England and Wales played out a proper old-school test match in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon. So much for a ‘Friendly’ as both teams smashed into each other, that saw Wales edge England 13-6.
As has been said many times, this result won’t mean much in the context of the World Cup. However, both sides would have taken some positives from these last two weekends. On Saturday, Wales deserved it but England could feel hard done by with two decisions that French referee Pascal Gaüzère missed. The first was whether George North’s try should have stood given that sin-binned Anthony Watson was running off the field. Take nothing away from Dan Biggar’s speed of thought because it was a brilliantly executed try.
Second, was the head high challenge that Dan Biggar then put on Maro Itoje as the Saracen charged out of England’s half. Biggar was lucky not to get a red – let alone a yellow card.
Discipline and breakdown hamper England
Two familiar frailties let England down in Cardiff, the penalty count, and the breakdown. With regards to England’s discipline, once again England’s penalty count was too high. Careless penalties were plentiful and if England is to be successful in Japan, they have to address this.
England’s discipline has been a problem for the last few years. Likewise with the breakdown where England’s runners were too often caught without enough support around them. A result was a decent number of turnovers to the scavenging Welsh pack. With Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Mark Wilson all competing for places, England will certainly improve [in time for September].
The 31 man squad need to raise their game, the more they establish combinations and work to the systems employed by John Mitchell and Jones.
Attacking lineouts and mauls need work
England was once again guilty of not taking their chances when presented with attacking lineouts on the Welsh line. Three times they were driven back with Wales winning the maul. If England reaches the finals, these parts of their game have to be watertight in execution.
Ben Youngs, England’s experienced scrum-half has to dictate the flow of a maul and release before the pack gets held up. A couple of times during the game, England’s players went too high into contact and Wales held them up to win the maul. Billy Vunipola, who was otherwise impressive was guilty of this. A man of his thunderous strength has to go lower into contact.
These two facets are the basics which England have to get right before the first pool game against Tonga.
Francis and Cowan-Dickie impress in close defeat
There were some encouraging performances from England despite the defeat. Piers Francis, much maligned for his surprise inclusion in England’s squad, consistently broke Wales’ gain line. No mean feat, given that he was up against Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes. Francis cut some great angles and was solid on defense as well. If England needs to change things up out wide at the World Cup, then Francis has done his chances no harm at all.
Luke Cowan-Dickie was once again excellent for England despite a few wobbly throws in the first half. The Exeter Chief has a massive engine, was powerful in contact and chopped down Wales runners in an all-action display.
‘Cavalry’ boost in second half for visitors
England was better in the second half after the momentum shift of George North’s try and Anthony Watson’s yellow card. The likes of the recalled Joe Marler and Jamie George made a difference to England’s set-piece. Owen Farrell also looked in decent knick when he came on which bodes well for the World Cup.
Despite these changes, England could not take advantage of the territory and field position that they earnt in the last quarter. A similar story to last week when they made plenty of linebreaks, yet without finishing their chances off.
Wales were always going to be better in Cardiff. The hosts did not allow England much space and, are duly rewarded with the number one ranking by World Rugby.
England did make half-breaks but, was not clinical enough to get over the try-line. No need to panic though at this stage. Eddie Jones will want England’s backs to work harder in their next Summer International against Ireland, to regain their tryscoring form.
Questions remain, even as Wales edge England
England will move confidently forward to their next two warm-up games over Ireland and Italy. What has become apparent in this mini Welsh series, is that big is not always beautiful or productive.
England has to add guile and pace to the formidable power they have at their disposal. Eddie Jones will want Henry Slade back on board as soon as possible. We saw glimpses of Slade at his best in 2019 and when he is purring, England’s backline could be devastating. Wales coped comfortably with England’s power on Saturday because the Welsh line-speed was far better. The likes of Joe Cokanasiga and Billy Vunipola could not build up a head of steam and were stopped relatively easily.
England has to be quicker than what fans saw in Cardiff. It was a role reversal to Twickenham six days ago when Wales could not keep up with England’s intensity and line-speed.
Both of these teams will take a lot out of the last two weekends, with honours shared between the two which was the right result.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup begins on September 20. Wales head Pool D, as England compete in Pool C.
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