A sad day to be a Welshman
March 26, 2002
Matt Dawson came off the bench to help England finish with a record win over Wales © Getty Images
It was a sad day to be a Welshman. The record defeat was bad enough but it was the eerie atmosphere at Twickenham that really rubbed our noses in the dirt. As England set about dismantling Wales the crowd just could not get excited. It was routine, expected - and that is what really hurts.
Back in the Autumn everybody knew England would trounce Romania and the English fans were duly hypercritical of any English shortcomings whilst applauding any initiative from the hapless visitors. It was a bit like that yesterday - they were very polite but they patronised us. There was never a feeling that this was a challenge like the matches against Australia and South Africa.
It is hard to believe that Wales still lead England with 49 victories against 47 but you feel the need to remind people, not as some sort of solace but to emphasise that this used to be one of the great contests of the year, perhaps the biggest fixture in the Northern Hemisphere rugby calendar. Not any more.
The only time we saw and heard real passion was in the first five minutes when Wales mounted a series of assaults on the English line and should have scored. They were recycling the ball beautifully and for that brief period looked full of confidence in themselves. It was an illusion.
Kevin Morgan, one of the most gifted runners in the team, panicked and kicked the ball away; England escaped and on their first attack Jonny Wilkinson dropped a sweet goal to set them on their way. From that moment the result was a forgone conclusion.
Thank goodness Wales showed more pride than against Ireland. If they had not tackled superbly the score could have resembled that against Romania as well. But, as coach, Steve Hansen, acknowledged afterwards England had 80% of the ball and '....played at a pace we couldn't sustain. We ran out of petrol.'
For England the biggest plusses were the performances of those drafted in after Paris. Julian White, deputising for Phil Vickery, was rightly singled out for special praise by Clive Woodward but Danny Grewcock, in for the suspended Martin Johnson, and Lewis Moody, picked in front of Joe Worsley, were equally impressive.
Neil Back has served England wonderfully well but he has always lacked that extra yard of pace which would allow him to accelerate away in the wide open spaces and, at 33, is nearing his sell-by date. Moody is really an open-side and has pace to burn; he might well replace the old warrior before next year's World Cup.
Dan Luger has been badly out of form with Harlequins but he is one of those players who loves the big occasion and yet again rose to it. He now has 19 touch-downs to become England's third highest try scorer ever and those have come in just 26 appearances - a born finisher.
England missed Jason Robinson as you would expect but it will be interesting to see where Woodward plays him against Italy. Austin Healey has lost a little of his own magic at the moment but he might find himself retained as full-back with Robinson switching to outside centre.
Yet again Mike Tindall did not quite look the part even with a surfeit of possession. He is big and strong but a little clumsy which prevents England from making the most of the subtle probing of Will Greenwood who is in such a rich vein of form at the moment. I know the England coach is itching to try Robinson outside him and it could be the secret to unlocking tight defences when England are not quite so dominant.
The Welsh players will feel hard done by. The first and last tries should never have been given - Greenwood definitely did not ground the ball and how Didier Mene, the television match official, could say with any certainty that Tim Stimpson got the ball down I shall never know - and it probably did not feel like a record loss because they stuck to their task to the end.
They must now regroup and work on greater confidence in attack to go with their spirited defending but first of all Hansen must find a way to shore up the scrum and the line-out. They were under such pressure in the set pieces that there was never a platform to launch anything. It's an age old truism but you cannot play rugby without the ball.
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John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh