English pay the price for lack of cutting edge
With the roof closed to preview the conditions they will encounter against Argentina in Dunedin, playing around 75 per cent of the match in their opponents' half for the best part of an hour, with the visiting fans who seemed to constitute a majority of the 73,307 in attendance, this felt like a home match for England.
So much possession was England granted by the superiority of their pack in the first half that Cardiff might as well have been 'Fortress Twickenham'. For long periods of the match, the men in white camped out on the Welsh line, trying desperately to take advantage of the decision not to take shots at goal from the avalanche of penalties awarded to them by the erratic referee, Alain Rolland.
And it all went wrong. The strategy of spurning penalties will haunt them for the next week, at least, after Wales finally woke up in the last 25 minutes, exposing their guests' inability to bring any semblance of creativity to the match.
England cannot be criticised for an inability to take their chances in this tryless performance because they never made them in the first place, a failure manifest even when their territorial superiority was at its height. But when your centres are Mike Tindall and Shontayne Hape, perhaps the business of making and taking chances behind the scrum is not uppermost in your mind.
In the early stages, Matt Banahan charged for the Welsh corner, but proved unable to run through Shane Williams, who is about half his size, and had the ball stripped from him by the late-arriving James Hook. A few minutes later, Hape received the ball in a good position, with only Gavin Henson in front of him, but seemed mesmerised and allowed the Welshman to execute a classic, around-the-knees tackle.
Henson, who made several positive contributions, was forced out after barely half an hour and faces an anxious wait to see if his World Cup dream is still alive after suffering a suspected broken arm. He went for a scan afterwards and an update is expected today.
Probably only Courtney Lawes came out of the match with his standing enhanced, but the Northampton lock's efforts will go to waste as long as no imagination is being shown behind the scrum.
A week ago, with Riki Flutey and Manu Tuilagi in the 12 and 13 shirts, and Jonny Wilkinson at outhalf, England at least managed to score a couple of tries. Tuilagi's try was the result of the Samoan-born centre's angled run and Wilkinson's inside pass. Nothing remotely resembling that flash of inventiveness was seen yesterday, despite copious opportunities.
"We came to try and work on things," Tindall, the captain in Lewis Moody's absence, said afterwards, "so we didn't take a few points that we possibly could have done in a different match."
Scorers -- Wales: Hook try, 2 pens, con; Priestland 2 pens. England: Flood 3 pens.
Wales: J Hook; G North, J Roberts, G Henson (Scott Williams 32), Shane Williams; R Priestland (A Brew 41), M Phillips; P James (R Bevington 69), L Burns (H Bennett 53), C Mitchell (James 77); L Charteris, AW Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (Capt), T Faletau.
England: B Foden; M Banahan, M Tindall (Capt) (D Armitage 59, Tindall 74), S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood (C Hodgson 68), R Wigglesworth (D Care 30); A Corbisiero (M Stevens 59), S Thompson (L Mears 59), D Cole; L Deacon (T Palmer 58), C Lawes; T Wood, H Fourie (J Haskell 50), N Easter.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).
Sunday Indo Sport