Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) -
Wales playing England at home is one of the stand-out fixtures of the Six Nations, a fierce rivalry between neighbours that sees thousands fill Cardiff for a day of rugby, beer and cheer.
Past matches have etched some of the most iconic moments in rugby history in both countries, a centuries-old ritual that has evoked high emotion since the initial game back in 1881.
In his autobiography 'Number Nine Dream', ex-Wales scrum-half Rob Howley wrote: 'As anyone who has ever played in an England-Wales game will tell you, the rivalry and intensity is unparallelled. It certainly doesn't need the players or the pressmen to throw fuel on the fire.'
'Look what these bastards have done to Wales,' talismanic ex-Wales fly-half Phil Bennett infamously told his teammates before the 1977 match against England they went on to win 14-9.
Wales, Bennett said, had been 'exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English', citing natural resources diverted to England and the scourge of holiday homes among other gripes.
Acrimony and animosity are generally far from the spirit of the average rugby union fan, supporters of both teams are more interested in good-natured banter than jibes based on perceived socio-economic and political exploitation, but the edge nevertheless remains.
The fact Saturday's Wales-England match nearly did not go ahead has left many in both countries astounded, with even Wales captain Ken Owens saying the country were the 'laughing stock' of world rugby.
- Strike averted -
A potential strike by Welsh players over contractual issues was averted just on Wednesday.
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) were left staring at massive losses had the game not gone ahead. An estimate of up to £9 million ($11m) lost by the WRU is more than doubled for the Welsh capital's businesses on match day.
'I'm pleased to announce that after extensive conversations and discussions over the last week the Wales-England game will go ahead as scheduled,' said Nigel Walker, the acting WRU chief executive.
All professional players in Wales were invited to a meeting to discuss issues with the Professional Rugby Board (PRB), which handles contractual issues, on Wednesday -- a deadline set by Welsh players for progress on the matter.
Many of the players' existing deals at the four Welsh regional sides expire at the end of the season.
A new financial agreement between the four Welsh regions -- Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets -- and the WRU is set to be in place from next week.
And there was compromise on a number of issues including reducing to 25 the controversial 60-cap minimum Test selection rule for players at clubs outside of Wales, guaranteed representation at PRB board meetings and the inclusion of a solely fixed contract alongside fixed-variable hybrid contracts (80 per cent in set wages, with 20 per cent as bonus payments).
'Everybody in Welsh rugby really needs to pull together now to find the best way forward and we need to do it collaboratively, together, to put Welsh rugby back at the top end of world rugby and not the laughing stock which I think we are at the moment,' Wales skipper Owens said.
Welsh fans will now hope that the players can put a troubled week behind them come Saturday at the Principality Stadium.
Owens, while admitting that the dispute had been 'a distraction', vowed: 'When we have crossed that white line at training, we've prepared well and done our work as professional players. We are ready for Saturday.
'We have fronted up in training and prepared as we would for any Test match and are looking forward to going toe-to-toe with England.'
Wales coach Warren Gatland will now unveil his 23-man squad for the England clash on Thursday after cancelling Tuesday's scheduled team announcement, with everyone hoping the focus switches to what should be a mouth-watering match in the third round of the Six Nations.