by Reece Chambers
Victory for Warren Gatland’s Wales over England not only sent the whole of Wales into ecstasy but also recorded a record-breaking 12th successive win for Welsh rugby.
Wales had come into the make-or-break Guinness Six Nations match with fluctuating form in the tournament; edging past France in Paris thanks to some routine French handling errors and unconvincingly beating Italy in Rome.
Returning to the capital for a Six Nations campaign always comes with a mixture of excitement, expectation and nerves. But, for Wales, the crunch-match against Eddie Jones’ England provided them with an opportunity to not only showcase their Six Nations and World Cup credentials, but also the chance to upset the odds against an impressive England outfit.
The 21-13 victory for Warren Gatland’s Wales proved that they are a force to be reckoned with throughout world rugby. Victory for Gatland’s side not only showcased the coaching staff’s ability to formulate a tactical masterclass but for the team to fully execute the plan too.
Gatlland et al. deserve vast amounts of credit for their tactical awareness in outsmarting Eddie Jones’ England. England’s physical encounter on Matchday One versus Ireland perhaps gave Welsh fans a scare ahead of the Red Rose arriving in Cardiff. However, Alun Wyn Jones and his men embraced the physical task and managed to get over the line.
With the Rugby World Cup on the horizon, a record-breaking 12 successive wins and 2019 being Gatland’s final year in charge of Welsh rugby, there are many narratives that can draw away from the Six Nations competition. Therefore, it is important to note that this win for Wales gives them a serious opportunity to become Grand Slam winners for the fourth and final time of Gatland’s tenure.
A trip north to Murrayfield poses a different test for Wales and it could well be an opportunity to take the Grand Slam bid to the final day of the competition. When Ireland come to Cardiff next weekend, it could all be on the line with both teams in contention to win the Six Nations title.
Welsh tactics the difference
As Six Nations games go, this one was up there as one of the most physical and brutal encounters of past memory.
Wales’ tactical approach deserve great credit for that being the case too. It is no secret that England have one of the most physical sides in world rugby, with the likes of Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi in their ranks.
However, Wales slowly but surely picked away at England with countless phases of a narrow Welsh pack driving the English defence back towards their own try line.
Such tactical success was epitomised with Corey Hill’s try coming at the end of 30-something phases in the English 22. Constant and relentless pressure with pick and go’s from the Welsh forwards continued to drive England back and appeared to be a clear tactic throughout the game.
Before kick off, in his pre-match press conference, Gatland stated: “I do not think anyone knows where we are except for us, which is a nice place to be in.”
That certainly seemed to be the case at the Principality Stadium as Wales recorded their third win of the competition last weekend. England looked stunned by Wales’ approach and had no secondary plan to mount a period of sustained pressure after Wales took the lead.
The right call at 10?
When Warren Gatland announced his starting XV three days before facing England, all eyes were turned towards the number 10 jersey. In what was probably one of the biggest decisions to make, Gatland appeared to have chosen perfectly.
Fans of Dan Biggar were quick to point to his big game experience before kick off, but even the most devout should appreciate Anscombe’s performance.
In probably the biggest game of his rugby career, Anscombe executed the game plan perfectly and stood up to the challenge of Owen Farrell. His kicking was near-perfect as he left the field for Dan Biggar.
The biggest challenge for Anscombe was being able to keep the game within five points by the time Biggar was summoned by the Welsh coaching staff.
For Biggar to come on and influence the game as he did was rather impressive. His inch-perfect cross-field kick to set up Josh Adams’ try is exactly why a large number of Welsh fans are desperate to see him in the starting XV.
To Wales’ credit, though, it must be appreciated that the timing of the change showed an expert level of understanding of what both fly halves can bring to the side.
In a game decided by fine margins, the discipline at the breakdown was always going to set the tone for the match. For England, they continued a worrying trait of ill-discipline against the Welsh.
Wales had only conceded two penalties when the two sides last met in 2018 and continued a similar trend last weekend with just three conceded. In contrast, England have conceded a total of 19 penalties in their last two outings against Wales.
Such a contrast in the discipline of the two sides shows just how much Gatland and his defensive staff appreciate the kicking abilities of Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly.
It seems extraordinary to say, too, that two of the three penalties conceded by Wales were contentious decisions. Both Justin Tipuric and Rob Evans would have felt hard done by to concede penalties last weekend, but, other than that, the Welsh defensive line and scrummaging pack held firm.
There is a fine line between conservatism at the breakdown and eagerness, but Wales certainly showed how it should be done.
Ready for the World Cup?
With the World Cup on the horizon, many Welsh fans will be wondering what this performance means for Gatland and Wales’ World Cup hopes.
The impressive nature of Wales’ performance versus England must, first, be put into some context to be able to fully assess Wales’ World Cup ambitions. Given that England had, three weeks previous, dispatched of Ireland in their own back yard in scintillating fashion, Wales’ win over Eddie Jones’ side looks all the more impressive.
When Wales come around to traveling to Japan in September, they will be hoping to have a record-breaking number of wins in the bank as well as a Grand Slam title.
All will remain to be seen in the coming week in the Guinness Six Nations. But, if Wales’ performance against England is anything to go by, they look to be in perfect form ahead of a crucial autumn term in Welsh rugby.