Monday 19 February 2018

Rampant Welsh blow Lancaster's project apart

Wales 30 England 3

Mick Cleary

The scars will not heal any time soon. Nor should they be allowed to. The temptation for England will be to absorb, to appraise and to move on.

Instead they should make sure the dateline remains forever inscribed on their psyche. Millennium Stadium. March 2013. Never again.

However, just as England did not become a champion side when dismantling New Zealand in December, so they have not become a hopeless rabble as a result of this wretched loss.

True, it is a setback, a major jolt to their aspirations. Wales had a Hollywood air on the big stage, stars to a man, England the mien of a provincial repertory company, jobbing actors scratching a living.

In fairness, Stuart Lancaster did not say that they would win this Slam, rather that it would reflect an ability to win big knockout matches. Nothing has changed.

The Lancaster project has not been fully derailed. It has suffered a significant power failure, actual as well as metaphorical. To go down to a record defeat means that that there are deficiencies that cannot be glossed over.

Even the great Wales sides of the 1970s did not manage to inflict such damage. That's how bad it was.

The scrummage was in trouble from the very first set-to. It creaked and buckled. England have to shore up the fault line, for it had a major bearing on this match. Penalties and free-kicks were given away, ceding momentum to Wales and sending shock-waves through English ranks. From front foot to back foot – it's a matter of inches. Wales claimed that turf.

Likewise at the breakdown. Referee Steve Walsh did not allow England full rein to compete, but the double-banked opensides, Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton, had their measure at every turn.

It was the physicality of Wales' play that was the most glaring point of difference. Wales had big blokes running hard, England had grafters toiling. The wings were of a different order. If England were playing again this weekend, Chris Ashton would be nowhere near the staring XV. He plays like a broken man, flailing at tackles. Mike Brown is a willing stand-in but he is not a wing. Alex Cuthbert is, and took his chances, salt being ground into English wounds given that he is a Gloucester lad.

Cuthbert, George North, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips – England were boys by comparison across the backline. It's not just brawn that tells, it's brain as well, as shown by Leigh Halfpenny's display at full-back for Wales.

England have Manu Tuilagi, but he creates problems for his own team as much as he occasionally batters his way to a triumphant end. England have scored one try in their last four matches, a pitiful return.

Wales were magnanimous in defeat. There was no gloating, no showboating. Shaun Edwards did not bleat when Andy Farrell got the Lions job. Nor did he brag about his defence setting a new Six Nations record of 358 minutes without conceding a try. Class act. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Wales – L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts (S Williams 75), G North; D Biggar (J Hook 75), M Phillips (L Williams 75); G Jenkins (P James 61), R Hibbard (K Owens 52), A Jones, A-W Jones, I Evans (A Coombs 70), S Warburton (A Shingler 75), J Tipuric, T Faletau.

England – A Goode (B Twelvetrees 64); C Ashton, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, M Brown; O Farrell (T Flood 67), B Youngs (D Care 64); J Marler (M Vunipola 44), T Youngs (D Hartley 52), D Cole (D Wilson 72), J Launchbury (C Lawes 52), G Parling, T Croft, C Robshaw, T Wood (J Haskell 67).

Ref – S Walsh (Australia)

Irish Independent

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