Six Nations 2013: Talking points as Wales thrash England in title decider
Six Nations 2013: James Thompson looks at the talking points as Wales secure a 30-3 win to pip England to the title
They may have come into the Six Nations on a horrendous run of form and imploded (in the first half at least) against Ireland, but Wales have done brilliantly to come back and retain their Six Nations title. Ever since the opener, Wales haven’t conceded a try and on Saturday that record was never in threat. Shaun Edwards the defence coach must take full credit for their steely resolve but they were several other factors that ensured a comprehensive victory. All over the pitch Wales dominated, winning all the individual battles, in particular props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones cemented their Lions starting spots with a master class in scrummaging as the young English pack wilted under considerable pressure. Number seven Justin Tipuric fully justified the decision to shift Sam Warburton to No6, as he caused havoc at the breakdown and was imperious in the loose, he showed great attacking awareness as he set up Alex Cuthbert’s second try with a brilliant dummy to go beyond Mike Brown and release Cuthbert into space to guarantee a score. England are probably at the same sort of level as Wales a few years ago as a team full of promise, but their inexperience was evident as they wilted in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium. Wales dealt with the environment better, perhaps because the burden of expectation was less but none-the-less they were back to the World Cup form as they absolutely destroyed England.
England – what happened?
After their scare against Italy the week before, Stuart Lancaster’s men were quick to stress that such an insipid performance was a one-off. However, they delivered an even worse performance against Wales and were simply blown away. Their set-piece fell apart as the inexperience and youth of the pack was completely exposed by a fired up Welsh pack. The back-line also looked completely lost offensively and worryingly England have only scored one try since their first game against Scotland. If Lancaster wants to progress with this England side he has to be ruthless and an over-dependence on Manu Tuliagi’s ability to break the line was shown as England had no plan B to turn to. The Welsh back three of Cuthbert, George North and Leigh Halfpenny looked much more potent than Chris Ashton, Mike Brown and Alex Goode, and Lancaster’s two full-back experiment seems to have run its course. Goode has flattered to deceive in an England shirt, he doesn’t break the line on a consistent basis and his ball playing abilities as an alternative fly half negates the ability of the incumbent of the No10 shirt. Either Brown should revert to his natural position or Ben Foden should be recalled if England are to have more of an attacking threat. But perhaps the biggest worry for England is the alarming drop in form of Ashton. His defence has been poor all tournament and his attacking ability seems to have deserted him. With the likes of Ugo Monye and David Strettle failing when given an opportunity, Lancaster should use the summer tour to blood youngsters such as Christian Wade and Marland Yarde to see if they could add anything to this team.
All of the top-tier international teams are prepared in a similar sort of fashion with intense training, incredible fitness camps and a high level of tactical planning. However, what coaches can’t prepare for is the atmosphere and what exactly happens on game day. England’s World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has talked about creating intense situations in a timed environment to get used to making decisions under pressure but nothing could replicate the welcome that England received in the Millennium Stadium. The Welsh fans sensed that they could spoil the English Grand Slam party but none expected quite what happened. England simply couldn’t adjust to the conditions and instead of looking like a confident side on their way to a Grand Slam, they looked like the young, inexperienced side that they really are. The English pack are young, fit and incredibly strong but that counted for nothing as they had no answer to the experience of the Jenkins-led Welsh pack. The home side dominated the scrum and the noise on every hit was deafening. England looked completely shell shocked as they had no answer to silence the crowd and get back on top. England may have beaten New Zealand in the autumn but the All Blacks were coming to the end of a tough season and England were much fresher. Such a victory naturally raised expectations but the Red Rose would rather peak in two years’ time at the World Cup rather than now so this chastening experience will stand them in good stead.
Head coach Warren Gatland declared that this match would have a significant bearing on the make-up of his Lions squad this summer and after such a dominant performance there will be a distinct Welsh flavour to it. The Welsh pack was in complete control and the majority should expect to be part of the squad. Jenkins, Adam Jones and Alun Wyn Jones should surely be starters, but the likes of Richard Hibbard, Warburton, Tipuric and Toby Faletau will surely be involved as well. The injured Dan Lydiate, probably the best natural no6 in the Northern Hemisphere, could also tour if he recovers in time. However, the English pack, which seemed so strong in recent weeks, will probably only have a few representatives after going backwards. Chris Robshaw should still tour and Joe Launchbury, Tom Wood and Tom Croft all have a chance of making the plane, but the others have offered nothing to add to their claim. They could be joined by another Englishman Andrew Sheridan who no longer has plays for the national side but his strong form kept out the Welshman Jenkins and he is one prop the Australians genuinely fear. In the backline Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts proved their talent, while the Welsh back three showed just how dangerous they can be. All five should be rewarded with a Lions jersey, with others such as Biggar in with an outside chance. England’s scrum half’s Ben Youngs and Danny Care, who were favourites for the No9 spot seemed to have regressed in recent weeks and could be fighting it out to play second fiddle to Phillips after a series of poor displays. Only Manu Tuilagi seems assured of a Lions tour but the biggest talking point could be at fly half. Owen Farrell has continued his good form but wasn’t at his best on Saturday and another English exile, Jonny Wilkinson, could still leapfrog him for a Lions slot. The announcement of the squad will have fans debating endlessly but if they get the selection right they should have too much for Australia this summer.