Wales were expected to use their much-vaunted team to dispatch with the inexperienced England 23 but it didn't turn out as expected
Balanced views are required. But may be hard to find this week.
After a 16-21 defeat to England on the opening weekend of the 2015 RBS Six Nations balanced viewpoints will be rare in Wales this week. And understandably so. Wales v England is like Christmas Day in Cardiff and losing to England is like finding Santa in bed with your spouse. This week will see passionate calls for a dramatic overhaul of the Welsh scrum and radical positional changes; however a more measured response is more likely and appropriate. Wales weren’t blown away for 80 minutes. The reality is Wales had a solid opening 40 minutes where an accurate kick and chase strategy allowed them to gain 50% of the territory and 49% of the ball.
Taulupe Faletau’s moment of brilliance, where he retrieved the ball from so far inside the scrum that he looked like a vet delivering a calf, allowed Wales to walk in at half time with a 16-8 lead. But of course if we’re looking for balance the bad cannot ignored and there was plenty of it. The Welsh set piece struggled, and during the second half allowed England’s pack and backs to dominate. England’s backrow literally ‘choked’ Wales and their strategy of preventing the Welsh carriers from setting rucks was hugely effective. This will be a tough week for the Welsh players and supporters – but by no means insurmountable.
‘Warrenball’ can’t be blamed. But it must be questioned.
Warren Gatland’s rugby blueprint will undoubtedly receive a large portion of the blame for Friday’s defeat. In truth it would be unfair to blame the defeat on Wales’ penchant for sending their big, fast carriers directly and repeatedly into the narrow channels – without a solid set piece no strategy can work effectively. However any Wales loss, between now and the end of the Rugby World Cup, should justifiably question Gatland’s reliance on his well-documented style of play. ‘Warrenball’ requires one thing – ball. Without ball it doesn’t work effectively.
Attritional heavy carrying requires consistent fast possession to clamber over the gainline and sufficiently jumble the defensive line. When it works, it works perfectly as Wales’s recent record in the Six Nations has shown. Bet when the set piece falters and the possession slows, Wales’s patterns can become predicable. Wales no longer have a squad set up to counter attack, and the deft offloads and angles of 2005 are long gone – though the inclusion of Liam Williams would help in this respect. It was interesting to see that France, Scotland and England attempted wider, less predictable patterns than Wales this weekend. The game is evolving. Wales need to keep pace.
If the ref doesn’t like your props. Change them fast
The Welsh scrum had issues against England. Both Samson Lee and Gethin Jenkins found themselves heavily penalised and the resulting kicks cost Wales, points, valuable field position and territory. Warren Gatland clearly didn’t agree with the penalties, but that doesn’t really matter. Only Jerome Garces’ opinion, on ‘hinging’, mattered on Friday night and there is an argument that Lee and Jenkins should have been substituted earlier.
Subbing a prop early is no longer a deliberate slight on their performance, even the world’s best scrummagers suffer from referee’s ‘interpretation’ – it is part of the modern game. It seems odd that Gatland was reluctant to make such a call. He’s not exactly shy of yanking props off the field as we saw with Adam Jones during the last 12 months.
Hat tip for Stuart Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster deserved that win. Hugely so in fact. He’s had a tough week and that’s before he had to face a laser show of such proportions not seen since Robot Wars left our screens in 2001. The injuries that his squad have suffered have seriously hampered his planning and any desire to work on consistency of selection and settled centre combinations clearly won’t happen during this tournament. However, England delivered one of the finest performs of his Lancaster’s tenure on Friday and made Wales’ pre match antics seem churlish. England’s front row was rock solid and the backrow, led by the impressive James Haskell, were effective both with and without the ball.
George Ford and Mike Brown executed an accurate and varied tactical kicking game that regularly caught out Wales’ notoriously aggressive line speed – Brown’s neat kick through for Watson’s try was superb. The positives for England don’t merely end with the result either. This was a handsome victory even with a poor goal kicking percentage of 67% and Haskell missing a try by running full tilt into 250kg of rugby posts – they’re just about the only thing that did stop him on Friday. England were largely written off before the start of the tournament. Not so now.
Wales beat England
It’s the headline that all Welsh supporters wanted to read on Saturday morning but instead had to wait until Sunday. Wales under 20s beat England by 21-15 and secured their first win in ten meetings and thankfully put to bed last season’s 67-7 score line. It was a great victory, against an almost senior sized English pack, and ended with one of the finest defensive displays that you’ll witness at age grade level.
Wales’ women also dished up a superb win against their English counterparts by 13-0. That’s only the second time that they have beaten England – who are the current World Champions. Wales’ senior men often over shadow the women’s and age grade teams during the Six Nations, but for once it was the other around. Congratulations to all those involved.