Just over two years ago, Wales came to Twickenham to kick off their Six Nations campaign and overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to win in London for the first time in 20 years. They would famously go on to record their second Grand Slam in four years.
This came after a horror 2007, where Wales only won one match in that year’s Six Nations, and were stunned 38-34 by Fiji in Nantes in the Rugby World Cup.
But their 26-19 victory over England in 2008, after trailing 16-6 at halftime, was the catalyst for an outstanding tournament for the Red Dragons.
Many Welsh would have been hoping that it was going to be a case of history repeating, with England leading by exactly the same margin at halftime in the weekend just gone (13-3 as opposed to 16-6). But credit had to be given to the home team in the ruthless manner they quickly put 17 points on the board while advantaged with an extra man, which effectively won them the game.
What was Alun-Wyn Jones thinking?
A man studying for his law degree should know better, but luckily for Wales, it could have been worse. Welsh captain Ryan Jones threw an obvious leg out at Jonny Wilkinson earlier in the half that could have been a card, or should have at least been a penalty.
Such moments of stupidity will cost matches. England will be happy that they are showing the hints of improvement that allowed them to capitalise on such idiocy. Wales will lament the fact that they are no longer a good enough side to shut down shop defensively when reduced by a man.
Still, even with this in mind, there was still hope for the visitors who appear to be losing ground as a legitimate member of the rugby hierarchy.
Despite being outgunned up front, with Wales having one of their worst days at the office in regards to lineout work and being hopelessly outclassed at the ruck (despite the heroics of Cardiff flanker Martyn Williams), they still could have won the game.
Stephen Jones, after a rather innocuous first half, began to run the show with the aplomb expected of an 84 times capped international number ten. James Hook, far and away the most dangerous back on the field, showed that despite manic and drilled test defences individual solo tries can still be scored.
Confidence and belief count for much in the gladiatorial arena of Six Nations rugby, and despite seeing a 20-3 score amidst 82,000 screaming Londoners, Wales managed to turn themselves around and come back at the English.
What would have been depressing for the red clad supporters that it was not until the game was all but out of grasp that Wales actually unlocked their attacking play early in the second half.
After a mediocre first half, where Wales’ strategy when they had possession was confusing, the Red Dragons and James Hook showed what they can do when they run with purpose.
And their defence, despite the frailties at the edge of the ruck and at the pillars, was a notch up, especially after the horror effort at Millennium Stadium against the Wallabies last year.
For the first time in many tests, Welsh players were rushing which did put England under pressure.
Injuries again did not help the cause of Wales, but there comes a time when such excuses are not longer valid.
Losing two thirds of a Lions front row did the visitors no favours, and while Danny Care had his best game in England colours which made the Welsh tight defence look ordinary, Mike Phillips would not have been so gracious with the space afforded to the English No. 9.
But if Wales went into this game seeking some answers, there are now even more painful questions to be asked, and there will likely be no quick fixes.
Their second row and loose forwards were outclassed. Luke Charteris still doesn’t look at ease as a test lock, and Andy Powell looked ineffective at blindside. As the maxim dictates, backline efficiency often depends on the quality their forwards deliver, and Wales rarely looked a cohesive unit at Twickenham, except when they turned desperate.
James Hook is now probably Wales’ best back, but it needs to be quickly decided what his best position is and keep him there. The love affair with Cardiff Blues midfielder Jamie Roberts has to end and the big man needs to be shifted out to centre. His power is an asset, but his lack of creativity is hurting the Welsh.
Hopefully Lee Byrne will quickly rediscover his touch, but the potency of the custodian and his flanking wings are largely decided by Wales’ game plan. Shane Williams continues to be unused and Tom Jones was solid, but there was little – Hook aside – threat from the Welsh three quarters.
The fight back showed that Wales are far from a spent force, and they will welcome home comforts in coming weeks hosting Scotland and France.
There will be no Slam for the Red Dragons, but if they learn from this they are still a hope for the title.
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