With the Rugby World Cup just around the corner, Twickenham took to its unusual role of hosting international rugby in August (anyone else think that sport just looks better played in the summer?) as Wales and England clashed in the first of a double header.
Whilst both teams showed changes to the ones that will likely run out in New Zealand for the start of the tournament, here are a few things I gleaned from the game…
1. Despite playing in the controversial black kit (haven’t Wales been wearing black and the All Blacks white as away shirts for years – come on people, grow up!) England are at their best not trying to replicate the New Zealand brand of rugby and sticking to a game plan that uses Jonny Wilkinson’s strength to the full. It might not be pretty or win new fans but this is a World Cup year – winning is all that counts.
2. However they are acquiring the talent (I like to call them South Zengland or New Engfrica) the England team have some strength in depth. Manu Tuilagi and Matt Stevens will be especially pleased with their performances and likely booked themselves on the plane to NZ (someone just make sure they leave the fist fights and drugs at home though yeah?!)
3. Wales, as has been the case since 2003, are a major threat out when allowed to play expansive rugby and have some flyers that will scare even the most one eyed Southern Hemisphere supporter. George North finished his tries with aplomb and is living up to the ‘white Jonah Lomu’ tag nicely. That said, they are fast overtaking Ireland in the plucky underdog stakes and Quarter Final heartache lies ahead.
4. England indiscipline will be a major concern for Martin Johnson. As with all World Cups, referees will be given a new directive on how to referee the games. Given this World Cup is being played in New Zealand, you can assume that this will be something that allows Richie McCaw to get away with murder and everyone else pinged for any indiscretion…just kidding. But England will have to careful as silly penalties were given away on Saturday.
5. I still can’t see past a Tri-Nations victory. With New Zealand breezing past South Africa and Australia over the last two weekends, the red hot favourites are living up to the pre tournament billing but there is still a chance for someone to follow in the footsteps of George Gregan (with his infamous “four more years boys” at the end of the Wallabies semi final victory in 2003 to the All Blacks pack at full time) and continue the Silver Fern World Cup curse. The rest of us live in hope…
By Conan Jal