Saturday 20 January 2018

Video: How Chris Robshaw victory in tunnel stand-off set the tone for England's victory

England's Chris Robshaw walks out before the RBS 6 Nations match at the Millennium Stadium
England's Chris Robshaw walks out before the RBS 6 Nations match at the Millennium Stadium

England's captain refused to be cowed in act of brinksmanship at the Millennium - and four other talking points from Six Nations opener .

Leading by example

It was not quite Martin Johnson refusing to shift for Mary McAleese, the Irish President, in Dublin, but Chris Robshaw’s tunnel brinkmanship set the tone for a defiant display of leadership with England.

“We wanted to have a bit of control. I’m sure Wales would have made us wait for five minutes on the field….we stood our ground.”

Two years ago in the Millennium maelstrom, Robshaw looked lost. He tackled himself to a standstill as he always does, but he seemed unable to influence events around him, particularly in his dealings with Steve Walsh, the referee. When Wales edged a couple of scores ahead, England panicked and began chasing the game. They were duly punished.

On Friday, they found themselves 10 points adrift inside 10 minutes, but this time around they did not deviate from the course.

 “We didn’t obviously want to be 10-0 down but the messages and the things that were being spoken about were ‘let’s not go away from our plan, let’s stick to it and build our way back into the game,’ ” George Ford, the fly half, said. As a player, Robshaw has had many fine games for England but this was his finest performance as a captain. Oh and he made 26 tackles (none missed).

North concussion disgrace

Rugby authorities never miss an opportunity to congratulate themselves on how far they have progressed on concussion management, conveniently ignoring the fact they did precious little until a media and public outcry forced them to address the issue. Now is the time to back up their fine words with some action.

Watch match highlights below:

That George North remained on the pitch until the final whistle is a disgrace and someone – whether on the Wales coaching or medical staff – needs to be held accountable for that reprehensible decision. The Wales wing had already been taken for a concussion assessment in the first half after Dave Attwood accidentally kicked his head, when he took another blow in the second half when attempting to tackle Mike Brown.

Video replays clearly show that he lost consciousness on impact. His body went limp and he made no attempt to break his fall. Concussion, by its very nature, is a difficult injury to diagnose but there is no grey area when there is a loss of consciousness. That North stayed on demonstrates all too clearly that the concussion protocols will be ignored when it is expedient for teams to do so.

It is no coincidence that some of the highest profile abuses of concussion protocols have come in high-stakes matches with the scores delicately poised (Brian O’Driscoll v France 2013, George Smith v Lions 2013, Florian Fritz in the 2014 Top 14 play-offs). It is particularly sickening to see so soon after the four-year anniversary of the death of Ben Robinson from second-impact syndrome. The IRB and the WRU now need to demonstrate that they pay more than lip service to concussion.

Back-row balance

It took a sprained ankle to Tom Wood, but Stuart Lancaster may have stumbled upon his optimum England back row unit. James Haskell was in contention to start ahead of Wood in Cardiff anyway such has been his outstanding form for Wasps.

Yet the last time he was given a chance against Samoa, he froze. He later admitted that he had tried too hard. Against Wales, he was sensational. As a carrier and as a tackler, he punched holes into Wales time and time again. Just as importantly, his contribution allowed Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola to profit – Robshaw over the ball and Vunipola as a carrier.

Collectively the England back row carried the ball 34 times for a cumulative 60 metres – more often than not through heavy traffic. They also made 49 tackles, missing just one between them, setting the standard for an outstanding defensive team effort. Under Lancaster’s tenure, England’s back row has frequently had one outstanding performer, but rarely have all three men shone simultaneously. Last night, for the first time in a long time, England’s back-row looked greater than the sum of its parts.

Kruis control

It is a well-established fact England have the deepest resources of any rugby nation. It also a stick used to beat them with, but last night was a vivid demonstration of the depth afforded to Stuart Lancaster. Facing a full-strength Wales team without 12 injured players, England were better than the hosts in every department.

That was especially conspicuous in the tight five, the area where England’s reserves were spread thinnest. Gone were the first choice lock pairing of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes along with Geoff Parling. David Wilson, who would have started at tighthead, was also missing with a neck injury. No matter. England smashed Wales up front.

The scrum was on top all game. The lineout had its wobbles but was a significantly better run operation than its Welsh counterpart. Particular credit should go to George Kruis making his first start in the least hospitable of environments. He barely looked out of place opposite a Lions captain in Alun Wyn Jones and did more than a passable impression of Launchbury with his non-stop engine.

Gatland's plans have been shredded

In the build-up, Warren Gatland was in full control. He had the luxury of naming his side on Monday as if to highlight England’s selection uncertainty. For much of the past month, he has been the one throwing various verbal hand grenades towards Stuart Lancaster about everything from the roof to their lack of ambition.

Now it is Gatland left picking up the pieces. It is difficult to know what was more worrying: that Wales’ first-choice XV was so comprehensively outplayed or that there was no sign of a Plan B when things were going against them? With the exception of Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar, Wales looked devoid of ideas, spark or devil.

The World Cup is still a long way away but changes will be needed before the teams meet again at Twickenham. Gatland’s decision to jettison Adam Jones in an act of cod-psycho-man-management looks especially foolhardy after the manner in which England showed up Samson Lee’s callowness.

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