« As long as we beat the English », the Stereophonics ode to a Welsh rugby fan’s annual wish list has reached the English coach in the mood.
Delilah, hymns and arias, crowded Cardiff streets, inflatable leeks, a ceremonial goat, a 70. 000-strong choir, pyro and patriotism swirling under the umbrella of the Principality Stadium. None of this will be seen this weekend.
Instead of a super-spreader event where belief sweeps the stands to turn competition into Wales, Saturday will be a different beast.
A stripped-down, low-decibel get-together in a bystander-free vacuum, rather than an atmosphere so dense that you chew it rather than breathe it.
Jones did it with a simple observation. Saturday’s venue – Parc y Scarlets – will be « a stadium, not a stadium ». .
It may be contrary to history, but it is completely in line with the Autumn Nations Cup so far.
The tournament created to fill the hole coronavirus has left in calendars and finances was a flawed version of Test Rugby.
Three games were completely removed from the schedule list due to a coronavirus outbreak in the Fiji squad.
Those that took place were strangely sterile, with defenses choking and scrum resets throwing them out of rhythm.
Only one of these six teams achieved a converted trial difference or less between the two teams.
Maybe to be expected. The first year after a rugby World Cup is often a transition year in which teams brush up on old tactics and employ new coaches.
The pandemic has caused tacticians to consolidate on defense rather than innovative on offense.
In the last 10 meetings, the profit margin has only been in double digits twice. They are competitions as close as piano wire, albeit much less harmonious.
This time, as Wales suffered just six defeats last weekend and England started after six straight wins, the bookmakers consider a 15-point win in England to be par.
Some in Wales openly say that a decent performance is an acceptable result, with defeat being almost a given.
‘As long as we beat the English’? « As long as we are not beaten out of sight » sounds less.
Beyond the scoreline and setting, it’s a game that looks different in the details too.
With Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence, England’s backline is more of a craft than a heavy arsenal.
George Ford, Owen Farrell and Henry Slade, all of whom are focused on distribution rather than destruction, will be brought together on a starting grid for the first time since their June 2018 loss to South Africa.
George North, Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty, all starters when the teams last met angrily in Cardiff, were absent in Wales.
Cardiff Blues flankers James Botham and Shane Lewis-Hughes have three caps and a lot on their plate as they tackle English kamikaze kids Sam Underhill and Tom Curry.
Johnny Williams, who scored a try for England in a non-cap match against the Barbarians in June 2019, will face Nick Tompkins, a former England U20 star, in midfield in Wales.
« The moment he sees a board member, they turn the other way and it gets difficult, » he said of Wayne Pivac.
« You look for shadows in the corners and see meetings between people. It’s a tough time. «
The Stereophonics frontman had to compose a tune to encourage BBC Wales coverage of the Wales v England Five Nations final.
It took place in an unusual setting, with Wales playing home games at Wembley while the Millennium Stadium was completed.
It was overseen by a new coach, Sir Graham Henry was appointed nine months earlier.
England, which was focused on a Grand Slam, were a big favorite. Wales, beaten by Ireland and Scotland at the start of the tournament, were a definite underdog.
And then Scott Gibbs ‘toes sparkled, Neil Jenkins’ boots throbbed, and expectations were blown to the wind.
« For us it’s Wales versus England, a game in Wales. If you ever get up to a game you’d guess this is the game, « Pivac said earlier this week.
It was never in doubt. Whether they’ll find the magic they need to overtake an English team and start a party like 1999 is another question.
BBC Sport has had some of the most memorable Premier League matches between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in recent years.
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