Wales v England: Wales must find new soundtrack to upset England

By Mike HensonBBC Sport
Eddie Jones
Eddie Jones has won six of his eight matches against Wales as England coach
Autumn Nations Cup: Group A - Wales v England
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli Date: Saturday, 28 November Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru; watch on S4C and follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app.

This week, one song has apparently been on heavy rotation on Eddie Jones' stereo.

"As Long as We Beat the English", the Stereophonics' ode to a Welsh rugby fan's annual wishlist has been getting the England coach in the mood.

Beyond Jones' hotel suite, the usual playlist to accompany England's trip west is missing.

Delilah, Hymns and Arias, packed Cardiff streets, inflatable leeks, a ceremonial goat, a 70,000-strong choir and pyro and patriotism swirling under the Principality Stadium roof. None of it will be in evidence this weekend.

Instead of a super-spreader event where belief sweeps the stands to bend the contest Wales' way, Saturday will be a different beast.

Alun Wyn Jones says Wales know what is needed against England

A stripped-back, low-decibel meeting in a spectator-free vacuum rather than an atmosphere so thick you chew, rather than breathe, it.

Jones nailed it with a simple observation. Saturday's venue - Parc y Scarlets - will be "a ground, not a stadium".

It might be at odds with history, but it is entirely in keeping with the Autumn Nations Cup so far.

The tournament, created to plug the hole left in calendars and finances by coronavirus, has been a glitchy version of Test rugby.

Three matches have been wiped off the fixture list entirely by a coronavirus outbreak among the Fiji squad.

Those that have taken place have been curiously sterile, with defences suffocating and scrum resets sapping them of rhythm.

Only one of those six has finished with a converted try difference or less between the two teams.

It has been international rugby drained of the blood and thunder.

Opposing head coaches Eddie Jones and Wayne Pivac warm up for the Autumn Nations Cup match on Saturday

Maybe it is to be expected. The first year after a Rugby World Cup is often one of transition, teams freshening up old tactics and bedding in new coaches.

The pandemic has prompted the tacticians, short on training time, to consolidate around defence rather than innovate in attack.

But Wales v England is the strangest sight yet through 2020's looking glass.

Only twice in their last 10 meetings has the winning margin been in double digits. They are contests as tight as piano wire, if a good deal less harmonious.

This time, with Wales only halting a run of six defeats last weekend and England steaming in on the back of six straight victories, the bookmakers reckon a 15-point England win is par.

Some in Wales are openly talking about a decent performance being an acceptable outcome, with defeat almost a given.

'As long as we beat the English'? 'As long as we don't get beaten out of sight' has less of a ring.

Beyond the scoreline and setting, it is a game that looks different in the detail as well.

With Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence out, England's backline is more artisan than heavy-duty arsenal.

George Ford, Owen Farrell and Henry Slade, all focused on distribution rather than destruction, are brought together in a starting line-up for the first time since featuring in back-to-back defeats by South Africa in June 2018.

George North, Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty, all starters when the teams last met in anger in Cardiff, are absent for Wales.

Wayne Pivac
Wales ended a run of six successive defeats with a 18-0 win over Georgia last weekend

Instead the focus is on less familiar faces.

Cardiff Blues flankers James Botham and Shane Lewis-Hughes have three caps between them and plenty on their plate as they pack down opposite England's kamikaze kids Sam Underhill and Tom Curry.

Johnny Williams, who scored a try for England in a non-cap match against the Barbarians in June 2019, lines up with Nick Tompkins, a former England under-20 star, in Wales' midfield.

On the sidelines, the two coaches have foregone the usual haymakers in the build-up.

With old adversary Warren Gatland gone, Jones' pre-match needle has been more subtle.

"At the moment, when he sees a board member, they turn the other way and it becomes difficult," he said of opposite number Wayne Pivac.

Group A table. 1 England P 2, W 2, D 0, L 0 , PD 51, B 1, Pts 9. 2 Ireland P 2, W1, D 0, L 1, PD 12, B 0, Pts 4. 2 Wales P 2, W 1, D 0, L 1, PD -5, B 0, Pts 4. 4 Georgia P 2, W 0, D 0, L 2, PD -58, B 0, Pts 0.

"You start looking for shadows in the corners and start seeing meetings between people. It's a tough time."

With sympathy like that, who needs animosity?

There's a lot different.

But there was when Kelly Jones picked up a pen and guitar in 1999.

The Stereophonics frontman had to compose a tune to promote BBC Wales' coverage of the Wales v England Five Nations finale.

It was taking place in unusual surroundings with Wales playing home matches at Wembley while the Millennium Stadium was finished.

It was being overseen by a new coach, Sir Graham Henry having been appointed nine months before.

England, zeroing in on a Grand Slam, were heavy favourites. Wales beaten by Ireland and Scotland earlier in the tournament were distinct underdogs.

Scott Gibbs in 1999
Gibbs scores the winning try against England in the teams' 1999 meeting at Wembley

And then Scott Gibbs' toes twinkled, Neil Jenkins' boot boomed and expectations were blown to the wind.

"For us it's Wales v England, a match in Wales, if you are ever going to get up for a match you would suspect this would the match," said Pivac earlier this week.

"Motivation won't be an issue for us."

It was never in doubt. Whether they can find the necessary magic to overhaul an England side and start a party like it's 1999 is another matter.

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