'We always wanted to beat the English more than anybody else!'
March 6, 2014
Wales, complete with John Taylor, competes for a lineout with England in 1972 © PA Photos
I do not even need to check. JPR Williams has to be the Welsh player with the best ever record against England. Played 11 won 11 will probably never be beaten.
He only missed one international match between 1969 and 1979 and that, crucially, was the game against England in 1974 - their only win through the 70s. He then retired, conveniently missing the 1980 England Grand Slam, but made a comeback in 1981 to claim one last victory before hanging up his international boots for good.
I too had a perfect record against England as did a few other Welshmen. England always seemed to bring the best out of us. Whether you are Welsh, Scots or Irish they are the 'Old' or 'Auld' enemy. It's not a case of 'hating' them as a few English players have suggested this week but, because they are English, it is a burden they have to bear. They are the dominant country in the UK in terms of population, size, even numbers of rugby players and at some stage they have conquered the rest of us. You cannot get away from that so history definitely comes into it.
I always remember suggesting to Bill McLaren that the anti-English feeling in Scotland before the annual clash was perhaps exaggerated - all just a bit of fun, part of the pre-match hype. His eyes flashed; "I think you'll find it's a bit more serious than that laddie," he said with the sort of passion he never allowed himself in his commentaries before the trademark smile returned.
I can honestly say there was no extra animosity towards the English in the Welsh dressing room in the late 60s and 70s - we just wanted to beat them more than anybody else! I remember my first match against England as if it was yesterday. It was 1967, the season when Gerald Davies, Barry John, Gareth Edwards and Dai Morris also made their international debuts, but, for all the glory that was to come later, things were not looking good. Having lost the first three Championship games we were facing the prospect of being the first Welsh side in the modern era to be whitewashed.
Thank goodness for Keith Jarrett. The 18-year-old Monmouth schoolboy equalled the Welsh record with 19 points in his very first international as we romped to a five try, 34-21 win. It saved our blushes and possibly a few international careers that had barely started - the Welsh selectors were a fickle bunch in those days.
There has been much talk of Fortress Twickenham recently - in those days Cardiff Arms Park was totally impregnable for the English. Wales had not lost to England in Cardiff since 1963 and that record was to extend right through until 1991.
JPR breaks English hearts in 1970 © PA Photos
They came close under Bill Beaumont but Clive Woodward conceded a last gasp penalty that left Wales 21-19 winners in 1981. Beaumont had apparently implored his troops not to give away a penalty - to make Wales score a try to win - and the television cameras showed him with his arm around Woodward's shoulder as they waited for Steve Fenwick to take the kick prompting McLaren to comment on how good it was to see the captain consoling his player. Beaumont later confirmed he was actually so incensed he was saying something that included the word 'idiot!'
Beaumont still tells the story of walking across the road from the Angel Hotel to the Arms Park one year with his scrum-half and vice- captain, Steve Smith. They were stopped by an archetypal England supporter with deer stalker, shooting stick and Harlequins scarf who wished them good luck and finished by saying, "May the best team win," causing Smith to reply, "I bloody well hope not."
By the end of the 90s it had turned around completely. England recorded their biggest ever win - a humiliating 60-26 at Twickenham in 1998 while France also beat Wales by 50 points at Wembley (whilst the Millennium Stadium was being constructed for the 1999 World Cup) causing many pundits to predict the total meltdown of Welsh rugby and the end of the Five Nations Championship as a meaningful competition because England and France were so dominant.
As usual they were all proved wrong. The Five Nations duly disappeared but only because the five became six and Wales bounced back and have won three Grand Slams since. Again it is the sheer unpredictability that makes the Championship the wonderful tournament it is.
So where does this leave us for Sunday? I have to say I have not a clue. France beat England and Wales beat France very comfortably - but - Ireland smashed Wales and England beat them in a thriller. Quite simply, there is no form guide. However, this is a seminal game for England. Last year Wales showed they can convert passion into performance - can England do the same?
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist
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