To the Principality Stadium (despite the grand and rather suitable title, actually named after a building society) for the much-heralded rugby union battle between Warren Gatland’s Wales and Eddie Jones’s England. Both teams were unbeaten in this year’s Six Nations. Wales had won a (for them) record equalling 11 games on the trot, matching the great Welsh side of 1907-1910. (They’ve got a long way to go to beat the 24 games won by Cyprus between 2007 and 2014 – but that’s another story.) England were resurgent, after having only won two games in the 2018 Championship. They had already beaten pre-tournament favourites Ireland 32-20 and France 44-8.
I should declare an interest here. MAE is a Wales supporter having been attending internationals in Cardiff, initially with his Welsh born father, since the late 1960s, including through the glory days of Gareth Edwards, Barry John, J.P.R. Williams and the Pontypool front row. However I was accompanied by an English couple: Mr and Mrs. Pious Bob. We arrived relatively early at the stadium for the pre-match entertainment. Mrs. PB had not been to a rugby international before, so we wanted her to have the full Cardiff experience, in particular the famous Welsh singing. The Pendyrus and Flint Male voice choirs were in fine voice in Delilah and Hymns and Arias and were supported by the Royal Welsh Regiment band with their famous goat mascot. The teams ran on, the anthems were lustily sung. The noise of the crowd alone is said to be worth 10 points to Wales.
The match began. England persisted with their long kicking game by fly half Owen Farrell which had brought them comfortable wins against Ireland and France, but Wales fullback Liam Williams seemed to have an uncanny ability to forecast where the ball was heading. After five minutes the numerous England supporters attempted a rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot but that was quickly drowned out by Welsh whistling and booing. After 16 minutes England went ahead with a penalty after an earlier failure but Gareth Anscombe replied after 23 following a period of sustained Welsh pressure (W. 3 – E. 3). In the 26th minute England scored a try when Tom Curry spotted a gap in the Welsh defensive line. (3 -10) At the end of the half Wales just managed to hold on against an England line-out on their own line. Talk at half-time seemed to suggest that England would be too strong for Wales in the second half as their kicking game used less energy. Wales on the other hand had been going through many exhausting phases of attack, predominantly by their scrum, before eventually losing the ball.
Both teams then seemed to stick to their original plan in the second half, but Wales improved their execution whereas England’s kicking game got worse. After 10 minutes Wales seemed to be gradually wearing England down and Anscombe kicked another penalty (6 – 10). England prop Kyle Sinckler seemed to be “losing his composure” (as he is prone to do). A penalty for a late tackle allowed Wales to reach the England 25 metre line. Sinckler was then penalised again for a high tackle on Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones. (9 -10) Sinckler should probably have been sin-binned but was substituted anyway. England’s one good second half attack, an impressive run to Wales 25 line by Manu Tuilagi, then broke down. As was probably planned, Dan Biggar replaced Gareth Anscombe at fly-half after 61 minutes which had a huge effect on the game. An England penalty by Farrell made the score 9 – 13. An England error brought Wales close to the England line and, after 34 phases of possession, a perfect short pass by Biggar to second row Cory Hill resulted in a Welsh try near the corner (16 – 13). England’s kicking game was being exposed. Biggar chased his own return kick up to the England 25 metre line. A cross-field kick by Biggar to Welsh winger Josh Adams resulted in Wales’ second try and a magnificent Wales victory (21 – 13).
Wales had now broken that 109 year old record of 11 wins in succession. They needed just two more wins (against Scotland and Ireland) to record their twelfth Grand Slam and edge closer to England‘s thirteen*. Sadly we couldn’t stay for the post-match celebrations. We were due at the Bull at Hinton in Wiltshire where we each had an excellent steak with oven roasted new potatoes. Our table in the crowded bar area wasn’t ideal though. We didn’t stay long enough to give a star rating. We then went on to Toghill Farm, a rather quirky guesthouse. My room (the quirky bit) was very much in the eaves of the farmhouse and the bed was on the floor. The full English breakfast next morning was good. (***) Home to Eastbourne by tea time on Sunday with hopes of that Grand Slam still very much alive.
* Wales first two Grand Slams included wins against France, who were not then in the Championship, so according to some (mainly English) they might only get to 10.