Friday 6 February 2015 – 8.05pm
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
RBS Six Nations #1
The biggest thing I always notice when I watch an international between two top teams, such as Wales and England, is how much higher the standard is compared to the lower reaches of the Premiership. I guess that’s to be expected. The kicking from hand is so much more accurate and long, the passing so much more accurate, the pace and aggression so much higher.
Another thing is how much bigger the pitches are, so to kick from one 22 to the other, as you see Mike Brown and Leigh Halfpenny doing, you need quite a boot.
The first half of tonight’s game was quite fascinating, with England’s forwards on top a lot of the time, but also lacking discipline at times and allowing Halfpenny to kick two penalties. This guy is the best kicker in the world in my opinion, so England were a bit crazy to give away penalties just inside their own half.
Ironically, the one that Halfpenny missed was probably the easiest in the first half!
Jonathan Joseph was an unexpected but certainly not unpopular selection and I didn’t think he had much chance to do anything in the first half, certainly not to live up to his billing by some as the great savior of English rugby. As I write this though, he has just dummied and ducked his way through two tackles and scored England’s second try, and ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ is reverberating around the Millennium Stadium as George Ford kicks the conversion to make the score 16-15.
Anyway, my other thought from the first half was about referee Jerome Garces… I presume he has a dog, the amount of times he shouted “Stay!”.
The stats favoured England at the break apart from the one that mattered, the 16-8 scoreline following Dan Biggar’s snap drop-goal on the half-time whistle.
In the second half England began by putting a lot of pressure on and were rewarded with Joseph’s try.
The next big opportunity was James Haskell breaking through the centre and he’d surely have dragged two defenders over the line and scored had the post not got in the way and bounced the big flanker backwards.
It didn’t work out all bad for England though as Alex Cuthbert was sent to the bin for an offence that I didn’t see, and George Ford sent the penalty over to give England the lead for the first time.
Wales never seemed to threaten in the second half, and England were in control but you felt they needed another try. It finally looked to have come following a drive from our own Kieran Brookes, and the ball was recycled for Dave Attwood to bundle over, but it was controversially disallowed for earlier crossing by Nick Easter.
You could cut the tension with a knife as Wales probed but were pegged back past the halfway line. With just two minutes left, England were awarded a penalty far out. Ford stepped up to the biggest pressure he’s probably ever faced in his young life… but made a mockery of it with a huge (in terms of significance as well as distance) kick to put England five points ahead.
That meant of course that Wales needed a try for a draw and a conversion for a win, and were soon sent back so they had thirty seconds plus stoppage time to go the length of the pitch. With seconds to go, the referee awarded a scrum to England and that was the end of the game!
A famous, hard-fought yet thoroughly deserved win for England and a great start to our World Cup year!
A great game that might have gone the other way, but whatever the result, the 2015 Six Nations has certainly begun with a spark!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)