The first Kick-off of the 2015 six nations championship is just a few hours away, the long tiresome wait for European rugby fans is finally over, and what better way to kick off the most passionate rugby tournament in the world than with an explosive opener between two bitter rivals in the rugby cathedral that is the Millennium stadium.
Friday fixtures are a rarity in this competition, but if there was ever a match to live up to the expectation of a Friday night game, there is arguably not a more suitable encounter than Wales vs England.
On paper, the contest should be close; the history of this fixture supports this, with England previously winning 57 and Wales falling one shy of England’s victory total with 56 victories. Whilst the English hold a better record by the slimmest of margins, it is the Welsh that come to Cardiff in the ascendency; a settled squad that has no major injuries to speak of, they come off the back of a successful autumn having beaten South Africa, and have recent success in this competition with two six nations titles in the past three years, one being a grand slam (a feat that England are yet to achieve under Stuart Lancaster).
Unsurprisingly, the pre-match build up has been dominated by the demolition derby that was the 2013 fixture in Cardiff that not only denied England of the Grand Slam as well as the Triple Crown, but also handed the title to Wales in a stunning 30-3 victory. However, Shaun Edwards (Wales’ defensive coach) has urged the team not to get complacent ahead of the England match as he is well aware of the threat that England pose to the prospect of a third title in four years for Wales. With players like George North and Alex Cuthbert, two of the key players in Wales’ attack, not achieving their full potential as of late. The Welsh can ill-afford to underestimate their determined opponents. In contrast this English side are motivated and certainly have a point to prove. Nevertheless, a strong showing from Wales on Friday would be the stuff of dreams for Wales coach Warren Gatland, and his men are more than capable of doing the job.
England have been the ‘nearly-men` of the six nations for a good five years now, and Stuart Lancaster certainly will be keen to put such a reputation to bed. His mission begins by exacting revenge for their loss in the Millennium two years ago. England’s preparation for the game on Friday has been more than unusual to say the least, but drastic measures are required if they are to conquer those demons of the championship that slipped through their grasp. After the match in 2013 there were rumours that the English players struggled to communicate with each other because of the raucous and lively welsh crowd which threw them off their game and this has proven to be the focal point of the mind-games between the two teams before the collision.
The English squad trained the other day with speakers that were simulating the noise of the crowd so that the players were suitably adjusted to the atmosphere that many of them will experience for the first time on Friday. The war of words between England player James Haskell, who is making his return to the squad after a long spell away from the international scene, and Welsh head coach Warren Gatland has only added more fuel to the already fiery confrontation. Whilst all this may seem indicative of English tactics to affect the concentration of Welsh players before they stride out onto the turf, it could be seen as indicative of just how determined England are to banish their Millennium stadium woes and move closer to fulfilling their Grand Slam ambitions. The English have a scintillating combination of promising youthful talent such as the likes of George Ford and Luther Burrell, and top-draw experienced flair in the likes of Mike Brown, Nick Easter, and Captain Chris Robshaw that have the ability to cause an unwelcome upset for the Cardiff crowd and walk out a viable contender for the Slam.
This fixture is already drenched in enough history to wet anyone’s appetite for the match tonight, but, just to entice you hard-core rugby fans out there even more if you are still in two-minds, this will be the last meeting between the teams before they play each other on September 26th in Pool A of the Rugby World Cup.
This match is one of the hardest to call year-on-year in an increasingly competitive championship, with each team having 5 victories out of the last 10 matches in this fixture to their name. I am putting Wales down as the team to edge out a win on Friday but realistically it is impossible to call. This closely fought unpredictable match-up is becoming the trademark of this captivating rugby tournament, a spectacle for the neutral, of the utmost importance to the passionate supporter, and a must-see in any sporting calendar.
Don’t miss the opening fixture of the 2015 six nations championship, you’ll regret it if you do. England vs Wales, February 6 KO 20:00 .