There were heroes aplenty on the Welsh side. Mike Phillips comprehensively outplayed Ben Youngs who had an absolute shocker, Adam Jones was the most influential player on the pitch, Jamie Roberts was back to his best and Leigh Halfpenny was superb at full back. But the man who influenced the margin of the result more than any other was referee Steve Walsh.
The English management has every right to take a tape of this game to John Jeffrey and the rest of the referees selection panel and request that Walsh never referee an England game again. Austin Healy aborted a bet when he heard Walsh was to be the ref and close analysis of the game reveals why.
Wales had an edge in the scrum but it was nothing like as wide as the 9 penalties and free kicks to 1 that Mr Walsh awarded in their favour. It became farcical in the second half when Walsh penalised Dan Cole for binding on the arm of the loosehead, something that Adam Jones had been doing all afternoon. Jones had also been driving in to split the hooker from his loosehead, again unpunished.
At one point Cole walked back from yet another award muttering ‘what was that for’ followed by bullshit. England tried replacing Marlar after 44 minutes, but Walsh then went straight after Vunipola. It was a no win situation.
Walsh’s refereeing of the breakdown was similarly farcical. He did not award one penalty for not releasing, despite the tackled player holding on quite ludicrously at times. Twice England drove over Halfpenny, who held on until Wales formed a second ruck over him.
Walsh also did not penalise sealing off, nor did he penalise the attacking side for coming in at the side and clearing out players off their feet. This made it all but impossible for the defensive side to turn over ball, except on one crucial occasion.
When Wales turned over the ball for their first try Ken Owens came in at the side and off his feet to rip the ball away from Tom Wood. Owens was not the primary tackler, Adam Jones was, but extraordinarily – in view of his zero tolerance on not rolling away – Walsh let him get away with a double penalty offence.
Yes, Wales were far, far more streetwise in picking up on Walsh’s bizarre performance and adapting to it, but without a scrummage and without any ability to turn over ball, England were lost. Towards the end of the game Alun Wyn Jones was isolated and Mike Brown, Dan Cole and James Haskell all went in over the ball, on their feet. In the background Chris Robshaw is requesting a penalty.
And a penalty it was. To Wales. Alex Cuthbert then stood over Brown – who was one of England’s best players and left high and dry for the tries – gloating in a most unattractive manner. Walsh’s reaction to all this was to lecture Brown and then immediately declare it an accident when a ball struck the England wing in the face. It was not the action of an impartial official.
Don’t get me wrong. Wales thoroughly deserved to win. They reacted to Walsh far better, they exposed the giant hole in England’s backfield defence and they produced the best bit of football in the match when Halfpenny, Roberts and Tipuric brilliantly cashed in on Warburton’s break to create Wales’s second try.
But the margin of victory was an outrage of Walsh’s making. He awarded Wales 16 penalties and freekicks to England’s 7. And of the seven he awarded England, one was meaningless (being the final penalty of a long decided match), one was unavoidable for a high tackle and the offside against Phillips was lenient, because it should have been a yellow card for a professional foul.
So when it came to partially subjective, technical calls Walsh favoured Wales close to 4-1. Indeed I suspect that over half their points would be described by Mr Cole as ‘bullshit’. He is biased of course, but then so is Mr Walsh, and that is why we had such a blow-out in Cardiff.
Without a scrum, without any way of turning over the ball and without a counter attack due to the excellence of Wales’s kicking tactics, England had almost no way of playing. So remember that when it comes to choosing the Lions, because not every Welshmen had a great game.
Richard Hibbard’s throwing wasn’t great, the locks were average, Faletau had his bad moments among the very good ones, George North committed more than one blunder. Wales were the best side in the Championship, but not by the margin that the scoreline against England suggests, and not in a way that should dominate Lions selection.