Familiarity breeds confidence. That’s the idea at least. In competition with Australia, Wales and Fiji to survive the group of death the English would have considered this the easiest game before them. They had beaten the Welsh in three previous Six Nations tests, completely dominating them in Cardiff last year. Now they were depleted by rotten luck, injuries ravaging their team removing the likes of Halfpenny and Webb their tournament appeared over before a ball was even kicked (especially in my RWC preview).
To compound matters the Welsh were down by ten points and down three men. Injuries to Liam Williams, Scott Williams and Hallam Amos should have left them devoid of leadership throughout the team. For the English, nothing could have gone better. The difficult decisions made by Stuart Lancaster appeared to be vindicated. Farrell was imperious at 10, not missing a single kick or tackle and Burgess was dominating at 12, belaying his relative inexperience in this code. The only downside for the English going into the last period of the game was that their penalties were keeping the Welsh in the game.
The changes made at half time turned the game however. Where the Welsh were outmanned in the breakdown they were committing two or three more bodies to each moment. Where the English set piece was so dominant in the first half, now it was creaking under Welsh pressure. Their players who simply had to have a good game for them to have any chance played the game of their lives. Dan Biggar must still be smiling thinking about the furore over Halfpenny’s injury. He was immense, eight kicks taken and eight kicks scored, the best undoubtedly a Halfpenny special from within his own half. The heart of this Welsh team shown through in this match with substitute scrum half Lloyd Williams, playing on the after replacing Amos, kicked a majestic cross field ball to another replacement scrumhalf Gareth Davis to score the try of the tournament so far directly under the posts.
The English now down by three found themselves in Welsh territory at the line as a penalty was awarded to them. Kick it and they would tie the game along with receiving possession with three minutes to go. Lose it and they would undoubtedly lose the game. Perhaps possessed with the spirit of the samurai they went for the corner. The lineout was predictably won by the Welsh who held on. The kick into touch to end the game was a moment of triumph for this much maligned team. For the English it was nothing short of disastrous. An inquest will no doubt be held into the decision making, a draw and the Welsh gain all the pressure after their earlier loss to Australia in their opening game. Now the English must win. A helping hand from the Wallabies and the Welsh should find themselves in the quarter finals once more. From there who knows.
Words by Neil Ryan, Sports Editor