England somehow beat Wales but massive concerns remain

England vs Wales at Twickenham Stadium

England somehow beat Wales but massive concerns remain around their game plan and attack. In an extraordinary match at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday, England somehow found a way to win against Wales. They did it whilst playing with 12 men thanks to two yellow cards and a red card to captain Owen Farrell. Given how desperately poor England were for the first 60 minutes, it is remarkable how they turned it around. Wales was truly awful in the last 20 minutes having dominated the second half and on that crumb of comfort, England fans can at least celebrate a first win in five games. Charlie Inglefield from Last Word on Rugby picks through a decidedly forgettable England performance as Ireland awaits next weekend.

England somehow beat Wales but big concerns remain

England had to take something out of this game if they were to travel to Dublin with any hope. To win having played so poorly and with Farrell sent off, Steve Borthwick has something to work with for next week against Ireland. The replacements led by George Ford and Dan Cole played their part. Those are the positives. The negatives continue to fester – specifically around England’s archaic game plan, impotent attack, and poor discipline.

Jamie George talked pre-match about getting Twickenham rocking inspired by the Ashes heroics led by Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum. In the first hour, Twickenham was rocked to sleep as England showed absolutely nothing in attack. After a promising opening, Farrell faded into obscurity together with England’s backline. For England fans, it was thoroughly dispiriting. Borthwick’s game plan relied on their forwards playing as one-out runners that were easily dealt with by a well-structured Welsh defence. As a consequence, the likes of Arundell and Daly were virtual bystanders. The omission of Henry Slade looks like the wrong call because there is zero creativity in England’s game plan.

Farrell’s absence could be a blessing in disguise

Farrell is obviously hugely important to England at the World Cup. However, Ben Youngs and Ford controlled the last 15 minutes of the game to see England home. With Marcus Smith and Ford the back-ups to Farrell England might just spark a revival of sorts outwide. Something needs to give because England have scored two push over tries in their last three games.

Farrell was back to his best for Saracens at the end of last season and we were hoping to see him bring that form to the international stage. It still hasn’t happened and with Farrell suspended for the forseeable future Borthwick has to get out of his comfort zone and launch Ford and Smith.

England’s indiscipline saw Henry Arundell, Freddie Steward, and Ellis Genge all get yellow carded followed by a stupid shoulder charge by Farrell and yet somehow England beat Wales. If England are to have any hope of getting out of their group Borthwick has to hammer home the importance of keeping 15 men on the field. On his 50th appearance, only Genge can feel slightly aggrieved with his yellow having just come on to the field.

Ben Earl, Jamie George and Elliot Daly – The positives

Rather like last week there were few positive performances to talk about with England. The Saracens’ trio of Earl, George and Daly were industrious and justified their starting roles. The impact of Dan Cole and George Ford was immediate as England came back in the final quarter. Cole anchored the Red Rose scrum after poor Will Stuart was decimated in the front row. Ford intelligently guided England around the park and took his opportunity well when Farrell went off.

Earl must be considered for the number eight jumper against Argentina depending on whether Tom Curry is fit to start. Billy Vunipola made little yardage with his running and was mostly ineffective. Earl was busy at the breakdown and taking the hard carries which is exactly what England need from the base of the scrum. It was good to see George get 80 minutes under his belt and he made some decent dents in the Welsh defence.

Borthwick has it all to do before Ireland

Borthwick is doing his best to put on a positive front as are the rest of the England camp. But it really does not get any more convincing the more we watch England play. Somehow England beat Wales but quite simply if England dish up the same as what we have seen in the last two weekends then Ireland will destroy them. Borthwick has three go-to’s as a coach. A strong set-piece, a decent kick and chase and defence. All three facets are horribly out of sync. Will it change in seven days? England fans will want to see the best possible England XV in Dublin.

I would make the following changes for the Ireland clash. In the backs, Anthony Watson should come in for Arundell. Manu Tuilagi should join Ollie Lawrence in the centres and Marcus Smith should replace Farrell (more of this in a moment). Danny Care if he is allowed to play his natural game should start at nine. Up front, Genge comes in for Stuart, Courtney Lawes skippers the side but moves to the second row to accompany Maro Itoje. Lawes’ move would then allow Jack Willis to partner Ben Earl and Billy Vunipola in the back row.

Borthwick has to get his selection right

Vunipola has one more chance to prove that he is the starting number 8 otherwise Earl and Ludlam are more than adequate replacements. Having Lawes and Itoje together in the engine room allows England to get the industry of Jack Willis in. Smith is the only player in the squad who can unlock defences and therefore having Ford finishing might be the way to go. Joe Marchant would be unlucky to miss out but England desperately need Tuilagi’s physical presence.

England somehow beat Wales but massive concerns remain around Borthwick’s imprint on this England team. In some ways Borthwick has a millimetre of breathing space this week because England are total underdogs against Ireland. Farrell’s absence will mean that either Ford or Smith runs the team and with it a slightly more dynamic game plan. For either of these England’s playmakers to thrive they need decent possession to work with and at the moment England’s set-piece is all over the place. To have half a chance in Dublin, Borthwick has to get his selection right and pray that one of Ford or Smith can get the backline moving. It’s not getting any easier for England or Borthwick.


Photo Credit: England Rugby Facebook Page on August 12, 2023.