Where did England go wrong in Cardiff?

Owen Farrell

Another round of fixtures, another twist in the tale; the 2019 Six Nations continues to intrigue and astonish. An immense victory in Dublin was followed up by a crushing defeat of the French at Twickenham, setting England on their way to a third championship in four years. Then came the Welsh. England were left speechless by a late onslaught, as they experienced their first loss to Wales during Eddie Jones’ tenure. Were they the architects of their own downfall or is there more to the story? The autopsy has begun.

The first port of call is the atmosphere at the Principality Stadium. The arena is renowned for conjuring up a hugely hostile environment for visiting teams; this is only amplified when England come to town. The sea of Welsh voices whipped up a storm as the contest drew to a close, which undoubtedly impacted on-field matters. Alun Wyn Jones and his pack were spurred on by the crowd, upping their intensity as they trapped England in their own half. Similarly, the backs grew in confidence whilst their opponents wilted. However, this was but one of many factors at play.

In the heat of battle, some England players appeared to lose their cool. The belligerent Kyle Sinckler – whose aggression is so often an asset for Jones’ side – overstepped the mark on a handful of occasions. He alone was penalised as many times as the entire Welsh contingent, a rather damning statistic.

Sinckler’s two misdemeanours in the second period were avoidable and have since drawn heavy criticism, as they offered Wales the chance to claw back points and gain territory. Nevertheless, he was not the sole culprit, with his side tripling the number of infringements that Wales made. It is always going to be difficult to keep a foothold when ill-discipline is so rife. There is simply no chance to build momentum when this occurs.

It is small wonder that Sinckler was replaced swiftly after his transgressions, though oddly his was one of only a few substitutions made before the closing stages. Jones’s decision to leave most of his replacements on the bench seems to have contributed to England’s downfall. As the game wore on, Wales’ stranglehold on the contest continued to tighten.

The workload placed upon the shoulders of the English starters appeared to be sapping them and Gatland’s men took full advantage. If we factor in England’s tackle count – which nearly doubled that of the opposition – then it seems even more likely that this substitution policy was a crucial misstep by Jones.

A counter-argument to the previous point is the success of the same tactic against Ireland. At the Aviva Stadium, Jones was equally sparing when it came to ringing the changes. I needn’t remind you how that turned out for him. Additionally, England’s conditioning has been superb during Jones’ reign, with the previous rounds of this tournament highlighting such. A boisterous crowd packed inside a Cardiff cauldron may, then, be the explanation for the events at the end of the game.

The baying Welsh crowd certainly played their part; this cannot be denied. In Dublin, England’s immaculate performance had largely pacified the home support. The same cannot be said of Saturday’s match. This, in tandem with England’s flagging energy levels, at least partially explains how the Welsh strangled the game from England in the final quarter. There was not the same deafening noise to drive the Irish on.

Jones and his coaches may not be at fault with regards to substitutions, but their on-field tactics were certainly suspect. Once more, they went with a game-plan that centred on kicking accuracy. When this failed to produce the same results it had against France and Ireland, Jones refused to twist. The tactic yielded only a third of possession for England and even less territory. This gives no basis from which to build a score; the result may well have been different had the focus switched to retaining possession and utilising ball-carriers.

The game-plan alone cannot be blamed for this defeat. For it to generate the same results that it did on the opening-weekend, the halfbacks must be firing on all cylinders. The approach works superbly when the side’s kickers are at their best; look at the previous two games for evidence of this. Unfortunately, both Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs failed to reach the requisite levels, with the whole side suffering as a consequence.

It is unsurprising that Manu Tuilagi, Henry Slade, and Jonny May were anonymous for large periods of the game when those inside them were misfiring. The statistics show how peripheral this centre pairing was; Hadleigh Parkes had as many carries as the duo combined. Considering Tuilagi’s carrying abilities are famed and feared in equal measure, it truly is remarkable to see him starved of opportunities with ball in-hand.

Very rarely did England pose a genuine threat to the Welsh defence, due largely to the fact that the backline were afforded little opportunity to challenge their opponents in open spaces. This was a result of the two issues we have just discussed; Farrell and Youngs’ failure to release them, and their poor execution of the team’s game-plan. Therefore, much of the blame for this defeat can be laid at their door. Of course, Jones should have seen the picture that was unfolding and made a change. That no alteration came makes him equally as culpable.

It is worth noting that England were without some of their top performers after injuries to Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola. For them to then lose the influential Courtney Lawes and his unique skillset compounded this issue. Vunipola had arguably been the outstanding player for any side in the tournament, so his loss was a particularly damaging one. Though his replacement Ben Moon performed admirably, he does not possess the same carrying capabilities. Had he been available, England may well have offered more in attack.

Evidently, there were a number of factors that influenced Saturday’s result. Some were more minor than others, with the sub-par Youngs-Farrell axis certainly having a strong bearing on the outcome. As they lost control of matters, the Welsh rose to the occasion and put them to the sword. Of course, none of these issues is entirely isolated from any of the others; for example, the deafening crowd seemed to impact Farrell’s performance, whilst Jones should have revised his tactics in the light of this.

The team will learn from this encounter as they prepare for their match with Italy and everything to follow.

By Ed Alexander

34 thoughts on “Where did England go wrong in Cardiff?

  1. Main reasons were
    a) Lack of precision. If you want to play a game based around kicking, then it has to be carried out with precision. Ours wasn’t.
    b) Tactical inflexibility. When something isn’t working, either through point A above, or due to the fact that your opposition has worked out what you will do and how best to counter it, you need to alter your approach. Keep doing what you’re doing – with limited returns – isn’t remotely smart.
    c) Use of the bench. If A isn’t being done to a good enough standard, or you want to change your approach (point b).
    Players need to accept their shortcomings, principally the half backs, but the real culprits behind our defeat are to be found in the coaching team.
    Mr Jones, this was not your finest hour.

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  2. It will be interesting to see how we fair against Italy. If that goes badly, even if we win, then this question must be asked again.

  3. Read responses to the prev 3 posts for reasons. 1 Jones’ intransigence, 2 Youngs & Farrell ineptitude & intransigence, 3 indiscipline. England had control @ 1/2 time! The stuff about the crowd is nebulous. England have won their last handfull v Wales, incl in Cardiff. The away crowd is always hostile. The kicking game that worked v Ireland & Fr was negated by Wales who had an effective back 3. As the game wore on in the 2nd 1/2 England’s continuing ineffectiveness tesulted in frustration, indiscipline & ensuing penalties. Wales climbed back into it. Their belief grew. England must have fatigued from their diminishing possession, territory, esp with Jones’ lack of cavalry support. Fed into Welsh hands, belief. Culminated with the inexperienced Daly’s miscalculation nr the end which clinched it. If England remain predictable & don’t develop the capacity to adapt in both terms of tactics & drafting in a few more flexible players during matches, it could be a tough WC road to hoe. The nxt 2 matches, albeit @ home v weaker opponents, could nevertheless present opportunities for England to round out their game & decision making. However, time & game’s are running out.

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        1. Why thank you Don. Let’s not keep all this agreement and back-slapping going though, things will get boring round here…

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    1. Intransigence maybe. Ineptitude…? Honestly?After one loss to a very good Wales side at home, after wins against Ireland that no one predicted, against a France team that has somehow magically rejuvenated itself after just one week and then comprehensively dismissed Scotland?

      I was initially very critical, but after watching the Wales game again I think it actually balanced on some rather finer margins than my immediate desperation generated. There’s 2 summer games against Wales, home and away to see how fine that margin really is….

      Maybe it’s that international sides are actually very close together, and I’m afraid Don that currently includes the AB’s bro…..

      From Sep to Nov 18 it was AB’s played 3 lost 2 and won the 1 by 2 points…..was that ineptitude or intransigence I wonder?

      There’s still 6 games for England to play, that’s like playing a full 5 Nations after this has ended….more than enough for changes and momentum.

      I’m still very positive about this England….put the SA tours first half attacks together with the Ireland’s game defence and angry belligerence and who knows….?

      1. Don described Ford and Farrell as inept rather than the whole team. And he’s got that bang on. Ineptitude is the right word.
        Not only is it inept at this level for a captain and fly-half not to be unable to change tactics but also both Youngs’ and Farrell’s play was inept – especially in the second half. Both were slow, hesitant and kicked too often and too poorly.
        The pack had Wales on the ropes in the first half only to see all their hard work continually booted away with no accuracy or consideration for the fact that unlike previous opponents, Wales had an effective back 3 and in particular, a top class fullback.
        Inept is the only word that fits

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        1. Think you meant Youngs not Ford Pablito. Agree they were inept. The question is, if EJ has lost faith in Ford won’t give Robson a fair crack of the whip, doesn’t rate Cips and has discarded his best scrum half in Care and his most reliable in Wiggie, where do we go from there?

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      2. Seems like you’re still smarting LW. Good to be optimistic with yr revisionism, but you may actually need to pull yr head out of yr bottom. To boot it away for 40 2nd 1/2 mins, when it wasn’t working? That’s perceptive is it? Surely, you’ve made Walter Mitty look good?

      3. Trouble is, boys, you just don’t know which England is going to turn up, do you.
        Oh, um, hang on……..

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      1. Regds SJ. Earned you a thumbs ^! See optimism as useful, but in aforementioned situation above, a dose of reality is more relevant.

  4. One issue not mentioned was the constant and cynical manipulation of the ref by virtually the whole Welsh team led by Whinge-Jones and Davies. They definitely got into Peyper’ s ear.
    There was one penalty where W-J was actually holding down the tackler while pointing out to the ref his failure to roll away. I deplore the level of thought that is given to “constructive” cheating in the modern game, and Wales under Gatland are masters of it.The offside line also seemed to be at least a metre further forward than usual which gave the England half backs very little room. Having said all that I largely endorse the general consensus and have even given Don a thumbs up, painful though it was.

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    1. I love ‘cynical manipulation of the ref’! Coming from an England fan, that is truly priceless.

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    2. Yup, Andy, penetrating analysis. England would certainly have won if Wales hadn’t cheated, and if there’d been a proper ref; oh and if the Welsh crowd hadn’t made so much demned noise, little perishers, absolutely rotten luck, what-ho?

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      1. If you read what I said a bit more closely you will see that I willingly concede that Wales were the better side on the day Taliesin and deserved to win. That does not invalidate the point that constant appealing to the ref has become part and parcel of the modern game, and Wales were both better at it and more successful than England, who have a captain who puts refs backs up. I hate to see it in any form of the game regardless of who is doing it. If it had happened in the days before “professionalism” took over the player bending the refs ear would have been marched back ten yards and told to belt up by his team mates. Not sure what the “What ho” is about, unless it is a common type of Welsh chip, commonly worn on the shoulder.

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  5. Personally I would like to see a different captain. One not in the half backs. Faz is too involved in everything as FH, it is possibly more difficult for him “sit back” and ask himself if the current tactic is working or needs changing.

    1. Tim, I’ve fairly often heard yr view echoed that the captain should be a fwd, @ the centre of things, in the action. However, ought it not be the best person for this job? Regardless of his position. I don’t see Farrell as an authoritative captain, or an analytical one with sufficient nous or intelligence to change a game plan if necessary. Hartley is often slated for his lack of playing abilities, but he keeps his rag, engages with the refs, seems to command respect & leads by example.. & hits his lineouts. Hard to state if he can read or change a game according to its needs, but Farrell certainly hasn’t displayed leadership qualities for same either. The only 1 who springs to mind for me is Launchbury. Has many quals displayed by Hartley (who may/not retrieve his place), but then Jones will have to start with him. And that’s another issue of course. So it’s likely, back to OF, for the time bring @ least. However, after his last oblivious display & his penchant for haranguing refs, I don’t see him as captain material. If Jones doesn’t reinstate Hartley, then I don’t foresee an obvious changing of Farrell, for anyone else, regardless of their posi on the pitch.

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      1. You are making a worrying amount of sense this week Don. I would go for Launch because I think he should start but EJ does not. Michael Lynagh made a fair job of being captain at 10, and Mike Gibson did the job from centre. More about the man than the position I think.

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        1. Regds, but how come no thumbs ^ then Andy? Common sense dictates that the best man for the captain’s job should be installed, regardless of his field posi.

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  6. Happy now Don? Can’t give you too much encouragement or you will begin to think people agree with you on a regular basis!

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    1. Well, regds Andy. I’m ‘contenter’ than I was, it’s true. 8 thumbs ^’s! Currently on the dog & bone to McWhirter to discuss my entry into ‘The Guinness Bk o’ Records! Happy as Larry (whoever he is)? Perhaps I’ve latterly found a sense of style that tells it like it is, but in a way that also tells the punters what they want/need to ‘hear’. Temporarily @ least! You, OTOH Andy, seem to have trodden on the Welshman, Tailiesin’s, toes by only mentioning x3 times how Wales conned the ref into 10 pens. Are you trying to be the old me? ‘Interestinger’ & ‘interestinger’.

      1. Sorry Don, I should probably have said “Following a wide ranging and exhaustive international exchange of views over a substantial number of sherberts, in the Ole Bar, Jalon, consensus was reached that a quorum agreed with the proposition that while Don P sometimes make sense this is by no means a given as he tends to see the game through one eye.” I proposed and seconded the motion and it was duly carried. Deeply sorry if I have offended Taliesin, and hope that he is not traumatised.

        1. As the punters in yr aforementioned Hispanic bar & I are unaquainted & yr comment about my ‘one eye’ is general & therefore subjective, I can only assume that, especially as you were preaching to a captive & converted audience, you & they must have been thinking of L Nelson (another notable sculling gaff in Brentford). I can’t speak on behalf of the Welsman, or anyone else of course. You OTOH, can feel free to continue doing just that señor.

          1. Ps Andy, apology accepted. And on 2nd thoughts & in the interests of non-bias, perhaps you could have substituted ‘alternative’ or ‘different’ for ‘one eye’. Can’t have you becoming an old stick in the mud now, can we?

  7. Just want to say that it’s good to see the return of good natured,witty and informed banter to this site. It’s what attracted me to it in the first place and a few weeks ago it seemed to be dying off.
    Nice one peeps!

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    1. Well, if you call Andy’s grinding his Spanish dentures, banter Acee? And he may, or may not, state ‘grathius’ for my stating so!?

  8. Farrell struggles to use his backline effectivly, this is nothing new, we were knocked out of the last world cup in the group stage becaise of this, we will be again unless jones recognises that ford is better suited to an all round game and not just kicking and tackling, he has sorted the back row out at last so there is hope, i will not be holding my breath though as farrell is popular in most quarters so it would take strength of charactor to drop him but that is exactly what i would do.

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    1. Had to give you a thumbs up for yr comment on Farrell, Collin. Especially so as you’re English. This sort of stuff tends not to go down to well, particularly when OF has been painted as the darling, or steely eyed (not one eyed as I have been for expressing similar sentiments) orchestrater of English rugby. The unpivotal like performance v Wales showed that his halo has perhaps slipped a smidgeon. One, Dany Ciprani, might have played a different tune & ended on a winning note if he’d been given a go, but it was not (nor likely will I’m afraid) to have been of course. Maybe Ford could have fared better, although he’s somewhat sus under pressure for me. Alas, for you & other English fans, I don’t foresee Jones as having the belief & vision to change things up enough to max his team’s WC chances. The b/row you state as being sorted, was only done so due to injury.

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