England stepped up their preparations for the Rugby World Cup by demolishing Wales by 62 points to 5. The brutal English pack out-muscled their Welsh counterparts, starving the opposition of any possession and allowed Brian Ashton’s side to completely dominate the match.
Wales were somewhat understrength, and supporters should be careful not to get carried away – France will provide a much sterner test of England’s credentials over the next fortnight. Nevertheless, a number of players made serious claims for a place in the final 30-man World Cup squad.
The front five looked solid and able, with Andrew Sheridan carrying the ball well at times and Simon Shaw making a significant contribution. Shaw will be pleased with his performance, but will not be resting on his laurels – in 2003, he produced a man of the match performance in one of the warm-up games and then was left out of the squad.
Number 8 Nick Easter stole the headlines with four tries, benefiting from rumbling forward drives – he probably ran a combined distance of 1 metre. Joe Worsley turned in a reasonable performance, but occasionally looked out of place at openside, once in the first half when he failed to mark his channel properly and allowed Colin Charvis to waltz through the gap between him and Jonny Wilkinson. Then he produced the worst error of the day when he butchered an overlap by going for the line himself with speedsters Dan Hipkiss and Jason Robinson outside him.
At scrum-half Shaun Perry surprised a few of his critics. He looked slimmer and more athletic, and was more dynamic in attack as a result. Despite being the object of some Welsh ‘treatment’, he made two or three sniping breaks to get the back line going forward.
Outside Perry, the backs were slightly disappointing. Behind such a dominant pack, they should have been rampant, but it seemed Ashton had instructed them to keep it tight. Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Farrell kicked for position rather than running from deep and produced a sensible performance. Nevertheless, the Farrell / Hipkiss combination looked assured in both attack and defence.
If Shaw, Easter and Perry had been released from the squad last week, there would not have been too many raised eyebrows – now Ashton has a headache. However, against France next weekend he will learn more about his players and their abilities under pressure, and the match will a better measure of England’s quality.