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Wales, England, and the prospects for a Five Nations classic

9 March 2013

9:00 AM

9 March 2013

9:00 AM

‘Look what these bastards have done to Wales,’ Phil Bennett famously said in the dressing-room before a Five Nations match with their friends across the Severn in the mid-1970s. ‘They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and only live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us?’ Someone could have piped up at that point, Life of Brian-style, and suggested the Severn Bridge. But they didn’t of course.

Bennett, that maestro of a fly half, went on. ‘We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English — and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.’

It is hard to imagine such fire-breathing eloquence in the professional age, but when Wales pull on their red shirts for their last match in this year’s Six Nations next weekend, the mission is the same. This is the only match that ever matters to them. In the words of the Stereophonics: ‘As long as we beat the English, we don’t care.’

Even better if beating the English stops the old oppressor from winning the Grand Slam, something England have done only once since the Six Nations started in 2000. Assuming that England beat Italy this Sunday, they will be aiming for a clean sweep in Cardiff. The only thing Wales would like more than thrashing England would be to sneak victory from under their noses with a Slam-denying try in the last minute, like the one Scott Gibbs scored in another end-of-season tussle in 1999.

This year’s battle has lots of interesting subplots, too, with places up for grabs on the Lions tour to Australia. Having sustained 19 -stitches in -getting the better of France’s -Mathieu Bastareaud, Manu Tuilagi will not fear Jamie Roberts, Wales’s 17-stone centre. Mike Phillips needs a big game to keep Ben Youngs out of the Lions scrum-half jersey, while the focus at the scrum will be on the bristly Dan Cole, a ringer for Henry VIII, and Adam ‘Curlylocks’ Jones.

The relationship between the Welsh and the English, as a former secretary of the RFU once said, is based on trust and understanding. They don’t trust us and we don’t understand them. But this may have to change in a couple of years since they have both been put in a group with Australia for the 2015 World Cup. With only two sides progressing, surely the motto will need to become ‘As long as they beat the Aussies, we don’t care’?

There’s nothing like a trip across the Atlantic to bring us Brits down a peg or two. Poor old Mo Farah probably thought he was quite something, what with his two Olympic gold medals and that Mobot celebration pose, but then he competed in a half-marathon in New Orleans and was asked by a local news presenter in a studio-to-track link if he had ever run before.

‘This isn’t your first time?’ an incredulous LaTonya Norton asked Farah, seemingly more impressed that he had beaten her co-anchor than by his record time. ‘Well you’ve got off to a great start.’ She managed to stop short of saying ‘keep it up sonny’. Farah, gentleman that he is, behaved with immaculate grace, and resisted the urge to ask Norton if she had presented a news programme before.

The Olympics largely passed the US by unless it was an American winning something, but at least LaTonya’s error was more understandable than those Yanks who watched the Isambard Kingdom Brunel section of the opening ceremony and wondered why Kenneth Branagh (‘that guy from Harry Potter’) was impersonating Abraham Lincoln.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

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