England and Wales set for RWC 2015 rehearsal
Inevitably, many international fixtures will now be used as markers for Rugby World Cup 2015. This weekend’s Six Nations clash between England and Wales is of particular significance given that it marks the last time the two sides meet at Twickenham before their Pool A clash at RWC 2015.
The sides have already met each other twice on the Rugby World Cup stage – on both occasions in a quarter-final in Brisbane. At the inaugural RWC in 1987 Wales ran out 16-3 winners to set up a semi-final against eventual winners New Zealand. Then at RWC 2003 it was England’s turn to taste success with a 28-17 win over their neighbours.
We caught up with some of English and Welsh rugby’s biggest names to put the match into context, 19 months out from RWC 2015.
Dallaglio recalls tough tie
England Rugby 2015 Ambassador Lawrence Dallaglio, who played in the RWC 2003 quarter-final, remembers how the eventual winners overcame a half-time deficit to progress to the semi-finals.
“Looking back to RWC 2003 I remember we had a tough week in the build-up to the Wales match, and with hindsight we probably spent far too much time training in the Brisbane sun,” recalled Dallaglio. “We looked at the match that Wales played in the pool phase against New Zealand and they were clearly a dangerous side.
“We kicked poorly and were quite heavy-legged in that quarter-final. We were well below our best and Wales took full advantage. Take nothing away from the way Wales played in that match - they thoroughly deserved to be going down the tunnel at half-time in the lead, and at that point we were staring at going out of RWC 2003. But we still had 40 minutes of rugby left to play and Clive Woodward made some big calls at half-time, in particular taking Dan Luger off and bringing Mike Catt on.
“Tactically, Jonny Wilkinson perhaps wasn’t having his best game but the experience of Mike Catt next to him in the second half really helped, and all of a sudden the game turned. In the end we were pretty comfortable winners but for a time it was looking difficult.
“In the context of what’s gone on previously between England and Wales I think the two remaining Six Nations fixtures are hugely important. England have beaten some great sides under Stuart Lancaster but they haven’t beaten South Africa or Wales yet, and notably Wales have won on their last two visits to Twickenham.
“As a player you have these things in your mind about being able to beat sides and not being able to beat sides and they stick with you, so England really need to win one, if not two, of the remaining fixtures ahead of RWC 2015.”
Gatland looking to build on momentum
Wales coach Warren Gatland, meanwhile, is looking forward to returning to familiar surroundings on Sunday, with a potential psychological advantage to be gained from victory in this Six Nations match.
“Twickenham is a great stadium which I’m very familiar with, having lived in London for a number of years. There’s obviously a big build-up to RWC 2015 and if we win on Sunday it will be a massive boost for us," admitted Gatland.
“The fact that we’ve already had some success in recent years there helps us and I think that both squads will only get stronger in the build-up to next year’s tournament. At RWC 2015 I reckon the starting 15 will probably have around 1,000 caps between them and I’m hoping that they will all be in top form.
“Next year’s Rugby World Cup is something to look forward to and I’m really excited about it.”
For the young guns, playing at RWC 2015 would be the fulfilment of childhood dreams. Two former college mates in the form of Alex Cuthbert and Jonny May will be lining up against each other on Sunday.
Biggest stage in world rugby
Cardiff Blues and Wales wing Cuthbert sees the fixture as part of the journey to RWC 2015.
“England v Wales will be one of the biggest games of the pool phase at RWC 2015. I came into the Wales squad after the last tournament in New Zealand and I remember the feeling in the camp after that RWC was quite sad, as the boys felt they could have got to the final.”
“This is a chance to lay down a marker ahead of RWC 2015 and a stepping stone towards that tournament. It’s a useful gauge to know where each team is ahead of the pool phase. RWC is the biggest stage in world rugby. Having been on the Lions tour I’ve had some of the experience of what the pressures will be like, but RWC will be a step up from that. I’d really like to get a taste of what it feels like to play in a Rugby World Cup.”
Gloucester and England wing May is excited about seeing RWC 2015 come to his country.
“It was an incredibly special moment being involved in my first England international at home to Ireland, and I’m really looking forward to the Wales game.
“I can’t wait to have the whole country behind us at RWC 2015 and hopefully we can do something special for England. For me Rugby World Cup is the only thing that can top a Six Nations.
“In Kingsholm they really couldn’t have picked a better venue – they will get sell-outs and excited and passionate rugby-appreciative fans. Kingsholm really is a great place to play rugby.”
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