Six Nations 2015: Warren Gatland lavishes praise on England
Wales head coach reflects on disappointing defeat to England in opening round of the championship
Warren Gatland was left disappointed by Wales’ poor second-half performance as they went down 21-16 to England in their Six Nations opener in Cardiff.
At the start of the second half we didn’t start well and that’s what happens at this level in tight games – you’ve got to be accurate.
An early Rhys Webb try and five points from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny had given the home side a 10-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes with thoughts quickly turning to a repeat of 2013’s 30-3 scoreline, but England hit back soon after through a well-worked Anthony Watson try.
Halfpenny and England outside-half George Ford traded penalty goals before Dan Biggar landed a drop-goal from distance with the clock red at the end of the first half to give Wales a deserved 16-8 lead.
“We’re disappointed,” Gatland said.
“We were very happy and very comfortable in the first 40 minutes. In fairness to England they played well in the second half.
“At the start of the second half we didn’t start well and that’s what happens at this level in tight games – you’ve got to be accurate.
“We put ourselves under pressure with a couple of lineouts where we’ve turned the ball over when we were on attack.”
The second half was one-way traffic as England upped their game and had Wales camped in their own half for much of it, smothering their attempts to break out and dominating the set-piece play.
After 20 phases of patient build-up play, England finally pounced as Bath centre Jonathan Joseph stood up Biggar and dived past the tackle attempt of George North to score the Red Rose’s second try and make it a one-point game after Ford added the extras.
James Haskell should have added a third try after a superb break at the start of the fourth quarter, but somehow crashed into the post rather than around it as Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert got back to tackle him.
I can’t see where you can argue that England are massively depleted with the huge amount of players.
Cardiff Blues wing Cuthbert’s disappointing night continued as was shown a yellow card for not rolling away and Ford slotted an easy conversion from in front of the posts.
Resiliently, Wales didn’t concede further points during the next 10 minutes, but crucially failed to get anywhere near scoring a try or winning a penalty within kicking distance for Halfpenny and the win for Stuart Lancaster’s men was made all but sure with a couple of minutes remaining when Ford landed his third penalty.
Gatland also paid tribute to England’s strength in depth and suggested that many of those in wearing white could be first-choice players.
“They’ve got a lot of injuries, but they’ve got a huge amount of depth as well,” he added.
“The 10-12-13 combination did pretty well, didn’t they?
“I thought Haskell was absolutely outstanding. They’ve got a couple of good second rows.
“I can’t see where you can argue that England are massively depleted with the huge amount of players.
“They’ve got strength in depth and the players that came in did a fantastic job for them, particularly their six and 13 – they were outstanding.
“You could argue that they’re their number one players. Tom Wood would probably find it difficult to get into that team the way that Haskell played. The big loss for them is [Manu] Tuilagi.
“I didn’t look at it and say ‘are we concerned that England are missing so many players?’. It’s top level Test match rugby. Sometimes you play with strength in depth and sometimes you don’t.”
Gatland will now have to consider whether to change things up for the next game, a trip to BT Murrayfield to take on Scotland next Sunday.
There are concerns over concussions to North and tighthead prop Samson Lee, while Dan Biggar picked up a facial laceration in the first half, but remained in the game.
North did leave the field after his first concussion, but was deemed fit to return, while the second one wasn’t initially seen by the Welsh management, who have admitted the Northampton Saints star will now be reassessed as concussed and will need to be symptom free six days before the Scotland game to be available for selection.
“I didn’t see the second knock that he got, but the first one he’s come off and passed all the protocols,” Gatland said.
“He’ll have to go through all the protocols over the next few days to see how he is.”