Lewis Moody on the Six Nations: My five most memorable England v Wales matches including my HQ debut, last year's mauling... and a man butting the team bus
Hearing Wales sing the anthem is some experience for an opposing player
Thursday 06 March 2014
When I came into the England team, Wales were coming off the back of a period of misery. They had won the Six Nations in 1995 but the Grand Slam in 2005 was their first for 27 years. Since then they have added two more Grand Slams and have arguably been the best team in the competition for the past decade.
Though they haven't managed the same success against the southern hemisphere teams or at World Cups, they very much raise their game in this competition – especially against England. Like the other home nations they create an intense sense of rivalry against the English, calling upon an extra level of passion and patriotism. I always found that a bit strange. Certainly from an England point of view I felt it was important to treat every Test match the same, no matter who the opponent.
They seem to gain extra motivation against England, but it is different when they come to Twickenham. The coach, Stuart Lancaster talks about making Twickenham a fortress again and after the Ireland win they are part of the way there. He is keen to establish an identity: who are we, what do we stand for? There is a perception of English arrogance that he is trying to counter in a positive way. We should be proud to be English. It is not necessarily an arrogance but a confidence in our ability. When it comes to rugby England have always been very confident and we should celebrate that.
The five key matches against Wales that had the most impact on me during my career and afterwards are as follows:
1. Gibbs the wrecking ball batters Rodber
This defeat in 1999 at Wembley cost England the Grand Slam. I had yet to make my England debut. I was a young pro coming through the ranks at Leicester.
It was the first time in a while that England had had a chance of the Grand Slam and it came down to one moment. Scott Gibbs was a very talented player. He had developed into a sort of wrecking ball of a centre as his career developed. Tim Rodber was a hero of mine, a massive presence in the England team that beat South Africa in Pretoria in 1994 and three years later for the Lions.
Tim was a wonderful player and went for the big hit with the shoulder but just bounced off Gibbs, who then went on the rampage, evading Neil Back's ankle tap and a scrambling Matt Dawson before swerving around full-back Matt Perry and leaving Steve Hanley for dead to score.
That result sparked an unfortunate sequence: we lost to Scotland in 2000 at Murrayfield and Ireland in the last game in 2001 before we eventually won the Grand Slam in 2003.
2. Hammering Wales on my Twickenham bow
My first start at Twickenham for England was against Wales in 2002. I was obviously nervous running out in front of 70,000 people. It was before the new stand was done. I remember looking up and seeing this all-enveloping blanket of colour, then a wall of noise. Nothing can prepare you for that. Jason Leonard was awesome with me. Having him come up to you, guide you, take you under his wing was amazing.
The worst part of any game is always the build-up and the anxiety that develops. You pack your bag a hundred times to make sure you have everything you need, even though you know you have. You can easily exhaust all your nervous energy. Keeping a lid on it so that you don't expend all that energy before you get on the pitch is key. Sat in the locker room you are just desperate for the game to start.
It is about getting the right level of emotional engagement. Everybody has to do it their own way. Over the years I found what worked best for me. After a tip from a sports psychologist I used to combine three key things. I'd hold my grandfather's First World War medal in my hand and have a vision of me playing at my absolute best while listening to a favourite piece of music, 'My Hero' by the Foo Fighters.
From the kick-off the ball came straight to me. That got me into the game. My youngest lad loves watching reruns of me playing so we watched the game recently. I just pulled one out of the collection and it happened to be that one. It wasn't a stand-out performance by me. It was a solid display, a young man getting into the game, doing a lot of tackles and carries, a few steals. We hammered them 50-10 in the end, so all in all a good Twickenham debut.
3. Head for the Millennium Stadium, literally
The World Cup warm-up at the Millennium Stadium was my first game back after injury and my first appearance for England in Cardiff. Six months before, I was basically the first name on the team sheet but after knackering my shoulder against the French in the Six Nations it was my trial to get into the World Cup squad.
You have to wind your way through the streets of Cardiff to get to the stadium. To witness for the first time the level of support for the home side and hatred of the English was incredible. One guy ran at the team bus and butted it. It was a bizarre spectacle to see on the way to a game. He did not come off best.
The noise was off the scale. Hearing them sing the anthem is quite an experience for an opposing player, all that passion and intensity. But we smashed them 49-3 and I scored as well, Jason Leonard dragging me across the line.
4. Taking our eye off the World Cup ball
The World Cup quarter-final in 2003. The previous match had been a rout. We had beaten South Africa in the pool stages to avoid playing New Zealand in the quarters. Having dominated them so completely in Cardiff a few weeks earlier, we thought it would be easy. Wales just had one of those games where everything went right – Stephen Jones, Shane Williams, Martyn Williams, all of them really.
For one try they almost went the length of the field: Dan Luger kicked, Shane Williams caught it, Jones made a break, fed it back to Shane Williams and Stephen Jenkins before eventually finishing it off himself, one of the tries of the tournament.
We were suddenly in trouble and it needed a bit of Jason Robinson brilliance in the second half, sending Will Greenwood over, to snatch it. After that game we sat down as a group and said: 'look, we have taken our eye off the prize here. If we are going to win the World Cup we have to be much better'.
5. What could go wrong did go wrong
The mauling at the Millennium Stadium in 2013 is significant because it will have a bearing on both teams in different ways. Wales come with confidence because they know they have smashed this England side and they come off the back of a good win against the French a fortnight ago. England have beaten very good sides since, Argentina and Australia, and won a very close battle against a very good Irish team. They still have a bloody nose from that defeat and will have sweet revenge on their minds, whether they acknowledge that or not. It was a perfect storm. What could go wrong did go wrong a year ago. I think they will put that right this time.
Lewis Moody is a Land Rover HITZ ambassador. Land Rover are a partner of HITZ, a Premiership Rugby programme which tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people today. jaguarlandrover.com/hitz/
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