After a fortnight away, the Six Nations returned to our screens and the Welsh returned with a vengeance. They emphatically ended a run of five successive defeats to England in the tournament, riding the wave of a buoyant Cardiff crowd to overcome Eddie Jones’ men. The result raised a few eyebrows given England’s electric start to this year’s competition and the awkward steps made by Wales in Paris and Rome. So, which Englishmen fizzled out on Saturday and who really shone?
Ben Moon – 7
Mako Vunipola has big boots to fill, both literally and metaphorically. Ben Moon – a relative newcomer to the International scene – was the man tasked with doing so and he did so admirably. Lacking Mako’s attacking prowess, the Loosehead played to his strengths and racked up an impressive nineteen tackles during an exhaustive encounter. A seventy-seven minute shift demonstrated his durability and dependability.
Jamie George – 7.5
Like Moon, George’s contribution in defence was significant. Twenty-four tackles, with zero being missed, stands testament to the strength of his performance in Cardiff. Once again, he was reliable at lineouts, though his failure to hook the ball during one scrum put England in real bother. Nevertheless, he continues to cement his place ahead of the soon-to-return Dylan Hartley.
Kyle Sinckler – 5.5
Oozing testosterone and burning with aggression, Sinckler is rugby’s answer to the bull shark. In Dublin this was used perfectly; in Cardiff, it came at a price. In the cauldron that is the Principality Stadium, the Harlequin was twice penalised unnecessarily at vital moments. Blocking Gareth Anscombe and throttling Alun-Wyn Jones led to penalties that aided Wales in their comeback efforts. Some sizeable hits on Welsh runners redeemed him slightly, but Sinckler must learn to channel his inner beast.
Courtney Lawes – 7
Lawes did what was expected of him on Saturday. He carried manfully when given the opportunity, consistently chopped down oncoming runners, and was typically mobile around the park. A handful of Welshmen experienced his trademark tackles, shuddering as his shoulder met their midriff. Unfortunately, injury ended his day early and left England without their hitman.
George Kruis – 6
As has been Kruis’ modus operandi in this year’s Six Nations, the Lock was steady without ever looking likely to shine. Beyond an early steal at the lineout, his work was unglamorous but undoubtedly necessary. He consistently halted Welsh runners and competed well for Owens’ throws.
Mark Wilson – 6
Unable to reach the same levels as he did in the previous two rounds, Wilson nevertheless stood his own and continued to show his worth as a defender. He lost the battle of the breakdown, though was up against Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric, both of whom are artful jacklers.
Tom Curry – 8.5
Curry’s expert understanding of the game was on full display on Saturday. Reading the situation perfectly, he saw the gap and scored his side’s only try of the match. However, it was the disruption he caused at rucks, a sterling turnover, and a remarkable twenty-five tackles that truly demonstrated this young man’s ability. That he managed a respectable seven carries and gained twenty-four metres only adds to the brilliance of his performance.
Billy Vunipola – 6
As England’s key ball-carrier, there was a lot riding on Billy. He was given a hefty workload and certainly drew much attention from Wales’ defenders, but ultimately failed to get the better of them. The heavy labour looked to take its toll, as his involvement gradually faded.
Ben Youngs – 4
The Ben Youngs of rounds one and two did not turn up in Cardiff. The criticism that has been levelled at him all of his England career is that he is not consistent enough; yesterday was another example of this. He was ineffective and seemed to lose control of the match, which coincided with the Welsh revival.
Owen Farrell – 4
Farrell was targeted by Gatland and his side, with the tactic seemingly working. A handful of wayward kicks and one which was charged down suggest that his mind-set was off. A dubious first-half tackle on Anscombe may have been punished by other referees. Like his halfback partner, this was not his finest hour.
Jonny May – 5
May has blitzed his way to four scores so far this tournament, but was well shackled by Josh Adams and his colleagues. Beyond a footrace with Hadleigh Parkes moments before half-time, he did not threaten the Welsh line. Not at all a poor display, just quiet.
Manu Tuilagi – 4
A ghost in the first-half, Tuilagi suddenly energised and electrified England’s attack with one magnificent carry in the second period. Unfortunately, that spectacular moment was an isolated incident during a largely anonymous game for the Leicester Tiger. The only other moments of note were his three missed tackles; room for improvement is an understatement.
Henry Slade – 5
Much like Jonny May, this display can be characterised as quiet. In a backline filled with sub-par performances, Slade’s was one of the more reasonable ones.
Jack Nowell – 7
England’s standout back, Nowell was more involved than any of his counterparts. He actively sought out the opportunity to carry and did so with vigour. His bristling charges consistently caused Wales more difficulties than any of his teammates, whilst his tackling was both effective and plentiful.
Elliot Daly – 6
Daly was capable under the high-ball for the majority of this encounter, but came up short at the pivotal moment. Losing out to Josh Adams allowed the latter to seal a historic Welsh victory, though the result would likely have remained the same, regardless. England’s prudent game plan did not allow Daly to exhibit his usual attacking flair and incisive runs regularly, though he did threaten occasionally.
Luke Cowan-Dickie – n/a
Ellis Genge – n/a
Harry Williams – 6.5
The most impressive facet of England’s play was undeniably their defensive showing. More accurately, it was the defensive toil and broil of the forwards. Williams’ introduction continued this trend, the behemoth amassing fifteen successful tackles and keeping the scrum on lockdown.
Joe Launchbury – 6
Launchbury’s introduction brought with it an added impetus and energy around the field. He offered the same qualities that Kruis had shown all game; endeavour, a dogged work-rate, and stability. If England are to be without both Lawes and Itoje for the remaining fixtures, they have an excellent replacement in Launchbury.
Brad Shields – n/a
Dan Robson – n/a
George Ford – n/a
Joe Cokanasiga – n/a
With the vast majority of the replacements coming on too late to make any meaningful assessment of their contribution – or not getting any game time at all – one might question Jones’ substitution policy. Given that Wales wrestled the game from England in the closing stages, it may be the case that the players were sapped, their influence on the game gradually waning. Of course, the same tactic was employed in the opening weekend’s magnificent triumph away to Ireland; perhaps, the more significant factor was a baying Welsh crowd.
Give us your thoughts on this, the players’ performances, and anything else you wish to voice!
By Ed Alexander