Today, Aug. 8,2011, I watched England vs. Wales in the first of their “warm-up” matches for the World Cup. England won the Cup in 2003 and finished runner-up 2 other times – including the last one in 2007. If England is a contender for the Web Ellis Cup this year, Wales’s response to that today was we are too.
I was in Eastbourne on the south coast of England for a wedding and watched the match at The Crown & Anchor pub on the seaside with a pint of Speckled Hen ale the first half and a pint of Strongbow cider the second. Seagulls swooped by the pub windows and the Italians who were watching soccer scurried off as the channel was switched to Sky Sport Rugby when match kick-off time arrived. Michael Lynagh commentating on the match at half-time stated the seemingly obvious, “The game is physical” . This was supposed to be a friendly warm-up match, but no match between these teams could really be called a friendly and many players were still vying for spots on the plane to New Zealand. England was ahead 13-7 at half mainly because of the boot and wisdom of Jonny Wilkinson. Wales was never out of it largely because of the magic of winger Shane Williams. Englands pack looked very strong and Samoan-born center Tuilagi put in a strong performance with a stunning try that might place Mike Tindalls’s arse on the bench unless he can get some royal intervention. The Welsh certainly showed flare and if they can work out some of the bumps, including running into each other on occasion, they have a lot more potential. England’s fullback Delon Armitage and Wales’s young Tongan-born #8, Toby Faletau, showed they will be impact players. It didn’t get any less physical in the second half; although, fatigue was showing when the replacements started coming on at about 60 minutes. Early in the 2nd half Welsh fullback Morgan Stoddart went off on a stretcher with what turned out to be a broken ankle and English Captain Lewis Moody left with what looked to be ominously another injury to the knee he injured during the season. England finished ahead at the final whistle 23-19, but Wales had 3 tries and another that the English crowd in the Crown and Anchor urged the ref to go ahead and award as it was so close. England went into the match the favorite and came away the winner. Wales left the match with a definite confidence about their ability to beat England, and that if England is a serious contender to lift the Web Ellis Cup on October 23rd in Auckland, so are they..
My lovely wife, Carolyn, met me in the pub for the last few minutes of the match, and as the drizzle stopped and the sun came out over Eastbourne’s rocky beach, we sauntered off to find some authentic fish and chips.