All the indicators were there. The weather, the selections and the pre-game discussions. This was going to be a tight game and a return of old school England for a 6 Nations test match.
Eddie Jones has taken his England side to the hard grounds of Australia and Argentina and won. The Tasmanian has also dominated the 6 Nations, from the wind and rain of Scotland to under the roof of the Principality. It seems the deep-thinking Australian wants to prove that England can win any kind of match in almost any conditions.
In the build-up to the 2018 incarnation of this oldest of grudge matches, Jones made a point of introducing the notion that England will have to play ugly.
Substitutes are no longer the name for those on England’s bench, after the Australian coined the phrase ‘finishers’. This distinction was to promote the idea that the final quarter is key, and a time for England to up the pace and demoralise their opponents.
Ben Youngs’ injury allowed the first insight into what the England management were planning for this game. The selection of Richard Wigglesworth over the more energetic Dan Robson or youthful Ben Vellacott pointed to the control Eddie wanted. A return to an old school England and winning at any cost.
On its own this selection could just be Jones wanting some experience late in the game to call upon. But place it with the reversal in the centre of picking Jonathan Joseph to start ahead of Ben Te’o and perhaps there was more to his gameplan?
Now it appeared that England were going to up the pace from the first kick off and grind it out in the final moments.
The gameplan, tactics and control all come from England’s key player at the moment, Owen Farrell. He is an assured presence outside fly-half George Ford and the two play-makers kicked consistently behind the Welsh wingers. This management of the game is key to England’s success as rarely do the men in white play rugby in the wrong area of the pitch.
Attack can win you a game, but defence will win you a championship. The old adage is as true now as ever before in this most historic of tournaments. Jones has had his players developing all kinds of skills in training camps but the victory over Wales is in part due to the judo expertise harnessed from one player, Sam Underhill.
It was an incredible sight to see the second half substitute close down Scott Williams on the wing and flip him in the tackle. A symbol of the intent and desire instilled in this team.
Defensive solidarity also comes from the back. ‘Man of the Match’ Mike Brown was immense under the high ball. The Welsh kicking game may not have been world class but Brown made the pitch extremely small with exceptional positioning.
This England side is not perfect and there are plenty of areas for improvement, particularly in attack. But an ‘old school England victory’ in an old school game shows this team have a strong core. Grit is installed in every single player from their enigmatic coach and is returned in kind.
Knocking this side off their winning trajectory – victory in 23/24 matches under Jones – will take some very creative thinking.
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