Adam Hathaway looks back on England’s ill-fated trip to Cardiff when they came away with nothing six years ago and reports on some bad news for Saracens’ Premiership rivals.
Back in 2013 England headed to Cardiff, to face Wales, seeking a Six Nations Grand Slam, which would have been their first since 2003, but right from the get-go the omens were not great for the blokes in white shirts.
And the fixture six years ago, under the roof, has some relevance this weekend as the only two teams who can claim a clean sweep go head-to-head on Saturday. Eddie Jones might have claimed that he has never seen the Principality Stadium as a fortress but it has been in the past and it was that time back in the day.
It was such a fortress that England would have struggled to have won if they had had a couple of Sherman Tanks at their disposal. All bets were off that night in March 2013.
RugbySpy remembers asking Stuart Lancaster, the-then England coach, in the lead-up to the match, if he knew what was coming in the Welsh capital both on and off the pitch and he replied that he never been to an England game in Cardiff before.
Well we had been to plenty and we knew what was coming for sure at what used to be known as the Millennium Stadium. And we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty if you were wearing a rose on your chest.
England had reason to be confident though. They had beaten Scotland, 38-18, France 23-13 and Italy 18-11 at Twickenham, and thrown in a 12-6 win in Dublin for good measure. The Italy game was not the greatest spectacle, it was desperate, but Wales had lost to Ireland in Cardiff in the opening round, before getting their game together beating France, Italy and Scotland all away from home before the big showdown.
But even if the unthinkable happened England had a cushion so at least they could still win the title even if they were beaten by a handful of points in Cardiff. But not many people who are not day-to-day followers of rugby remember championship winners in the Six Nations, they do remember Grand Slam winners though.
The maths went something like this.
England win, title and Slam is in the bag, Wales win by eight points or more then they nick the Six Nations trophy. And we all know what happened next, the Welsh did it with points to spare …it was not a great night to be English in Cardiff as Wales won 30-3 but it was a great night to be Welsh.
And boy did they party, they enjoyed it more than winning the Slam in 2012 and it is still talked about as one of the great days in Wales’ rugby, but it was a dark night for the English game.
The pubs were manic afterwards, when we had finally finished filing, and the Welsh were buzzing after inflicting their biggest margin of defeat on England since 1905.
On the pitch Chris Robshaw virtually played Wales on his own but Sam Warburton had one of those never-to-be-repeated days when he was unstoppable and Justin Tipuric was not far behind. Tipuric was officially man of the match but Warburton was off the scale.
To be fair Warburton did manage a few of those never-to-be-repeated days but Robshaw was heroic in the face of the onslaught, but the rest of the England side were never at the races and once they got on the wrong side of their not-so-favourite referee Steve Walsh the game was up.
The atmosphere in the ground was ridiculous and England started training with speakers blaring out at them ahead of their next trip there in 2015. But it was too little too late as far as that night was concerned.
Manu Tuilagi missed a decent scoring chance for England and Alex Cuthbert ran in a couple of tries from the wing and Dan Biggar, who may be involved this weekend assuming he shrugs off a knee injury, knocked over a crucial morale sapping drop goal. Leigh Halfpenny, who will not be involved this weekend surely, did the rest with his boot.
By the time Wales were out of sight the crowd were chanting “Easy, Easy”. And it was … if you can’t beat one bloke playing on his own then you really are in trouble. England had frozen and Wales were red hot and there is only one result on the cards if that is the case.
No one can accuse England of being under-prepared, and they won¹t be this time around, but they were ambushed good and proper.
In the desperate aftermath Lancaster said: “This leaves a huge motivation to make sure it doesn’t happen again – because it is a desperately disappointing place to be. The players are hugely disappointed. They feel they have let themselves down, that they have let the country down and it is a difficult place to be. Wales played well, we didn’t turn up and didn’t match their physicality. It was better than ours.”
To be fair England have not lost to Wales in the Six Nations since although there is the small matter of the World Cup pool match at Twickenham in 2015, which probably should not be overlooked.
But that game in 2013 cost England players more than the Six Nations title and the Grand Slam.
Sitting in the stands was Warren Gatland who was shortly to pick his squad for the 2013 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia. Gatland had taken a sabbatical from his job as Wales head honcho, Rob Howley was in temporary charge for that Six Nations, to look after the Lions and he liked what he saw that night in Cardiff.
Robshaw was one of the candidates to make the trip as captain. His heroics that night, and Gatland also referenced Warburton’s handling of whistler Walsh, saw the Welshman go down under as skipper and Robshaw did not even make the cut.
It cost a few more of the Englishmen that night too as Gatland picked 15 Welshmen in a 37-man squad who would go on to beat the Wallabies.
England have got reason enough to be confident this time around after their opening wins against Ireland and France but Cardiff can be a bear pit, just ask Robshaw and co.
On Sunday evening Jones named a 33-man squad to prepare for this weekend¹s match and of the 33 there were six on duty that fateful night in 2013 … Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes. Clive Woodward said in his column in the Daily Mail that there is only one team that can beat England in this Six Nations now, and take a wild guess which one he picked.
Lancaster might not have known what was coming all those years ago but those six will for sure and they will tell the rest of the squad it is hearts on fire, heads in the oven time again over the Severn Bridge.
This is going to be fun.
The Six Nations took a break this weekend, so we can all catch our breath, but the Premiership came back in full bonkers mode.
On Friday, Gloucester beat an off colour Exeter and Wasps did a number on Bristol. A day later Bath beat Newcastle, 30-13, Harlequins and Worcester shared 80 points with Quins winning 47-33 and Northampton racked up a scarcely believable 67-17 defeat of Sale.
But the big noise was at Allianz Park where Saracens beat Leicester 33-10 and if teams thought the champions would be weakened by the absence of their England players they had another thing coming.
As it happens, the Vunipolas, Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Jamie George, George Kruis plus Scotland¹s Sean Maitland and Wales’ Liam Williams were at the ground, they just weren’t on the pitch. They were watching from the stands as Matt Gallagher, son of All Black World Cup winner John, Nick Isiekwe and Ben Earl helped Saracens win 33-10 after being 10-5 behind at half-time.
This is not good news for the rest of the Premiership.
Now is the time of year when clubs without a fistful of international players can gain some ground against the big guns like Saracens. But the chances of anyone doing that look slimmer as long as Saracens keep churning out youngsters like the 22-year-old full-back Gallagher.
For those with a short memory Gallagher Snr was born in Lewisham before heading to NZ and winning the World Cup with the All Blacks in 1987. His son is as English as they come but the wider picture looks bleak for the chasing pack in the Premiership after Saracens went top on Saturday.
Williams and Maitland were available to play, Premiership regulations say so but the England lads weren’t but Saracens still thought the kids were all right.
As the boss Mark McCall told us on Saturday night ” We had Sean and Liam available this week but we decided not to use them because these are periods are crucial for us to develop some of the players who are coming through the academy. It is wonderful to see that next generation coming through and they need to get experiences like today.
You don’t mind doing that when the young players play like they did. It was brilliant to see all of our international players here today and in the changing room after the match. A lot of those players who are now playing for England have gone through the same journey as the likes of Matt and Ben and Nick ”
And when it gets down to the business end of the domestic and European season, Saracens, who clearly have a plan on a spread sheet on McCall’s lap top, will have some massive guns to fire.