Wales to open the Six Nations with a victory over England. Well, we always beat England, don’t we?
I always used to as a young lad on the poorly lit backstreets of Tumble, my home village in the Gwendraeth Valley. But aside from playing street rugby against England – and it was always England – my first real experience of the fixture came as a 10-year-old in 1967.
In the morning I had played fly-half for Mynydd Mawr Schools against the might of Cardiff Schools on Llandaff fields. We lost 8-0, I think, and the opposing No 10 shirt had been worn by Danny Wilson, father of Ryan Giggs, who in later years went on to play for Cardiff before “going North” to Widnes and Swinton.
I was then ferried off to the Arms Park for the first time and the rather fraught experience, but also the sublime excitement, of the West Terrace.
What a game I had for my first taste of international rugby. Quite simply: the Keith Jarrett match. It was Keith’s first Wales international, aged only 18. He had been selected at full-back even though he had only once played senior rugby in that position. Newport were asked to play him at full-back against Newbridge on the weekend before the international to give him some experience. He did not seem to be much of a success in his new position, and at half-time his captain, David Watkins, switched him to centre.
The following week for Wales Jarrett scored a breathtaking try. England won a line-out in their own 25 (as it was then). The ball was passed down the line to the English centre, Colin McFadyean, who kicked towards the halfway line. The ball bounced once and was seemingly going into touch.
But Jarrett raced on to the ball, taking it without breaking stride. He sprinted down the line, outflanking the whole of the astonished England defence, to score in the left corner.
He converted his own try from the touchline. In addition to scoring that incredible try, he kicked two penalty goals and five conversions for a total of 19 points. Not a bad start.
Years later, in 1979, I would beat England during my first season as a Wales fly-half, a 27-3 victory to lift the Triple Crown and just as convincing as those street matches in Tumble.
Fast forward nearly half a century and the rivalry is just as intense, with the Six Nations opener next Friday in Cardiff a mouth-watering occasion which signals the start of a nine-month period which seems set to be the biggest rugby extravaganza the UK will have witnessed.
The Championship is wide open and should be fiercely contested, and is only a prelude to Rugby World Cup 2015, which will be played in England and Cardiff in the autumn.
England have been particularly ravaged by injuries ahead of next Friday, the very real consequence of modern players becoming bigger, stronger and faster. But beware the injured animal, as very often in adversity sportspeople will produce their best, and the England team will still pack a powerful punch with their strength in depth.
The estimated economic impact of the Rugby World Cup for Cardiff is £316 million, according to a recent study, with Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Fiji, Georgia, Canada, Uruguay and France all in town. The equivalent of 1,800 full-time equivalent jobs will also be generated for the year.
Friday’s match will be the start of it all, but the bearing of the result next week on the final standings in Pool A of RWC 2015 is debatable. Australia will have their say in Welsh and English destinies at World Cup time.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks Wales will also be at Twickenham on 26 September – both in force and in good voice, that’s a given, but the thought won’t quench the nation’s thirst for victory next weekend.
What we need on Friday is a result which will get us off to a good start for 2015 – and a win in the manner of Keith Jarrett’s debut would do nicely.
Gareth Davies, chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, played 21 times at fly-half for Wales between 1978-85Reuse content