I’ve had a strange relationship with this England Rugby team since I saw them lift the trophy for the Grand Slam in Paris in 2016, I was ecstatic then, as I was when they beat the mighty All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final in 2019. I was in a bar in Reims in France funnily enough and it was great to be amongst French rugby fans supporting England!

My next live England match after that semi-final win was again in Paris, in Round 1 of the 2020 6 Nations , that was the start of Shaun Edwards involvement with France and wow that made a difference to the way France played! France won that one 24 to 17, so not a huge gap but the way they played was just brilliant. It felt then that France were the team most likely to win a Grand Slam, but they were undone by a punch thrown in Edinburgh by Prop Mohamed Haouas, who was shown a red card in the 37th minute. (I’m catching up on this years’ France v Scotland match and as I type Hoauas has again been shown a red card – I should imagine the French coaching team will be apoplectic! This was after Scotland had lost Grant Gilchrist to a red card after 6 minutes) That left the door open for England who won the Tournament with a better points difference, they scored 14 tries to France’s 17. England also won the Autumn Nations Cup in 2020, that in spite of playing some unattractive rugby!

The Principality Stadium – my favourite 6 Nations venue

Wales won the 2021 Tournament with France not reaching their potential with a Grand Slam in 2022, I confess to cheering for them at The Stade de France, in spite of the fact they were playing England. I’ve had a general feeling of disappointment around England since 2020 in spite of their trophies in that year, they won both playing unattractive rugby.

I’m not a fan of watching international rugby at Twickenham, that is if you can get a ticket, so I watch my 6 Nations rugby in Cardiff and Paris (where my daughter lives). When in Cardiff I also tend to support Wales, but couldn’t do that yesterday, which in many ways felt a little strange, I was basically ready to shout at anything good from either team.

As things went my voice wasn’t at risk, there really wasn’t anything good to shout about from a Wales point of view, they were poor, and in spite of their win, England weren’t much better in all honesty.

Neither Head Coach have had much time to change things for their team and Warren Gatland ironically has found his hands tied by the so called Gatland’s Law, the required 60 caps has been lowered to 25 after the events of the week leading up to this match, with strike action on the table for the Welsh players. I’ve taken sone information from a great account on Twitter @rpetty80 – Russ Petty which shows which players will now have different options at contract renewal time. From a selfish viewpoint I’m very pleased to see Nick Tompkins with 25 caps to his name!

OspreysCardiffScarletsDragonsOut of Wales
Alex Cuthbert – 57Rhys Priestland – 56Scott Williams – 58Ross Moriarty – 54Jake Ball – 50
Adam Beard – 43Dillon Lewis. – 47Wyn Jones. – 46Elliot Dee – 43Cory Hill – 32
Nicky Smith – 42Josh Adams – 46Samson Lee – 46Rob Evans – 39Hadleigh Parkes – 29
Rhys Webb. – 38Josh Navidi. – 33Ryan Elias – 33Aaron Wainwright – 36Nick Tompkins – 25
Owen Watkins – 36Lloyd Williams – 32Aaron Shingler – 27
Gareth Anscombe – 35

Two notable exceptions are Louis Rees Zammit; the 22 year old was born in Penarth but has played all oh his senior rugby at Gloucester, he signed ‘a long-term’ contract with them in 2020, he has 22 caps. Will Rowlands, 31 who moved to Dragons in 2021 from Wasps but has signed a contract with Racing 92 after he couldn’t agree a new contract with the WRU and Dragons, he has 23 caps. Injured at the moment he could be a key player f or Wales for the World Cup, so it’ll be interesting to see which way the WRU go with him.

As far as Steve Borthwick is concerned his hands have been tied by the Elite Player Squad to a degree, a 44 man squad was put into place for the 2022-23 season, as a rule that allowed 5 changes in January, but the Premiership Rugby clubs showed a willingness to allow more than those 5 changes. I can’t find a definitive list of EPS players for this season. But every Premiership Club fan will have a favourite they believe deserves a chance, one stand out player is Gloucester’s Val Rapava-Ruskin – a Loose-head Prop, it felt like a no brainer that the 30 year old would be picked. But instead England have 32 year old Mako Vunipola coming on from the bench. Perhaps we’ll see him in France for the World Cup.

England warmed up at the end we were sitting – good to see ex league legend Kevin Sinfield involved, Mike Forshaw former league Man of Steel is in the Wales coaching set up.

On, eventually to the game, England hadn’t won in Cardiff since 2017, winning that one by 5 points, the results for 2019 and 2021 went – Wales 21 England 13, 2021 – Wales 40 England 24. They came to Cardiff having lost to Scotland in Week 1 before beating Italy in Round 2. Wales lost to Ireland at home before travelling to Edinburgh, where they were roundly beaten by Scotland.

This match wasn’t confirmed as going ahead until Wednesday which must have been very unsettling for the Welsh players, but playing the English is playing the English no matter what the circumstances. You can probably tell by the pre-amble that I’m not going to be writing too much about the 80 minutes of rugby.

Some questions came to me as I was driving home today, I think I’ll list them – they are rhetorical by the way.

  • Why did Fly Half Owen Williams (playing for Wales for the first time since 2017 when he played Inside Centre) keep kicking the ball to Freddie Steward, probably one of, if not the best player under a high ball at the moment?
  • Why did every kick off from Wales go straight to Alex Dombrandt, who was then pretty much unchallenged each time?
  • Why when Owen Farrell is off form with his kicking at the posts did he take that option in the second half , having missed both a conversion and a penalty in the first half? He then missed said penalty and another conversion in the second half leaving 10 points on the pitch,
  • Why did England bring on Marcus Smith, Henry Arundell and Jack Walker on with only a minute remaining?
  • Where are Wales going to find some attacking flair for their next match in Rome?
  • Will Steve Borthwick make changes for what will be 2 very tough games against France at home then Ireland away?
  • Who makes the game plan? The coach or the players? presuming its the latter why is it that specific players take so much criticism?

England’s last 2 matches have seen them featuring just the one Fly Half with a specialist Inside Centre in Ollie Lawrence playing with 12 on his back, that worked much better than having 2 10’s on the pitch against Italy it would hopefully be the same in Cardiff. That 10 was Owen Farrell, reinstated as Borthwick’s captain. Ollie Lawrence now of Bath was beside him with Henry Slade at 13. Anthony Watson who hasn’t had much rugby due to injury was on one wing, Max Malins on the other. the aforementioned Freddie Steward was at Fullback.

Having mentioned the kicks missed Farrell started the scoring off with a long range kick, just inside the Wales half, from in front of the posts. England added a well worked try after 8 minutes after Lawrence had taken a pass almost on his boot laces from Malins. Farrell was involved twice in the build up, Dombrandt putting the final pass out to Watson on the wing who scored a flying try. Wales won a penalty from the kick off and Leigh Halfpenny made no mistake with the kick. Those were the only points of the half, the teams went in at half-time with the score on Wales 3 England 8.

I’d taken my brother, Ian, for his first visit to the Principality Stadium and being the pessimist he thought Wales might score just before half-time to take the lead, they didn’t do that, Lewis Ludlum won a very important penalty. But a Malins pass was taken by Louis Rees Zammit who was not to be stopped, he soared down the pitch to score. Wales did indeed take the lead minutes into the second half.

England’s second try was all about the forwards who went phase by phase en masse towards the line, Kyle Sinckler was the man who eventually got the ball down, that was between the posts and duly converted by Farrell. I’ve just watched the BBC ‘mini highlights’ and they really didn’t take long. `England’s third and final try was something of a highlight however; Henry Slade made a great break before Alex Mitchell on as sub Fly Half moved the ball quickly out to Steward who almost flicked it on to Lawrence who dove over with the ball in one hand. That was the game and the final score was Wales 10 England 20.

At the end of the weekend England are third with 10 points behind Ireland who remain unbeaten and Scotland. Wales sit at the bottom of the table with no points, their match in Rome is huge as far as the wooden spoon is concerned. I’ll be back to supporting Wales in Paris on Super Saturday. It’s hard to see past Ireland as winners in 2023.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.