England vs Wales: a Rugby Rivalry that holds a Long Proud History

England vs Wales: a Rugby Rivalry that holds a long History
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Many ask ‘who their main rivals in International rugby are?’ How does this come about? Is it something that sparks off on the pitch? or, as Last Word on Rugby consider, it is deeper than that. England vs Wales is one of those rivalries that goes a long way back in history, has a long proud history and is always one of the most awaited games of the year.

When Wales look at their Six Nations fixtures, the first fixture they look to is England. There have been many, many occasions over the years that strike a tone. Rugby fans each have their own memory; for example a the game at Twickenham on February 1980, when it became a full on battle. Paul Ringer was famously sent off, in a brutal contest.

The below footage is from the 1981 Five Nations, with such player names like Fran Cotton and JPR Williams. Called by the late great Bill McLaren.

There have been many more over the years, even during the Rugby World Cup Tournament, where it seems that Wales vs England often have face each other

It has change a little over the years although, we now find the game is cleaner. The matches beamed around the world ‘live’  and scrutinised. Thankfully so are the surrounding streets in Cardiff, but even if you are a supporter wearing an England shirt you need to be on your guard. It’s a little different in gentile Twickenham, when Wales visit.

England vs Wales: a Rugby Rivalry that holds a long History

The teams have played each other since 1881. England have 61 wins to Wales’ 57. There have been 12 draws over the course of 130 matches. But statistics only explain part of the rugby rivalry.

The passion and rivalry does not only happen at International level; you can go all the way from Premiership sides to Mini rugby tours, it’s always there as an undercurrent. Competitive, but there is also a respect – even if doesn’t show that much.

The Celtic nations through the dark ages of time, all wanted to beat England. This has always been the case and will never change. You can go back to 13th century when England conquered Wales militarily, and the South-Western Isles incorporated English Laws, and the long relationship began [that is still in order today]. But Welsh identity and culture always remains strong, even to this day.

If brought up to the modern day, there is still the sense that the Welsh feel that England are the arrogant nation. Even now, England Rugby can be accused of selecting and offering scholarships to young talent–from within Wales. The likes of the Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako. Brought up on rugby in Gwent (South East Wales) after their father Fe’ao – who played for Pontypool and in two Rugby World Cups, for Tonga – brought the family over in 1998. England will say they gave the brothers opportunity, but Wales could say they were ‘warranted away’ with the promise of rugby.

Wales’ number 8 Taulupe Faletau (L) and England’s number 8 Billy Vunipola vie for the ball during a Pool A match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between England and Wales at Twickenham stadium, south west London, on September 26, 2015. (Photo credit FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Many Pacific Islanders come over to play their rugby on these shores, it is a way of life to follow the dream and gain a professional playing contract. We now have on these shores a Pacific Islanders Welfare association, headed by Dan Leo. He works hard to make sure that these players now are well represented and looked after. Certainly if you can gain a scholarship as well, then this is an added bonus and big a attraction.

Players like Billy and Mako are the fortunate ones that have gained scholarships, Both were tempted to cross the border of Wales and attend public English schools and work their way through the English rugby to the top, but there are many more young talented players like them who are sought after by coaches scouting, for future rugby professionals.     

Players hold their own memories of England vs Wales Encounters   

Many players will have their stories to tell of their own experiences from games between Wales and England. One that highlights the feeling the most, is from early days under Martin Johnson. In those days England would travel to Wales crossing the bridge ‘under the cover of darkness’ to stop anyone seeing the red rose emblem!

On one journey into Cardiff on game day, the coach would be besieged by Welsh supporters. If you have been to Cardiff, you would know that the stadium is right in the middle of town, so even granny with her shopping trolley will shout abuse at you. On one occasion, a supporter who was a little worse for wear saw his opportunity. Johnson recalls as the coach was moving slowly through town, the Welshman ran forward to head butt the bus, and with blood running down his face he still continued to shout at the England players within.”Welcome to Cardiff!”

There have been some classics over the years; such as at Wembley in 1999 where Scott Gibbs took the title away from England in almost last play of the game.

Many recollect England going into Cardiff as strong favourites only to come away with tail between their legs and Wales dominated. Then again, others recall the power of England at Twickenham 1998. In a superb display by the hosts, Wales by their [then] biggest ever margin 62-5 in a similar Round Two fixture. 

2018 NatWest Six Nations Fixture all set for Saturday

So come Saturday, the rugby rivalry continues. Welsh shirts and scarves (see main picture) will flock up to England, where it makes for an atmosphere like no other game. The singing–from each side–and of course the banter. There is nothing like it.

But who is going to come out on top on the pitch? Wales have a great back line, with Gareth Davies now promoted to starting scrum half and other Scarlet’s players Hadleigh Parkes, Scott Williams, Leigh Halfpenny all full of confidence. That showed in their well earned win against Scotland, last weekend.

The teams line up for the national anthems prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between Wales and England at the Principality Stadium on February 11, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Steve Bardens – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

For rugby pundits, there are some excellent match-ups to hold your breath over. Both teams will be playing their impact Scrum halves; due to injuries to Webb and Youngs, but it will be a great match up. Danny Care and Gareth Davies competing against each other, similar players who snipe for a quick break.

Other positions that will be of interest are at centre and in the front row. The first scrum will be massive for these guys, with no backward step taken and it is a big part of the set piece in the modern game, that can give either side the platform they need to bring their dangerous back line’s into play

Then the centres of England’s Jonathan Joseph with his quick feet can he be matched by Scott Williams , upfront is where the battle will be harder as it will still come down to dominance from forwards and England’s set piece should be superior. Never write off this Welsh team many did before this championship and look what they did to Scotland, they are playing with new tempo and England will need to sure up their defence, which allowed too many tries in against Italy in Rome.

Last Word on Rugby’s advice is that ‘you have to watch this Saturday’. If anything, then to enjoy one of the greatest rivalries in World Rugby. It will be a hotly contested second round of this years Six Nations.

“Main photo credit”
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