Rugby Rivalries: England vs Wales
Print Screen Editor Olivia Garrett and Jacob Sturgess delve into the history of England vs Wales, ahead of their Round 3 6 Nations clash on Saturday, looking at what the rivalry means to those in red and those in white.
What Does This Rivalry Mean?
Olivia Garrett: 136 matches since the first tackle in anger and the England vs Wales games remain the peak of home-nation sport. A centuries old rivalry that will turn even the most casual of rugby watchers into a blur of rage and anti-Welsh/English rhetoric. England may have lost the Calcutta Cup (11-6 vs Scotland,) but this is the one that matters; a day where every red shirt makes the blood boil and the day everyone with the name Rhys deserves to be told why Wales are the inferior side. The numbers are still in our favour, with 65 wins to Wales’ 59, but no number of statistics will ever capture how personal this rivalry truly is.
Jacob Sturgess: There’s no day in which I feel more Welsh. I don my red rugby shirt and sing Calon Lan like I’m in a male-voice choir belting out ‘Land of my Fathers.’ We may be down in terms of wins, but a Welsh victory on gameday is so much more than numbers on a page. My job on the day of a rugby game has been made clear from an early age – to be a supporter of Wales and anyone playing against England! It’s going to be a tough old day on Saturday with us fighting over the Bluetooth speaker – OK Google; play Sosban Fach.
Olivia: No, OK Google; play Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
History of the Rivalry
For any side to secure victory in Wales under normal circumstances, they have to beat not only the 23 players on the pitch but the near 75,000 Welsh fans in attendance. This Saturday though, will be different, with no fans in attendance.
Jacob: This game definitely deserves the splendour of the Principality Stadium, it’s good as a Welsh fan to have the match at home.
Olivia: I agree to be honest, with the closed roof and the normal masses of fans, the Principality has one of the best atmospheres you can get. Which makes it even better when England win there.
Jacob: When was the last time that happened though?
Olivia: Well in 2017 we beat Wales at home 21-16, a really tense game and pretty much the start of Wales’ 18-month slump, before they peaked for the World Cup.
Jacob: But you cannot question the drive of the Welsh. You’ll remember the 2015 World Cup encounter where Wales, from 10 points behind and savaged by injury powered to level the score and with the sheer spirit of the country at their backs, defended the English attempt at crossing the try line to secure victory and dump them out of the World Cup.
Olivia: True, Wales are good at pulling it back, just look at their two matches in this year’s tournament. Although let’s be honest, the red cards helped them! But that isn’t always good enough when England steam ahead. Take the England victory at Twickenham in 2006; where the visitors only managed to scrape three points in the second half (from 10 to 13) England made a massive jump from 15 to 47 to secure a 47-13 victory.
Jacob: But you have to give credit where it’s due to our full backs who are, quite frankly, stuff of legend. Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar are two of the best in world rugby when it comes to sending the ball between the uprights. So, we can always count on these lads to help us through a nervy game.
Olivia: Why does having good goalkickers matter when you have a beast like Maro Itoje with his arms the same length of his legs? No box-kicks are getting over him, just watch the last game to prove that. If we can keep the penalties down, we limit your options. Plus, we have our own fair share of good kickers with Farrell and Ford, they’ve saved us plenty of times, despite the criticism.
2019 and 2020’s matches in the 6 Nations both served up all-time classics in favour of the home side. Let’s hope Saturday provides the same entertainment.
Who Feels the Rivalry More?
Jacob: Overall this rivalry is definitely more keenly felt by Wales; every Welshman can unite over a pint (usually) and trash talk about the Red Rose. As the smaller country, our players are the finest of the bunch. Its quality over quantity for us. Our players are respectful but fierce and rally around the collective passion of rugby (and ensuring we keep at least a place above the English). In schools it’s one of our key sports and communities are tightly knit around it. On the days Wales are victorious over their neighbours, celebrations are unmatched.
Olivia: I’d definitely agree that the match matters to Wales more. For England I’d say it’s important in terms of bragging rights and status but not much more. In rugby terms the big rivals are New Zealand, Australia – the ones we like to accuse of cheating when the loss gets too harsh. Wales is definitely important and a great day to look forward to but for me, will always be swept aside when the All-Blacks come knocking.
This Weekend’s Match
Wales will have high hopes given the first two wins, despite both being a little too close for comfort. They used the Autumn Internationals as more of a training opportunity, to give game-time to a young side, with many joining the international scene for the first time. There’s the obvious speed of Louis Rees-Zammit who will always be posing a threat down the wing. But don’t sleep on the rest of the side. Alun Wyn Jones commands a seriously physical team, and the class of the heavily capped players always presents opportunities to score. Thus far, Wayne Pivac has used the bench to inject a burst of energy; be sure to keep an eye on the creativity of the kicks of Callum Sheedy once he comes onto the field.
For England, it’s win or bust. With the British and Irish Lions Tour hopefully still going ahead, many will be keeping an eye on English mainstays such as Billy Vunipola. Everyone talks about the Welsh back row, but Vunipola has a lot to prove this week after admitting himself that his form isn’t where it should be. And of course, it will be nice to see if Johnny May can repeat his acrobatics skills after his excellent try against Italy. England will be hoping that the Ford-Farrell axis can hit its straps, with England possessing their fair share of good kickers, who have saved their side plenty of times. Despite a lack of game-time, Maro Itoje has been a beast for England, with his arms almost appearing the same length as his legs when in sight of an opposition scrum-half to charge down!
Of course though, you don’t want to make your focus too narrow, keep your eyes open because the game is open and anything could happen. It’s a deciding game and if England win, the Championship is all still to play for.