England enter the final match of a Guinness Six Nations cut short by coronavirus determined to lift the country’s spirits by toppling Wales at Twickenham.
Widespread flooding, the outbreak of Covid-19 and uncertainty over Brexit have created gloom that defence coach John Mitchell insists can be lifted by a stirring performance at the Red Rose “colosseum”.
England have been directly affected by coronavirus after their climax to the Six Nations against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico on March 14 was postponed on public health grounds, while Mako Vunipola will not be involved against Wales after passing through virus-hit Hong Kong.
Six Nations Statement on Italy V England games, weekend 13/14/15 Marchhttps://t.co/U9pas8oAvr— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 5, 2020
With the Wales clash potentially now the final outing for Eddie Jones’ senior squad before the autumn, Mitchell expects a memorable encounter on Saturday.
“The great thing about rugby is that it brings a lot of diversity together,” the former All Blacks boss said.
“For two or three hours it’s an opportunity for everyone to put aside their struggles and challenges and enjoy an outing.
“Twickenham is like a colosseum on a rugby day, there’s no greater experience, and people can get satisfaction from coming here.
“But what’s vitally important for all people is to be able to connect to others because everyone has their tough times and challenges. Sport is a great avenue for this.
“Wales are a good side – they haven’t been World Cup semi-finalists and Grand Slam champions for nothing. We respect that.
“But the guys are totally ready for what is to come. It will be hugely contestable, it will be highly chaotic, it will be physical. And they are things we look forward to and cherish.”
Courtney Lawes understands the feel-good factor that can be generated by a rousing victory over rivals considered their fiercest in the Six Nations.
“Sport is obviously a great way of bringing the nation together. We’ve got a job to do,” Lawes said.
“We love playing at Twickenham – the fans definitely give us a bit of an edge – and we want to exploit that. On home turf we want to come out firing.”
England have made it clear they are motivated by revenge following their 21-13 defeat in Cardiff last year, collapsing to the eventual Grand Slam winners having built a 10-3 half-time lead.
Jones has declared “we owe them one” and Mitchell agreed: “It’s amazing how some games niggle away at you and that’s one game that niggles away at your stomach and your head.
“And that’s a good thing because it’s important to have those feelings and emotions because they’re what drive you. If you don’t have them you’re missing out on something vitally important.”
Wales fly-half Dan Biggar has overcome a knee injury to start and Lawes is eager to land one of his trademark big hits on his Northampton team-mate.
“Dan’s a good mate of mine, a really good guy. I’ll be hoping to put a shot on him, certainly,” Lawes said.
“Sure I’ll be giving him some chat and he’ll be giving the same to me. Looking forward to it! He’s someone we’re going to have to look after.
“Dan does wear his heart on his sleeve. He’s just a passionate guy who wants to do the best for his team.
“Anything we can do to get him off his game is going to be beneficial to us and I try to lead by example more than words.
“You enjoy playing against your mates – you get a bit of extra chat if you can do something to one of them. You have a good bit of banter the pitch and do your best to get one over on them.
“I’m not the kind of player who needs to be angry or have hatred towards anybody to try and hurt them.”