13 August 2011
Three weeks to go before the RWC 2011 and Martin Johnson has some serious questions to ponder. No doubt a great player, his coaching nous is not looking to match those playing days. He is a shadow of the tactician when compared to the likes of Father Ted or Robbie Deans.
Although their forwards contributed a solid platform winning from most set piece ball, England were absolutely clueless on attack (as per usual). Dominating territory and possession by up to 70% in the first half, they had absolutely no answers when it came to crossing the try line. Why can't English backs score tries?
This is not to discredit Wales who gave an incredible defensive display, particularly in the first half. They pushed England behind the gain line again and again. And then, when it counted, they trusted themselves to grasp the opportunity and score a try (hat tip James Hook), which was the decisive moment in the game.
Three weeks out and Warren Gatland will be feeling a little more pleased with his progress. Martin Johnson, not so. In his post match interview the England coach angled towards blaming a ref that by all accounts, kept England in the game by sending off two Welsh players. I think MJ has to face the facts and start looking at other ways to win rugby, rather than out-hulking the other team.
It's all very well to say they were missing Chris Ashton (who I rate as a very good winger) and Tuialagi (who I don't rate just yet, one test match does not a rugby legend at the age of 20 make).
So back to the drawing boards/laptops for England once again. For Wales, a night of well deserved celebration.
Here's what Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times had to say.
Wales 19 England 9: Wasteful England picked off
After two weeks of serious battling, it is Wales who now look the more convincing team as the World Cup approaches.
Wales earned a thoroughly deserved victory at the Millennium stadium as England's indecision in midfield cost them dearWelsh No 8 Toby Faletau leaps into action as Mike Tindall motors forward (Glyn Kirk)
This was a victory that they thoroughly deserved, and it was gained with a team that will be augmented by at least five players of true world class who were absent yesterday.
Surely, the whole thing will be orchestrated by the marvellous James Hook from fly-half. When Hook moved to that position from the wilderness of fullback yesterday, the comparisons with the England playmakers were brutal.
The myth grew around the England camp, and among some supporters in Cardiff last night, that they were decidedly unlucky. The basis of this myth was laid by nearly an hour of England dominance, in which their forwards had authority in terms of possession and territory. It was a period of pressure that involved six consecutive scrums on the Wales line and it shut out the hosts completely.
For any English supporter or team official clinging to this myth, reality will be like a bath in ice. England were meaty, but meat heads. For all their authority, they had nothing remotely resembling an attack, their midfield was diabolically bad, and their composure, skill and pace when taking chances simply did not exist.
It must have been galling for the likes of Louis Deacon and Hendre Fourie to turn back so much ball only to see it frittered away.
Toby Flood and the England midfield trod in a bog of indecision, lack of skill and tortuous bundling.
Take just two blown chances. Danny Care made a brilliant break to set England onto the front foot and when the ball came back to Flood, with all of England screaming for the ball out wide, he lamely turned it back inside. You sensed that if England had 14 men overlapping down the right, Flood would have passed the ball back inside to the ref. Hape, who was embarrassingly bad in all phases of play, butchered another strong position with a fumbling turnover.
It is difficult to know how many reality checks this England need to grasp that they have it so wrong. Please watch a replay of the game and tell me that England have a midfield. Tell me that they have leaders — when Wales came steaming back in the final quarter, showing an attacking intent completely beyond England, the visiting team collapsed totally as Hook conjured a victory out of thin air.
Watch the replay and tell me that England do not need an elite performance director to make sense of the shambles that the international team and its back-up procedures has become. They now go to Dublin in a fortnight to play a powerful Ireland team with around eight of their first-choice selections in serious doubt.
Wales were not lucky to win — they deserved to because they were the better team. Furthermore, their coaches must take plaudits, for it seems that their rigorous fitness programmes have delivered a team with more endurance than England. Dan Lydiate on the blindside and Jamie Roberts in midfield led a magnificent Welsh line, which England could never penetrate.
No, Wales were lucky because they did not pick a team to win the game. They were hammered in the scrum and their three mighty front-rowers, Gethin Jenkins, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones, are now apparently sharing a stable with Shergar, so infrequently are they spotted these days. When those three return — if they can ever be found — and when Ryan Jones comes back into the side, then Hook will be given something that he can really orchestrate.
For some reason, there was little panic amongst the 73,000 in the Millennium stadium even when England were on top. It was not as if the England driving maul was particularly terrifying and England made too many mistakes to maintain the pressure on the Welsh line. But at least they were in authority, and they led by 6-3, and then again by 9-6, well into the second half. Their lineout was superior, Fourie was a devil on the loose ball. If their attack did not exist and their kicking game lacked penetration, then it seemed that sheer force of habit of encamping on the Welsh line would see them home.
But as the final quarter approached, Wales had Hook at fly-half and they had managed to negotiate a sticky 10 minutes when Roberts was in the sinbin. Flood had been playing on the front foot all day, but suddenly, with Lydiate and the promising Tony Faletau now turning the tables, Wales looked far more dangerous.
Just before the hour, they launched a biting series of attacks, with young George North making ground with the best of them and Hook asking questions of England. Eventually, Hook beautifully dummied his way over at the posts.
His conversion made it 13-9 and the sudden slump to English shoulders was noticeable.
Wales gave England sustenance with some silly handling errors, but Hook then nailed two monster penalties to make the closing stages a procession — a telling contribution since Phillips was in the sinbin for the last 10 minutes.
On the day, England won the battle of the joke kit — they had forsaken their silly black jerseys of last week but this time wore jersey numbers which were indistinguishable.
But in the end, it was the team inappropriately dressed in black that came home strongest.
Star man: Dan Lydiate (Wales)
Scorers: Wales: Tries: Hook 57 Con: Hook Pens: Priestland (2), Hook (2)
England: Pens: Flood (3)
Yellow cards: Wales: Roberts 40, Phillips 70
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland)
Wales: J Hook; G North, J Roberts, G Henson (S Williams, Scarlets, 31min) , SM Williams, R Priestland (A Brew, Dragons, 40min), M Phillips; P James (R Bevington, Ospreys, 69min), L Burns (H Bennett, Ospreys, 52min), C Mitchell (P James, 77min), L Charteris, AW Jones (J Turnbull, Scarlets, 60min) D Lydiate, S Warburton, T Faletau
England: B Foden; M Banahan (M Tindall, 69min), M Tindall (capt, D Armitage, L Irish, 59min), S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood (C Hodgson, Sale, 69min), R Wigglesworth (D Care, Harlequins, 30min); A Corbisiero (M Stevens, Saracens, 59min), S Thompson (L Mears Bath, 59min), D Cole, L Deacon (T Palmer, Stade Français, 67min) C Lawes, T Wood, H Fourie (J Haskell, Black Rams, 50min), N Easter.
Read on for Stephen Jones' player ratings from the Millennium stadium