Wales keep England on the ropes and back star man Owen Farrell into the corner while the Anscombe-Biggar axis became Gatland’s the answer to Jones’ finishers
Mimicking the oppressive nature of a full-bodied Principality crowd baying for English blood, Warren Gatland’s Wales put on a faultless display of pressure-cooking rugby to keep an in-form English side scrabbling for footholds instead of searching for game-changing moments.
Mimicking the oppressive nature of a full-bodied Principality crowd baying for English blood, Warren Gatland’s Wales put on a faultless display of pressure-cooking rugby to keep an in-form English side scrabbling for footholds instead of searching for game-changing moments. A record-breaking twelfth consecutive victory for the Welsh and another box ticked on the path to a potential Grand Slam in a World Cup year.
Shaun Edward’s red defensive line, led by Alun Wyn Jones and Josh Navidi, had England’s number yesterday. The visitor’s early tournament momentum was stifled in a much-improved second half from the home side; greatly contrasted England’s capitulation.
The arrival of cool-hand-Dan (Biggar) dominating the kicking battle through his own ariel display and the safe hands of Josh Adams and Liam Williams went a step further in stifling yesterday’s visitors.
More often than not Owen Farrell has been the man to produce England’s point of difference in victory, dragging his side by the scruff of the collar when the proverbial hits the fan. However, it is a testament to the Welsh effort yesterday that the two-time Lions tourist and England skipper was unable to refocus his side’s attacking intent and push the Welsh out of their comfort zone.
Opposite Farrell, Gatland has two fly-halves of contrasting styles in the pairing of Gareth Anscombe and Biggar. While Anscombe brings an attacking edge Biggar cannot, Biggar offers the kicking and game management to either secure or change a game; the attributes that saw him travel to New Zealand in 2017. In a sport where stagnation can prove a fatal poison, this dynamic could become Wales’ x-factor.
Much has been said of Eddie Jones’ ‘finishers’ and their roles in either seeing out a win or turning up the heat to pry victory from the jaws of defeat. In the absence of fiery talents to compete with the explosive tendencies of Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Joe Cokanasiga, the Biggar-Anscombe axis takes a slightly serener avenue to reach the same destination.
The challenge facing Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley will be their ability to manage Wales’ emotional journey throughout the remainder of the Six Nations. Too much fire in the belly too early and Wales may find themselves treading water against Scotland (away) and Ireland (home) rather than riding the wave of their England victory and record-breaking winning streak.
Where England and Farrell are concerned, the inability to finish strong and change their point of attack to challenge a Welsh side in metronomic mood will rankle; with the added risk of festering during the final Six Nations rest week.
It may be that England rested on their laurels following their Irish and French victories, becoming too comfortable in the success of their kicking game. A step too far for Farrell having taken on the responsibility of captain, kicker and attacking lead without the support of long-running accomplices Dylan Hartley and George Ford. It’s easy to forget just how recently the captain’s armband was bestowed upon the Sarries standoff and at 27, there is plenty to come after yesterday’s subdued performance.