New protagonists ready to bring England v Wales rivalry back to boil
2024/02/09

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Do you also feel it? Maybe once or twice during the week, even if only for a brief moment, but undeniable nonetheless – the need to remind yourself that England and Wales will face off on Saturday. Despite half-hearted attempts to ignite excitement and provoke tension, it is hard to recall a more subdued buildup to this historic match. However, once the game begins, all doubts will be dispelled. Twickenham Stadium is sold out, there will be tributes to Welsh legends Barry John and JPR Williams, and the anthems will be sung with great passion. Yet when we strip away the hype, narrative, and theatricality, what remains? We are left with two second-tier Six Nations teams embarking on their World Cup cycles. Without Alun Wyn Jones, who played in 15 consecutive Six Nations fixtures against England, does it even count? Jones did not participate in this match two years ago either, but his absence is not the only one that will be sorely felt. Owen Farrell, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams, and Kyle Sinckler are just a few of the notable names associated with this clash in recent times. Joe Marler, England's agent provocateur, will be on the field, but one suspects he will refrain from any similar antics to what occurred four years ago with Jones. It simply wouldn't be the same, and it appeared Jamie George was only half-joking when he claimed, "I think I'll certainly miss Alun Wyn." Not long ago, Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland revelled in weeks like this. Observing them exchange verbal jabs was not to everyone's taste, but both understood their role in entertaining the public during a seven-week window when rugby has the chance to shine, albeit under the shadow of football. However, this week, the Six Nations bingo cards remain untouched. Wales' roof controversy was last week's news, the Brynglas Tunnels have not been mentioned, and it is highly unlikely that the team buses will be head-butted. This prompts the question of whether age-old rivalries continue to hold relevance in these more sanitized times, devoid of coal, water, or steel feuds. Dafydd Jenkins, the Welsh captain who counts Henry Slade, Ethan Roots, and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso as teammates at Exeter, acknowledged that there is some familiarity amongst the players, and even friendships. Once upon a time, England supporters would have been ecstatic with a 3-0 victory over Wales, but Twickenham attendees expect more excitement for their money these days, especially when tickets are selling for over £150. Steve Borthwick's team has struggled to keep their fans satisfied, evident from their poor record of only three wins in their last ten matches at Twickenham. Consequently, their focus this week has been on improving their home form and reconnecting with supporters, rather than indulging in hyperbole about defeating the Welsh dragon. Nonetheless, rivalries have an uncanny ability to persist. Gatland once again brought up his conversation with Neil Jenkins regarding winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso's decision to play for England instead of Wales. Gatland previously mentioned that Jenkins was unhappy with this choice, and on Thursday, he reiterated this sentiment saying, "I love that, I just think that's how proud you are to be Welsh. If you don't want to be Welsh, then piss off." It may not be Wales' rallying cry for retaliation against England, but it taps into the national pride that propels this fixture. The rivalry is also meaningful to Borthwick, who will never forget his first game at Twickenham in 1996 when England schoolboys under-16s faced Wales schoolboys. This encounter began their enduring rivalry. Borthwick also reminisced about an England-Wales game at the under-18 level, where they secured the Grand Slam victory with a drop goal. The referee was blinded by the sun, but the Wales full-back's swear word confirmed that the ball had gone between the posts, securing England's triumph. Borthwick believes that from a young age, players face each other in matches, cultivating this intense rivalry. He also mentioned the passing of a legendary Welsh rugby figure, underscoring the rich history embedded in this fixture, and expressing hope that this young team will continue to contribute to its legacy. In other words, this rivalry will always persist. The stage is set for new heroes to emerge.

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