England took a huge step forward by beating Wales in Cardiff on Saturday. Steve Borthwick will know a whole lot more about his team, particularly his forwards, who are growing in confidence with every game. England’s back row was superb with Alex Dombrandt, Jack Willis, and Lewis Ludlam all having outstanding games.
Wales was disappointing but one cannot underestimate what their players had to go through in the weeks leading up to the match. For all of the positives, Owen Farrell, England’s captain had another tough day at the office and his position must be under threat with George Ford and Marcus Smith waiting in the wings. Charlie Inglefield reviews England’s performance.
Owen Farrell struggling to fit into England’s gameplan
Owen Farrell’s performance against Wales was once again a mixed bag. There were a couple of nice touches to put Max Malins away by running to the line and passing inside. But, it was the basics that Farrell has done so well in his illustrious career to date that is beginning to fail him. His kicking from the tee has been alarmingly off, missing four in Cardiff on Saturday. Against England’s next two opponents, France and Ireland, those points could lose England a test match.
Another side to Farrell’s game that is off at the moment is his tactical kicking. Winning the territory game is such an important part of Steve Borthwick’s strategy and it was Jack van Poortvliet who stepped up in that regard with the accuracy of his box kicking. Farrell will never have the creativity of Finn Russell and he doesn’t need to as long as the other parts of his game are working well. At the moment, Farrell is struggling to keep his place on the England side and he does not look comfortable with Nick Evans’ attacking structures.
Ollie Lawrence has finally given England an attacking outlet to launch from and his partnership with Henry Slade looks promising. Farrell is being challenged to give his centres more ball to work with and if England’s attack is to flourish then they need Farrell to step up in his attacking role. Given England’s dominance in Cardiff, it would have been interesting to see how Marcus Smith would have gone. Time is running out for Owen Farrell and Steve Borthwick has a potentially very difficult decision to make sooner rather than later.
England’s defense have its bite back
A big positive for Kevin Sinfield and Steve Borthwick was the ferocity and desire in defense. Wales scored an intercept try and never really looked like breaking England’s defensive line. Lewis Ludlam and Jack Willis led the way, smashing Welsh attackers before the gain line and giving Wales barely any room to breathe. It was refreshing to see England’s success in making dominant tackles, a particular highlight was the hit that Ellis Genge put in on Leigh Halfpenny. There is so little margin for error in the timing of these tackles these days and England executed superbly.
The balance of the back row really shone in Cardiff with Dombrandt, Willis, and Ludlam all doing their jobs. Alex Dombrandt had one of his best games for England with his ball-carrying and sending Anthony Watson over for England’s first try.
Ludlam and Willis are fast becoming the ‘kamikaze’ tacklers that Eddie Jones so enjoyed with Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. They were both phenomenal in stopping the Welsh runners in their tracks and were a constant menace in and around the ruck. This trio looks set to be together for the remainder of the Championship and they deserve to be there.
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England’s backline beginning to take shape
It is not perfect, far from it, but England looked a bit sharper out wide on Saturday. Anthony Watson’s try was a delight and for a coach, it is always satisfying to see a backrower (Alex Dombrandt) send his winger in. Owen Farrell used Max Malins wisely on the inside line, the first of which led to the Watson try. Ollie Lawrence continues to impress and in the second half, Henry Slade started to look more menacing. Freddie Steward ruled the skies once again and he was also on hand to put Lawrence over to seal the game for England.
To be competing with the likes of Ireland and France, England will need to finish off its territorial dominance. A number of tries were left out there and chances went begging. Also, Henry Arundell and Marcus Smith should have been given more playing time against Wales. They are England’s most exciting attackers and Borthwick should be braver in turning to them in the final quarter. England had space to move on Saturday and Arundell and Smith would have loved that freedom to showcase their skills.
England can look forward to France
France have been a tad lucky in this championship with squeaky wins against Italy and especially Scotland on Sunday. England’s set piece will be under pressure but if they can continue to improve then they have a great chance of turning over France in a couple of weeks’ time.
Steve Borthwick will surely not drop Owen Farrell over the next three matches but time is running out for the England captain. If England have serious designs on competing with the best then Marcus Smith must be considered.
“Main photo graphic courtesy of England Rugby Facebook page“