Regan ready to do talking on the pitch
February 1, 2008
England warrior Mark Regan is ready to rumble in tomorrow's RBS 6 Nations opener, claiming: "There is never a friendly with the Welsh."
Wales head to Twickenham, where they have not won for 20 years, after a prolonged build-up dominated by Warren Gatland's mind games.
The new Wales coach has talked about his team needing to be ready for a possible bloodbath, while also highlighting recalled England full-back Iain Balshaw's perceived weaknesses and questioning the Rugby Football Union when they failed to offer red rose boss Brian Ashton a fixed long-term contract.
Ashton's England make their Twickenham return this weekend, just over three months after reaching a second successive World Cup final.
And Bristol hooker Regan, who has never been part of a losing England team against Wales during his 43-cap Test career, is braced for battle.
He said: ``It is a physical game. We will take everything that is thrown at us.
``We know the Welsh are in high spirits because they have got new coaches - there is a buzz in the camp, I understand - but every team that comes here (Twickenham) wants to take a scalp.
``A lot of sides make a lot of noise before they come to play here. There has been a lot of talking - but the talking has to be done on the pitch.
``I think they need to talk like that to get confidence.
``There is never a friendly match with the Welsh.
``They are my nearest rivals - I live just 10 miles away from them. I have had many an encounter with the Welsh from when I was a schoolboy.''
Regan, who has opted against following the likes of Jason Robinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Mike Catt and Martin Corry into Test retirement, is among eight starting line-up survivors from the World Cup final.
And at 36, he is the oldest player in an England side eager to preserve a 25-year record of not losing an opening Five or Six Nations game at Twickenham.
Gloucester number eight Luke Narraway makes his England debut in a back-row shorn of Dallaglio, Corry and the injured trio Joe Worsley, Nick Easter and Tom Croft, but England still have enough about them to justify their favourites' tag.
Regan added: ``We have lost a lot of experience, but we've kept hold of experienced players like Simon Shaw and Jonny Wilkinson.
``There are seven changes form the World Cup final, but the guys who have come in have all experienced international rugby apart from Luke Narraway, but he has been playing exceptionally well in an experienced Gloucester side.''
England reported a fully fit and healthy squad today, with Narraway and prop Andrew Sheridan now recovered from a bug that affected them in midweek.
And England, Six Nations also-rans during the past four seasons following their Grand Slam triumph in 2003, cannot afford to slip up against Wales, given they then face three successive away games.
Ashton's men recovered from a dreadful start to the World Cup, beating Samoa, Tonga, Australia and France before South Africa defeated them in a tense final.
And Ashton said: ``The edge is still there because this is international rugby, and the edge is still there because it is England versus Wales, which is one of the big games of the Six Nations.
``There is a pressure. The fact it is an international game and England are playing means there is pressure.
``The players know that, but it is not something you harp on about all week. The players have enough to deal with.
``We want to take our game forward, but the key thing tomorrow is to get the basics right.
``If we can take our game forward tomorrow, then fantastic. If we don't, I couldn't give a monkeys if we win the game.''
England's possible supremacy in the critical set-piece areas - plus Wilkinson's goalkicking - should keep Wales at bay, while giant rugby league recruit Lesley Vainikolo is waiting to be unleashed from the bench.
Wales, though, with the likes of James Hook, Gavin Henson and Shane Williams on board, have enough match-winners to end their barren Twickenham run.
But perhaps the biggest single threat to England is flanker Martyn Williams, who has been persuaded out of international retirement by Gatland and who collects man-of-the-match awards for fun.
Ashton added: ``Our players are well aware of what Martyn Williams brings to the side.
``I have massive respect for anyone who puts his foot on an international field, for whatever country.
``Martyn Williams has proved over the years that he is one of the outstanding players in world rugby.''