Autumn Nations Cup gives new twist to Anglo-Welsh rivalry

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James Botham (Getty Images)
James Botham (Getty Images)

England and Wales have been playing against each other for 139 years but Saturday's Autumn Nations Cup match marks a new chapter in one of international rugby union's oldest rivalries.

Below three intriguing aspects of this weekend's clash are examined, where a win for England would see them qualify for next week's final.

The Botham factor

As the grandson of England cricket great Ian Botham, Wales flanker James Botham has one of the most recognisable surnames in British sport.

This match marks just the second cap won by Cardiff-born James, who like his father Liam before him plays for the Welsh capital club, with the 22-year-old up against a formidable England back-row.

"It's a great sporting family, isn't it?" said England coach Eddie Jones, a lifelong cricket fan. "I am sure he will bring a lot of pride to the family and I just hope he's not as good an all-rounder as his grandfather.

"His grandfather was an incredible cricketer, probably one of the best cricketers I have seen -- his ability to turn a match," the Australian added. "And certainly the boy playing on Saturday has got good genes."

Present and future collide

One of the enduring tensions for major rugby nations over a four-year World Cup cycle is balancing immediate results with the need to develop squad depth ahead of the next edition, now France 2023.

That's rather easier if, like Six Nations champions England, you are enjoying success under an established coach.

By contrast, Wales had lost six Tests in a row under new boss Wayne Pivac until last week's 18-0 win over Georgia.

But defeat by England will put the spotlight back on Pivac, who succeeded Warren Gatland as Wales coach after a 2019 where his fellow New Zealander took the team to a Six Nations Grand Slam and a World Cup semi-final.

"We're trying to build depth and obviously trying to get results at the same time," said former Scarlets coach Pivac.

"It takes time. A lot of the players that were under Warren played a certain style of play and we're looking to evolve that attacking side of the game.

"With the Scarlets, it took about three years. I'm not suggesting it's going to take three years here and with the international players we've got, you'd like to think it's going to be a quicker process."

Meanwhile England coach Jones reckons the last aspect a team want to develop is their attack so as to surprise their World Cup opponents.

But having seen England beaten by South Africa in last year's final, he accepts it's not an exact science.

"What do you want your attack to be?" said Jones. "You want your attack to be predictable to you and unpredictable to the opposition."

Asked if England would peak come 2023, the veteran Australian coach replied: "The answer to that is we don't know. If there was a mechanical car and we knew we could get that fast, then we would do that. But we are dealing with human beings."

New venue, old tradition

Saturday's behind closed doors match will be the first time the teams have met in Llanelli, the home of one of Welsh rugby's most famous clubs, with Cardiff's Principality Stadium having recently been deployed as a temporary medical facility amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Back in 1972, Llanelli defeated rugby superpower New Zealand 9-3, although that match was played at the old Stradey Park rather than Parc Y Scarlets, the venue for this weekend's fixture.

But some five decades on, the celebrated result still resonates with Jones and England defence John Mitchell, a New Zealander who was once in charge of the All Blacks.

"There's no better test than playing an underdog Welsh side at the home of Llanelli rugby," said Jones, who warned against underestimating the hosts.

"We were talking about it the other day and John Mitchell immediately said '9-3'.

"I think they've still got that scoreboard up in the Llanelli ground, which gives them hope for the future."

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