AS a former international back-row of some repute himself, Phil Davies is fascinated to see how that area of the game pans out in Cardiff tonight – especially given the unusual link between England call-up Jack Clifford and Wales’ own Ross Moriarty.
Brisbane-born Clifford, who turns 24 tomorrow, starts at openside having ousted the experienced Tom Wood in Eddie Jones’ side for the RBS 6 Nations clash.
The Harlequins flanker was a No 8 when captaining England Under-20s to a World Cup final win over Wales in 2013 but his blindside was Moriarty, who qualified for England having been born in St Helens.
His father is the former Wales forward Paul Moriarty, who had a richly successful career in rugby league with Widnes from 1988 to 1994 preceding two years in Yorkshire with Halifax as well.
However, the Gloucester forward was chiefly raised in Swansea, hence eventually heading back to the land of his father, which makes for an intriguing sideshow in tonight’s game.
Davies, the former Leeds Tykes coach who won 46 caps for Wales as one of their most famous forwards, is certainly relishing that match-up.
“It is an interesting one,” the 53-year-old, who currently coaches Namibia, told The Yorkshire Post.
“Him and Ross Moriarty playing for England Under 20s together like that not too long ago is unusual.
“They will have a real respect for each other and they will know each other’s games well, too,” said Davies.
“It should be a great battle. Eddie Jones has made a couple of selections that people perhaps weren’t expecting especially this Clifford one.
“But I think that could be quite an inspired choice.
“Nathan Hughes at No 8 was a bit of a lone ball-carrier for England at times against France last week and I think Eddie has brought Clifford in to add to their ball-carrying threat.”
England scrapped to a 15th consecutive win last week to keep up their remarkable run of form under Jones while Wales struggled, in the first period at least, before beating Italy 33-7 in Rome.
But Davies, who oversaw Leeds’s greatest achievements between 1996 and 2006, saw enough for him to believe Wales could be the team to finally crack their old rivals this evening.
“We were very workmanlike,” he admitted.
“We kept our composure in the first half when we could have scored a number of tries. We didn’t panic and then built into the second period and could almost have ended up with a try-scoring bonus point, too,” he added.
“We were very calm under pressure and this on Saturday should now be a hell of a game.
“Wales and England is always a fierce encounter but I think home advantage might just get us over the line.
“We’re an experienced team now and this is a fantastic opportunity.
“I’ve coached for probably longer in England than I actually have done in Wales and I have huge respect for the English game not just the Welsh.
“Obviously there’s a bit of rivalry there that goes back a long way and this will be a massive test of our credentials.
“Wales will have to play very well to overcome England but I do fancy them to do that.”
It is, meanwhile, 30 years on from the infamous ‘Battle of Cardiff’, the darkest day in the fixture’s long history.
Davies was the towering Welsh N0 8 left with a fractured cheekbone by England’s Wade Dooley punch early on in the brutal match-up, the first of countless brawls and ugly skirmishes that would never be seen in the modern day.
Wales did, of course, prevail, though, as they so often did in Cardiff, and Davies recalled: “That didn’t end too well for me in ‘87 but ‘89 was a great game that I did really enjoy.
“It was a bruising battle but we managed to get the result again and I had a great tussle with Dean Richards.
“There was some great contests over the years – we won at Twickenham in ‘88 – and hopefully we’ll get another come Saturday.”