The first of these two alleged friendlies between England and Wales today was a bit of a mixed bag. Both teams were as rusty as an old gate but one showed promise of great things to come… but it wasn’t the one we expected.
Yes, England ended the 80 minutes with four more points than Wales, but in terms of defence, tenacity and creativity, it seems Wales may just have clinched the pride points. England, on the other hand seemed to be coming away with a slightly hollow victory.
For the first 20 minutes, the sides seemed quite evenly matched, Jonny Wilkinson had dispatched three points from his reliable boots and George North had gone over the whitewash for a try. The turning point came when a promising intercept by Toby Falatau was in turn intercepted by Delon Armitage, who was clumsily pulled up deep into the Welsh 22’. No points were scored, but Wales’ confidence was shaken. Clumsy mistakes and spilled balls followed from both sides with England gaining the edge enough for James Haskell and debutante Manu Tuilangi to breach the Welsh defence before Wales got their groove back.
As much as we hate to use this particular cliché, Ryan Jones in particular was talismanic (sorry) this time around, and it was obvious from the moment he took to the field that not only did he mean business, but the boys around him were going to pitch in with him. The Welsh hope started to build from that moment on and every single man in a red shirt seemed to step up a gear.
While England fell back on trademark Wilkinson drop goals when their attacks were pulling up short, Wales held their nerve to grind out two more tries, going through the phases until they had the kind of space and shape they had been severely lacking in recent tests. This was not the Wales that fell at the English sword at the Six Nations, this was a tenacious Wales with the confidence to push forward even when completely surrounded by black shirts.
That’s not to say England didn’t deserve the win, there were some fantastic performances from the Saes boys. England’s Marmite player Matt Banahan shone out with some fantastic runs and barnstorming tackles, man of the moment Manu Tuilangi was fierce enough to frighten the usually fearless Shane Williams into running into Jamie Roberts for support and Danny Care proved that it wasn’t just Ben Youngs’ residual medical niggles that had seen him pull on the 9 shirt.
The return fixture next week is now looking like a very different prospect as both teams go away and look at what went wrong and iron out the kinks in their game plans. Who can take more from the experience of this game only time will tell, but we’re very glad it’s looking towards being a more evenly matched game.
Manpilez Man of the match – Extremely hard to choose this time around, it’s almost easier to name those that didn’t show flashes of brilliance, in fact. In terms of solid 80 minute performances though, I can still only narrow it down to one for each Team, England’s Matt Banahan and Wales’ Sam ‘The Warburtron’ Warburton
Manpilez’ sniggery moment – Shane’s retreat from Manu, he ploughed into Jamie Roberts like Scooby Doo when confronted by a ghost. Hilarious, if unfortunate, stuff.