Six of The Best: Wales against England

Scott Williams scores a try to win the game 25/2/2012
There are intense rivalries everywhere in the Guinness Six Nations but there are certainly none that invoke more passion than Wales against England.

There are intense rivalries everywhere in the Guinness Six Nations but there are certainly none that invoke more passion than Wales against England.

That means we are in for a treat on Saturday with the two old enemies coming together for what’s set to be pulsating Principality Stadium pitch battle.

Both are in excellent form, both are undefeated in the Championship and both are in the hunt for a Grand Slam – this one could become one of the all-time classics.

To get in the mood ahead of Saturday, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to find six of Wales’ best-ever moments against England.

1908 – The first Grand Slam

Wales’ triumphs in 1908 and 1909, although won during the Home Nations era, were the first Grand Slams as they defeated France in both seasons.

Les Bleus officially joined in 1910, having played in four tournaments up to that point, with the Championship then referred to as the Five Nations before it became six in 2000.

In 1908, during Wales’ first ‘golden age’ they would beat Scotland 6-5, France 36-4 and Ireland 11-5, but the Grand Slam was built on the opening weekend against England.

They began their Championship in front of 25,000 supporters at a fog-laden Bristol City ground, with fly-half Percy Bush pulling the strings and scoring a try in the 28-18 victory.

Rhys Gabe grabbed a double while Reggie Gibbs and Billy Trew also touched down – a performance that laid the groundwork for the 1909 Grand Slam, with another to follow in 1911.

The 1970s – The second golden age

While it’s hard to define a decade as a moment, Wales’ incredible record against England throughout the 1970s was certainly a special period for Wales supporters.

Perhaps there are too many individual pieces of brilliance to choose from but a seed was certainly sown in 1968 when Gareth Edwards – one of the all-time rugby greats – made his first appearance at Twickenham and sniped over at the back of a scrum in a memorable 11-11 draw.

Scrum-half Edwards and Barry John were the half-back pairing, Gerald Davies was jinking away in the centres and the great Wales backline that would dominate the 70s was taking shape.

Mercurial full-back JPR Williams would join the fray, as would irrepressible No.8 Mervyn Davies and playmaker Phil Bennett, in a team that would only lose seven times between 1969 and 1979.

Grand Slams would come in 1971, 1976 and 1978, whilst one of the great Championship tries was scored against England in Cardiff in 1975 on the way to the title, with legendary centre Ray Gravell cutting a wonderful line through midfield before passing to Steve Fenwick – wing JJ Williams applying the electrifying finishing touch.

Another long-celebrated moment against England came in 1970 when skipper Edwards was forced off through injury while trailing 13-3, and Ray ‘Chico’ Hopkins wrote his name into the history books.

The Maesteg scrum-half only played a total of 20 minutes of international rugby for the Welsh but what a cameo it was, as Hopkins set up JPR Williams for a try and then scored himself in added time as Wales came from behind to win 17-13.

1999 – Scott Gibbs’ Wembley moment

Possibly the most famous one of them all. In 1999 Wales were playing their home games at Wembley as the national stadium in Cardiff was being rebuilt.

The final game of the Championship saw them hosting England on English soil, with the notional visitors going for the Grand Slam.

A thrilling game was drawing to a close with the English 31-25 to the good and seemingly on course for victory.

However, off the top of a lineout outside the 22 the ball was spread to Gibbs, running a devastating angle. He cut through, stepped past a couple more defenders before celebrating as he dived over the line.

It was a mark of the faith in Neil Jenkins that there was no worry from any of the Welsh players that he might miss the match-winning conversion. They were right to be confident as Jenkins made no mistake, handing Wales the win and Scotland the final-ever Five Nations title.

2005 – Henson’s kick

In 2005 Wales entered the Championship with few backing them for the title a year after a fourth-place finish.

England handed teenager Mathew Tait a debut, and he was quickly introduced to Gavin Henson, with one tackle seeing the centre carried backwards at a rate of knots.

That was far from Henson’s most crucial contribution though. With time ticking away and Wales trailing 9-8, they were awarded a penalty wide out on the right, with Henson stepping up to have a go from 48 metres.

He split the uprights, with a bit to spare, and Wales won 11-9 on their way to a first Grand Slam in 27 years.

2008 – Six minutes of madness

Warren Gatland took over as Wales coach at the end of 2007 with his first game a trip to Twickenham, where Wales had not won in 20 years.

When they trailed 19-6 in the second half, the chances of that ending seemed remote to say the least.

As they did in Paris this year, Wales were able to turn the tables, first with a penalty from James Hook. That was followed by a try from Lee Byrne and another by Mike Phillips, all in the space of six minutes as Wales stunned their hosts.

That 26-19 success again proved the starting point for a Grand Slam, as Wales made it two in four years – with another to follow in 2012.

2012 – The Scott Williams try

With Gatland having helped end Wales’ Twickenham hoodoo, they then lost out in 2010 (30-17, with James Haskell scoring two tries) but would be back for more success in 2012.

Current England players Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, and Owen Farrell were in the team that day in what turned out to be an attritional February match, with the boots of Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny going up against each other.

The England fly-half kicked four from five to lead 12-6 at 45 minutes but Halfpenny evened things up with ten left to play, setting the stage for centre Scott Williams’ moment of magic.

Coming through midfield, Williams stripped the ball from the grasp of Courtney Lawes, kicked ahead and regathered to touch the ball down, in a game that also saw Sam Warburton’s magnificent ankle-high chopper on Manu Tuilagi and Leigh Halfpenny’s full-blooded tackle on David Strettle right at the death.

2013 – Under the roof

Having won the Slam in 2012, Wales found themselves readying for England who were in search of a first Grand Slam in a decade. The Welsh were still in with a chance of the title themselves but needed to win by at least seven points to deny England.

They did that and more romping to a 30-3 success – a record margin of victory over their rivals – in an electric atmosphere under the roof.

Alex Cuthbert was the hero of the hour, crossing twice down the right as Wales stretched away in the second half to secure back-to-back titles for the first time since the 1970s.