Yes, Biggar was in the air when he was taken out, can we move past that right away? It's the best game week of the year when England and Wales are due to face one and other; it's the fans that make the clash what it is today. Even though we've had some barn-stormers and controversies in the past when red meets white, it felt like this was the first match up between the two nations where both fans admitted and agreed on the probable outcome in years. It was far from the dominant, spanking that the media was predicting going into the clash, one of which even we felt could be on the cards if Wales didn't tighten up. However, it also wasn't a vintage game of two rivals coming for war; in all honesty it was an absolute dud... Let's dive into the analysis.
Woeful, Aimless Kicking
If there is one thing that springs to mind when you talk England Rugby at the moment, it's bloody kicking! We have praised the game plan wholeheartedly the last few weeks, showcasing our support for playing Rugby in the right areas. However, there were some hiccups and issues in the last few fixtures of England having just the one option and using it when they already had decent territorial position. The kicking in this game was DIABOLICAL... Daly's kicking out of hand pushed Wales back, but it was easy to field and Halfpenny could counter it with some welly. Youngs' box kicks were either way too long and incontestable, too short and made no ground, or entirely aimless with no chasers to be seen. Slade's kicking lacked accuracy, fluidity and even resulted in a charge-try; there is no way he attempts that grubber in an Exeter shirt. Farrell and Ford's kicking was snuffed out by an excellent, sweeping and precise back three performance by LRZ, Adams and Halfpenny. If England want to kick, we support it and it DOES statistically work, but it only works if those kicks have at least a touch of accuracy in their flight; it was one of the WORST kicking performances I've seen from an English side (and I've seen Geraghty in an England shirt). Wales' kicking at least put England under pressure on the high ball, but largely was aimless in response; what happened to kicking to corners, kicking to contest and kicking into space?
The Mean Streak
England's pack is ferocious and could contend with all the best squads, player for player, in the world; we already know that. From 1 - 7 especially, the fitness, aggression, expertise and support was blindingly good. George hit up carry after carry, Launchbury dragged his front row through collisions and over the gain line, Mako put in hit after hit, Underhill had a MOTM performance, cutting nice running lines and leathering ball carriers and Itoje continued to be disruptive in every set piece. England's lineout is clinical, their scrums dominant and their breakdowns a slaughterhouse for the opposition. However, Billy V had another rough day at the office, falling off tackles, getting knocked back with ball in hand over and over, and largely offered nothing in any area; we gave some praise last week for him being a sponge who can set up play, but he's largely a wasted number in what is a physical, dynamic back row. Once the fleet of forwards came on the pitch, England looked like they could turn it up to 11. Willis looked his sharp and powerful self over the breakdown, Jonny Hill threw players around like a mulleted giant, and Genge knocked 7 bells out of the opposition front row. What a mean streak...
Errors on Errors...
Let's face it, for the neutral fan having their first glimpse of international Rugby, this tournament has been an absolute fuster-cluck. The handling of most teams has been school-boy level, the lack of cohesion and positioning in the backline has been mind-boggling poor and the set piece is an absolute mess. This largely floated both ways, with Wales almost completely unable to win a lineout, partially because of Itoje's interruptions, but largely because the ball was barely able to be thrown in straight from the get go. Farrell and Slade could hardly string a pass together in the midfield, Biggar kept trying to play 7's in open field, Daly dropped three high balls in the space of 5 minutes and both scrum halves kicked, passed and ran so lethargically you'd be forgetting they are professional athletes. It's so unusual to watch Rugby where the handling errors and penalty counts for BOTH sides are constantly in the double figures from game to game. As we look upon the finals next week, you'd have to admit that this tournament has hosted some of the worst international matches we've seen in the last decade.
What can Wales do?
As an England fan, you often disregard the other teams improvements if your side still looks comfortable in victory. The refereeing was pretty rough, but let's face it, with all the improvements around the breakdown, in the centres and in the back three, Wales still looked miles behind this England side (who in turn played pretty poorly). It was a baptism of fire for some of the younger faces in that Wales setup, however, I thought they put in a cracking shift under difficult circumstances. Botham carried and tackled well, William's looked solid in Defence and focused in attack, LRZ looks like a real threat on the outside shoulder and Tompkins put in the hard yards to push this Welsh team forwards. Despite that, Wales still never really looked like winning; other than a charge down in the first half, they barely looked like scoring. You could put that down to England's brash and kamikaze-like defence, but you can also put that down to a complete lack of Welsh identity. Do they want to play fluid, attacking Rugby? Do they want to play a tactical kicking game? Do they want to have a dynamic back row that out-works their opposition? Do they want a bulky front row that can put in some hard carries? I couldn't give you an answer on 'how' Wales want to play. It looked like a lot of individual performances, carrying a side that didn't know each others strengths.
Sam Underhill - Make some bone crunching hits around the park, jackaled well in the right areas, put in some excellent carries (exploited space rather than taking contact).
Jamie George - Put in a huge shift, made tackle after tackle, usually the clean up guy when England's attack breaks down.
Louis Rees-Zammit - Looked assured and ahead of his years, dealt with England's kicking game efficiently and looked threatening with ball in hand.
Mako Vunipola - Scrummaged really well, tackled well all game, carried well when he needed to and supported England well around the fringes.
Maro Itoje - Disrupted Wales lineout consistently, energised the side well when they needed some reorganisation, tackled well around the fringes.
Joe Launchbury - Largely responsible for England's first score, carried effectively and efficiently, put in some dominant collisions when England looked to be on the back foot.
Ford, Farrell and Slade - 10, 12 and 13 were all unanimous in how poor their kicking, positioning and tackling was. England's attack was comprehensively shut down as soon as the ball reached any one of their mitts.
Alun Wyn Jones - Another to add to Itoje's hit list, lost just about every lineout, looked largely anonymous in the breakdown, one of the weakest performers in that Welsh pack.
Samson Lee - Eaten alive at the scrum, couldn't match his opposite numbers work rate, barely carried throughout the first half.
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