England humiliated by street-wise Wales
Graham Jenkins at the Millennium Stadium
March 16, 2013
Wales' Sam Warburton congratulates Justin Tipuric after both took starring roles in their side's victory over England © Getty Images
In the end there was no need for calculators and rulebooks. Wales crushed England's Grand Slam dreams in emphatic style with a sensational performance that served as a powerful reminder they are a major force on the international stage and that their vanquished rivals remain some way from the world beaters they dream of becoming.
England arrived hoping to complete a first clean sweep for a decade but were brutally swept aside by a ruthless Wales - and in truth the alarmingly shaky visitors were never in the clash. Wales thrived on the pressure of the occasion with their superior hunger exposing England's lack of ideas and big match temperament. England can have no complaints having been totally out-thought, outmuscled and outplayed with the Six Nations table telling it how it is - they were second best to a quality-packed Wales side who but for a costly first half in their championship opener against Ireland could have been celebrating back-to-back Grand Slams.
The stage was set for something special and it did not disappoint. The tries may have dried up in the Six Nations somewhat since the opening round but you do not need them for a thrilling game of rugby with the brutal spectacle served up in the first half as enthralling as any try-glut you may have witnessed. We were led to believe that a fired-up Welsh crowd would be baying for blood and they got it with both sides offering an awe-inspiring level of commitment. Bodies were put on the line time and time again, bruising phase after bruising phase drew gasps from those lucky enough to be present to witness a game that an otherwise forgettable championship sorely needed.
Two second half tries eventually propelled Wales to a memorable victory but this victory - and their successful defence of the championship - was built on a dominant pack and rock-solid defence. No-one has breached their line since Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll crossed in the 42nd minute of their high-octane clash last month and that is to the credit of the Wales coaching team - and in particular Shaun Edwards.
The straight-talking Edwards has taken a fair amount of criticism in recent months and suffered a huge personal blow when his long-time cohort and British & Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland chose not to include him in his coaching team for this year's tour of Australia. England assistant coach Andy Farrell was handed the defensive duties for the eagerly-awaited trip Down Under and as a result this must be the sweetest of victories for Edwards.
Edwards will no doubt heap praise on the players and none are more deserving of praise than flanker Justin Tipuric. Wales are blessed with back-row talent with the likes of Sam Warburton and Ryan Jones delivering stellar performances in recent weeks but it appears Tipuric's star may just eclipse both of them. He only has a handful of start to his name but dominated proceedings in the cauldron-like atmosphere of the Millennium Stadium as if a veteran of such occasions. He possesses an enviable skillset with his vision, power and pace fuelling Wales from start to finish most notably in the lead up to winger Alex Cuthbert's second score where England's defensive shortcomings were painfully evident.
To single out one player is perhaps a little unfair on a day when Wales offered another dictionary definition of team work to unsettle, upset and usurp their rivals from across the Severn Bridge. In contrast, England were splintered far too easily and rapidly lost their way and any momentum that they had having swept all before them to this point.
England captain Chris Robshaw demanded a clinical performance but his players failed to deliver. Centre Manu Tuilagi's failure lay claim to a simple pass and exploit a rare void in the Wales defence in the opening exchanges appeared costly and the time and even more so now. In a contest that was always going to be tight, you simply cannot expect to spurn such chances and still expect to be celebrating come the final whistle.
It could so easily have changed the pattern of the game but instead it set the tone for an error-laden performance with the usually reliable boot of fly-half Owen Farrell failing to fire and an England pack not short of muscle or know-how failing to match their Welsh rivals or heed the warnings of referee Steve Walsh. The England pack's relationship with Walsh totally broke down in the second half but it only hastened their downfall with the game already having slipped from their grasp.
England's failure to wrestle their way back into the game will not reflect too well on Robshaw whose leadership will no doubt come under the microscope again. There was no rallying call to inspire his troops with the dominance of the Welsh back-row ensuring he had little chance to lead by example. Starved of time and space within which to operate, England struggled to find a cutting edge in attack. The fact that a tap tackle from fullback Mike Brown on a galloping Wales wing George North was arguably highlight of their performance speaks volumes about their impotency with ball in hand.
Wales offered a lesson in patience and perseverance in attack but England could only dream of such confidence and composure. More often than not, Farrell was forced to dig deep into his box of tricks but Wales had little trouble in snuffing out the danger. As a result, England's impotence in attack - having crossed for just one try in their last four games is as appalling as Wales' miserly defence is astounding.
It appeared England could only hit their man with the pass when they didn't mean too with a frustrated Billy Twelvetrees, fuming at another decision going against his side, firing the ball in the direction of Walsh only to hit his team-mate Mike Brown on the head. You could only laugh.
In the end, it turned into a procession with chants of 'Easy! Easy! Easy!' ringing around a jubilant stadium. England's pain was complete with the sight of Wales lifting the Six Nations silverware that they may have been going home with them but instead of a lap of honour they traipsed back to the tunnel in stunned silence having come up so woefully short.
England's Chris Robshaw ponders what might have been © PA Photos
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.