As is sometimes the case in sport the scoreline is not always a fair reflection of the match and never is that more true than with this result. Incredibly, Wales could have won at the death and hopefully they would’ve been arrested for robbery had that actually happened. The cold truth is that there was only one team in the contest and they were wearing white.
Firstly, credit where it is due. England were excellent, playing with a power and a dynamism which had been lacking in previous years. In Maro Itoje they have a superstar in the making, his athleticism and skill made him an easy selection for man of the match. England’s tactics were clear, targeting Wales’ right wing defence, namely the woeful Alex Cuthbert. Stats don’t lie, he missed 4 tackles and flapped aimlessly at a kick which mercifully he at least knocked backwards and as a result England gained easy territorial advantage.
England have already secured the championship, with France losing in Scotland, and could easily capture a Grand Slam given how lackadaisical Les Bleus have been under new boss Guy Noves. However, this is not a great England team, they can get better. The balance of their backrow is not right yet with Itoje and Jack Clifford a much better option at openside flanker to partner a revitalised Chris Robshaw. Similarly, the centre combination is not one which will win a World Cup with George Ford mercurial at 10, possibly flaky, and largely non-existent against Wales. With the streetwise experience of Eddie Jones in charge the only way is up for England.
Where to start with Wales. The first half performance was one of the worst delivered under Warren Gatland and huge questions have to be asked why there was such lethargy. Every Welshman, woman and child was up for this game except for the fifteen players who took the field. Teach them all the words to the National Anthem, get them to belt it out and maybe they would have the emotional edge which clearly helped England. The defensive system renowned for it’s line speed and aggressive blitz was sorely lacking. Worst still there was an astonishing 19 missed tackles in the first half alone, typified by Biggar and Baldwin left on the ground as Itoje put the ball out wide for England’s try, and generally allowed England to get momentum into their attacks. In contrast Wales had lost their basic skills, being picked off at multiple lineouts and giving away easy penalties. It was one of those situations when frankly they didn’t deserve nil, minus points would’ve been a better reflection of their performance. Whilst no player sets out to put in a poor showing the evidence suggests something at fault with their preparation and the way the team is being managed and coached.
Whilst the coaching set up has had plenty of success, things seem to have grown stale with that team being in place for a number of years now. The set piece game continues to be hit or miss, selection has been widely debated and consistently the team starts slowly in matches giving the opposition a head start. Warren Gatland has admitted changes were considered after 25 minutes and it could be argued that a better manager wouldn’t have just considered changes but actually made them given the positive impact those changes would have later in the match. Wales’ attacking game has also come in for huge criticism over the last 12 months, failing to score against 13 Australians in the Rugby World Cup, for example. Things have to change and Rob Howley’s job must come under threat, 8 years in the role is more than enough particularly given the world class players who are failing to reach the heights that they are capable of. Few will have failed to notice how Wales managed to score 3 tries when seemingly the gameplan went out the window and the players actually played what was in front of them instead of sticking to a rigid plan based on contestable kicking.
The frustration from Welsh fans is because we recognise that this squad is full of talented players and we expect more from them. Last season’s game against Italy proved that Wales can run in the tries from all over the field. That sort of endeavour is completely absent this season, criminal given how Ireland were hampered by injuries and retirements leaving them vulnerable and a dreadful France team who should have been given an absolute hammering. Grinding out wins against France and Scotland was all well and good but if Wales are to threaten the All Blacks in the summer, another team who will be vulnerable, they have to deliver higher standards.
Likelihood is the same Wales players, minus Capt. Sam it seems, will be sent out again to rectify their previous performance against an Italy side who fell away against Ireland and could do the same in Cardiff. Wales should get a positive win and all will be forgotten but if this team is going to recapture a 6 Nations again, something they have failed to do in the last 3 tournaments, then changes have to be made so there are never any repeats of that 50 minutes shambles from Wales.