Six Nations 2014: Davies ready to embrace hostility of Twickenham cauldron


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The Independent Online

The hatred may have waned but Jonathan Davies knows the rivalry runs just as deep between England and Wales.

During 104 years of cross-border duels, this fixture has come with its own safety warning. Never was that more the case than for the infamous battle of 1980 – reckoned by former hooker and current Wales team manager Alan Phillips as the "dirtiest" game he ever played.

England won 9-8 win thanks to Dusty Hare's injury-time penalty, though the game will always be remembered for Paul Ringer's red card.

There is little chance of the same skulduggery this weekend, given the phalanx of television cameras. Instead the hostility is channelled, the hits are harder and the aggression given direction.

"I'm sure it will be a hostile atmosphere at Twickenham and a few songs we will not be familiar with. It's going to be special," predicted Jonathan Davies, who steps into the cauldron after four months out injured. "These games are always heated. It's a fierce contest so we will have to find another level, even from the last game against France. There was a real edge and a physicality in the contact area then, but we will have to step it up again.

"The Twickenham factor has always been huge for England so it's fair that they're favourites. Perhaps in the past it has been a factor for Wales but we don't really look into that. We have been to tough places before and played in front of a crowd like that. You just embrace it because it makes winning even better."

Jack Nowell's assessment of the Welsh "hatred" towards England may resonate more with the supporters than players, though beating the old enemy remains just as enjoyable as Wales target a fourth successive win.

"Hate is a strong word. We got on great with the English lads on the Lions tour but we're passionate in Wales," said hooker Richard Hibbard.

The long-haired front-row has swiftly gained a reputation as a fearless competitor. His head-on clash with Joe Marler was among the abiding memories of last year's victory in Cardiff. That paved the way for British Lions selection and ultimately the Test jersey, aided by Dylan Hartley's suspension. "I met Dylan once with the Lions before he was banned. It was a shame because I was quite keen to see what goes on in his head," re-called Hibbard.

"He likes to get into people and sledge opponents but I'm usually oblivious to all that because I'm knackered. He has singled me out as one of Wales' ball-carriers. Well, happy days, because I love the physical side of the game."

Hibbard will be sandwiched between 196 caps of experience in Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, who equals Stephen Jones' record as his country's most-decorated player on his 104th Test appearance. The scrum is an area Wales fancy their chances. Hibbard said: "Graham Rowntree will have worked on England's scrum but it's like a Rubik's Cube, you get close to working it out but it keeps changing."

Clearly what never changes is the rivalry in this fixture.

Saint AndrÉ rings the changes after rout

France coach Philippe Saint-André has made seven changes to his team for Saturday's Six Nations match against Scotland at Murrayfield.

The French will boast a fresh back row following their 27-6 loss to Wales with Sébastien Vahaamahina, Alexandre Lapandry and Damian Chouly brought in. Castres hooker Brice Mach comes in for the injured Dimitri Szarzewski.

Toulon centre Maxime Mermoz replaces the injured Wesley Fofana, who fractured a rib during the Welsh defeat, while Maxime Médard and Maxime Machenaud also start.