Following Wales’ dramatic victory over England at the Principality Stadium in round three of the Guinness Six Nations, Robert Rees looks over the performance and analyses the match. Dan Biggar’s arrival closed the game as a game of passive kicking swung the pendulum.
Dan Biggar’s arrival closed the game
Biggar’s immediate impact was felt all around the park. He upped the tempo and distributed the ball to get Wales more direct in their attack. It took just six minutes for him to send the looping pass (below) to get Wales the try.
Wales lacked a direct attack in the first half, partly because England pressed so well, but also because the attack was too passive.
Biggar proved to be a threat not only with ball in hand but also under the high ball he’s become renowned for. Gareth Davies’ box kicking was frequent and precise – Something Biggar then capitalised upon.
Wales kept England pinned down in second half via a strong box kicking game. 14 box kicks in total and a strong ball retention from the likes of Biggar ensured remained on front foot ball.
His final attacking contribution – major one at least – came with less than two minutes to go. A sublime cross-field kick to Josh Adams sealed the win for Warren Gatland’s men. The placement right above Elliot Daly’s head weighted to perfection for Adams to run on to it and score goes to show what Wales missed in terms of his kicking earlier in the game.
The game management late on in such a crucial game should be applauded, not only to Dan Biggar, but to Warren Gatland who timed the Anscombe-Biggar switch brilliantly.
It wasn’t just his offense that stood out. He was a rock in defence and got Wales out of trouble following a charged down box kick from Gareth Davies.
Under pressure and with little support near him he manages to find touch as well as distance. Relieving such pressure when you’re only three points ahead is crucial. It’s the awareness of where the space was behind the English line which makes this so special, pulling off such a difficult kick in the circumstances was one of the world class moves completed by the Northampton fly half.
Biggar’s high ball skills are as good as anyone’s. Under pressure from Jack Nowell from good clearing kick by England and yet he takes it calmly and holds out well for support to arrive.
Give credit to George North for his slight – legal – obstruction in helping Biggar take the ball unchallenged, but it’s this stone wall defence that he’s become known for that really settled Wales down.
The deep kicks from England were well defended and returned by the back three all night, but Biggar’s immediate impact in dealing with the England kicking threat was something that prevented the arrival of replacements slowing their momentum.
Passive kicking game took away momentum
Both sides gave away possession too easily on Saturday. Passive kicking often being the main reason. With 72 kicks from hand between them it was obvious that the two teams tried to implement their kicking games which had been prominent in weeks one and two, but neither really got it going consistently.
Wasteful box kicks that have no pressure from a chase and get cleared back downfield have no real gain and just wipe any momentum England had. They were on the front foot throughout the first half but killed attacks with sloppy kicks.
Wales also did this and it’s no real surprise that doing so in the first half took away their attacking platform.
Gifting England possession through some poor kicking was often why Wales were on the back foot.
Wasting possession and gifting the opposition in such a tight game can often be the difference maker. Henry Slade’s wasteful kick down the wing (below) allowed Wales to counterattack instead of strangling them and applying pressure, which it did against France and Ireland.
Liam Williams’ threat earned him the man of the match so allowing him 30m of free space to run into was poor management by England.
The kicking game wasn’t applied well by either side, a lot of kicks for the sake of kicking were employed. Territorial kicks found the man far too often as Anscombe did, below.
He’s under some pressure to charge it down, but gifting Daly easy ball is something Wales grew lucky on. England never really took advantage of the loose kicking.
England started to show some promise in what they wanted to do in the second half, but just lacked the accuracy they had in rounds one and two.
Here Owen Farrell sends the grubber kick through – A kick they only chose to implement three times all game – but it just lacks the depth to stay in field that bit longer which applies pressure on the Welsh defence.
The final kick we’ll look at is one from super-sub Dan Biggar. Wales only led by three at this point and so hadn’t accumulated enough pressure to afford a poor kick. No chase and with a mark called England could reset and clear their lines.
Wales had territory and just needed to keep the phases going and keep England on the back foot.
English line speed ruins Welsh isolated runs
England strangled Wales for 50 minutes. Their line speed lost Wales territory and caused the sloppy kicking that’s been aforementioned.
A combination of slow ball and one up runners allowed England to tackle in pods and force Wales backwards, causing further slow ball. It was this early pressure that pushed Wales into a kicking game when they didn’t want to be in one.
Wales needed to carry in pods. They were isolated which left Gareth Davies under pressure, but also forced more forwards into rucks than necessary.
England worked well in this area. Tackling in pairs allowed them to be on the front foot and keep the line speed high. They didn’t commit many men to the rucks and Wales couldn’t deal with it until the second half.
In the same set of phases Francis gets drilled in midfield. The quick line speed again paying dividends as England force slow ball and limited Wales’ chances at scoring points.
If England could have kept this up for 80 minutes there’d be a high possibility, they’d be on the Grand Slam rather than Wales.
England tackling in pairs was a well utilised tactic. Knowing Wales were going to try and keep it tight for large periods with some powerful carriers, they knew it would eliminate that threat. Even hardened carriers like Alun Wyn Jones couldn’t bust through.
The second half changed things up and Wales were able to get some gain line success. England’s quick line speed was often matched by quick ball carried into the pillars at the breakdown.
This was shown brilliantly in the 35 phases of Cory Hill’s try where every man on the field except Gareth Davies carried the ball.
It wasn’t completely taken out of the equation as Hadleigh Parkes runs at the defence he becomes isolated and the support arrives too late. Tom Curry wins the turnover and England relieve the pressure (below).
Another major issue Wales had in the collision area was the ball going to deep from the ruck and the runners taking the ball whilst standing still. This highlighted England’s line speed further as well as allowing them to get over the ball.
Here Hadleigh Parkes gets the ball to his captain, but with a flat pass and stationary carrier England quickly snuffed out the threat and applied pressure back on Wales.
”Main photo credit”