Tuesday, 28 February 2012

6 Nations Match Report: England v Wales

Wales continued on their march to the Grand Slam and claimed the Triple Crown with a less than convincing 12 – 19 victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday.

A Scott Williams try in the last 10 minutes sealed the game but in the dying moments England’s David Strettle was disallowed a try that would have brought the English within 2 points pending the conversion, but it wasn’t to be.

It was a game in which defense ruled and as expected it wasn’t a very high scoring encounter but nonetheless it had drama until the very end. In the early stages George North was bearing down on Ben Foden and looked like he was going to give Wales the perfect start but for an excellent tap tackle from David Strettle. Then at the other end Sam Warburton epitomized Wales’ attitude with a desperate tackle on Manu Tuilagi just inches from the Welsh try line. The pendulum swung to and fro and this game was impossible to call right until the very end.

Watching the game live I felt in England were the team who saw more of the ball but after looking at the stats, possession was virtually 50/50. What made the difference on the day was that Wales knew how to win. After going through 4 or 5 phases England didn’t seem to know where to go next which resulted in Farrell kicking possession away. On the subject of kicking, Wales kicked very poorly, hitting touch just once from open play, this must have been tactical from the Welsh management but I don’t see the logic playing against the counter attacking ability of Ben Foden and Strettle.

The penalty count favoured Wales by 13 penalties to 12, but Wales gave away silly penalties and England seemed to make better use of their penalties than Wales did, especially when the Rhys Priestland is missing touch. The set piece was also relatively even with England slightly edging it losing one less lineout than Wales, but I still think Ken Owens did very well in such a high profile match.

One of the differences was that Wales made 3 clean line breaks whereas England made just the one, which highlights the fact that Wales simply have the more exciting backs. Wales didn’t really play the expansive game that we associate with them, however, England picked centre’s Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi to nullify the Welsh midfield, which they did very well.

The Welsh back row proved once again to be worth their weight in gold on Saturday. Dan Lydiate does an unbelievable amount of work in defence which can never be underestimated. Then you have Sam Warburton who seems to be everywhere on the field and carried well. And finally to compliment those two nicely you have Toby Faletau who did what he does every week and that is cross the gainline. I feel like i'm repeating myself every time I talk about this three but they are consistently fantastic every single week.

England rebel Tuilagi has to be applauded for his return to the international stage. He looked like England’s most dangerous back, he was clearly targeting Priestland – whom he bumped over a number of times. But the two midfields cancelled each other out for the game and it was a very bruising encounter in that area throughout. Jamie Roberts had very little impact and was outshone by his replacement Scott Williams.

Owen Farrell won the battle of the fly half’s hands down. Many people (including myself) questioned his ability to command a game on such a big stage but he excelled in his role. When it was the Welsh who were expected to play all the rugby it was in fact Farrell who looked the more likely to get his backline firing - he even managed to brush off a thunderous tackle from George North.
His opposite number on the other hand looks to be out of form. After a fantastic World Cup I had very high hopes for Rhys Priestland but as of yet he hasn’t performed well at all in this 6 Nations. His poor kicking display against Ireland followed by the massive media hype that ensued seems to have knocked his confidence and as I’ve mentioned before he is a confidence player. Stephen Jones was stripped and ready to enter the fray after Priestland had missed touch and given away a penalty after getting caught under the high ball, But Farrell’s penalty drifted wide and Jones put the tracksuit back on. Yesterday Wales attack coach Rob Howley praised the way the young Scarlet made it through: I thought to keep him on was the right decision because he's got to learn from the experience.
“He came through it and, during the final 10 minutes, Rhys was better.”
Clearly Howley is worried about the damage to Priestland’s confidence should he be dropped after playing so poorly, but I’m keeping the faith in him and should he be picked to face Italy I’m backing him to have a big game.
Both teams need to be applauded for what was an excellent spectacle and a good advert for rugby in the northern hemisphere, England for the way they came at Wales and tried to play some rugby and Wales for an excellent defensive performance and closing out a game in which they didn’t play particularly well.

England definitely have a chance to upset the French when they play next week and I expect Wales to see off Italy with relative ease either way we’ve got some good rugby ahead of us.

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