By Rob Cole
Eddie Jones and his England team woke up in Cardiff on Sunday morning with ‘Hymns and Arias’ and ‘Bread of Heaven’ still ringing in their ears and to the news that Wales have also leapfrogged them in the World Rugby rankings after their 21-13 victory at Principality Stadium.
Jones was probably still seeking some consolation in the fact that his team had been overhauled by ‘the greatest Welsh team of all-time’. Truth be told, he was outgunned by a far superior coach and his team came up short in a street-fight on which the men in red were fitter, stronger, better-prepared and wanted it that bit more.
Now, that team will climb to third in the world, behind New Zealand and Ireland, as the countdown continues to the World Cup later this year.
Three penalties on the bounce from arch-villain Kyle Sinckler and then a kick out on the full from Owen Farrell proved a turning point in the second half. Alun Wyn Jones called his team together, the crowd sensed a shift in momentum and the English chariot was dismantled in a compelling final quarter.
That made it 12 wins in a row for Gatland’s men, taking them past a mark that had lasted for 109 years. Some feat! But the boss still wouldn’t concede his team is the greatest to wear the red shirt.
“That would be disrespectful to the sides of the Seventies and the team that won 11 in a row,” said Gatland. If they can keep on going, avoid a very slippery banana skin against the Scots in Murrayfield and then beat world ranked No 2 team Ireland to clinch a third Grand Slam in the Gatland Era, then maybe that will take them out on their own.
Farrell’s post-match comments may have been all about England, but they contained some telling points about how a game, in which they seemed to have control at 10-3 after 40 minutes, slipped totally out of their grasp:
“We couldn’t get a foothold during the last 30 minutes . . .
“We couldn’t seem to get back that momentum in the second-half . . .
“We just couldn’t get out of our own half . . .
“We didn’t manage to build enough pressure . . .
“It didn’t feel like we fired a shot . . .
That was because the Welsh players threw the kitchen sink at them after the break. They were able to dig deeper and deeper into the well of their fitness and resolve and finally broke down the English defence with a Cory Hill try that came after 34 bone-shuddering phases.
It was like a boxer working to the body for eight rounds before finally taking out his opponent with a perfect head shot because there was simply no defence left. England were beaten hands down!
So, what is it that this Welsh team has that is so special? There is Gatland for a start. Rob Howley, Shaun Edwards, Robin McBryde and Neil Jenkins as well. They have a totemic leader in Alun Wyn Jones and possess a gritty resolve to play for each other.
“We spoke in the week about people and performance. We’ve got a squad of 40 blokes and a big backroom staff that have put a lot into this. There’s still a lot of people that have got to put their hands up to keep pushing this team and the individuals we’ve got in it,” said Jones after the game.
“We’ll be back on the horse tomorrow and we’d probably like to play next week to build some momentum. A week off is a dangerous thing and Scotland will be licking their wounds and looking forward to us coming up there.”
This is how one of the unsung heroes of the record breaking Welsh side put it after packing down against his Exeter Chiefs clubmate, Ben Moon, in an afternoon that earned him total bragging rights when he returns to Sandy Park this week.
“The atmosphere in the squad is amazing. It is belief in each other, you believe in the man next to you. Whoever comes on the pitch, whoever of the 37, we believe in each other and that’s why we enjoy being there,” said Wales prop Thomas Francis.
“We are a tight-knit squad, train hard for each other and believe in each other, which is half the battle.
“As a front five forward you have to relish and enjoy the physicality of these encounters, put your marker down, retaliate and then go back at them as a good as you’ve got. I thought we did that in the second-half.
“The subs came on and we put our hands on their throat with those pick and gos around 65 minutes. It was nice to see Kyle Sinckler go off at 50 minutes, which he hasn’t done in the championship so far, because he is one of their talisman.
“We know we still haven’t put together an 80 minute performance yet and we are excited for when we can finally do that. The first two games, we knew it wasn’t us. We finally got to play in front of a home crowd and we showed more of us.
“In the first two games we didn’t play well at all – we fired a few shots, but there is a lot left in the tank. We’ve won three now and it’s a good place to be in.
“There are two tough games to come. Murrayfield is always a tough place to go and then it is Ireland at home. We will take them one at a time.”
- England had the edge in terms of field position at half-time, but Wales turned that around in the second half. They finished with 65 percent possession and 68 percent territory by the end of the game. A fantastic second-half effort.
- England made 99 more tackles than Wales – which tells its own story – while Wales made 714 in metres against England’s 471.
- Wales had more first-half possession, carried more ball and made more metres but their superior handling errors were crucial, as England were ruthless inside the hosts’ 22.
- Wales trailed 10-3 at half-time – just a score but their biggest 40 minute deficit at Principality Stadium since Ireland beat them here in 2013.