By Paul Morgan, Editor of Rugby World Magazine
Another Six Nations game which proved the fine margins that are present in top flight international rugby. So little separates the five teams in the Six Nations and the three in the Tri-Nations, which is just the way I like it!
England won 30-17 but at 20-17 up they were rescued by an interception pass and has Delon Armitage not gambled to snaffle Stephen Jones’ pass to Leigh Halfpenny I could only see one winner in those final ten minutes…and that was Wales, who were seriously in the ascendancy.
Those fine margins are never better summed up than in the play of Jonny Wilkinson. The guy is phenomenal and with a Test average of 15 points he guarantees England 15 points and a nervous defence on the other side – a huge advantage in the world of small margins.
His performance will scare the living daylights out of France, Ireland and Scotland. All the coaches will mention him in the build-up and stress their players shouldn’t give him any chances…that will make him more nervous.
The Wilkinson Factor shows why Andy Robinson had to recall Chris Paterson for the game against France. Paterson hasn’t missed a kick in the Six Nations for almost three years. You can’t afford to leave someone like that out of the team!
Does Wilkinson challenge the line enough? Does he make enough breaks? Martin Johnson doesn’t care, especially when England win as Wilkinson’s kicking was the difference. He also didn’t care in the World Cup Final, in 2002. If James Hook and Stephen Jones had delivered the same 100% record at Twickenham, Wales would have been ahead going into the last ten minutes, rather than 20-17 down and they would have won.
As John Wells once told me – the perfect team has a great tighthead, a great goalkicker and 13 other players. Well England have the goalkicker and he was the difference today, even though James Haskell scored two tries.
Was this the perfect performance from England? Of course not, but they won. Martin Johnson, the England team and their supporters don’t care.
England will beat Italy next week and turn up at Twickenham in a fortnight, unbeaten for a not-to-be-missed clash with the Grand Slam Champions, Ireland – enthralling stuff in store!
Hook and Jamie Roberts exposed England’s defence almost at will, but they will do that to any defence in the world. And the reality – as Roberts acknowledged after the game – is that Wales didn’t get enough ball to do real damage. These two have the potential to become Wales legends and the Ospreys coaches must be barmy or blind if they can’t find a place for Hook in their starting line-up. Play him in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Biarritz and he may win if for you. The guy is a class act.
If they get enough ball Wales could end this Championship with four wins, especially if Alun Wyn Jones keeps his feet to himself.
And a word for Steve Borthwick. His critics can’t have it both ways. Criticise him when England lose big games they have to take their hat off to win when they win, don’t they? But they won’t. Ok, Borthwick is not Martin Johnson but who would be a better captain at the moment? Argument over.