Victorious England remain a work in progress
Graham Jenkins at Twickenham
February 6, 2010
England dominated the lineout against a creaking Welsh set-piece © Getty Images
As the main course in the opening Six Nations feast this game had a lot to live up to and although it was not necessarily the fine dining that we had been led to be believe it might be, it was a world away from the slop that had been served up in Dublin in the day's opening game.
The 119th meeting of these two old foes was always going to be decided by slim margins and so it proved with the sin-binning of Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones the decisive factor. The experienced second-row's trip on England hooker Dylan Hartley was such a silly error in judgement, one that belies his 38 Test caps, and quite simply was the difference between the sides.
The "half-wit" label given to him by BBC commentator Brian Moore was too kind to a player who cost his side the game. Wales leaked 17 points in his absence and it was a mountain they just could not climb. He will be lucky to escape with his place in the side intact. No matter what sympathy is offered to him, the simple truth is that, impulsive act or not, it was an example of poor discipline which can be fatal when playing at the highest level.
England were the better side although they were some way from the finished article. Martin Johnson's men only flirted with the much-vaunted open approach and were maybe guilty of trying a little too hard in the first period. And let us not forget, having pressed home their one-man advantage to build a 20-3 lead they came dangerously close to letting the game slip. But they did show a refreshing ability to think on their feet, perhaps having been granted freedom to do so by Johnson, and reminded us that they can create opportunities and more importantly take them.
The excellent James Hook orchestrated Wales' revival and revelled in his new role at outside-centre but as they closed in on an unlikely turnaround his side conspired to gift-wrap England another try and then there was no coming back from that. Wales' discipline and lineout were also causes for concern while their kicking game - both from hand and the tee - left a lot to be desired. But on the plus side the visitors looked extremely dangerous at times, able to carve England open thanks to priceless quick ball. And their battling qualities saw them claw their way back into the game and all of a sudden a repeat of their famous 2008 triumph at England's HQ looked on the cards - but alas no. Had Hook brought his kicking boots and winger Tom James been able to hold a relatively simple scoring pass then they may well have been celebrating another Twickenham triumph this evening.
It was all too evident that this was the first game of the Championship as both sides struggled to hit their stride. The first-half was littered with errors and there was a distinct lack of precision in defence and attack. The broken play may have added a little edge to proceedings but it will not make pleasant viewing when the teams review this game. But thankfully the pedestrian nature of the game gave way to crowd-pleasing affair after the break.
James Haskell's dynamic display saw him claim the Man of the Match honour but his skipper Steve Borthwick is deserving of equal praise for a dominant display while Nick Easter was a reassuring presence. But the biggest plus was scrum-half Danny Care who injected the urgency that was prescribed by everyone who sat through a dour November campaign. Mathew Tait may have been a little over-shadowed by Hook but his delightful scoring pass to Haskell was a clear indicator of a player growing in confidence which can only be good for England. And with three scores they immediately tripled their try count from a largely fruitless autumn.
As a spectacle it may not have lived up to the occasion of Twickenham's centenary but the importance of this win for England cannot be under-stated in terms of the Six Nations and looking further ahead to the Rugby World Cup in 2011. The only thing vintage about England's performance was perhaps the retro-looking kit, but make no mistake this was a big step in the right direction and the relief at the final whistle was tangible - this squad had remembered how to play as a team and how to get the job done.
The Championship is all about momentum and with this win under their belts and a trip to Rome awaiting them next week, England are suddenly looking threatening once again.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.