Shane Williams: Now we must up our game for England

Well it was a win and a win is what Wales will take right now. It would have been unthinkable to lose to Georgia and thankfully that fate was avoided.

I must admit I was very nervous about this game, especially when I saw the pre-match conditions at Parc y Scarlets. It was your typical lovely winter’s night in Llanelli! The wind was up there and the rain was driving in almost horizontally. It played right into the hands of the giant Georgians.

There was plenty of youth in the Wales side which I was pleased to see and I thought Louis Rees-Zammit, James Botham and Johnny Williams all had decent games. I’ve banged the drum for Louis to play for a long time now and he had a really good match.

It was not a night for wingers, but he finished his try really well and also defended very stoutly. He did the basics like kicking very well indeed and he can be very pleased with his night’s work.

I couldn’t believe Botham started the match. What a rise he has had. I’m not sure what he was doing on the wing so often if I am honest. If I’d been a winger playing in the match, I’d have told him to get lost and go and do what he does best in the tight exchanges.

When he did get involved, James was excellent. There was a lot of talk about his famous family in the build up to this game, but we must let him carve out his own career. I’m sure the family will be very proud and I thought there was even going to be a debut Botham try when he raced clear down the wing. Well done James and I’m sure there is more to come.

More about Williams now. He has an amazing story to tell having survived and beaten testicular cancer and he was excellent against Georgia and deserves to keep his place.

This was not a night for pretty rugby as the conditions were awful, but Johnny provided Wales with a good platform from 12. He ran hard, carried strongly, and never took a backward step. It was very similar to the type of performances Hadleigh Parkes used to produce and you can give him no higher praise than that.

The one concern is Justin Tipuric after he took a nasty knock against Georgia. I thought the Georgian player could easily have seen red not yellow for the challenge. Justin is now a massive doubt to face England and if I’m honest I don’t think he’ll make the game. It looked a horrible blow and as key a figure as Justin is, you just can’t afford to risk a player’s health after an injury like that.

Three men who I would start against England are Wyn Jones, Samson Lee and Jake Ball. All three Scarlets players were excellent against Georgia. Props Jones and Lee went really well at scrum time and I thought Ball had a tremendous shift at lock. He really put in the hard yards. For me, he starts against England alongside Alun Wyn Jones.

After scraping past Georgia, Wales do at least go into the England game on the back of a win. We all know though that they will have to step up a serious amount to challenge Eddie Jones’ side. The thing is I don’t expect many of the players who faced Georgia to start again next week. England will be another challenge altogether.

The big problem for Wales is injuries. Jonathan Davies, Josh Navidi, Ross Moriarty and Taulupe Faletau would all normally be certain starters for a game with England. All of them have knocks at the moment which isn’t ideal.

Jonathan is struggling with a knee problem – so too is Taulupe – and I don’t expect him to face England which opens up a gap at centre. There was positive news on Taulupe from Wayne post match which was very good to hear.

Johnny and Nick Tompkins were the midfield pairing against Georgia and I thought they did okay in difficult conditions which always meant back-line play was going to be difficult.

New face: Johnny Williams is tackled by Beka Gorgadze in Wales’ 18-0 Autumn Nations Cup win at Parc y Scarlets. Michael Steele/Getty Images

I’d persevere with Johnny against England, probably with Owen Watkin inside him at 12. That is a solid yet unspectacular pairing but one which will have its work cut out keeping the likes of Owen Farrell and Henry Slade quiet when England arrive in Llanelli.

I do really worry about that game because England are so, so impressive. Look at the way they disposed of Ireland yesterday. Then look at what Ireland did to Wales’ best team. It doesn’t bode well.

England have so much power in their game with the likes of Billy Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. That is exactly the area where Wales have struggled so far this autumn.

While it was good to get a win against Georgia, the match will have very little bearing on how things go against the English. The big names like Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar will definitely return and so too, in all likelihood, will Gareth Davies at scrum-half.

Is it possible for Wales to beat England? Absolutely, yes. Can I see it happening? Unfortunately not.

England will come down full of confidence and with a point to prove. The last couple of times they have played in Wales they have lost and that will be hurting them. I’m sure they will use that as motivation.

Yes things are different now with Wales’ home games being played at Parc y Scarlets and in front of an empty stadium. The Principality Stadium with 75,000 screaming Welshmen and women it is not.

I think Wales have struggled playing behind closed doors. They have had no crowd to feed off and we all know what the Welsh supporters do for the team. I can speak from experience as a former player and they really do make a massive difference.

Wales aren’t at their best without them, but it can’t be an excuse for poor performances at international level. As a Test match rugby player you have to find your own motivation. The problem is when confidence is low – as it is in the Welsh camp right now – it can be difficult to be positive.

Still, the one positive thing to consider is that a Welsh team should never fail to be up for a game with England. They are our biggest rivals and if I was Wayne, I would hammer that home this week.


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