Twenty years ago this month England left Wales celebrating the sound of silence.
Will Greenwood scored a hat-trick of tries as the visitors stuck more points on their arch rivals in Cardiff than any time before or since.
Asked what he remembered about “one of my greatest days in rugby”, Greenwood cupped a hand to his ear.
“My old man always said that the greatest noise in rugby is a silent Arms Park,” he said, referring to Dick Greenwood, former England captain and coach.
“We went there with the job of taking the atmosphere out of the game and we achieved that.”
Two decades on and Covid has already done that for England.
The Principality Stadium on Saturday would have been bouncing, with Wales unbeaten and joint leaders of the Six Nations.
Instead one of sport’s great occasions will play out to a deathly hush – and Greenwood suspects that tilts the balance.
He points to a championship which has already seen the home side beaten behind closed doors in all but two of the six matches.
To Scotland winning at Twickenham for the first time in 38 years, to France beating Ireland in Dublin for the first time since 2011.
“People underestimate home crowd advantage,” said the World Cup winner. “Twickenham was a changed place for Scotland.
“Look at the results in this championship, look at the number of away wins in football.
“Running out at Twickenham with that roar and that crowd, look it inspires the opposition I’m sure. But when it’s your crowd.."
Greenwood thinks back to 2007 when England played Ireland in the emotionally-charged setting of Croke Park.
“I’ll always remember that day, watching with Jimmy Nesbitt,” he said. “The Irish players were not allowed to leave that stadium unless they’d won.”
Roared on by a full house, Ireland rampaged to a 43-13 win, their highest score and biggest winning margin against England.
“When you’re the away team you have an opportunity,” Greenwood added. “‘It would be exciting to win away, let’s go for it’.
“But at home in front of your crowd it’s like we cannot leave this stadium beaten. It becomes as brutal as that. You feel an absolute responsibility.”
With the stands empty this weekend England may find it easier than Wales to hit the right emotional pitch, as they are still behind enemy lines, still in an environment they associate with raw hostility.
Fullback Elliot Daly concedes “maybe” that will be the case but insists: “With no crowd to feed off it’s how you create your own energy.
“We’ve talked about it a lot. About individually understanding what we need to do to get in the right mindset.
“Which is why training this week is so important. It is basically a replica of the game: there’s no-one around and you’ve got to create that energy to take it to the opposition.”
2021 SIX NATIONS RESULTS SO FAR
Italy 10-50 France – AWAY win
England 6-11 Scotland – AWAY win
Wales 21-16 Ireland
Scotland 24-25 Wales – AWAY win
England 41-18 Italy
Ireland 13-15 France – AWAY win
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