First prayer, final conversion

'There aren't many who can say they started and ended their internation al career against the same player'; Jonathan Davies reflects on a game of high emotions and low rewards
Click to follow
The Independent Online
At least, I can tell my grandchildren that I scored the last international points at the old National Stadium. And as long as they don't ask me who won it will stay a happy memory... Rob Howley jinking his way through to score the best try of the game and me stepping up to slot the conversion from an angle.

If I'm pressed to say what the score was then I will own up that Wales were well beaten by a very good side - in my opinion the best in the championship - who came to an emotional occasion to do a professional job and did it with a high level of efficiency that no one can question.

I thought the Welsh forwards battled courageously and did a wonderful job in the line-out, especially in the first half, but overall England's pack was awesome and no one more than Richard Hill, who was my man of the match by a distance.

England proved to be very difficult to play against and made sure that the time the ball was in play in the first half was extremely low.

When we did manage to get possession, the way they fanned across the field to present us with a white wall was particularly frustrating and this is where Hill was outstanding, cleaning out most of the second and third-phase possession. It helped to create a stranglehold they never let go.

I tried to vary things to break it up. The English full-back, Tim Stimpson, was tending to stand back and with their three-quarters pressing forward there was a gap I tried to exploit with a few chip kicks but although we created a couple of promising opportunities they defended extremely well against anything we threw at them until Howley finally found a way to their tryline late in the game.

I would have liked to have had quicker ball but among England's strengths was the way they managed to slow down our service from the rucks. Losing Neil Jenkins with a broken arm was a cruel blow on top of all the injuries we'd had before the game. Neil's departure handed me the goalkicking duties, and as he had already missed two the pressure was really on, especially when I missed the next one. But I did manage to put three over which helped relieve some of the tension.

My personal recollections of the game are mainly emotional. Just before I kicked off at the start of the match I did something I have never done before, I just knelt and said a silent prayer although what I was praying for I can't say. I think it was just an attempt to calm down. From then on I just enjoyed being part of a great occasion worth remembering even though the old enemy were triumphant. Still, my personal score against England is 4-2 in Wales's favour so I can't really complain.

After the game I found myself standing near Rob Andrew and Will Carling and we stood for a moment savouring what was certainly my last appearance in a Welsh international and probably Rob's. Will hasn't quite said he's going to quit but if he does he couldn't choose a better memory to close with. I didn't offer to swop shirts with Rob, mainly because I wanted to keep my final No 10 jersey but it took me back to my first game 12 years ago when we played England and Rob Andrew was my opposing outside- half. There aren't many players who can say that they started and ended their international careers against the same team and the same player.

Back in 1985 when Rob suggested we exchange shirts I have to confess I gave him one I had worn on the replacements bench in the match before. It had No 16 on the back but I folded it over so he didn't see it when we did the swop after the match. I was terrified it was going to be my first and last game so I wanted the shirt. Rob has had one of my shirts since so I don't feel too bad about it. But it was very emotional ending our international careers at the same time.

Among my favourite memories of the match will be some of the tackles I made, particularly on speed merchants Jon Sleightholme and Austin Healey and, in particular, when I gave Jeremy Guscott a big start and caught up enough to flick his ankles and bring him down. Not bad for an old stager who is said to have lost all his speed.

The only shock I had in the game was when I was about to restart after England's first try. I was putting the ball in the sand and I looked up to see a streaker a yard away. "Give us a touch," he said. I was worried for a moment until I realised he was talking about the ball.

Comments