When England crash no one outside rugby cares, but in Wales the sport is a religion

When England crash no one outside rugby cares, but in Wales the sport is a religion

HEAVEN or hell awaits Wales today.
I can’t imagine what the pressure is like on Warren Gatland’s side — even though I’ve won and lost Grand Slams before.
Reuters Rugby is more than a sport in Wales, it’s closer to religion
In England, rugby is a second-tier sport. This means that if the wheels come off, yes you get a backlash, but realistically nobody outside of rugby cares.
You are a big fish in a tiny pond.
Across the Severn Bridge, however, rugby is a religion and they are not very forgiving if the national team underperforms.
On the flip side, being at home with the passion of the Cardiff crowd in full voice could make this one of the most memorable Welsh Grand Slams in history if they win. It’s knife-edge stuff.
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When England won the Slam in 2016, the last time an English side had lifted that trophy with a 100 per cent record was in 2003 — just months before they went on to clinch the World Cup.
I can’t remember exactly, but the number of times it’s been done back to back is very rare. We had a chance in 2017 to do the double Slam, but Ireland ruined the party in Dublin.
We still lifted the Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium as winners, but it’s bittersweet when you have just lost a game.
Having played in four Grand Slam deciders and winning just one of them with Eddie Jones, they are not always the things dreams are made of.
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You spend all week not talking about it being a huge game — everybody knows it is, but we all pretend it’s just another fixture.
It’s an incredible week and these kinds of games come around very rarely.
The final few days can go one of two ways — you try and do things differently, have meals out, lightly train to keep everybody fresh — but you absolutely don’t hype it up too early.
Or, keep everything the same as every other week — prepare as normal, put the extra hours in dissecting the opposition, train hard and play the game — building all the emotion as your normally would, but letting that extra excitement and distraction creep in.
But neither of these tactics make much of a difference. There is sadly no magic formula to guarantee a win.
Before a ball was kicked in this Championship, I thought it was going to be a two-horse race. Ireland were the favourites and looked like the ones to beat.
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And of course I knew England could do well, even though they had the toughest start imaginable playing Joe Schmidt’s reigning champs in Dublin on day one.
After that superb victory, it was suddenly England who were the ones to beat — fans thought the Grand Slam was coming home to Twickenham and we were dead-set on a World Cup final place.
Or so we all thought! Instead it’s Wales — whose boss Gatland reckons have forgotten how to lose — who are now on the crest of a huge decider.
They had great form coming into this tournament, but I stupidly didn’t see them as a threat for the biggest honour. That lesson has well and truly been learned my end.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the rugby gods have decided to make it even more interesting. If Wales lose against Ireland, England could lift this year’s trophy.
If Wales get pumped by Ireland and England get beaten by Scotland, then it’s Ireland who could lift the trophy.
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Last year we lost the physical battle and Scotland were the better side at Murrayfield.
However, there were things that went on during the game and post-match that have left a sour taste in a lot the players’ mouths.
And let’s put it this way — if I had acted like some of the Scottish players did, you would have been reading about it on the front page of this newspaper and not on page 56.
It’s one thing to celebrate behind closed doors, but to show a lack of respect to your opposing team is quite another.
I can’t wait to see what happens today. It’s going to be physical — but not your run-of-the-mill physical.
There will be fireworks, I want there to be and, honestly, I can’t wait


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