Six Nations: Hostile atmosphere awaits England in Cardiff

Six Nations: Hostile atmosphere awaits England in Cardiff

Cardiff

England beat Wales 21-16 on their last visit to Cardiff in 2017
Six Nations: Wales v England
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday 23 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, S4C, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

Battalions of red shirts. Hymns and arias bellowed on repeat. Faces painted and passionate. Cardiff expects.

The Welsh capital is awash with vibrancy and noise on match days, but the atmosphere reaches a frenzy when England are in town. It’s the match the fans want their team to win more than any other.

“You are hated there,” says England scrum-half Danny Care. “Some of the fans genuinely hate you. They want to make it miserable, make the atmosphere intimidating and hostile.”

The visiting team’s journey from their hotel to the Principality Stadium does just that.

“The hype is exactly what you’ve heard,” Care told the Rugby Union Weekly podcast. “It’s an unbelievable place to play. The drive to the stadium goes right through the middle of Cardiff and the stories of people swearing at you are true – it happens.

“I remember old women giving you the middle finger. Everyone gives you stick. There was one lad who ran at the bus, jumped and head-butted the side of the bus.

“That shows the passion, or the stupidity, of some people.”

Wales have won their last eight home matches and on Saturday are seeking to beat a century-old national record by winning a 12th successive Test.

To say that the nation is pumped would be an understatement.

“We love our rugby, the Welsh are obsessed about it,” said Wales centre Jamie Roberts. “Nothing whets the appetite more than Wales v England.

“You grow up watching that match, respecting the great players and victories down the years and want to have a part in it.

“The effect it has on the country if we win is unbelievable.”

Wales rule at home
Wales could win nine straight matches at home for the first time since 1999 – their best run of results at the Principality Stadium since Warren Gatland took over in 2008.
Their last defeat in Cardiff came against New Zealand in November 2017.

Wales have lost only two of their last 14 home matches in the Six Nations but both were against England and the old rivals are favourites again this year after eye-catching victories over Ireland and France.

Wales have also won their opening two matches and, like England, harbour dreams of the Grand Slam, but have not been as convincing.

Roberts, who has won three and lost three against England in Cardiff, says the team will look for inspiration from their passionate fans.

“It’s a huge factor playing there,” he told Rugby Weekly. “The coach ride in is special for the Wales team too. It’s unique in rugby because of the stadium’s central location.

“It’s brilliant for the fans with all the bars in the centre. It’s rammed full of red jerseys and, as a Welsh player, it’s something that sticks with you.

“With the roof closed the atmosphere is amazing, and the noise reverberates.”

Last six Wales v England matches at the Principality Stadium
11 Feb 2017: England won 21-16 13 Aug 2011: Wales won 19-9
6 Feb 2015: England won 21-16 4 Feb 2011: England won 26-19
16 Mar 2013: Wales won 30-3 14 Feb 2009: Wales won 23-15

English scars remain despite recent dominance

George North and Sam Warburton celebrate following their team's victory in the 2013 Six Nations match

George North and Sam Warburton celebrate following Wales’ victory which clinched the 2013 Six Nations title

Painful memories of 2013 are still etched in the minds of English players, despite victories on their last two visits to the city.

Chasing an elusive Grand Slam, England knew a positive result would deliver a first clean sweep for a decade, while a defeat by six points or less would still seal the championship.

They did neither.

Wales claimed a fifth home victory in six matches with a record 30-3 win in front of a partisan full house.

The hosts rose to the occasion following a rousing rendition of the national anthem which saw Leigh Halfpenny and Alun Wyn Jones, among several others, reduced to tears in a demonstration of Welsh pride and defiance.

Care, who was part of the defeated England side, remembers the day well.

“You could see how pumped the crowd were from the drive in and the players were the same when we got to the stadium,” he said. “They were like ‘this isn’t happening, England aren’t winning the trophy on our patch’.”

Who will come out on top on Saturday?

“England have to embrace everything that happens, embrace the stick and being hated, use it as fuel to get the right result,” said Care, who was on the winning side in 2011 on his first trip to the then Millennium Stadium and again in 2017 when Elliot Daly’s late try sealed victory.

“I think it will take England to have an off day not to win,” he added. “England seem to be playing the best rugby and if they can play anything like that it could be a good day.”

But Roberts, capped 97 times and hoping for a recall, thinks not playing for two weeks will help Wales and hinder England.

“England had momentum but the week off might have knocked them out of their stride and given Wales an extra chance to work on some things,” he said.

“Wales have to show real attacking intent and score tries. I don’t think England have been truly challenged yet by a good attacking team.”

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