It was meant to be a cakewalk for Wales, but England had different ideas, very different ideas. The question must be asked, was this England finally turning the corner from what has been a long straight road of directionless rugby?
The opening twenty minutes suggested not much had changed from last week, in either camp. Wales were full of endeavour and organised attack, whilst England were a little lost, all too dependent on the boot and up to their old tricks with a lack of discipline. End result, Wales 9-0 to the good and seemingly in position to kick on and record the comfortable victory most had them down for.
And then, rather unexpectedly, England came to life and began playing with something that looked suspiciously like structure, and more than a fair share of direction. Joe Worsley, deployed to shackle Andy Powell and Jamie Roberts, worked himself into the ground. Even Mike Tindall, ten minutes in the bin aside, was making his hits and stopping quick ball for the Welsh.
It was his desire to slow Welsh ball down that got him ten in the bin, but that is when England were at their best. Once Stephen Jones slotted the resulting penalty the Tindle-less England scored against the run of play. Riki Flutey showed a glimpse of his brilliance before sending Andy Goode free, and Paul Sackey (Wearing his Puma V-108 boots) won the race to the chip ahead.
When Goode (wearing his Nike Laser 2 boots) slotted a drop goal on the half hour mark Wales looked shell-shocked. It was as if they had believed all the pre-match hype, billing them as clear favourites and runaway winners, and forgotten to play rugby in the process. Their insistence of attacking the same way until the space was gone worked against them on several occasions, too many players waiting for the swing in action and not enough in the rucks.
Credit to England, who for so long have lacked anything other than yellow cards (although they got their usual two this time out), for it was their aggression at the breakdown that caused Wales their problems. Suddenly with a lack of quick ball Wales didn’t look so clever, lacked a little shape and consequently lost control of the game.
Goode handed the hosts a perfect start to the second half, as he was sent to the bin and Wales made England pay the ultimate price. First of all Jones slotted the resulting penalty, and then seconds later Leigh Halfpenny, who seems to know no bounds, was racing away for a great try from turnover ball.
In fact England grew in stature as they realised they had a fighting chance, and when Delon Armitage broke free to dive in under the posts there only seemed to be one winner.
Whilst the record books will show an English defeat, this could be the turning point a nation has been hoping and praying for. Or it could be a much improved performance fuelled by passion and emotion. Either way it will keep the wolves from the door for another week, and with their barks getting increasingly louder of late the peace will be welcome.
For Wales there is plenty to ponder, and they will be glad this wake-up call came now, for if they went to France in this state it could be a messy day. We now know there isn’t much when the ball is slow, which means Gatland and co. need to devise ‘plan B’. ‘Plan A’ is good, and works well, now lets see what Wales can do when not given free reign and quick ball.
Pens: S.Jones 5, Halfpenny
Tries: Sackey, Armitage
Drop goal: Goode
Yellow cards: Tindall (15th minute – slowing the ball down), Goode (42nd minute – killing the ball).
Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Mark Jones, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Michael Phillips, 8 Andy Powell, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Ryan Jones (captain), 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 John Yapp, 18 Luke Charteris, 19 Dafydd Jones, 20 Dwayne Peel, 21 James Hook, 22 Andrew Bishop.
England: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Harry Ellis, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Joe Worsley, 6 James Haskell, 5 Nick Kennedy, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Phil Vickery, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Julian White, 18 Tom Croft, 19 Luke Narraway, 20 Paul Hodgson, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Mathew Tait.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Alan Lewis (Ireland), Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)