Hadleigh Parkes column: 'There's a bit more of an edge' to this Wales v England game

Hadleigh Parkes column
Six Nations: Wales v England
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 23 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, S4C, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

In the fourth of his Six Nations columns, Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes talks about rivalries, the prospect of facing England and pre-match rituals.

It's awesome, isn't it? Wales v England on a Saturday evening in Cardiff in the Six Nations.

I remember the first Wales v England game I went to was the one where James Haskell ran into the goalpost in 2015! I was at the ground and it was immense, the atmosphere was a step above anything I'd ever been to before.

The Principality Stadium arena helps with that. There was a lights show before it and the crowd were just nuts.

There's a little bit more of an edge to this one. There's a huge rivalry there and these are the games you want to play well in and put your hand up.

I'm happy to call it our home stadium, because in terms of rugby stadiums around the world, it's got to be in the top three, if not the top stadium in the world - just with its locality within the city, with how much of an arena it is.

It's such an amazing place to watch a game, I don't think there's a bad seat. Whether you're in the back rafters or down at the sidelines.

When you're playing you can feel the crowd right on top of you, just under 74,000 of them, and when you're in the crowd you feel more a part of it because you're so close.

I played at Twickenham last year - which is an immense stadium and an amazing place to play at - but the crowd is still a long way away from the pitch.

So when they built the Principality they did a great job of making it into a real rugby arena.

Personal and team rivalries

Hadleigh Parkes is tackled by Bundee Aki during a match between Scarlets and Connacht
Hadleigh Parkes is tackled by an old rival, Bundee Aki of Connacht and Ireland

I've had a lot of rivalries going right back to my school days in New Zealand at Palmerston North Boys High School, where we played Napier for the Polson Banner.

It's a rivalry which went back 110 years when I was at school.

Our school had not won it for five years until my penultimate year and then we managed to win it twice, which was great to be involved in.

Then you move on to a personal rivalry with another boy who's over here now, Bundee Aki, who is now playing for Ireland. I came up against him for Auckland against Counties Manukau a couple of times.

The big team rivalry would have been Auckland against Canterbury and they had the better of us, but I remember at Eden Park once we managed to beat them quite convincingly, which was nice.

Coming over here the rivalry is always going to be between Scarlets and Ospreys. Then you get to play against the big Irish teams, so week in, week out there are good rivalries developing within the Pro14.

You get the big Champions Cup games and this year I had to mark Manu Tuilagi in the Scarlets and Leicester match.

Manu Tuilagi
Manu Tuilagi toured with the British and Irish Lions in Australia in 2013

In that game he got the better of the Scarlets and they had a great win. It's good to not just have team rivalries, I like personal rivalries. They are a good challenge.

It's sometimes hard because a lot of the time you're not actually marking them.

When the 12 is carrying, a lot of the time it will be the 10 or the open-side who will tackle him and the 12 on most defences are looking to get out to tackle the winger or the 13.

You've got to take your hat off to Manu, he's had a lot of injuries and he came back in that Champions Cup game and Leicester had a game plan which was particularly effective against us.

They got on the front foot with a big forward pack and they just came around the corner and he played well.

They fed off him, he fed off them. He scored a try and he was pretty good that day and whoever's in the midfield for Wales on the weekend, it's going to be a tough challenge but an exciting challenge and that's the best way to look at it.

You talk to players and you want to go up against these boys, test yourself and have a good crack.

It's always nice to come up against boys like Manu and Bundee. If you can get the better of your opposite number and you get that across the park with a lot of players then it goes a long way to helping you win that game.

Evolving England

The contentious disallowed try
Gareth Anscombe's try was disallowed after he battled with Anthony Watson of England in the 2018 Six Nations match

England have shown in the first couple of games they have been extremely physical. They have brought a bit of edge to their defence as well with John Mitchell coming in there and bringing line speed.

They have done extremely well in the first two games, but we have also won our first two matches.

I know we have to step up and keep improving, but if we can get our house in order, it will go a long way towards us winning this game.

We've only mentioned last year's game a little bit. If Gareth Anscombe's try had been a try - there are people who say that it was and people who say it wasn't, it just depends on where in the UK you're from! - then that game might have been a bit different.

The first 10 minutes we were under the pump, they scored two good tries and it was 12-0. If we score there it's 12-5 with a kick to come - hopefully 12-7 and you can build from that.

Pre-match build-up

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I'm a pretty relaxed man, I guess that's because I am a little bit older, maybe? I think nerves are good. So during the morning of a match I have to go out for a coffee - got to get a nice flat white in there - and just relax.

I always think about the game and my role, I always write down a few things in my book and I'll read that in that morning - what our game plan is so I can help out the 10 if I have to help him out.

I will write down a few moves and what we are planning on doing in different areas of the field. I will write down how we want to start the game and a couple of different goals.

By that time you have your pre-match meal and then it's shower time. That's when you start getting really quite nervous.

These are really big games, Six Nations matches and autumn internationals, so you do get really nervous… but it's an exciting nervousness.

Is it a drug? I don't know, but it's the adrenaline, that is like a drug.

You get into the changing room and your jersey's hanging up and you have your name with your international number above it.

So the kit guys, JR (John Rowlands) and Payney (Martyn Payne), make sure everything is laid out for you because they want you to be as comfortable as possible.

You are getting this huge honour, this huge humbling experience to be able to run out and pretty much run into people and tackle people for a job.

It's pretty awesome.

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