as England are certainly on the ascendency. They have already shown in the last 6 months that they are a better team than the one Wales thrashed 30-3 in Cardiff last March. Before the first weekend of matches I tipped England to win this year’s Championships, and should they beat Wales tomorrow they will still be my tip to win it. But, of course, I want Wales to put England out of contention with a convincing win at Twickenham tomorrow. We will know soon enough!

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