Gutsy Wales stun England - and their own coach Posted over 2 years ago


Photo: The Rugby Site

What an epic contest. Rarely has the mantra, ‘no guts, no glory’ been so fitting.

Another famous chapter in what has already been a thrilling Rugby World Cup was written at Twickenham as Wales took a major step towards the quarter-finals at the expense of hosts England whose tournament hopes now hang by a thread.

It was an heroic display from a Wales side that had already been decimated by injury but were left reeling from a series of fresh body blows that threatened to derail not only their chances on an unforgettable night but has called into question their ability to field a side in their remaining fixtures.

But they refused to dwell on each setback and instead of splintering in adversity, they grew stronger and drew on a formidable team spirit that is a credit to coach Warren Gatland and his coaching team.

The match-winning penalty was slotted by man of the match Dan Biggar whose excellent goal kicking offered another reminder that Wales possess more than one prolific boot, following the loss Leigh Halfpenny to injury, while his game management ensured England were never out of sight.

But Wales owe just as much to England’s shortcomings and the inquest into the latest performance from Stuart Lancaster’s side will have already begun. How did they lose a game that they controlled for so long?

It may seem wrong to pinpoint one pivotal moment in a game that swung back and forth and was punctuated so regularly by referee Jerome Garces’ whistle, but one decision in particular will come into sharp focus – a gamble that back-fired.

England were trailing by three points when, with just three minutes remaining, they were presented with a penalty deep inside the Wales half. Instead of handing the ball once again to Owen Farrell, who had already slotted five penalties, a drop goal and a conversion in a faultless kicking display, England captain Chris Robshaw rolled the dice and kicked to the corner in the search of the win.

To be fair it was not the most straightforward of kicking opportunities but given his form with the boot up to that point you would have backed Farrell to deliver and the player himself, never visibly short of confidence, insisted post game that he would have backed himself to make the kick.

But Robshaw saw the glory and the message it would send to their World Cup rivals and made a gutsy call of his own.

The lineout followed but a misaligned England pack were driven into touch by their Welsh counterparts and the chance was gone – but the memory of what might have been will live on.

A draw would not have been a disaster for England despite their failure to hold onto the lead and a successful kick would still have given them another chance to have won the game.

Fuelled with belief that his side could perhaps emulate Japan’s brave – and successful – gamble against South Africa last weekend, Robshaw may have got lost in the moment.

His side were in a strong position with a bonus point win already in the bank and a draw would have cemented their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals but instead they now face a must-win game against Australia next weekend and a potential World Cup exit just as the tournament is getting warmed up.

This tournament will be career-defining for many and for Robshaw it is that decision in particular that may endure. In the words of his coach, if you take the chance you have to ‘nail it’.

But Robshaw was not the only one prepared to gamble and as a result will not be the only one scrutinised in the aftermath of this defeat.

Lancaster chose to shake up his back line for this game as a result of an injury to centre Jonathan Joseph with Sam Burgess promoted to the midfield and Owen Farrell returned to the No.10 shirt.

It was the inclusion of Burgess that drew the most comment with the former rugby league star having made just three international appearances and only one start to this point.

He only crossed codes last November and had limited exposure at centre for Bath during last season but we were assured by the England coaching staff that he had shown them enough in training to convince them he was ready for such a role and the responsibility.

Burgess did not lack confidence as you would expect of someone of his calibre and experience of such occasions and when he was caught out it was often the excellent if excitable Farrell who was there to tidy up.

The favour would be returned by Burgess more than once as England continued to shackle a Wales side not short of energy or adventure.

The game turned for the final time only after Burgess had been withdrawn and while England’s capitulation cannot be traced to that substitution with the loss of both Ben Youngs and Billy Vunipola also critical, he had done more than enough to justify his widely-questioned selection.

For all their industry, for a long time Wales appeared out of luck as close calls continued to go the way of the hosts.

But fortune favours the brave and a gutsy Wales were eventually rewarded when replacement Lloyd Williams and scrum-half Gareth Davies combined for one of the most amazing tries Twickenham has seen in it long history – that again owed more than a little to a rare lapse in England’s otherwise impressive defence.

It was fitting that Biggar added the finishing touches that sparked unprecedented joy from coach Warren Gatland who was amazed as much by his players’ resilience as he was by the result.

In contrast, Lancaster’s astonishment will be centred on his side’s failure to win a game they appeared to have won.

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Graham Jenkins is a freelance sports journalist who has been reporting around the rugby globe for over 20 years. A former editor of the leading rugby union website, he is a veteran of five World Cups and cites England’s 2003 triumph as the most memorable moment of his professional career - closely followed by a night out with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal.

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