It’s that time of year again, Wales v England.
The battle against the old enemy, and a match I have some very fond memories of.
Obviously everyone will talk about 2013, when we beat England by 30-3 in Cardiff, and that’s clearly one of the highlights of my career.
I remember starting to get wound up about that game the week before it even happened. We had just beat Scotland, and I was sitting down to watch England play Italy.
The commentary team that day completely wrote Italy off, talking up England’s Grand Slam decider in Cardiff the following week. The match was actually pretty close for long periods with Italy, and it just struck me as a real lack of respect, the English media can be pretty cocky at times and it just really got me going.
The week leading up to the game can be a tough one. We were without Warren Gatland, who was on Lions duty, so Rob Howley was in charge. The previous weekend we had a curfew in Scotland of midnight. I’d ordered some food around that time for a few of us. He found out and spent the whole week pushing me to say who else was involved. It was a tiny thing, and his persistence just kept annoying me. To this day, I don’t know if he was doing it on purpose to get me wound up, but it worked.
That week, you try and switch off from the media and all the things people are saying in the press – and this is where family and friends tend to not help at times. They will be coming up to you telling you who has had what about who, what Lawrence Dallaglio has said about someone, or what Will Carling is saying. You just want to switch off from it all – and that’s the same for the players this week. People will try and play mind games – for most, they won’t work, you just shrug it off, but for some it’s a little harder.
This week’s game being in Cardiff can have a huge baring on the outcome. The first couple of times I played for Wales, I let the atmosphere get to me too much and ended up not playing as well as I would have liked.
After a while though you learn to channel that energy and use it in your favour. In 2013 I knew we had to get the crowd up early on. I was determined to take an early tap penalty, as long as it was in the right area of the field. The opportunity arose and I went, you could feel the crowd lift – we made some good yards and the intensity of the crowd never dropped after that. Little things like that can make a big difference in games like these, and it’s something I’d like to see Gareth Davies do on Saturday.
On that day, Owen Farrell wasn’t at his best either. We ticked the scoreboard over pretty well, but he missed a few kicks and wasn’t on form – he was pretty young to be fair, but it’s still something that could be in the back of his mind come the weekend, if it’s not, then it won’t do the Welsh players any harm to remind him of it. He’s become a great player and is someone Wales really need to nullify.
I don’t actually remember too many verbals taking place during the games – there’s the odd bit now and then but nothing major. I do remember trying wind up the England players after the game though. We were heading out of the stadium and had to stop and do some media first. I did mine and was walking out and just turned round and shouted over to them ‘see you on the Lions, boys!’. Probably not what they wanted to be hearing at that stage!
After a big win like that I’d always want to have a good evening with the lads, but that’s not really the way now. The game has changed, and so have the players – it’s more a bottle of Pepsi and a Snickers these days!
It will be interesting to see how the game pans out at the weekend. A couple of weeks ago I thought England were heavy favourites, but when you are playing well you want to just keep on going and the week off may not have helped them. Wales know they have not played to their full potential by any means, and with the home crowd behind them, I think they can nick it by a couple of points.
Elsewhere, Ireland have not been at their best in either game so far but will have far too much for what is a very poor Italy side.
France and Scotland is a game of two sides not getting the results they need. Both promise a lot but have failed to deliver. Both teams need a win in this one – so I’ll go for a draw!
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