The good and the bad of England’s Six Nations win over Wales
Elliot Daly’s 77th-minute try meant England took their winning run to 16 Tests. It was a hugely physical match played at a ferocious pace against a Wales side showing their best form for many a month, so this will chart as one of the best victories of Eddie Jones’s reign.
Both sides defended resolutely as the opposition maintained possession for numerous phases, Ben Youngs getting the first try before Liam Williams crossed to give Wales a half-time lead. The Welsh looked to be closing in on a famous win over England until a clearance kick was fielded by George Ford and fed to Owen Farrell, who released Daly down the wing. Daly showed the pace to beat Alex Cuthbert on the outside and as England closed out another victory – they do say winning is a habit – Wales had to settle for a losing bonus point.
Here’s our verdict on the match…
Patience is a virtue – England went through 26 phases in the build-up to Ben Youngs’s first-half try. Left to right, forward and back, they stretched the Welsh defence across the pitch, didn’t panic when they couldn’t get across the whitewash despite numerous close encounters and three minutes later Youngs darted over from the back of a ruck.
Wales, too, put together some brilliant phase play, and while it was a pre-planned move from the back of a scrum that sent Liam Williams careering over the line, the pressure they had put England under beforehand created that opportunity.
We may be living in times when instant gratification is the order of the day, but sometimes patience can bring the best rewards.
Cool captaincy – Talk of who will be Lions skipper will be dominating rugby conversations until Warren Gatland announces his decision on 17 April. Alun Wyn Jones is one of the favourites and I should make clear here that he would be my choice to lead the team in New Zealand this summer, his form this season as good as its ever been.
That’s probably why I’m going to share this anecdote. After Wales had taken the lead in the first half through Liam Williams’s try, Jones was the first to run back to his own half and as the rest of the team gathered for the restart he was using his words and actions to ensure they calmed down and focused on the next play. It was cool and collected leadership – exactly what will be needed in New Zealand.
Red-hot atmosphere – There was a cacophony of noise in the Principality Stadium. Wales v England games are always special and this time it felt like there was an ever sharper edge to proceedings, perhaps down to all the goings-on off the field during the week. It wasn’t just points on the board being cheered, it was big hits and smart skills. When a group of English supporters started belting out Swing Low Sweet Chariot, the home fans hit back with ‘Wales, Wales, Wales’ to drown them out. It was the kind of atmosphere that makes Test-match rugby so special, with the action on the field matching the enthusiasm off it – more of the same throughout this Six Nations please.
Billy miss – There is only one Billy Vunipola. He has an innate ability to break tackles and get across the gain-line with his sheer power. This is not the strength of Nathan Hughes; his talent is taking the contact, staying upright and getting offloads away to his team-mates. England seem to be keen on Hughes playing like Vunipola rather than using his own strengths – and it wasn’t a success. He was hit hard by the Welsh defence when he tried to make a bust and was driven back when within a couple of metres of the line in the lead-up to the Ben Youngs’s try. Had Billy been on the pitch you suspect the try would have come then. If Hughes is wearing the No 8 shirt, let him play his natural game, not try to impersonate another’s.
Hook crook – At scrum time, it seemed Wales were looking to drive England back to secure possession rather than hooking it. This was not a successful tactic, especially as England sometimes got the nudge on Wales up front. Unless they know they can overpower the opposition pack, Wales need to look at hooking the ball to ensure they retain possession on their own feed at scrum time.
Boo boys – As said above, the passion of the crowd was superb, but two cases were not. First, there was no need for the booing of the English anthem – whether it be for God Save The Queen itself or the appearance of Dylan Hartley on the big screen. And the whistling that accompanied every English kick at goal was also unnecessary.
20 – Number of tackles made by Man of the Match Joe Launchbury. Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton were joint top for Wales with 18.
8 – Number of turnovers won by Wales compared to 2 by England.
22 – Number of ball carries made by Nathan Hughes, who also topped England’s metres made chart with 67.
12 – Number of offloads made by England, three times as many as Wales.
Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, S Williams (J Roberts 71), L Williams; D Biggar, R Webb (G Davies 65); R Evans (N Smith 53), K Owens (S Baldwin 61), T Francis (S Lee 53), J Ball, AW Jones (capt), S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty (T Faletau 53).
Try: L Williams. Con: Halfpenny. Pens: Halfpenny 2.
England: M Brown; J Nowell (J May 71), J Joseph (B Te’o 65), O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford, B Youngs (D Care 65); J Marler (M Mullan 71), D Hartley (capt, J George 47), D Cole (K Sinckler 71), J Launchbury, C Lawes, M Itoje, J Clifford (J Haskell 49), N Hughes.
Tries: Youngs, Daly. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 3.
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