They can be heroes
There is an old saying: It's better to be judged by twelve than to be carried by six. In the literal sense, it means that it is better to kill your attacker and face a jury of twelve men, rather than end up in a coffin. You might also have heard one of its derivatives: Shoot first, ask questions later. Take heed, Wales.
At Twickenham on Saturday afternoon, they ought to come out with all guns blazing, regardless of where they choose to exert pressure - simply because they have the means to do so from every position.
Plenty are the worriers who have stated that England at Twickenham will be tough. Well, you would hope so. Fifteen of England's finest will be playing their first home game under new head coach Stuart Lancaster. By now, we are all fully aware that they consider themselves the underdogs -mainly because they haven't stopped saying so- but make no mistake: England haven't discarded any great players for some long-term benefit. The coaches believe these to be the best players available to them in the here and now. Gone is the blind faith Martin Johnson placed in his old brothers in arms. Lancaster's youthful side is hungry, but Wales are the big boys from the other side of the tracks who have come to steal their lunch money.
Yes, many of the England players are in the single figures of caps, but they are representing top Premiership sides in an extremely physical and mentally demanding league. Significantly, as those worriers would have you believe, they will prove to be a different side at 'HQ'. They will have a slight change of personnel in their squad -Toby Flood, Manu Tuilagi- but whether it's enough to subdue a Welsh side on something of a roll is an entirely different matter.
Will Alun Wyn Jones's return at second row, coupled with Ken Owens's much-heralded throwing accuracy at hooker, equate to a steadier lineout? Possibly, but if there's one area of England's game that has rarely troubled them in the past, it's the set-pieces.
England expect that Manu Tuilagi, whether or not he starts, can act as a panacea for their midfield problems. He is a very strong runner, as he showed when scoring a try on his debut versus Wales last year, but this Welsh defence is even wiser than it was in 2011. While Tuilagi will be a handful once on the field, he won't be the biggest player this Welsh backline has come across. Besides, I have a sneaky feeling it will be England who are more nervous about the size of the Welsh backs.
At the risk of coming across as a bit of a sensationalist, you would be hard-pressed to say that England have more than two or three players that would push for a place in the Welsh starting XV. An on-form Chris Ashton, Ben Foden or Tom Croft might be worthy of a look-in, as would Dan Cole for his scrummaging ability, but the way these Welsh boys have been performing as a team, it would be a pointless exercise.
If Wales play to their potential, it should be a straightforward victory at Twickenham. England will play with a newfound vigour, I assume, but only because they will have to in order to be able to live with Wales - and because their last two games have been diabolical. We've seen that Owen Farrell is a bit of a sharpshooter with the boot, so discipline will be a factor. A first-half blitz by the Welsh would be the best possible start, from which their superior fitness and firepower should see them home.
Nothing has indicated to me that England are a better side than Wales, but I overheard an Englishman yesterday say, "We're expecting to lose, but if we do win it will be the end of the world for Wales". Not quite. It would hurt, but Warren Gatland has said with some conviction that his side has not reached its potential yet. But what an unfinished symphony it is, even in its infancy.
Twickenham will hold no fear for Wales. Having played in the bloodthirsty arenas of South Africa in 2009, the Welsh Lions proved they could play (and shine) anywhere.
They have earned the immensely proud feeling that would come from beating England at Twickenham. The world -and a deserved Triple Crown- will be theirs if they do so on Saturday.
LOOKALIKES OF THE WEEK
I was browsing the latest news from the Australian National Rugby League when I came across a familiar face. Familiar for two reasons: 1) it was Queensland's State of Origin representative Nate Myles, and 2) he's the spitting image of our very own Jamie Roberts. The similarities don't end there, though: both are arguably the best in the world in their respective positions and have represented their country at the highest level. Okay, that's where the similarities probably should end, because Myles also gained much notoriety in his homeland for an off-the-field incident which makes Andy Powell's golf buggy story seem tame in comparison.
In July 2009, Myles was discovered wandering the corridors of a hotel in Australia's Central Coast at 8am. He had apparently defecated on the floor. His initial excuse was that he had a stomach bug - a plausible explanation, one might say. Myles was at a loss, however, to explain why he was also drunk and naked at the time.
I will be on the other side of the Severn this weekend, along with a horde of confident (with a pinch of nervous) Welsh fans. Having been in England the last time Wales were at Twickenham for the Six Nations, it's fair to say that this weekend would be more bearable if we put England away early on. My friend, also Welsh, and I, were watching with a group of our female English friends. Having lost 30-17, we sulked for the better part of an hour, to which our sweet, naïve, women in white tried to placate us with an ill-advised "It's only a game!" In the pantheon of phrases women should never say to a man who loves sports, it's up there with "I've gotten rid of Sky Sports and renewed my subscription to Heat magazine instead". In fact, it makes your blood boil to such an extent that I'm not certain the expression can't be used as an excuse for diminished responsibility in a court of law. ("I don't know what happened, your Honour. I heard the words 'It's only a game' and I blacked out...")
Because it's not just a game - and this is especially true when it comes to a rugby match involving Wales and England. How best to explain the complex psychology behind this champion of all grudge matches? Bad example: it's like Björn Borg taking on John McEnroe in the Wimbledon final... if Borg had kept Mac as a slave in his dungeon for fifteen years.
Admittedly, I do get the occasional pang of guilt when I hear an English friend say, "Why don't you support us when we're playing other teams? We always support Wales when they're playing." It's a fleeting feeling, though, mainly because England don't need our support, and never have.
It's funny, because I'm as big a fan of the English Premiership as the next person. I can just as easily enjoy slugfests such as last weekend's between Gloucester and Bath at the glorious Rec as I can the free-running excitement of this season's Harlequins. But in the same way the English Premier League is the best of its kind in world football, so the Premiership shares its foibles: it is flooded with foreigners.
In case you weirdly decided to scroll down and start reading this article from that last sentence, this isn't a BNP newsletter. Far from it. In terms of Welsh regional rugby, who hasn't delighted in watching the magic of Casey Laulala at the Blues, or the demoniacal speed of Tonderai Chavhanga at the Dragons? (Look out for centre Stefan Watermeyer for the Ospreys this weekend - a South African with a possible view to Welsh qualification.) But where Wales are moving away from the abundance of imports, the English trend is as strong as ever. Given the Premiership has twelve clubs compared to our four regions, the effect is slightly less obvious on the English national side, but there is one nonetheless.
English clubs have the money to attract some of the biggest foreign names who, in turn, attract big crowds: Stephen Donald (Bath), John Smit (Saracens), Jimmy Cowan (soon to be at Gloucester). Tempting as it may be for a Welsh fan to hope their region might snap up a Super Rugby star such as Nathan Sharpe or Wycliff Palu in the coming seasons, such gratification would be ephemeral.
Back in 2007, Harlequins were reported to be on the verge of signing everybody's favourite Springbok, Schalk Burger. It didn't transpire, but if it had, it's safe to assume that the current England captain and wunderkind Chris Robshaw's career at the Middlesex club would have been hindered somewhat by such a signing.
It's more satisfactory, not to mention beneficial to the national cause, to watch Welsh Premiership players such as Toby Faletau (Cross Keys), Justin Tipuric (Aberavon) and Lloyd Williams (Glamorgan Wanderers) grow into regional players and then genuine international players before our very eyes. While there is much to be said for bringing in foreign talent to nurture Welsh youngsters, the two nations who don't employ such policies are in the top two of the world rankings. It seems a bit of a no-brainer, I'm sure you'll agree.
There was a comical moment in a Sky Sports interview this week with Wales centre Jonathan Davies. In a segment about the now-infamous cryotherapy treatment (which Sky appear to be about nine months late in covering), the interviewer put it to Davies that the rush of endorphins released to the body in the chamber is due to the brain thinking the 'patient' is dying. Davies's face betrayed a momentary glimmer of both fear and bemusement, as if he'd just been told he would be the first to go over the top in the Battle of the Somme, armed with nothing but a wet fish. Priceless.
If this wasn't enough, the interviewer then wanted an insight into how these cryotherapy chambers felt. "What is it like as an experience?" he asked, somewhat pointlessly, given that he'd already seen that players' bodies are exposed to a temperature of minus 140 degrees Celsius. Did he expect Davies to break into a Wordsworthesque monologue on the fragility of life in cold climates? The outside centre's best answer was an understandably simple, "Extremely cold".
Side note: Jonathan Davies is known to his friends as 'Jon Fox', after the Fox and Hounds pub his parents used to run in Carmarthen. To be fair to Davies, he's representing the vulpine species well when you take into account his less wholesome nicknamesake "Foxy Knoxy", aka Amanda Knox, who might be facing a retrial if the Italian Supreme Court sees fit (or sense, some might say) to do so.