Wales won’t want to lose their first two games of the Championship going into a two-week break. You win this game and go into training on Monday with a feel-good atmosphere and looking ahead to the next game, rather than having a fortnight to dwell on two losses from two. For this group, a win at Twickenham would relieve a huge amount of pressure, but it’s going to be a really tough task. Losing that record against Scotland will have hurt them, but you’ve got to put that behind you and look forward to a Test match against the old enemy.
There will be a massive emphasis on how Wales start; not letting the game pass them by, which can happen in a Test match. You blink and 30 minutes have gone and you haven’t done anything. I experienced a similar situation against France in 2019 when we were 16-0 down at half-time. In that situation, you’re actually not thinking, ‘I hope this isn’t going to be a 30- or 40-point loss’. You just work on getting that next score. That night in Paris, we knew we hadn’t played any rugby and needed to make sure we went back to the basics that we’d worked on. Rugby’s an amazing game where momentum shifts so quickly, which happened and we went on to win 24-19.
The ironic thing about that result was that in our final match that year, the Grand Slam decider against Ireland, we went in at half-time 16-0 up. Our captain Alun Wyn Jones said, "Boys, we’ve got to get the first score in this second half because we were in other changing room not so long ago and we came back into it, so we’ve got to make sure we get those first points.” It’s that psychological advantage you need. Wales can take confidence from the fact they hadn’t fired any bullets in that first half against Scotland. I’m sure there was a point when they were under the sticks at 20-0 down, a bit of panic sets in, nobody knows what to say because it’s such a young team. The half-time break was key because Warren Gatland would have given the boys confidence to just go out there and play to a pace that they’re comfortable with.
It’s often said by English players that the Celtic nations save their best game for England, but I joke that that’s a victim mentality. As much as the rivalry is real between the two nations today at Twickenham, I’ve always got on really well with all the English boys. Touring with the Lions, I became very friendly with Jamie George and Elliot Daly, who are both playing this afternoon. We’re all massive cricket fans, and along with Dan Biggar we’ve got a WhatsApp group called 'The Nightwatchmen'. You want to play them as hard as you can on the field, but off it there is a friendship with these boys, and they’re really good men.
Those connections run even deeper for me today because someone who played a pivotal part in my career is now a key member of the England set-up: Aled Walters, their conditioning coach. He was my academy S&C coach at Scarlets and would work with me on a one-to-one basis. Al would pick me up from school in his old Golf and we’d go to the local gym or running track, and Ken Owens would meet us there.
When I was eighteen, I suffered a serious knee injury, and Al and John Miles (who incidentally is now part of the Wales medical team) were excellent with me. It was almost like I was their science project: I put on a ton of weight while I was rehabbing and they got me ready for the rigours of professional rugby. I was still a teenager, but they got me to a place physically where I could go up against these men who had played for ten years at pro level.
That level of individual attention probably isn’t as common for a young player nowadays, but it was invaluable for me. Neil Jenkins would meet me in Llanelli to do kicking and I’d go to school the next day feeling like a rock star! Ken would be throwing lineouts with Robin McBryde, who was a Welsh international at the time. These were people we’d looked up to for years, and for us to go through almost our entire rugby careers with them to learn from has been an unbelievable privilege.
There are big differences between watching a game in Cardiff and Twickenham. When you’re on the bus going into the Principality Stadium the streets are heaving with fans falling out of pubs, whereas arriving at Twickenham you see the old car park with the Range Rovers and tables of smoked salmon and champagne. I was never intimidated by the away crowd, and whenever you were booed you’d think, ‘This is the day we’re going to shut you up.’
That day came in 2012 for me, and I’ve no doubt that match has been replayed many a time on screens over the course of this week - or at least that try will have been. It was a tough game, back and forth, then Scott Williams rips the ball off Courtney Lawes and puts in the most opportunistic grubber kick to score the winning try. It’s hard to describe the sense of ecstasy I felt running after him just to celebrate. There was added drama as we were made to wait at the end, with the score at 19-12 to us, to see if I’d held David Strettle up on the line after Leigh Halfpenny and I had tackled him as he tried to touch down out wide. We were prepared to try and charge the conversion down if it was given, but once it came through that it was no try we knew we could celebrate the Triple Crown.
My centre partner Jamie Roberts thought he’d blown his knee out that game - which is why Scott was on in the first place - but when we’d won at the end and it was time to pick up the trophy, he’d made a miraculous recovery and was running out to be there front and centre with the Triple Crown!
Only Dan Biggar (18) has assisted more tries in the men's Six Nations for Wales than Jonathan Davies (12). During his Six Nations career (2011-22), Wales had a 68% win rate with Davies in the starting XV, compared to 53% when he didn't start or feature at all.