Just when Warren Gatland, Wales's winder-up-in-chief, managed to last an entire press conference without antagonising the English, so piped up Andy Powell. The No 8 yesterday labelled Tom Wood as "quite lucky" and warned the debutant of the reality shock awaiting him in Cardiff tomorrow night.
It was a surprising statement, not least because of the mouth whence it came. Powell's last contribution to the Six Nations headlines came last February when, in the early morning after the victory over Scotland, he was caught in a golf buggy driving on the M4. Now, as he prepares to make just his second international start since, he feels comfortable in giving Wood the hard shoulder.
The Lion was in the Wasps team who lost at home so convincingly to Northampton a few months ago and although Wood was outstanding on the flank that day, Powell is clearly not yet convinced. "He's an all-round player but he's been quite lucky so far I think," he said. "He's been playing a pack going forward and hasn't played with a pack going backwards yet. Hopefully, this Friday he is on the back foot and we can get on top of him."
Neither does Powell feel it will be only himself and his team-mates testing the young blindside's resolve. In the 29-year-old's opinion the 24-year-old should beware the Millennium Stadium frenzy. Wales versus England, on a Friday night, under the lights, perhaps with the roof on, is no place for the wet-behind-the-ear. Wood need only ask Mathew Tait, the centre who suffered a torrid Test introduction in the capital six years ago.
"The boy [Wood] has got a cool head on his shoulders, but Friday night's going to be a different issue," said Powell. "We will try to get into him and make their job harder. The first 20 minutes is massive. If we can build a tidy lead then you know what the crowd will be like. They can get on top of the opposition."
As his words suggest, Powell is confident heading into the Championship opener. "The two boys beside me [Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton] are terrific athletes, and it will take a good English back-row to stop us," he said.
Since joining Wasps in the summer his performances have improved to the extent that he earns the nod over the former captain Ryan Jones, who as The Independent reported yesterday, must be content with a substitute's jersey. Jones will be joined on the bench by Lee Byrne who has lost his full-back berth to James Hook. But for Byrne's recent inactivity with a broken thumb, it might even have been Stephen Jones, at fly-half, making way for the mercurial talents of Hook.
"Lee misses out solely by virtue of the fact he has had limited game-time," said the backs coach, Rob Howley. The challenge to Stephen Jones is obvious as Wales chase a first victory in eight Tests. Perform. Or else.Reuse content