England opened their Six Nations campaign with a 30-17 victory over Wales at Twickenham.
The Dragons will lament a 10 minute period where they were reduced to 14 players and conceded 17 points, but it would be too simplistic to blame that alone for their defeat. The carelessness with which they tossed the pill around was a massive contributing factor and they’ll have to address this in the weeks ahead.
England fed off these errors and took their chances. They were pragmatic, but will improve and are sure to be strong contenders for the title if they blend that pragmatism with the ability to play wider when needed.
England dominated the first quarter in terms of possession and territory, but seldom threatened the Welsh line as a result of imprecision when they drove into good positions – the best of those coming on 19 minutes when they turned over possession at an attacking scrum 5m out.
Wales defended accurately and robustly for the majority of the first half – something that would have pleased defence coach Shaun Edwards – but they were rudderless on attack, and poor on their own lineout feeds, compounding an already difficult situation.
Their struggles were amplified when lock Alun-Wyn Jones stupidly tripped an English player, earning him a yellow card, and it took England just five minutes to capitalise – James Haskell shooting over after a scrum close to the line.
Jonny Wilkinson converted to go with two earlier penalties, and England had a commanding 13-3 half-time lead.
The directive from Wales coach Warren Gatland would surely have been for his charges to secure possession and use it more intelligently than they had in the first half, staying patient through the phases and earning the right to play expansively.
However, they persisted with their wayward style and it cost them when wing Tom James isolated himself and surrendered possession. The ball was spun wide and recycled through a couple of phases until Danny Care found space to slice through the defensive line for the score. Wilkinson’s conversion took England 17 points ahead.
Wales’ response, through prop Adam Jones, was immediate, and illustrated the value of patient build-up play as opposed to helter-skelter stuff they were playing preceding that. Stephen Jones’ conversion drew them within 10.
For 20 minutes the game went through a lull, with neither side willing to take risks within their half, and when they did mount attacks they broke down as a result of basic handling errors or poor option taking.
Then James Hook broke open the match with the most sublime solo effort which saw him slip through the England midfield then negotiate the cover defence to cross the whitewash. Jones made no mistake with the conversion, and with eight minutes remaining and just three points (20-17) adrift, Wales had the momentum.
But you just sensed that their cavalier style would come at a massive cost, and it did when Delon Armitage intercepted a floated pass, and a couple of exchanges later Haskell was celebrating his second, and the decisive try of the match.