England vs. Wales is a ‘class struggle’ says Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones
Eddie Jones names the England team for the Six Nations clash at Twickenham
England have announced their starting XV to face Wales at Twickenham on Saturday, a match that the First Minister of Wales has described as a “class struggle”.
In an interview with The Times Carwyn Jones says the showdown between the Six Nations leaders will resonate for reasons other than rugby.
“There’s always that class element that comes into the relationship between England and Wales in rugby terms,” said Jones. “The players are all professional now, so we’ve moved away from the idea of miners playing against stockbrokers, but there was always that edge to it. We are a small nation, where rugby is a working-class community game, up against these posh people. I don’t say it’s true, but that’s the perception.”
That perception was played on most fiercely in the straitened economic years of the 1970s and 80s, an era when England/Wales clashes often erupted into violence.
Prior to the 1977 encounter in Cardiff, Wales captain Phil Bennett gave an infamous pep talk to his players, telling them: “Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English - and that’s who you are playing this afternoon. The English.”
Such war cries are a thing of the past, the passion diluted by professionalism and the presence in both sides of players born in New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and elsewhere.
Nonetheless, Jones’s comments will be seized on by both nations in the build-up to Saturday’s encounter, reopening old cliches, if not wounds.
“In England, you’ve got the strong public-school element, not so much in the west of England, before people from Bath and Bristol and Gloucester start having a go at me,” the First Minister said. “But it’s been there. It’s rivalry, it’s not vicious, but there’s a class element.”
Any class friction that exists now is purely among the supporters, not the players. Among the Englishmen who will feature in the squad on Saturday are Jack Nowell, the son of a Cornish fisherman; Owen Farrell, whose dad, Andy, was a Wigan rugby league legend; and Courtney Lawes, whose mum is a prison officer. Another player who doesn’t conform to the First Minister’s stereotype is Richard Wigglesworth (born in Blackpool, not Berkshire).
England and Wales both secured bonus-point wins on the opening weekend of the championship and the winner of Saturday’s clash will be favourites to go on and lift the title.
“It’s the big one, it always was,” said First Minister Jones. “From our perspective, England are the team to be taken down.”
England head coach Eddie Jones has made two changes from the side that beat Italy 46-15 last weekend. Danny Care starts at scrum-half in place of the injured Ben Youngs and Jonathan Joseph comes in for Ben Te’o at outside centre.
The England pack is unchanged, with Dylan Hartley again leading the side. Sam Simmonds, who scored two tries against Italy, starts at No.8.
This weekend’s Six Nations fixtures
Saturday, 10 February
- Ireland vs. Italy (2.15pm, live on ITV)
- England vs. Wales (4.45pm, live on ITV)
Sunday, 11 February
- Scotland vs. France (3pm, live on BBC)