Saturday 23 September 2017

Dragons fan the flames in pantomime Six Nations build-up

James Haskell is tackled by Dave Attwood during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium
James Haskell is tackled by Dave Attwood during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

Chris Hewett

Wales cranked up the temperature ahead of tonight's huge Six Nations contest with England at the Millennium Stadium by accusing the visitors of playing fast and loose with the obstruction law in some of their midfield moves.

Shaun Edwards, the home side's defence coach, also questioned the legality of the red-rose maul, which is likely to be one of their principal attacking weapons.

"They'll come at us with rugby league plays, passing the ball out the back," said Edwards, whose own stellar career in the 13-man game is the stuff of legend in and around Wigan.

"Our structures will need to be right, but it's also important that there is no obstruction of our defensive players ahead of the ball. A lot of tries are disallowed in league because of that. I'm sure the referee (Jerome Garces of France) and the television match official will be well aware of it."

On the subject of the driving maul, he raised concerns over the mass drive used by England during their match with the Springboks during the autumn.

Integrate

"We were the first to integrate the 13-man line-out, while England started with the usual line-out and then had the backs join in," he remarked. "But they joined too early, before the maul had gone off the line. It was a big turning point in that game."

England were in no rush to respond in kind, with Mike Catt, one of their assistant coaches, expressing bemusement at the comments about decoy runners.

"If there was a problem, the referees would be penalising us - and they're not penalising us," he said. "If there's no contact with a defender, there's no obstruction. Still, Shaun has found a way of getting his views out there."

The match, the opener for this year's Six Nations, will be played at a buzzing Millennium Stadium, with Wales hot favourites as England have been hit by injuries.

James Haskell, the England flanker who was a member of the 2013 squad, admitted the atmosphere in Cardiff when the roof is closed "is so oppressive it's like a force on top of you."

Consequently there were calls for the Welsh supporters - who will vastly outnumber the 5,500 England supporters who have bought tickets - to raise the volume tonight to compensate for dampening the effect of the open roof on the atmosphere.

Welsh crooner Max Boyce even joined the fray yesterday, saying he was delighted that England had been training to the sound of his song Hymns and Arias at full volume as it indicated that Lancaster's side were worried about playing in Cardiff. Boyce, however, told the Western Mail that he was prepared to forego any royalty claims.

"As England's head coach, Stuart Lancaster, comes from a more-or-less working class background I've decided to let the RFU off - this time," said Boyce.

The pantomime build up to the fixture has perhaps never been as intense despite England's best attempts to play a straight bat, with Lancaster insisting that his preference for the roof to be open was based on the weather forecast for dry conditions.

England's pre-match narrative has been dominated by the injury toll that has deprived Lancaster of 13 players and forced the selection of his 11th midfield combination of Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph against the most played Welsh midfield partnership of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.

In such a time of need, England look set to turn to their traditional forward power despite their injury problems in a contest that is likely to define both sides' respective championship hopes.

"It is winning at international rugby," said Catt when asked if injuries had affected England's style of play. "We have tried to find a balance between tightening everything up to then going too expansive so now we need to try and get this happy medium. That takes times to do but I'd like to think with that Australia game we found a good balance between the two. Now it is for us to ensure the players are able to go out and play that way.

"The set piece is one of our strengths. I think it is something England has always prided themselves on so let's not go away from what we are extremely good at."

For those not experiencing the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium, the match is expected to attract a television audience of over 10 million.

"It doesn't get any better as a set-up to the championship," said Lancaster. "It's an iconic rugby stadium, it's an iconic fixture, the history behind the two countries in rugby is huge, to kick off and on a Friday night, makes it a big game. The odds are irrelevant to me. We played pretty much the same Welsh team last year."

Wales - L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar, R Webb; G Jenkins, R Hibbard, S Lee, J Ball, A Wyn Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (Capt), T Faletau. Reps: S Baldwin, P James, A Jarvis, L Charteris, J Tipuric, M Phillips, R Priestland, L Williams.

England - M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, L Burrell, J May; G Ford, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley, D Cole, D Attwood, G Kruis, J Haskell, C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola. Reps: T Youngs, M Vunipola, K Brookes, N Easter, T Croft, R Wigglesworth, D Cipriani, B Twelvetrees.

Wales v England,

Live RTE2 and BBC2, 8.05

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport