Undoubtedly it was the biggest game of the weekend, and it did not disappoint from a spectator’s point of view. Despite the numerous injuries to Wales team, Gatland’s men emerged victorious, with Dan Biggar in particular impressing, with a man of the match display.
Where was the game won and lost? Was it as simple as indiscipline from England? Was there more to it than that? Or was it that Wales were just simply better?
England struggled in the lineout, and disrupted their own play with substitutions, but at the end of the day, it was a dedicated Welsh attack that won the day.
Might as well start with something positive, right?
England’s linespeed in defence throughout the night was on the whole superb. They were in Wales’ faces from the beginning – and just after the half hour mark – Wales had made 68m from 30 carries – an average of just over 2 metres per carry.
The England defensive line rushes up immediately – looking to force Wales to pass the ball wide as quickly as possible. Here’s an example:
Davies passes to Jenkins, who doesn’t really fancy getting smashed by Wood.
He passes to Biggar, who looks for his options.
Bradley Davis has made his run too early, and Biggar’s only option on his left is to pass to Roberts.
By the time all this has happened, England’s centres are ready and waiting.
Roberts can do several things in this position – he can either run straight, kick it through (it’s Roberts though, who am I kidding?) or pass it the player on his left.
Barritt has his number however – he has a little glance across before to see where his man is, and is ready to put in the hit. Roberts decides to save his team mate a spot in the hospital ward and takes the ball up himself. Because Wales were rushed into passing it out wide, Roberts has little to no support.
Here’s the full move, and you can see how Wales are forced to rush their passes.
Whilst England don’t manage to turn this over (some last-ditch clearing out from Lydiate saves the day) its clear that the England defence is looking solid and organised – they are all on the same page at this point in time.
Ahh lineouts. The first in a long line of “What on earth are you doing!?” calls from this game.
The lineout drive has been a big part of several team’s attacking arsenal this RWC campaign and has been used to good effect. England against Wales, not so much. Throughout the game it was clearly not working, yet England persisted. England never gained a significant advantage from it, and more often that not it resulted in a penalty against England or loss of possession:
England forced to rush it and play, 2 phases later Wales win a penalty as a result of men being tied to the driving maul:
England don’t go anywhere here and have to pass:
This one ends up being held up – and turned over for a Wales scrum:
This is the only one that proves effective – and it’s Wigglesworth’s movement from the back of the drive, rather than the driving maul, that gains metres. Wigglesworth identifies the mismatch on the blindside and targets the Welsh forward defending there.
And the one we all know about, the one that ended up becoming a Wales lineout towards the end of the game:
And how does England’s try start off? A lineout of course! Straight off the top – and within a couple of phases England have scored.
Why didn’t they try to do this on the late penalty kick for the corner and why did they persist with the lineout drive? We’ll never know.
Every kick by Farrell was a long restart – deep into the Wales 22, too far away for any England chasers to reach. It’s a clear tactic by Lancaster and co. to encourage Wales to kick the ball back to England. Billy Vunipola received a lot of these kicks, and it was one of the key ways England made territory in the game. The only time England do a short restart is when Ford kicks towards the end of the game, when England need to reclaim possession to win. Was it a successful tactic? While we did gain territory off some of the restarts, putting in a short restart or giving the players a chance to reach the ball could have caused more problems for Wales.
Up and Unders:
Normally well-organised and effective for England, this tactic was aimless and uncoordinated against Wales. When carried out, only 1 or 2 players would chase for the ball, and more than once Wales were able to break when no players made it in time.
Here Ford places an up and under kick for Haskell to chase – he’s the only player chasing it – all the other players are onside by the time he makes the tackle, and it takes several seconds for other England players to help out. A potentially great kick by Ford is wasted because of lack of support.
In contrast, Wales do the exact same thing less than a minute later. However they have several players able to challenge for the ball, and force the penalty – providing Biggar with the kick for goal, which he duly obliged.
Whilst Wales’ injuries during the game have got a lot of media attention, England had their own injury problems during this game. Lawes, Ben Youngs and Billy Vunipola all had to go off, and they were arguably England’s standout performers in the first half. The change to Youngs at scrum half especially disrupted England’s play.
The change that puzzled me the most in the game – while Wales was unloading their bench to bring on an even bigger midfield – with Roberts at 12 and North at 13, WHY do you take Burgess off – a player whose purpose it was to stop the Welsh attack – and bring on Ford. The defence was solid whilst Burgess was on (apart from Scott Williams’ break towards the end of the first half) and was not something that needed altering. Lancaster gained nothing by bringing Ford on, and paid the price. For me, Burgess was playing great, and completely nullified Roberts.
The try that completely swung the momentum of the match. Welsh pressure had been increasing up until this point, and completely turned the game on its head. It could have been easily avoided a few phases earlier, but for a few mistakes. Johnny May first attempts to challenge for the ball, fails, and then tries to drag Cuthbert’s foot into touch and fails. If he’d managed to do that, it would have been a lineout to England, giving them time to organise themselves and eat up a bit of time. Whilst I don’t want to single out May, it’s these small margins that win or lose you a game of rugby.
Now onto the crucial few phases. The England defence looks okay to start with, everyone staying in line and drifting across.
However as the move goes on, Farrell and Barritt become isolated
What Barritt does next is criminal – he rushes out of line and this allows Biggar to throw the miss pass out, and create space out wide. The only time Barritt should be rushing out is if he 100% knows he’s going to hit the person receiving the ball, or he’s going for an intercept. He looks close to doing neither, and this creates space for Wales.
Wales had targeted the space between Barritt and his wingers on the outside of the 13 channel all night, and it paid dividends for them here.
Watson is next to beat. He steps up (which he shouldn’t be doing) and commits to tackling Roberts – which again he shouldn’t be doing. If he had held his defensive line it would have allowed more time for the other England defenders to scramble across and help him out. Instead, he forced Roberts into passing out wide, and Lloyd Williams puts through a hopeful kick, which results in a Wales try.
When England had a penalty advantage, they often put up aimless kicks that were more hopeful than tactical. If England had continued attacking and building the phases, they may have had better opportunities to score. Wigglesworth putting through this kick when England were in a good attacking position on Wales’ 5m line, for example:
Farrell puts in a late hit on Gareth Davies, giving away a penalty – allows Wales to relieve pressure and prevents England from gaining good territory.
Farrell missed touch with a penalty just before the 30 minute mark – which could have ended up being far more costly if it wasn’t for Johnny May and Mike Brown:
Whilst in isolation these incidents aren’t *too* bad, they add up. Opportunities to score and opportunities to put pressure on Wales are not taken – and little by little allow Wales back into this game in the second half.
Playing the Ref:
An important part of the modern game is adapting to the referee. Garces sets the stall out early on in the game – penalising the breakdown area quickly. England give away 6 penalties for infringements in the first half, of which 3 were kicked. England could have gone in at half time with a sizeable lead, and this could have completely changed the dynamic of the game.
Numerous England forwards, in particular Dan Cole were penalised for going off their feet when trying to win the ball at the breakdown. Refs are becoming increasingly aware of this infringement and its something Cole was penalised for several times.
All is not lost for England. In large parts of the game, they played well. They executed the gameplan well, and were able to nullify Wales’ attack. However with Wales in the ascendancy towards the end of the game, England began to fall apart. I don’t want to take any credit away from Wales, they were phenomenal in the face of adversity. However, England did not help themselves, and contributed to their own downfall and should have won the game.
It was tactics rather than personnel that let down England on Saturday. Substitutions disrupted England’s defensive structure, and numerous questionable decisions were made, in particular at lineout time. Will Lancaster stick or twist with the same team against Australia? Only time will tell.
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