Sport Writer Jake Davies is optimistic about England's futureWritten by Jake Davies on 2nd January 2019
England Put World Cup Woes Behind Them Against Wales
Sports writer, Scott Nash, reports on a feisty encounter between England and Wales in the Six Nations rugby competition
The coaches may have played down the significance of the last meeting in September’s Rugby World Cup, where a depleted Welsh side took an unlikely scalp at Twickenham, but there’s no doubt that this memory would have been on the minds of both teams.
Wales named an unchanged side from their victory against France a fortnight ago, but there was a return to the bench for Rhys Webb, who was injured in their last World Cup warm up game against Italy. The big news in the England camp was a start for Maro Itoje, who put in an immense display in the second row.
England approached the game seeking a triple crown and a potential grand slam, the last time they were after that was in 2013, where Wales stood in their way. On that day in Cardiff it was a 30 points to 3 rout. It was not to be a similar occurrence in 2016, even after a controlling performance for more than an hour.
“England began the game with urgency and precision in attack, and created a number of early chances which arguably should have been converted
They did however get the try that was coming when the standout performer, second row Maro Itoje, in his third cap for England showed strength to fend off a tackle and feed winger Anthony Watson for an easy run in. Owen Farrell converted from the wing, taking his total to 11 for the half.
The set piece has been a major talking point in the run up to the contest, England coach Eddie Jones accusing the Welsh pack of illegally scrummaging in the week. England were stronger in this, as well as other areas of the game. Their performance was clean and decisive and they were worthy of their lead.
For all of England’s dominance, Wales did not offer anything in response. They made errors and looked lethargic in their brief moments of possession and limited spells in attack. They were even uncharacteristic in defence, their missed tackles numbering nineteen at the interval. At this point in the World Cup group stage, England led 16-9, this time it was 16 unanswered points.
The second half continued in the same vein. England’s back three exploited gaps in the Welsh line with speed and aggression. Wales attempted to vary the attack, bringing in North on the wing, but it remained frustrating and England’s breakdown game continued to disrupt any momentum. Farrell’s composed kicking display kept the score beyond Wales.
It took a freak break in England’s execution from a defensive lineout, when Dan Biggar charged down George Ford’s clearing kick to run in unopposed under the posts. This came after a complete front row change for Wales. Wales began to earn more territory and put some pressure on England for the first time, but they had still just seven points on the board.
“The impressive performance of Itoje and the rest of England’s forwards continued to earn penalties at the scrum and the breakdown
With less than a quarter of an hour to go, Farrell had kicked England into a 25-7 lead. The second half saw a return to international rugby for big names on both sides. Manu Tuilagi was back in the centre for England, and Wales scrum half Rhys Webb returned to replace Gareth Davies.
The big moment that shifted the game was a yellow card for Dan Cole on 71 mins. This forced changes in order to contest the scrum. Ex and current captains Chris Robshaw and Dylan Hartley came off, even as the penalty against Cole was reversed due to ‘inconclusive’ foul play by Tomas Francis.
The extra man counted as a skillful break and offload by Liam Williams led to a try for George North. With that, Wales grew in spirit and started to produce quick ball and offloaded well. In the incredible final minutes, Wales threw everything at England and scored a third try through Taulupe Faletau with just a few minutes left. Replacement fly half Rhys Priestland converted, and for the first time Wales were within one score. With one last attack they almost pulled off an even greater comeback than a few month ago, but England’s defence held out and they put George North in touch in the last 10 seconds. This time England won their lineout in their own 22. All that was left for Danny Care was to clear the ball off the pitch and it was relief all round for England. In the end, it was not enough for Wales to wake up with over an hour gone, but they turned the game into a much tighter affair than anyone expected based on the previous 65 minutes.
Looking back on the match in its entirety, England deserved the win. For the vast majority of the afternoon they were the only team that actually turned up. Eddie Jones’s men march on with a second triple crown in three years and a very good chance of achieving a grand slam in Paris next Saturday. It would be their first since 2003. Wales host Italy next in a week’s time and will be wanting a great deal more cohesion and positivity over the whole 80 minutes.