Have you also experienced this feeling? It may have only happened once or twice throughout the week, or even just for a brief moment, but it’s impossible to ignore – the reminder that England and Wales will face off on Saturday. Despite some attempts to spark controversy and provoke conflict, it’s difficult to recall a more uneventful lead-up to this significant match.
Many people won’t have any trouble with this and by the start of the game, you wouldn’t even realize it. Twickenham is completely sold out, providing an opportunity to honor two legendary Welsh players from the past, Barry John and JPR Williams. The national anthems will be sung passionately and there may even be tears.
What remains when we remove the distractions, storytelling, and dramatic flair? Two lower-ranking Six Nations teams beginning their World Cup journeys. Without Alun Wyn Jones, who has played in 15 consecutive Six Nations matches, can we even consider this a valid fixture?
Jones was absent from this match two years ago, but he is not the only one whose absence is being keenly felt. Other notable names such as Owen Farrell, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams, and Kyle Sinckler are also missing from the game, for various reasons. While Joe Marler, known as England’s agent provocateur, is playing, it is unlikely that he will repeat his actions from four years ago when he grabbed Jones’s genitals. It simply wouldn’t have the same impact, and Jamie George’s comment about missing Alun Wyn seems genuine.
Recently, Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland were at their prime during weeks like this. While some may not have enjoyed their back-and-forth banter, both recognized their duty to provide entertainment during a seven-week period where a sport often overshadowed by football has the opportunity to stand out.
Unfortunately, this week the Six Nations bingo cards are blank. Last week, there was drama with Wales’ roof, but this week, there has been no mention of the Brynglas Tunnels and it’s unlikely that any head-butting will occur on the team buses.
This leads to the question of whether long-standing feuds still hold significance in the present, where no one has resorted to seizing coal, water, or steel. As Wales’ captain Dafydd Jenkins pointed out this week, there is a sense of camaraderie among the players, including his clubmates Henry Slade, Ethan Roots, and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso at Exeter. They even have friendships.
In the past, England fans would have been ecstatic with a 3-0 victory over Wales, but nowadays, those who attend games at Twickenham expect more excitement for the high ticket prices, often exceeding £150. However, the team, led by Steve Borthwick, has struggled to please their followers in recent times. Playing at home has become a burden, with only three wins in their last ten games at Twickenham. Therefore, their main focus this week has been on improving their home form and rebuilding their relationship with their supporters, rather than making grand claims of defeating the Welsh team.
Rivalries find a way to endure, however. Gatland again recalled his conversation with Neil Jenkins about the Cardiff-born Feyi-Waboso’s decision to choose England over Wales this week. Gatland had previously revealed Jenkins was not too pleased with the young winger’s decision and on Thursday he picked up the theme. “I love that, I just think that’s how proud you are to be Welsh,” he said. “If you don’t want to be Welsh then piss off.”
The article doesn’t explicitly mention the impact of these individuals on Wales, but it does appeal to the strong sense of patriotism that drives this event.
It also persists for Borthwick. “My initial experience at Twickenham was in 1996,” he reminisced. “It was a match between England schoolboys under-16s and Wales schoolboys. That’s when the rivalry began. I recall a match between England and Wales at under-18 level, which was the final game of the Six Nations. It took place in Narberth on a sloped pitch. We achieved the grand slam that year with a drop goal. The referee was struggling to see due to the sun, but the Wales full-back confirmed its success, kicked by Jonny to secure the grand slam victory.”
“As they grow up, the players compete against one another, creating an intense rivalry. This week, we mourn the loss of a legendary Welsh rugby player, highlighting the rich history of this sport. This is the next chapter in that history, as our young team takes on the challenge.”
To put it differently, this competition will continue indefinitely. The scene is prepared. It is now time for new main characters to emerge.