By Toby Godfray
- England beat Wales to keep Grand Slam aspirations in check
- Eddie Jones’ men have now gone 16 games unbeaten
- Wales looked all set for victory before a late Elliot Daly sends travelling fans into delirium
CARDIFF, WALES – Despite improving massively on last week’s performance, England appeared second-best for large chunks of Saturday’s spirited encounter, and yet still came out on top. Here are five things we’ve learned.
England tactics simple but effective
If you are winning, the manner in which you do so is irrelevant. England were not at their fluid, eye-catching best, but they did the basics right. Ignoring one or two handling errors, they went 100% at the scrum and lineout and their discipline was generally in check.
Deciding not to commit at the breakdown, England made just the one turnover in the whole game. This however meant they kept their shape in defence, and were rarely outnumbered out wide – only through the odd missed tackle did Wales really threaten.
In fact, Wales’ sole try through Liam Williams in the 38th minute was a well-choreographed set piece move straight off the training ground, frankly which England could do little about. England themselves came up with little invention, instead relying on quick hands to shift the ball from side to side and create openings and space that way.
There is no doubt we have seen England play better with ball in hand in recent times, but they largely nullified Wales’ threat and stifled the crowd before grinding out the result in the dying embers of the game. A job well done.
Wales kicking tactics in contrast more suspect
With a slender two-point lead and five minutes to go, Wales had the ball on their own try line, and an opportunity to clear. Scrum-half Rhys Webb threw the ball back to centre Jonathan Davies, who opted to kick the ball in field, not out for a lineout.
This complied with Wales’ approach during the whole game. When attempting to clear their own lines, they would seldom look to kick the ball out of play, instead keeping it live. Webb himself put in two or three poor box kicks which went unpunished as England’s ball carriers took the ball back into onrushing Welsh defenders.
But in this case, Wales were made to pay. On receiving the ball, George Ford immediately spotted the space, spinning the ball to Owen Farrell, then set up Elliot Daly to score in the corner, showing opposite number Alex Cuthbert a new pair of heels in the process.
For sure Wales will be furious about their poor game management.
Wasps duo in top form
Last week we highlighted the brilliance of Elliot Daly against France, and this week we shall do no different. Daly’s try in the 75th minute was an outstanding finish, and meant England snatched the points from Wales’ grasp.
This was not necessarily Daly’s most important contribution. On the hour mark the wing ran back the length of the pitch to slide tackle the ball out of play, stopping a near certain Dan Biggar interception try. The Wasp is doing his credentials no harm with performances like this.
The same can be said to some extent for Wasps teammate, lock Joe Launchbury. Claiming the Man of the Match award, Launchbury was everywhere. Making the calls for the lineout (England won nine out of nine off their own throw), completing 20 tackles and offering as a willing ball carrier throughout, the second-row put in a colossal shift. He is certainly coming of age in this England side.
Subs change the game once again
In such a tightly-contested game, England once again turned to their impact players off the bench for inspiration; they delivered. James Haskell and Danny Care added impetus in a similar vain to last week, and will both hope to secure starting roles against Italy.
Last week’s saviour Ben Te’o gave us another glimpse of his ability with ball on hand, as did replacement hooker Jamie George. Both made significant line breaks to put England in Wales’ 22, allowing wave after wave of attacks to build on a tiring Welsh defence.
Unfortunately for Tom Wood, the Northampton flanker remained unused on the bench. Dropped following a mediocre performance against France, he will be more desperate than anyone to get on the pitch against Italy. Let’s not forget Eddie Jones initially axed Wood in one of his first moves as coach after the 2015 World Cup, and would not hesitate to do so again.
England must thrash Italy
Here’s a quick reminder of how the bonus points scheme pans out:
Loss – 0
Draw – 2
Win – 4
Four tries or more – 1
Losing by 7 points or less – 1
Grand Slam winner – 3 extra points to ensure they finish at the top of the table.
Whilst England are now the only unbeaten team, Ireland sit two points behind after their nine-try thrashing of Italy in Rome. There is a two week break until the third round of fixtures, in which England will take on Italy at Twickenham.
On paper, securing those all important bonus points is not an unforeseeable aim by any stretch of the imagination, but England must respect their opposition; there can be little room for complacency. Italy have come a long way as a rugby nation since 2011, the last time England scored eight tries in a match against the ‘Azzurri’.
The RBS 6 Nations continues on 25 February.
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