England Can Set a Marker for the World Cup by Beating Wales in Cardiff
The 2015 Six Nations begins with one of the biggest internationals in the sport of rugby union and could well be the championship decider even at this early stage of the competition. Wales and England are second and third favourites behind Ireland and their fixture at the Millennium Stadium on Friday night could be key in determining the outcome of the tournament.
Sports fans who like to attend events in person must now accept that the television companies decide when matches are played. The whole dynamics of an international weekend in Cardiff have been compromised by a Friday night start so that all the matches in the Six Nations are shown at peak times on the BBC.
Live sports coverage on the national broadcaster’s channels is now a joke and it’s a dereliction of duty to abandon iconic horse race meetings and now give up coverage of the Open golf Championship to Sky. The rugby Six Nations is the highlight of the very little that is left but races like the Grand National and Derby and the biggest golf tournament in the world should not be consigned to the margins.
The BBC have kept highlights coverage of the Premier League on Match Of The Day but the Six Nations is now the jewel in the crown other than the World Cup, Euros and Olympics which take place every four years. This situation has led to arguably the most significant match of the tournament taking place just three hours after the end of the working week.
It might be a cliché but one of the reasons for Wales being such a great rugby nation is the passion of the supporters who travelled from the provinces to Cardiff for matches on Saturday afternoon at the old Arms Park. The stadium truly was a fortress though some of that aura remains as England have won just one of their last five matches at the Millennium Stadium. Wales are four point favourites to beat the old enemy in 2015.
The two nations have met 125 times in international rugby union and Wales have won 56 matches, just one less than England and there have been 12 draws. Wales have scored 1450 points in these matches and conceded 1632 points. The home team’s longest winning streak is 5 matches and the most they have lost in succession is 7. Over the full history of the fixture on average Wales have scored 1.46 points per match less than England. Purely on historical data England should be backed with a start of 4 points.
England play Wales at Twickenham in the pool stages of the World Cup but the match in the Six Nations on Friday will not have many implications in the context of that fixture. England will have a stronger team in the autumn but as Sir Clive Woodward points out “there would be no harm in landing a psychological blow eight months before the start of the tournament.” More pressing for England is trying to erase the experience of losing 30-3 when they last played Wales in Cardiff.
This year’s Six Nations will provide some clues about England’s prospects in the World Cup which they have never won as the host nation. They must set the tone by playing at a quick tempo on Friday. World Cups are won by teams with a clear strategy and the drive to carry out instructions for the good of the team. Winning in Cardiff would be a good start to the international year that could culminate in being world champions for the second time. England have talented players but they need a vision and game plan to reach the next level.
Even in it’s current guise the atmosphere at the national stadium when Wales play rugby is better than at any other venue in the world. No crowd is more passionate because the sport means so much to the Welsh people. There is an element of getting one over their more powerful and wealthy neighbours. The mood of the nation is affected by results on the rugby field especially when England are the opponents. This year’s fixture will be a good test of England’s credentials and character ahead of the World Cup. However, absences through injury may devalue the form.
England finished second in the Six Nations last season. They will find it tough to improve on that position as they have matches not only in Cardiff but against the favourites Ireland in Dublin. England should win their three home matches but they are going into a major tournament with a squad significantly weakened by injury. The build-up has been disrupted and the bigger picture is the World Cup on home soil.
Wales have the most settled side in the competition and in contrast to England have a squad not affected by injury which is a rarity at this level of the sport. The squad have been accused of overtraining but the coach Warren Gatland knows all about coaching players to the right level of intensity. They were third in the championship last season but with doubts about the strength of England first 15 Wales could finish a place higher this year.
Ireland will be playing in the Six Nations for the first time in15 years without Brian O’Driscoll. There will be a loss in terms of a leader on the field and a player who always performed in the big matches. His boots have been filled by a player called Jared Payne and if he can replicate the influence of O’Driscoll Ireland can win the Six Nations again. The squad have moved on and can begin World Cup year by winning another European title.
France will be inspired by the recent history of the country, Scotland must build on the promise of the autumn and Italy will finish sixth again. If England beat Wales the deciding fixture then becomes their match in Dublin against Ireland in March. Winning that match may be beyond England which makes the fixture in Wales of paramount importance.
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