England's boys are coming of age
Tom Hamilton at Twickenham
March 9, 2014
England's Luther Burrell celebrates his try © Getty Images
The talk before the game from the Welsh camp was whether Stuart Lancaster's team are boys or men. Well, they now have a win over Wales to their name, an extra cap a man and a spotless home record at home in the 2014 Six Nations. How England must lament that lack of concentration in the last few minutes of the opening match in Paris.
It was a scrappy game at Twickenham with the match littered with penalties. Knock-ons were also far too frequent for the purists. But England will leave the ground with the Triple Crown having prevented the previously prolific Wales from scoring a try.
This is another step on the ladder for Lancaster's players, whether they are boys or men is irrelevant, they are winning. At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window and attempt to take advantage of lapses of concentration. One day it will backfire but Danny Care's try was due to him backing himself and playing what was in front of him. He saw a disorganised defence, found the gap and scored. It is a mindset aided from the two attack-minded coaches Andy Farrell and Mike Catt.
While opportunist attacking is part of this team, integral is the strength of the pack. If England are trundling forward, it makes the half-backs life a whole lot easier. Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury put in another sterling performance in the locks while the front-row edged the scrum, to the extent where Gethin Jenkins was sin-binned for repeated offences. It was a far cry from the much talked about final match of last year's Six Nations where the Welsh front-row dominated their England counterparts.
While the front-row is growing as a unit, though Dylan Hartley did not have his finest match in the loose as he gave away his fair share of penalties, so are the half-backs. Care injects pace into England's attack and Owen Farrell's previous difficult days at Test level have seen him morph into a fly-half who can take the game by the scruff of the neck and direct the rest of his players around the field. His kicking from hand was exemplary, unlike his Welsh counterpart Rhys Priestland who struggled.
The Welsh half-backs failed to click and while kicking out of hand found those in white or a few yards too many, the passing also found the deck. The ball seldom found the outstretched arms of their two potent weapons on the wing. Whenever Alex Cuthbert got the ball in space, he made yards but he only had the opportunity to do this on a couple of occasions.
George North also looked short of his gainline breaking best and it was surprising to see him attempt to kick behind the England defence rather than run at them. This was a game made for them as they faced two wingers still cutting their teeth at Test level, but they were barely tested in areas near try lines. That England made 120 metres more with ball in hand on equal possession is a telling statistic - even David Wilson made more than Jonathan Davies.
England now have a chance of winning their first title since 2011, but they need a favour from France. Lancaster said post-match he "was delighted for the boys", so at least that settles the gambit last week from Gatland. Boys they may still be in mere years but they are slowly coming of age.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
"The thirst for knowledge has seen coaches break away from the confines of rugby and look to America." Tom Hamilton on the two-way learning process
On Saturday, New Zealand face the USA in a match that has been 40 years in the making. Tom Hamilton finds the atmosphere building in Chicago
Most modern rugby players will not know the name Ray Williams but they should be eternally grateful to him, writes John Taylor
With the All Blacks playing the USA Eagles this weekend, Craig Dowd says rugby is ready to make a professional breakthrough Stateside