Wales welcome old rivals England to the Principality Stadium on Saturday for the first of their World Cup warm-up matches – in what promises to be a feisty affair.
It has not been an easy time for Wales over the past couple of years both on and off the field. The Welsh Rugby Union has come under plenty of scrutiny due to bullying allegations from the very top, as well as plenty of talk about the lack of funds being pumped into regional clubs, which has left them and their players struggling financially.
Not only this, but the national side has won just two games in the Six Nations since their impressive, albeit unexpected, victory back in 2021.
Now leading up to the World Cup, the men in red need to put together some seriously strong performances to rejuvenate the expectations of home fans. Veteran number ten, Dan Biggar, has been discussing Wales’ warm-up plans in a column with the Mail on Sunday, with an ode to the England team they’re due to face.
“There’s a totally different feel to our squad to four years ago. Going into the 2019 World Cup, we’d won 14 out of 15, enjoyed a clean sweep in the autumn and were Grand Slam champions. There were probably 30 guys out of 32 who were nailed on for World Cup selection.
“Now there’s much more uncertainty. A lot of people don’t give us a chance. There’s been a changing of the guard with guys like Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb all stepping down, opening the door for the next generation to come through. There’s a good mix with a few of us 30-plussers who are probably on our last hurrah.”
Biggar, as a former captain of the side, discussed the potential of taking up the armband once again – but suggested that perhaps it should be entrusted to a younger player.
“We don’t know who is going to be captain yet but I believe they should give it to one of the younger guys. I’d love to do it again, of course, but I think it’s a good opportunity to pick someone who will be around for the next four-year cycle. We did the same with Sam Warburton in 2011 and that turned out pretty well. I’d love for it to go to someone like Jac Morgan or Dewi Lake.
“These warm-up games have a little bit less pressure than other international games” continued Biggar, discussing the build-up. “The result isn’t the most important thing. We’ll try out some new shapes, move the ball as much as possible, rather than tee it up for contact.
“You’ll see tip-on passes, creating as many one-on-ones as possible. We’ll have to play different ways in our group so it’s not about setting our stall out in one specific way. You don’t want the same game plan for teams as different as Fiji and Georgia. We’ll be trying out different ways of playing.”
It wasn’t just the Wales side that Biggar was able to give an insight into, it was his feelings on how England were likely to be addressing their squad running into the World Cup.
The beauty of these warm-up games is you never really know what to expect. We don’t know what England has been up to over the last four weeks. Maybe they’ll have a few surprises up their sleeve. It was a bit of a shock to see Sam Underhill get released because he’s as good as anyone on his day. They have so much talent.
I suspect there will be a big Leicester-Saracens feel to their team, guys Steve Borthwick trust to play that territory game. Owen Farrell’s captain so he’ll be somewhere in the team but does George Ford come back in at No 10? Ford was extremely successful under Borthwick at Leicester and he won’t have forgotten that. Marcus Smith is a hell of a player but it looks to me like Farrell and Ford are ahead of him in Borthwick’s game plan.
“We’ve all had a good pre-season block now and can’t wait to get going” he added.