Six Nations 2015: Stuart Lancaster calls Wales win high point of career
England head coach delighted to avenge the 30-3 defeat from their last visit to Cardiff, but isn't getting carried away
Stuart Lancaster expressed his delight with England’s performance to defeat Wales 21-16 in their Six Nations opener.
It is [the highest point] because of two years ago and the lessons we learned, and we didn’t just focus on the performance two years ago.
The England head coach was jubilant at the full-time whistle with their 30-3 defeat at the same venue two years ago very much avenged through tries from Bath Rugby duo Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph.
George Ford, who picked up the man of the match award, kicked 11 points from a composed outing despite being seen as target for Wales’ powerful backs.
“We probably created three or four different opportunities in the second half,” Lancaster said.
“Anthony finished it well and the one that JJ took was special.
“It is [the highest point] because of two years ago and the lessons we learned, and we didn’t just focus on the performance two years ago.
“Two years ago was probably the lowest point, but today’s win is definitely up there at the highest point, because of the pressure, the emotion that goes into it, the injuries, the new combinations together.
“Whether it’s one point, two points or five points it’s about getting the win.”
Wales stormed into a 10-0 lead as a Rhys Webb try after some good work at the base of a scrum from Taulupe Faletau and a well-worked offload sent the Ospreys scrum-half away down the right flank beyond the despairing tackle attempt by Jonny May.
We held our nerve and played the right field position. The power and physicality we brought in the second half, and the bench, ultimately made the difference.
Toulon full-back Leigh Halfpenny slotted the conversion to add to his first-minute penalty, but Warren Gatland’s men didn’t have it all their way with their scrum struggling to make much of an impact against Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole.
The first quarter ended before Watson finished off a superb move in the corner after a kick through from England full-back Mike Brown, but man of the match George Ford missed the conversion.
Halfpenny and Ford then traded successful penalty attempts before Ospreys outside-half Dan Biggar landed a drop-goal from distance with the last kick of the first half.
“We had new combinations and some changes from that Australia game,” Lancaster added.
“We were confident if we stuck to the plan, we could cause Wales some problems, and we did.
“To down 10-0 to a side as good as Wales is a big hole and when you’ve got a kicker of the quality of Leigh Halfpenny knocking them over it always gives you a litle bit of pressure to chase the game, but I don’t think we did.
“We held our nerve and played the right field position. The power and physicality we brought in the second half, and the bench, ultimately made the difference.
“We focused on the performance last year and drew a lot of strength and confidence from that.
“Obviously the way we finished the autumn series as well. The win against Australia gave us that belief.
“We put ourselves in a similar position last year when we went nine points down in the France game.
“It’s a sign of maturity in the team that we managed to get the win away from home.”
The second half was one-way traffic with England continuing to build pressure on the Wales defence as their set-pieces dominated and penalties seemed to be in their favour every time French referee Jerome Garces blew his whistle.
A series of sustained pressure deep in Wales territory, which hit 20 phases, eventually saw Bath star Joseph stand up Biggar before gliding past George North. Ford added the extras to make it a one-point game at 16-15.
But it was 61 mintues before England took the lead for the first time in the match after a James Haskell burst for the line was held up against the post by a combination of Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert.
Despite his heroics, Cuthbert saw yellow for an earlier infringement and Ford slotted a simple penalty from in front of the posts.
With Wales desperately looking for a way back into the match, England’s bench brought energy and the same intensity and when Wales were penalised with just two minutes remaining, Ford stepped up to extend their lead to 21-16.
Despite the nature of the performance against the odds, Lancaster refused to get carried away ahead of a home clash against Italy next week.
“It’s important we build again and improve on this performance going into the Italy game,” he said.
“They’re a good team and we know how hard it was at Twickenham two years ago.
“We won’t be getting too carried away. There’s plenty we can work on and it’s about getting the performance right for next Saturday.”