Thursday, 4 February 2010

The sporting highlight of the year: Wales v England


Bill McLaren: gone but not forgotten (och I tell 'ya!)

This year's Six Nations Tournament kicks off on Saturday bringing with it, in the opinion of your humble Druid, one of the greatest sporting set pieces: the Wales v England game.

The Druid was fortunate enough to have been in Twickenham two years ago to watch Warren Gatland's Ospreys-dominated Wales team come back from 16-6 down at half time to a resounding 19-26 win by the full time whistle. He still relishes how the noisy jubilation of the England fans during the first half turned into at first a shocked silence and finally despair as Mike Phillips scored the match-clinching try in the corner closest to the Druid's seat.

Unfortunately Wales will be without Phillips' services this year due to injury - as is Wales's first choice hooker, Matthew Rees. The Blues' Gareth Williams will replace him - but standing just 5'6" tall short could make the scrummage easier for England plus he will have to be standing on his toes to throw in over England's 6'8" Simon Shaw! Mike Phillips himself will be replaced by another Blues player, Gareth Cooper - who hasn't been playing regularly for his first XV.

Its great news that Fullback Lee Byrne has had his two week ban overturned - allowing James Hook to move into the centre to partner the mighty Jamie Roberts. Last year in Cardiff  England open-side flanker Joe Worsely man-marked Roberts out of the match - a feat no doubt Riki Flutey will try to emulate this year. Accordingly the Druid hopes that Hook and Roberts will mix it up enough in the centre to confuse England's defence and create opportunities for Tom James and the incomparable Shane Williams.

The result? In the Druid's opinion Wales comfortably have the edge on England with its props, its No. 8, the centre partnership, its wingers and full-back (though the Druid hopes that with the formation of the bizarrely named RGC1404 we will also soon see some North Wales players lining up in the national squad). England will have to rely on its front five with Lewis Moody trying to snuffle out the phases by collaring Wales's Martyn Williams at every opportunity. I reckon, with the Twickenham curse now behind us, 2010 should be Wales's year.

As for the whole tournament: the Druid read recently that Ireland won the Grand Slam last year with the least number of passes made by a Six Nations side; South Africa won the Tri-nations despite the whole side not passing as much as the New Zealand scrum-half - accordingly we could be in for some serious aerial bombardments this year - something the Scots have excelled at for 30 years. And what could be a more fitting tribute to Bill McLaren than a Scottish Six Nations tournament win in 2010?

As the maestro might have said: "that one's got snow on it"!  

UPDATE (Post Match): I hope Gatland makes Alun Wyn Jones walk back to Wales...

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