A round-up of what’s hot and what’s not from the England-Wales showdown at Twickenham
England picked up their first piece of silverware of the Eddie Jones era, beating Wales at Twickenham to secure the Triple Crown. Dylan Hartley’s side bossed the first half, continually showing pace and sharpness in attack, to build a 16-0 lead at the break. Owen Farrell was faultless from the tee, slotting 20 points in all, while Anthony Watson added another try to his Test haul. England were hugely impressive for 65minutes, but Wales made it a nervous finish for the hosts. They ran in two tries in the last six minutes and George North got close to getting another before being put into touch by Manu Tuilagi. So Wales outscored England three tries to one, but England held on to win the game and they head to Paris next week with a chance of winning a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003.
Maro Itoje – The Saracens lock was superb, making a mockery of anybody who had suggested he wasn’t ready to play at Test level. He may only be 21 but he was the leading figure on the pitch at Twickenham. By half-time alone he had stolen two lineouts – not to mention the numerous ones he’d won on England’s throw – won a crucial turnover ten metres from the line seconds after stopping Gareth Davies as Wales mounted their one decent attack of the first 40 minutes and set up the try.
For Anthony Watson’s touchdown, first he won the lineout, supplying quick ball off the top, then he popped up on the opposite side of the pitch, broke the Wales line, passed to Mike Brown, who then fed Watson the scoring pass. Eddie Jones called him a Vauxhall Viva earlier in the tournament but said afterwards: “He’s a BMW now!” He was a worthy winner of Man of the Match and has a big future.
Wales’ spirit – At 19-0 down early in the second half and 25-7 down well into the last ten minutes, Wales looked completely out of this game. Yet, they came back extremely well in the last 15 minutes. Playing with more adventure and at a higher tempo, they caused England problems, especially when Dan Cole was sent to the sin-bin. Dan Biggar had got Wales on the scoreboard with a try after charging down a George Ford kick, but it was the two tries in two minutes late in the game from George North and Taulupe Faletau, both well-worked, that had England fans biting their nails. England weathered the storm but the frailty shown in the last ten minutes will be a worry for Eddie Jones heading to France. In fairness, though, it’s likely to be his only worry after such an impressive performance.
The weather – Okay, it was hardly like being in the Caribbean but the sun was shining as the game kicked off at Twickenham and the conditions were perfect for a game of rugby.
Respectful crowd – There was little, if any, whistling for goalkicks and the entire stadium applauded when Wales captain Sam Warburton was taken off on a stretcher. No one wants to see players suffer injuries, but it’s good to see such respect shown by supporters of both teams.
Sluggish starts – In Dublin in Wales’ opening game of the Six Nations they allowed Ireland to build a 13-0 lead. Yes, they fought back to draw 16-16 but that slow start cost them. At Twickenham their start was even worse. They fell off tackles (19 missed in the first 40!), gave away far too many penalties and allowed England to dominate territory and possession. By half-time the home side had built a 16-0 lead but England could have had more points, Ben Youngs knocking on as he tried to touch down and Dan Cole failing to ground the ball. Wales scrambled well at times but their usually solid defence looked shaky given the pace England were playing at and they lacked ideas in attack.
They came back to score those three tries in the second half and looked the more dangerous team in the last 20 minutes, especially when England were down to 14, but it was all too late. As Warren Gatland said they looked flat in the first half. They need to stop these slow starts, especially with a tour to New Zealand coming in June.
Billy’s bursts – One thing Wales did manage to do well was stop Billy Vunipola. England’s No 8 has been one of the stars of this year’s championship, but his usually strong charges were cut short here as Wales put two or three defenders on him, limiting his impact.
TMO delays – It’s been a common gripe ever since the start of the World Cup. Things have improved recently – Wayne Barnes, in particular, showing how to perfectly use the technology while play continues – but they took a backward turn here. The fact Craig Joubert went to the TMO within two minutes after England pressurised Wales’ line and the consultation lasted longer than the match had at that point didn’t help, nor did several further referrals during the match. Everyone wants the right decision but there must be a way to make these delays shorter.
One thing the TMO did flag was Tomas Francis making contact with Dan Cole’s face. There was only one angle so it couldn’t be determined whether it was deliberate and it resulted in only an England penalty at the time, but the Wales prop will have a nervous wait to see what the citing commissioner decides.
138 – Metres made by Mike Brown, more than any other player. George North made 109 for Wales.
16 – Tackles made by Dan Lydiate, more than any other player. Maro Itoje was England’s top tackler with 14.
25 – Tackles missed by Wales compared to 18 by England.
18 – Number of ball-carries made by Billy Vunipola, more than any other player.
England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph (E Daly 75), O Farrell, J Nowell; G Ford (M Tuilagi 64), B Youngs (D Care 64); J Marler (M Vunipola 57), D Hartley (capt, L Cowan-Dickie 72), D Cole, M Itoje, G Kruis (J Launchbury 79), C Robshaw (K Brookes 72), J Haskell (J Clifford 69), B Vunipola.
Try: Watson. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 6.
Yellow card: Cole (72min)
Wales: L Williams; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar (R Priestland 74), G Davies (R Webb 64); R Evans (P James 53), S Baldwin (K Owens 53), S Lee (T Francis 53), B Davies, AW Jones (L Charteris 64), D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt, J Tipuric 57), T Faletau.
Tries: Biggar, North, Faletau. Con: Biggar, Priestland 2.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Man of the Match: Maro Itoje
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