England battle to further Wales’ Six Nations misery amid chaotic backdrop
CARDIFF, Wales. Wales have been fighting all week on and off the pitch. On Wednesday, they scored one victory, but it was too much. It took England 75 minutes to break the hosts’ resolve, but in a low quality match with as much struggle in the air as on the ground, it was a case of striking a balance between heart and accuracy.
Ultimately, England’s 20-10 win at Cardiff came down to accuracy. Freddie Steward was at the forefront of the fight and was fantastic. The fans had their necks in the air for most of the meeting, so a player like Steward was needed to turn the match in England’s favour. But it was a game where you saw two teams battling for form, recognition and ultimately a win-at-all-cost mentality.
In the end, England overcame the milestone thanks to Anthony Watson’s first-half effort – a neat corner finish, Kyle Sinclair’s second-half close-range shot and Ollie Lawrence’s late attempt to seal the win. Wales’ attempt early in the second half ended with an England free pass as Louis Rees-Zammit galloped home. Ultimately it turned out to be a false dawn, Wales’ outstanding victory was not to be, and instead everything was based on rugby.
The good news for those on the top tier of the Principality Stadium is that a quarter of this match was played at eye level, given how hard both teams kicked the ball into Cardiff’s cold air. But talk to 100 people on St. Mary’s Street on a Saturday night and you’ll have the same number of different perspectives on this game.
For Welsh fans, they will see this through various red glasses. You will have those talking about Wales being 0-3 in the Six Nations and look at the grim reality of the Warren Gatland handout. There will be a minority who hoped that the players would carry out their strike threat and put the costumes to shame. And there will be those who will look at the young debutants in the Wales squad and how this day can be transformative, given the heart they showed against the toughest of the two-week builds. Gatland would fall into the latter category.
It was a Wales mixed team with nine substitutions. The core was based on the experienced foundations of Alan Wyn Jones, Lee Halfpenny, Justin Tipurik, and Ken Owens. They had some lovely days here in Cardiff; days when the noise resounds in your chest, you are carried away by hymns and arias and can see nothing but a Welsh victory.
But the new faces of Welsh midfield in Mason Grady and Joe Hawkins are experiencing a very different Principality stadium. At times it was eerily quiet, and only in the last quarter did the famous atmosphere come to life. During the first half stages, the English song “Swing, Low” drowned out any determination of the home support, the rest descended to a muffled murmur of laughter and empty chatter. He felt disconnected. But when you have the likes of Faletau, Rees-Zammit and the ageless Jones, it can spice up the place. Such flourishes and crescendos were instantaneous.
But, given the backstory of this match, it seemed that Wales were playing on the edge. It wasn’t until Wednesday that the game was given the green light after their 10-day tête-à-tête with the Welsh authorities over contracts and votes. It might help you get through the match, it might help win, but it wasn’t enough for them.
For England, this meant ignoring distractions and trusting themselves. Steve Borthwick is good at the basics and it was a match they won after making sure their bread and butter was up to par. Steward’s high ball accuracy was just one of the factors that set him apart from Lewis Ludlum’s and Jack Willis’ bribery and superiority in set pieces.
The defense was solid too, with Wales attempting to pull off a floating pass from Max Malins right into the hands of Rees-Zammit. Watson played well on the wing, and Ollie Lawrence was again a danger in the center. Jack van Purtvliet’s boxing punches were mostly accurate. It wasn’t exciting or flawless – with Owen Farrell leaving an alarming 10 – but it was effective. England could have won by a wide margin.
But the victory was king for England anyway. Defense improved under Kevin Sinfield and they are now two of three under Borthwick, having won their first match against Wales in Cardiff since 2017. This is not a result where you can lose yourself in excitement, but you see a gradual improvement. And this is evidence that Borthwick brought the order.
This was the week the Welsh player’s strength won. But in the end, there was very little left in them, and it turned out to be too far from armwrestling. England simply had too much and they were worth the win.