Wales 19-26 England: Exciting Start To The Six Nations

5 02 2011

As much as we are not a fan of Friday night fixtures in the Six Nations (mostly from selfish reasons once you take the time difference into account in the Middle East) last night’s game was one to savour. The quality was mixed with both Wales and England making elementary rugby errors on occasions but the passion, the occasion and the players commitment could not be faulted.

Despite the various claims by Welsh players and management that they ‘could have won the game’ we felt England were deserved winners having controlled the game for longer periods. The architect of England’s victory was the much maligned Toby Flood and throughout his time on the pitch was the central figure in England’s quest for the win.

Flood is not a showy player, neither is he the type to make a sixty yard break a la Dan Carter, yet he is becoming expert at picking the holes and importantly keeping his hands free so as to put other players away. Ashton’s first try resulted from Flood seizing a mismatch between backs and forwards before putting Ashton away on the inside and on several other occasions valuable yards were gained by Flood’s half breaks and intelligent off loading. For all the claims Jonny Wilkinson has to the starting role (and it must be remembered we are die hard fans of the great man’s) Flood is the correct choice for the moment and probably the entire Six Nations.

Outside Flood the England were backs were again industrious although they did not quite show the same fluidity as perhaps against Australia back in the Autumn. Hape had good moments going forward although he was at fault for Stoddart’s eventual try and could run straighter on occasions. On the wings Ashton of course scored two tries, demonstrating a happy knack to be in the right place at the right time with Cueto again excellent although his hunt for a try must go on.

Quibbles? Well yes we have a couple. Tindall, again, while solid looked far from threatening and slow in the 13 channel. We have always had an immense amount of respect for him yet it remains a simple truth that if there was another half decent option in that position he would probably not be in the squad. Should England and Johnson unearth a potential heir to the World Cup winner over the next few months – someone who has some speed and the capacity to do the unexpected – it would certainly not hurt England’s chances.

Secondly, a minor point about Ben Foden. Foden is a player with a myriad of supporters in the English press and amongst the fans who appreciate his willingness to run the ball back at the opposition rather than indulge in kick tennis. We too admire him for this, although we do wish he wouldn’t tuck the ball under his arm quite so readily. A defender watching an opponent running at him will see this and immediately know that, even despite the presence of supporting runners, Foden is simply going to have a go himself.

If you watch the great full backs, for example Mils Muliaina of New Zealand, they always keeps the ball available for the pass (unless of course the gap is massive and he is simply motoring through untouched), so spreading an element of doubt in the defenders mind. At least once last night Foden was also guilty of carrying the ball in the wrong hand which meant he was penalised for holding on when he was tackled – so ending what had been a very promising and sweeping England attack.

This is a minor quibble only though, we hasten to add, and one which we can live with as we would rather have Foden’s sense of adventure coupled with his safety defensively rather than any of the alternative selections.

Up front England were solid if not devastating with Easter, debutant Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley all having good evenings. It was the unsung Tom Palmer who again stood out for us most though as his excellent work at the line out, combined with a crucial turnover and generally excellent work in the loose, meant that he is rapidly becoming a lynch pin to this England pack.

By no means a perfect performance, the result and the knowledge that there was much excellent work to build on will give England heart. With three home games to come there is no reason to think at this stage why this cannot be an excellent tournament for Martin Johnson’s side.

Wales on the other hand have little to write home about. Imprecise, repeatedly taking the wrong option by kicking when there was space out wide to work with and losing out in the scrummage battles, it was the same old story for Wales. There comes a point in any coaches career when you feel that no matter what they do they are not going to either sort out the problems or reinvigorate the players. It happened with Ireland’s Eddie O’Sullivan and also for Andy Robinson during his time as Head Coach for England and now we feel it might be happening to Gatland.

They have had the same problems for the best part of 18 months now and there seems to be little signs of any resolution to this. It is true that there will be people who said ‘they could have won’ and perhaps if they had been cleverer on the ball this might have even been the case. The fact of the matter is though that they created almost no clear cut opportunities; the chances being cited by pundits and fans alike generally still requiring a substantial amount of work to be done and hardly fall into the category of final pass gone wrong missed opportunities.

As Jonathan Davies said afterwards in the post match round up, there was very little Wales could take out of this game although we would suggest that Morgan Stoddart on his debut was one. He appeared to be a strong, pacey and willing player who consistently looked a threat to England’s defence (despite his first knock on) and also finished his try superbly.

It is doubtful whether the WRU having given Gatland a lucrative contract until 2015 will part ways with him any time soon, but in our eyes the rumbles of discontent will surely grow if, as we predicted, Wales finish contesting the Wooden Spoon with Italy.

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