WILKINSON THE TWICKERS KING; Past Master: Wilkinson Has Not Lost a Six Nations Match at HQ
Byline: PETER JACKSON
ENGLAND have never lost a Six Nations match at Twickenham with JonnyWilkinson in the side, a remarkable record stretching back 10 years andencompassing 15 victories since his debut as a precocious teenager.
Warren Gatland, the new Wales coach, has never come away from HQ a losereither, having led Wasps to three Premiership Grand Finals and a gloriousEuropean Cup Final triumph.
Something will have to give today.
Having spent the last fortnight firing the occasional broadside designed tochip away at English belief, Gatland will shake the mighty stadium to itsfoundations if he can orchestrate a first Welsh victory for 20 years.
The savvy New Zealander is the latest in a long line of putative Welsh savioursand the first to be accorded such status for merely talking a good game beforehis team have had time to play one.
It is tribute to his influence that in next to no time he has changed thepopular Welsh perception of Twickenham as a terrifying place to be avoided atall costs into one where everything is possible.
But England have good reason to view the presence of Gatland, Shaun Edwards andRob Howley in Welsh tracksuits with some suspicion. The last time the holytrinity appeared together at the stadium, Wasps pinched the European Cup from asuperior Toulouse team, a high-class piece of pilfering completed by Howleyswinning try in the north-west corner.
A fixture which would have been viewed as a mismatch at the end of the WorldCup has suddenly become nothing of the kind. Several factors since then havecontributed to a contrasting shift in mood on opposite sides of the SevernBridge and they extend beyond the galvanising effect of Gatlands reunion withEdwards, who has become every Welshmans new best English friend.
Quite by chance, a momentous occasion will be tinged with poignancy for him,falling as it does on the fourth anniversary of his younger brother Billy Joesdeath in a road accident.
Im a big fan of Bill Shankly and I love to read his books, said Edwards. He wasa marvellous man but I think he probably had a bit of an off-day when he saidfootball was more than life and death.
England are about to discover what life is like without two of the more heroicfigures from the French trenches of last autumn in Martin Corry and theirreplaceable Jason Robinson. How they could do with Corry this afternoon tostiffen a back row always liable to suffer by comparison against their Welshopposites even without the injuries that have eliminated Nick Easter and JoeWorsley. …