Owen Farrell urges England to embrace hostile Cardiff challenge in Wales Six Nations showdown
Owen Farrell has told England to embrace Saturday’s febrile Cardiff atmosphere as the boyhood dream of any Test rugby star.
England will run the gauntlet of a Principality Stadium matchday cauldron rendered perhaps more fervent than ever this weekend, with an 11th hour truce in Welsh rugby’s civil war required on Wednesday to avert a player strike.
Crisis meetings have dominated Wales’ preparation this week, with players and union only brokering a deal on Wednesday night to see Saturday’s game go ahead as planned.
Mastermind Wales boss Warren Gatland can be expected to harness the unrest and whip up the kind of siege mentality to floor Steve Borthwick’s visitors.
Wales’ simmering atmosphere in both the city and stadium have caught England cold in the past, but captain Farrell has told his players to latch onto everything that revolves around a Six Nations event day in Cardiff.
Asked what advice he will give to the younger players venturing to Cardiff for the first time, Farrell replied: “Enjoy it. Love it. It’s brilliant.
“What do you think people grew up wanting to play in? People used to grow up playing in the back garden thinking they were playing in front of 75,000 people.
“You didn’t grow up wanting to play in front of 10 people, did you? So let’s act like we’ve got that opportunity. We want to do it, and enjoy it, and everything that comes with it. It’s not going to be all our way, for sure, but it’s brilliant.”
Farrell’s back-garden Boys’ Own-style dream trip to Wales has rarely proved England’s reality in Cardiff.
The Lions fly-half spearheaded the last-ditch 21-16 triumph in 2017, where his inviting pass sent Elliot Daly into the corner to steal the win.
The 103-cap England playmaker suffered the ignominy of the 30-3 humbling in 2013 too however, where Stuart Lancaster’s men pitched up aiming to complete a Grand Slam only to leave with tails squarely between legs.
England were sorely unprepared for the unbridled Welsh ire directed against them in 2013, as much off the pitch as on it.
Wales supporters always pack Cardiff’s streets to create an intimidating bus ride to the stadium, but Farrell just considers any hostility all part of the Six Nations theatre.
“The bus ride in is brilliant, straight through the centre of Cardiff and we always have a nice welcome,” he said. “The bus goes straight through a whole load of people, then disappears under the stadium as you arrive.
“The ground is iconic and when you see the love of rugby they have, it’s just fantastic.”
Courtney Lawes will make his first England appearance since last summer’s Australia tour in Saturday’s Wales trip, having finally recovered from long-term concussion, then gluteal and calf concerns.
The Northampton powerhouse will beef up England’s match 23, with changes from the 31-14 win over Italy at a minimum. Only Anthony Watson comes into the first XV as a replacement for the injured Ollie Hassell-Collins.
“Wales won’t have wasted any time this week, even in everything that’s going on,” said Farrell. “The players won’t have been unreasonable, that’s not like them. But they’ll also be ready.”