RYAN VREDE reports on England’s 26-19 victory over Wales.
The atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium was incredible but sadly the quality of rugby on show didn’t do it any justice. Certainly there was plenty of passion, aggression and intensity, qualities that are lauded in the northern hemisphere, but skill, creativity and penetration were sorely lacking, even with the roof shut. Some will point to three tries being scored, but two of those could be ascribed to fundamental defensive errors and the other came against 14 men.
A lack of synergy was expected, given that this was the teams’ first hit out of 2011, but their attacking impotency was alarming, even with the tournament in its infancy. There were a host of reasons for this: referee Alain Rolland’s management of the breakdown was diabolical with players allowed to infringe throughout the Test, an inability to consistently breach the gain line which in turn meant most attacking moves were launched against a set defensive line, and a patent lack of innovation from the key playmakers.
Why Wales persist with Stephen Jones at flyhalf is one of world rugby’s great mysteries. His goalkicking surely is his salvation. James Hook is the obvious man for the position if they want to progress on attack, and his potency is diluted at fullback. Similarly England suffered with Toby Flood steering their ship. The No 10 kicked 5 from 5, and he broke to create Chris Ashton’s 14th minute try, but the space he was afforded and the ponderous attempts to close him down was criminal. He would have been a non-factor against better opposition.
Flood converted then banked a penalty for a 10-0 lead before England lock Louis Deacon was binned for a cynical ruck infringement in the red zone. Jones kicked his second three pointer but Flood ensured the advantage was restored going down the tunnel.
Wales had squandered numerous points scoring opportunities in the first half, the best of which evaporated when Shane Williams grubbered into the in-goal area with three team-mates on his outside. Wales coach Warren Gatland, who launched a couple of verbal grenades in the build-up, would undoubtedly have roasted them. He needs to take some heat for his charges’ failings.
Jones narrowed the deficit but Wales’ cause was complicated when Craig Mitchell marched off for yet another case of illegal breakdown play. Flood made the Dragons pay from the penalty and England capitalised on their numbers advantage when the ball was shifted wide to Ashton for his brace. Flood converted to make it 23-9 but Wales wing Morgan Stoddart touched down three minutes later and Jones converted to set up an intriguing final quarter.
England introduced the experienced quartet of Jonny Wilkinson, Simon Shaw, Joe Worsley and Steve Thompson in a bid to aid their ability to close out the match, but Hook’s 69th minute penalty set up a harrowing home stretch for the visitors.
However, it was no surprise that Wilkinson slotting a ruck penalty would decide the outcome.