Tyrone Howe: Bowe-Williams battle will get juices flowing
It is no wonder that many of the headlines going into this weekend’s penultimate round of Six Nations fixtures revolve around England’s visit to Edinburgh.
The history of the championship has had some defining moments, but few compare to the sight of David Sole marching his Scottish troops onto the Murrayfield turf to go head to head in a Grand Slam decider against the ‘auld enemy’.
It is scary to think that Saturday celebrates the 20th anniversary of that match and I can still remember how that ball bounced up for Tony Stanger’s winning try.
However, rather than the household names in the backline like the Hastings brothers, it was the forwards that day who stood out the most.
Sole set the tone with his quiet yet steely determination, but it was in the backrow that I recall Scotland excelling.
Finlay Calder, who captained the 1989 Lions, was ‘proper hard’, with a stare that could unnerve like few others.
His partner in crime was Kelso farmer John Jeffrey who more often than not had a twinkle in his eyes as he hassled and harried opposition players.
He remains one of the great characters of that era.
Martin Johnson understands the background of this fixture and his selection reflects his view that the game will be a torrid tough affair. Whether by design or chance, his selection is also the most conservative I can ever remember in his tenure as England coach.
Ambition to play rugby seems to be forgotten, development towards the World Cup is firmly on hold. He just wants to win this game.
Ironically, this could play right into Scotland’s hands, as their spirit will be unquenchable this Saturday.
But for some awful game management, Scotland could be sitting with two wins under their belts and a victory over England would rescue their Six Nations.
It may not be pretty, but the Scots will tackle themselves to a standstill and if they emerge victorious, the English coaching and management team will face the most damning of criticisms. Andy Robinson has a serious point to prove and will hope that the rugby gods see fit to even the balance of Scotland’s last two results.
I really fancy Scotland this Saturday and you just wonder whether Chris Cusiter might be tempted to resurrect the spirit of 1990 by marching his own men out to a crowd of partisan rugby historians.
I cannot imagine any such turgid action at Croke Park. We have become used to thrills and spills in this fixture, no more so than last year’s shootout at the Millennium Stadium.
It will probably come as no surprise that I cannot wait to see the battle between the two gunslingers, Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams.
The fact that they are club mates and friends just makes it that little bit juicier. In terms of bragging rights, Tommy did a complete job on his Lions colleague, Ugo Monye at Twickenham. So, it’s a case of one down, one to go.
However, as we have seen so often the Welsh wizard is as slippery as an eel and can carve try-scoring opportunities out of nothing.
To be fair to Warren Gatland, he encourages his team to be true to their Welsh roots and to play expansive, ambitious rugby.
While it is a high-risk strategy, which came a cropper against France through intercept tries, it also pretty much guarantees that Wales will score a certain number of points in a game. At this stage in the Six Nations, Wales actually have a higher average points tally — more than 20 a game — than Ireland who have managed more than this only once, against Italy.
While there should be plenty of rugby played, control and discipline will be essential. Mistakes are normally punished at this level and Ireland will not want to put themselves through the torment of the final minute of last year’s fixture.
An unchanged side with momentum gained from Twickenham should see Ireland home.