England have gotten their 2011 Six Nations campaign off to a good start with a 26-19 win over Wales in Cardiff. Chris Ashton touched down twice for the men in white while the radar accurate boots of Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson saw that England maintained the lead for almost the whole game and were deserved winners over a Welsh side that rarely threatened the English defence.
Despite this, it was Wales who had the better start of the two teams, gaining dominance up front which led to two penalties, both from kickable positions. However they failed to capitalise on these opportunities, missing both kicks and letting a slow-starting England team off the hook.
After finally getting their hands on the ball, England worked their way up the field and after blowing one try-scoring opportunity, made no mistake when another was presented to them as Toby Flood sauntered straight through a large hole in the defence and delivered the final pass inside to Chris Ashton who touched down under the bar to get the scoring under way.
Flood would convert the try and then almost straight away land a penalty to take the score to 10-nil with Wales on the back foot.
But Wales fought their way back into the game thanks to some brainless penalties conceded by England which saw Wales kick two goals and bring the score back to 10-6. The second of these penalties also saw the sin-binning of England lock, Louis Deacon, which would see them down to 14 men for the next 10 minutes.
However, Wales were unable to take advantage of this and not only failed to score while they had a one-man advantage, they conceded three points to take the score to 13-6. A lead England would take into the break.
After both exchanging penalties, Chris Ashton then touched down for his second try after a good buildup created an overlap and it was simply a case of spinning the ball wide for England to score their second try.
With the score at 23-9, the Welsh began to play a more expansive style of rugby and ultimately looked better when doing so. It paid dividends immediately as Jonathan Davies ran a brilliant line to get on the outside of Shontayne Hape and delivered the final pass to score a converted try to take the score to 23-16.
Another Welsh penalty took the score to 23-19 and it seemed that it was game on for the last 10 minutes, but replacement first five Jonny Wilkinson, made no mistake of making sure that it would be England who would walk away with the win, kicking the final penalty to make the final score 26-19.
The most obvious problem for both teams was their inability to provide any sort of threat to their opposition with ball in hand. They were far too predictable and seemed unable to wrong foot their defender. Both sides looked to take the ball into contact but didn't give their backs the opportunity to let loose in the way that they could have. While this tactic may win games in the Six Nations, it is will be a whole different ball game come September when they have to pit themselves against the Tri Nations teams, where teams that play with more unpredictability tend to have more chance of winning.
The other problem came in the number of brainless penalties conceded. So many times there were players blatantly coming in the side or using their hands in the ruck in positions that would present the attacking team with a chance to kick at goal. This is another thing that needs to be worked on before the World Cup, as beating the likes of New Zealand and South Africa is hard enough at the best of times and almost impossible when giving away needless penalties such as these.
There was some promise in the English back line and they should look to get them more involved. Ben Foden looked dangerous when he was running with the ball, while Chris Ashton runs off his man well and has shown that he has the potential to be a world-class player. Should they give these men more freedom, they could be a real threat to teams out wide and could have a very good World Cup campaign. They showed that they could do it last year against New Zealand and Australia and looked the best of the northern hemisphere teams while playing that style of rugby, which should serve as the template for how they look to play from here on in.
Despite all this, there were a lot of positives to take out of the game for both teams and will look to build on these as their campaigns progress.
Next week, England return home to Twickenham to take on Italy while Wales travel to Murrayfield where they will do battle with Scotland.