Yes, we know this is supposed to be a friendly, a kickabout between two neighbours and all that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited. By rights, Johno should be out in Twickenham putting jumpers down for goal posts and slicing oranges. Alas not, for there’s a lot more at stake than your average summer international game.
For a start, this is England and Wales, one of the hottest rivalries of the rugby world, between whom no meetings can ever truly be classed as friendly. It also marks the start of northern hemisphere’s countdown to the World Cup. High hopes abound both sides of the border as old hands and new blood battle it out not only for the honour of their country, but for that all important place on the World Cup Squad
On paper, the starting lineups Johno and Gatst have selected look pretty evenly matched, a good blend of the tried and tested (Stephen Jones gets is 101st cap going head to head against England’s high priest of kicking Jonny Wilkinson) the young and hungry (England’s next big thing Manu Tuilagi gets his first cap while Toby Faletau will be making his sophomore appearance in red) and the downright controversial (Matt Stevens returns for England after his 2 year ban before Mike Phillips’ tail has yet to be extracted from between his legs after the McDonalds incident). This means this clash will essentially be a battle of wills and the end result could well be down to which team has the most hunger and belief.
Of late, it has seemed that Wales’ problem lay not in the individual skill of the players, which was largely exemplary, but in their bond as a team. Rumours of infighting, emergency meetings of ‘senior payers’ and senior coaching staff actually beating each other up have been all too common in the recent past but thankfully, since the team regrouped in June the whispers coming from west of the Severn haven’t been so tumultuous. Whether splitting the team for the Poland training camps was wise remains to be seen, but there thankfully seems to be a little less discomfort.
In TW1, on the other hand, there is an air not only of harmony, but excitement. At O2’s Get Up For England event (More on that next week) I caught up with some of the boys and it was clear that the mood in the England camp is one of determined anticipation. Each player, though fighting for his place on the squad is getting stuck in just as much for the common good as for themselves and they go into this game seeking to continue building momentum from their Six Nations Win.
Former Gloucester prop Paul Doran-Jones was probably most emphatic “Saturday is going to be a pretty fierce test, you know, England v Wales, there’s loads of history in it. Both squads are going to be looking to get out there and get all those moves and plays we’ve been practicing onto the pitch, so this will give us more real idea of where we are and what to expect . It’s without doubt going to be very tough.
They say it’s a friendly but there’s so much at stake. The guys are playing for the opportunity to go to the world cup so there’s nothing bigger really in that regard. You always want to go and get the best performance, you know it’s not schoolboy trials anymore!”
Clashes between England and Wales are always electric, we just hope it’s not going to be as one-sided as the buzz around each camp seems to be at the moment.
Ones to Watch: Wales – Toby Faletau. It’s only his second cap but he’s showing masses of promise. England – Charlie Sharples. As yet uncapped for England, and on the bench today, we’ve been hearing some incredible things about the Gloucester wing, not least from team mate Ben Foden ‘He’s the fastest white man in the world’. We’re hoping to see him take a run out to see if it’s true!
Ones to get distracted by: England– Lewis Moody, he’s back, baby! Wales – Luke Charteris, another face we’ve missed being distracted by.