Do the Welsh hate the English and, if so, exactly how much? Do they detest them or merely dislike them, which would put the English on a par with the Irish in Welsh eyes, or so Warren Gatland suggested a couple of years back.
Perhaps the Welsh feel no more than a mild distaste towards their cross-border cousins? It’s an interesting question, resurrected following comments by Jack Nowell a few days ago.
“We’re playing against a team that hate you and want to beat you up,” said the England winger.
“Au contraire,” Sam Warburton almost said, as well he might. The Welsh skipper was christened Samuel Kennedy-Warburton after being born in Wales to parents who were both resolutely English and, to the dismay of some in Wales, he recently declared himself “British”. He supported England in the 2003 Rugby World Cup before switching sides and rumour has it that he eventually dropped the double-barrelled name because it sounded too English.
Former Welsh lock Tony Copsey famously had “Made in England” tattooed where the sun don’t shine and, if none of the current crop of Welsh players has gone quite that far, there are several others besides Kennedy-Warburton whose upbringing owed something to the “wrong” side of Offa’s Dyke. Alex Cuthbert was born and raised in Gloucester to an English dad and a mum from Wrexham, in North Wales. His fellow winger, George North, was born in Kings Lynn to a Yorkshire father and a Welsh mum from Anglesey, but he returned to Wales aged two and he is a fluent Welsh speaker, so England’s early efforts at converting him to the Red Rose cause were doomed to failure.
Flanker Dan Lydiate is in the same cultural boat, born in Salford to an English dad and a Welsh mum but raised primarily in the principality. Lock Jake Ball was born just down the road from Twickenham to an English mum and a Welsh dad.
We have come a long way from Phil Bennett’s famous speech back in 1977 when the sublime stand-off captained Wales and made the following rallying call ahead of the England encounter:
“Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.”
It is a very different England that Wales are playing this afternoon, with a Kiwi hooker in Dylan Hartley and a substitute prop, Mako Vunipola, who boasts Tongan heritage and a cousin in the opposition ranks, Wales No.8 Taulupe Faletau. In the beefy figure of Ben Morgan, England will field a No.8 who started out at the Scarlets and qualified to play for Wales (under the IRB’s absurd three-year residency rule) before opting for England.
The ties are far too close for “hatred”, especially in the immediate aftermath of a successful Lions tour Down Under but, even stripped of personal invective, the participants on both sides are not short of incentives. Both teams are still in with a shout of the title and this tie has replaced England-France as the match of the championship. Wales are going for their third consecutive title, which would be a record, England are going for their second championship victory since 2003’s Grand Slam and they could bag a Triple Crown by close of play. Oh, and both teams have won 56 matches apiece, so today’s 125th meeting is a decider of sorts.
And, at the back of everyone’s minds will be next year’s Rugby World Cup, when these two teams meet in a crucial match at the very same ground. The country that tops Pool A is seeded to avoid New Zealand and South Africa until the final and whoever wins today will grab the psychological high ground.
The formbook says Wales. They provided ten of those who started the final Lions Test and, if you were to select a composite side of the two nations. then England might have no more than three representatives in the combined XV (Mike Brown, Danny Care and Joe Launchbury). Gatland can call upon 12 Test Lions in today’s XV, England have one in Owen Farrell. Furthermore, Wales have beaten England on their last three meetings and England have not scored a try against them throughout those 240 minutes of rugby.
Against that, England are devilishly hard to beat at home. “All the talk is that the England boys have turned into men... we’ll see on Sunday,” says Gatland, just stating a simple truth.
England: Mike Brown; Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, David Wilson, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw, Ben Morgan.
Subs: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Henry Thomas, Dave Attwood, Tom Johnson, Lee Dickson, George Ford, Alex Goode.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Rhys Webb; Gethin Jenkins, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau.
Subs: Ken Owens, Paul James, Rhodri Jones, Jake Ball, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams.