Ever since the last party stopped 11 months ago, and the cleaners began cleansing the streets of plastic pint glasses, used takeaways and barefooted women dressed as daffodils sprawled across pavements, Wales has been waiting for today.
While the 30-3 stuffing of 2013 is still fresh in the memory, rawer still is the error-strewn performance that paved the way for an England win in last years Six Nations. How the Welsh wished that day they were back in the fiery cauldron of the Millennium Stadium, where their boys rode a tremendous wave of passion and their opponents crashed and drowned – unable to stomach the intensity of the red-hot atmosphere.
Just as the Welsh have played that triumphant demolition again and again in their minds, so have their Anglo Saxon neighbours. A Grand Slam, a first since 2003, was snatched from their grasp by a Wales side absolutely defiant against an English trophy celebration on their own turf. The dramatic capitulation of side the English public had decided were champions-elect shocked all concerned.
That glorious dismissal will live long in memories and last forever in folklore. Did the closed roof, trapping every rendition of Bread of Heaven and every cry of passion within the deafening theatre, make a difference? Perhaps, but Wales cannot rely on such gifts this time around. Warren Gatland issued a challenge to the opposition of proving themselves in the same conditions – roof closed and all. England boss Stuart Lancaster declined, saying the game would be played open-air so long as the forecast indicated a dry evening.
Reports surfaced of England training while blasting welsh hymns through loudspeakers, in an attempt to replicate the deafening chorus of the Welsh crowd.
At their pre-match press conference, Mike Catt, England’s skills coach, insisted it was “to make sure the players know how to communicate.”
Reflecting on his own experience when he last played for England at the stadium, he said: “It was brilliant, like every time it is at the Millennium.
“It’s an incredible place to play. You dream of opportunities like that”.
Detailing the challenges his side would face, he said: “They’re an extremely big, physical side; exceptional at turning you over.
“Their back line is very good. Big solid, strong, hard-working guys that want to hurt you.
Media reports have described England as being in the middle of an injury crisis.
Fourteen players have been ruled out, but the superior depth of their squad negates the losses. Edwards was keen to point out the quality they still possess, saying: “they’ve got their first choice full back, right wing, left wing, number ten, nine, loose head, tight head.
“For me (flanker) James Haskell is the best forward in England at the moment”.
With the naming of their team two days early, and comments made about the legitimacy of their opponents’ tactics, Wales haven’t been worries about delving into mind games.
In his press conference, Edwards said: “It is important there is no obstruction of our defensive play us and ahead of the ball.
“I am sure the TMO and the referee (Jerome Garces) will be well aware of that.”
Catt responded to the claims by saying: “Obstruction is a standard rule in the game. If you are obstructed then you are penalised.
“If there was a problem, the referees would be penalising us – and they’re not penalising us.
“If there’s not contact with a defender, there’s no obstruction.”
With both teams benefitting from inconsistent refereeing to coincide with their last wins against each other, all eyes will be on the French ref, especially around the scrum.
Edwards pointed out: “Two years ago ago we got all the scrum penalties. Last year, England got all the scrum penalties.”
With Wales for revenge after last year’s defeat, and England desperate to prove themselves in the lion’s den, the curtain raiser for this year’s championship promises fire. Both teams have a point to prove, a defeat to avenge.
Edwards said of the 2014 clash: “The lads had won two Six Nations, had come off a Lions series, and there was the trouble between the regions. Also, last year we had to make eighteen changes. England made four.
We’re in a better place than where we were last year.”
Catt was also happier with his team’s chances this time around in Cardiff.
He said: “(The 2013 loss) was two years ago, and we’ve beaten them since. We’ve got two years more experience.
“We learned a lot from the autumn – our strengths, our identity. We have to bring it Friday night.”
Come the final whistle, one team will have avenged a painful loss and, perhaps, set themselves on course for ultimate championship glory.