England have attempted to create their own miniature pocket of Wales on the training pitch this week with hymns and arias blaring out from loudspeakers. But Leigh Halfpenny has told his opponents that trying to replicate a Cardiff Friday night properly in leafy Surrey is an impossible task.
Noise has been a buzz word this week. England’s refusal to have the Millennium Stadium roof shut means that under the rules it will stay open for the game, so dissipating some of the expected cacophony of this Six Nations opener.
Even so, Wales still anticipate a noisy evening, casting their minds back to 2013 when England were denied the Grand Slam, in a game after which Stuart Lancaster’s players bemoaned the fact the volume was ratcheted up so much they could not even hear their own line calls.
For Halfpenny, a veteran of 55 Wales caps – the majority of them at the Millennium Stadium – the sound emanating from the stadium for that game was second to none, though then the roof was shut.
“For me, the anthem two years ago was the loudest I’ve ever heard it,” he said. “The roof was closed and the crowd were just singing and, wow, what a feeling to have just before kick-off. The crowd were just incredible. It gave us that buzz going into the game.”
The 72,500 expected inside are slowly being coaxed by the Wales players and management alike this week to be in even greater voice by the time of England’s arrival.
Halfpenny is the first to admit there were times when even the Wales players struggled to hear themselves amid the rising decibel count, and the full-back, returning to the principality after cementing his place with French side Toulon, fully expects that to be the case again even with the roof open.
“There are times when you are getting close to the opponents’ try line and the noise gets louder and louder and you are trying to hear the calls and communicate with each other and sometimes it’s so loud you are playing on instinct but still trying to communicate,” he admitted.
Such an outcome would play right into Wales’ hands. The home XV are an established one, to the extent that the debate over Warren Gatland’s early team announcement on Monday was at the bare minimum in a country renowned for the most strident of opinions when it comes to the national pastime.
England’s injury list means they are without a number of established names and five of their team are set to make their Six Nations debut on Friday, in contrast to a settled Wales team.
Should calls be buried under a wall of noise, Halfpenny is confident he and his team-mates will be prepared. “It’s what we see in front of us, that’s what we play and we’ve played alongside each other for a while now and know each others’ game inside out,” he said.
The sight of loudspeakers blaring out for a training session at the England team hotel in Bagshot might seem slightly farcical, but the Wales assistant coach, Rob Howley, admitted that it was a tactic his team had used in the past.
While much has been made of the noise of two years ago, Wales were on the receiving end of defeat when the two teams last met at Twickenham. Howley this week blamed that on a possible Lions hangover, due to the large Welsh contingent in that touring party.
Halfpenny is not willing to make such an excuse. “We didn’t perform to our standards and that hurts,” he said, “so Friday night is an opportunity to put that right. We will use that hurt to full effect.”