England vs Wales
The show starts with a video package with typically overwrought voice-over from Eddie Butler. Still gets me excited though.
The studio team all think that Wales are the favourites and that England have nothing to lose. I start to get nervous.
Footage of both teams getting off the bus shows us that all sports players love Beats by Dre headphones; they’re not just for NBA players.
John Inverdale on England’s inexperienced young players at 8, 9, and 10: “So, do they have a weakness at the heart of their spine?” And is there strength in the spleen of their liver? [Adopting the Scottish name-based psychological warfare tactics, viz. Evans & Jones on the wings, England’s newbie No. 8 is not only called Morgan, but also plays in Wales, for a team that wears red. Subterfuge! In a further display of outrageous impudence, England have also selected players sporting such traditional Welsh handles as “Botha” and “Tuilagi”. Devious saes!] Lee Dickson, incredulous at the idea that he doesn’t have much experience with the other two new starters, “When you say we hardly know each other, we probably know each other a lot more than people think, we’ve been together now for four weeks.” (Emphasis mine.)
Friend-of-WYWG, Ed reports over Twitter that Inverdale mentioned before the Ireland game that England have a “dressing room”. The more manly Welsh get ready in a changing room.
According to Dallaglio, Owen Farrell is “a player for the future but also he’s ready now.”
I skip past some more stuff about England and find myself watching Jeremy Guscott walking through a scrapyard. Baffling.
Inverdale, “There is no more-Welsh phrase, I don’t suppose, than that of, ‘tidy darts’.” Has Inverdale ever even been to Wales? Met someone Welsh? Met someone that has been to Wales? [See if you can complete this “traditional” Welsh phrase: “John Inverdale is a complete…”]
Rhys Priestland’s gang sign is rubbish. He enjoyed the last game of the last Six Nations, he enjoyed the World Cup, and he’s enjoying playing now. Enjoyable!
The player cards they show when running down the teams include video head-shots of the players doing Blue Steel. It’s pretty amusing.
Guscott thinks the Twickenham crowd will “go wild if they see [the England back three] running.” Tough crowd.
It’s the Sonja and Colin show! Sonja really rubs in the fact that Charvis never managed to win a game at Twickenham. “FOUR TIMES you came to Twickenham in a Welsh jersey and FOUR TIMES you lost HAHAHA YOU SUCK ING-GER-LAAAAND!” Okay, maybe she didn’t say that last part. Colin doesn’t have any mixed metaphors for us today. Boring.
Eddie Butler thinks that England should have played Parling (a second row) on the wing. For height. [In his own mind, Butler is quite the wag. In my mind, he’s quite the wa-something. Okay, maybe not a complete wa-something, but he just bends so far towards England so as to avoid accusations of bias that I can’t stand it. I want him to be a bit more of a fan, admit he’s Welsh, in fact used to captain Wales, and is therefore less than impartial and bloody nervous. (WYWG: Eddie Butler went to the same high school as Wayne Barnes. True story.) ]
Steve Walsh is reffing. Eddie Butler is commentating on his own? I hope Brian Moore is okay. Oh no there he is. He does sound like he’s got an entire bread roll stuffed in his mouth, though. Maybe he was playing an impromptu game of Brian Moore’s Maw?
Wales win a lineout and then George North! streaks through the line, without anyone even attempting to tackle him. [Imperious stuff from Wales, flawless lineout (yep, you read that right), and fantastic flicked inside ball from Phillips to GN! Looks like try time…] He’s tripped by a tap tackle a few yards short. [David Strettle just earned his match fee. A fantastic tackle.] Priestland chips into the goal area, but the ball bounces long and over the dead ball line. [Poor option, and poor execution from Priestland there. Chalk it up to early nerves.]
George North! makes another run up the touchline this time, but he’s bundled (just) into touch.
England are awarded a penalty, but their kick misses touch. They’re awarded another penalty on the halfway line, and this time Farrell makes touch to give them an attacking lineout. Not straight. Wales scrum. Brian Moore on the wonky throw-in: “That is the sort of thing that is Not. Acceptable.”
Big collision between Jamie Roberts and two English tacklers. Double hit!
Nick Mullins hilarity aside, this is definitely my favourite commentary pairing. Brian Moore wears his partiality on his sleeve (brazenly, like Jonathan Davies—and this somehow means it doesn’t irritate me) and he really knows the game, and more importantly, is able cogently to express this knowledge. It’s also endlessly amusing to hear him frothing at the mouth at (more usually unremarked upon) bits of poor play or officiating. He is great. Eddie Butler is a good commentator, even though I find him personally disagreeable for the reasons Tom mentions above, and every now and again he will say something entertainingly ridiculous. And the two have good chemistry. Good stuff!
Phillips runs five yards sideways, pops it to a forward, and then runs into said forward, impeding the latter’s run. Ugh. [For every time Good Mike Phillips makes a delicious inside pop to a rampaging winger fully exploiting the quality of off-the-top lineout ball, then there comes Bad Mike Phillips doing something dozy like this. Perhaps he was sent to walk amongst us to embody the ineffable duality of existence, to be the living, breathing, slightly over-groomed human crucible of Yin and Yang—a red-shirted manifestation of the ancient notion that to err is human. Or, y’know, he’s a big lump who plays like an extra flanker, is going to take a wrong option or two in every game, and is not about to turn into a classical scrum half a la Rob Howley or Robert Jones any time soon.]
Fantastic take of a high ball by Halfpenny. He’s hit hard by Croft but bounces right up and then evades another tackle for good measure. [I might have mentioned this before, but I think Halfpenny is really very good. A bit special.]
We have a little break for an injury. It’s been a hectic pace so far. I’m exhausted.
Eddie Butler tries to pass it over to Andy Nicol as play starts up again, but for once the BBC decide it might be better to just show the match as it takes place.
Wales have a long series of play, but don’t make much ground. As we get into the 12th and subsequent phases they slowly start to grind forwards. About 7 yards out, they’re awarded a scrum. We go to Nicol. He points out that it was Morgan’s fault that George North! ran unimpeded through the line earlier in the game. Inexperience! [FWIW, Nicol’s analysis pieces are not bad—it’s just shoe-horning them into live play that often makes them irritating. They should do this stuff at half-time maybe, use up some of Inverdale’s wittering time.]
Welsh scrum marches forward, and the English pack completely disintegrates. Penalty. [Of the areas I expected Wales to have the upper hand today, I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to have quite such a clear edge in the scrums. Perhaps the Parling/Botha second row is a little lightweight relative to the Jones/Evans version in red? (Not the Scottish wingers.) An earlier stat box did point out that Wales are 7kg heavier PER forward, but I had assumed that was mostly Adam Jones.] Butler: “Leigh Halfpenny has been calmness itself.” [What else would you expect? In Latin, I think the phrase is, “non flusterabile”. (Pretty sure that’s right.)] But he misses this one. [Okay, yes, he is a bunny for the commentators curse though, clearly.]
Brian Moore is disgusted that the Welsh front five’s effort has thus gone unrewarded. How angry do you think he must have got when his good play didn’t result in any points due to team-mates’ errors? [Or imagine if he were your dad and you, say, butchered an overlap in your under-8s mini-rugby game of a Sunday morning. Ooh, the wrath…]
20 mins in, Wales have had 72% of the possession and most of the territory. [I am beginning to get concerned that those impressive stats have translated into zero points.]
Faletau goes offside. Dickson takes it quickly and the crowd wakes up. [Twenty minutes was obviously enough for them to finish their prawn sandwiches.]
Butler keeps calling Tuilagi, “Tuilangi”. Has he been taking diction lessons from Jonathan Davies? [I think they should all adopt Jiffy-pronunciation as a default. Never knowingly under-syllabled.]
England have a penalty-advantage, so Farrell has a punt at a long drop goal. He misses it, but kicks the penalty.
England 3 - 0 Wales
Butler: “Wales have had most of the play—England have all the points. Only three of them.” England immediately give away a penalty after the kick-off. Moore says, “That’s the sort of penalty that drives coaches mad.” I think he might be projecting a little.
Halfpenny, from almost exactly the same spot as his miss, hits this one.
England 3 - 3 Wales
George North! has terrible technique when catching the restart. Hands like glue, though. He allows himself to be tackled into touch though, and England have an attacking lineout. They attack. Great tackle by Warburton on Tuilagi [Butler and Moore, in unison, if not harmony: “What a tackle!”] England have a penalty. Botha crunched in a tackle. England pass goes nowhere, and Walsh calls it up for the penalty. He gives Roberts a talking to for going offside. It’s the bin for him if he does it again. BBC show us a replay of Warburton’s tackle. It was indeed really good, (and prevented an otherwise certain try).
England 6 - 3 Wales
Butler: “This is the power of Morgan!”
England start an attack from their own half.
Farrell puts a little chip through, catches it and then is dumped on his ass by George North!. He then tries it again, but this time Halfpenny catches it. England looking confident now, much to my chagrin.
Eddie Butler, handing over to Colin Charvis, describes him as, “breathless as the rest of us.” Not sure whether it was intentional, but that has very pleasing assonance.
Wales penalty just outside the English 10m line. Halfpenny hits it perfectly.
England 6 - 6 Wales
Eddie Butler, bizarrely, thinks this game is a “slow burner”.
Tuilagi is smashing through Welsh tacklers every carry. This time Priestland bounces off him. At one point Wales had had 33 phases to England’s 4. Now it’s 39 to 36.
England attack again. And win another penalty. They’re getting quick ball, and definitely seem in command. [Have to give some credit here. England weathered the early storm, and have had the better of the second quarter. Very finely balanced here, uncomfortably so.]
England 9 - 6 Wales
Lee Dickson waits out the final minute or so with the ball at the base of the ruck (seriously… he was standing over the ball for a really long time) and then kicks into touch to end the half. Any thoughts on that bit of time-keeping, Tom? [Never mind the end-of-half ambition vacuum that I have repeatedly expressed my dislike for in the past, the bigger issue today—and it’s Phillips as much as Dickson—is this abject practice of leaving the ball just inside the ruck for minutes on end. A new law needed here—but what? A time limit once ball at back feet? Hard to police, but this part of the game is pretty dire for the spectator as it stands.]
Half-time score: England 9 - 6 Wales
Inverdale is determined not to lose any more matches to Jason Mohammed, and brings out the big guns: “And so, a half of two halves, really [chuckle].” “George North! could have scored in the very first minute but had his legs taken away. And then had the rest of him taken away, and bottom and such.”
Okay, everyone is saying Tuilangi now. Is that just how it’s pronounced? [Er, yes—isn’t it the same unwritten “N” that meant Va’aiga Tuigamala became “Inga” the Winger?]
Charvis is still saying Tuilagi. Did he not get the memo? Disappointing showing from Sonja and Colin: they managed a completely sensible segment including actual analysis.
Stats! …are pretty much completely equal. Nothing interesting to report. [Tsk, tsk, WYWG, such equality of numbers is surely of particular interest in itself?]
Inverdale: “It’s amazing how the pendulum’s swung.” That’s just how pendulums work, John.
Guscott. “It’s been an awesome game of rugby even though we haven’t had any tries. The commitment from both sides, the collisions, the tackles, the scrambling, the first-up hits, the hits in the scrum, the nicked lineouts, it’s just been action, action, action.” Brilliantly summed up. [Agreed. He can waffle on a bit sometimes can Guscott, but he’s right on the nail/head interface there.]
Inverdale says that England are “in the ascendancy.” I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard this phrase used outside of sports, but in rugby commentary it’s used a lot. Next year I’m keeping count over the entire tournament.
That Strettle tap tackle really was superb. From the replay he doesn’t appear to even touch him. I think the game may have taken on a completely different flavour if that tackle hadn’t been made and Wales had scored. And yet it’s not even the tackle of the game! Warburton’s on Tuilagi was even better.
Andy Farrell really enjoyed George North!’s tackle on Owen Farrell. It’s tough love in the Farrell household.
Andy “The Count” Nicol: “ONE Owen Farrell, AH ah ah ahhhh.”
The studio team, not unusually, focus mainly on the English performance1. For once, though, I can’t really blame them. Wales dominated the first twenty minutes with their physicality, but, other than the early break by George North!, they never looked like they might score a try. Afterwards, though, England had all the possession, and played uncharacteristically expansive, exciting, [if a little imprecise] rugby. Damn them. [Well yes, damn them indeed, but on the plus side, the Welsh defence has been first rate, as usual, and the Welsh scrum has been absolutely DOMINANT, less usually.]
Dallaglio thinks that the secret for England is to keep the game in the Welsh half of the pitch. Inverdale, having repeatedly said that Farrell has been “nervous”, now thinks he has “nerves of steel.”
We go back to Eddie Butler for the start of the:
Brian Moore will be on Desert Island discs tomorrow. He thinks he’ll be able to start an argument by himself.
Wales lineout. Scott Williams, on for Jamie Roberts, gains a couple of yards in his first carry.
Phillips finds himself with ball but with no ruck in front of him. He runs it himself, isolated, and Warburton goes off his feet in an attempt not to lose the ball. Penalty.
Wales turn the ball over, but kick it away for territory.
Priestland has a clearance charged down despite being a good fifteen or twenty yards back from the ruck, and then goes offside in an attempt to spoil the try. Into the bin with him. I start to feel very sick. [This comes from precisely the kind of ruck-dawdling I was complaining about a minute ago. Bad Mike Phillips.]
England 12 - 6 Wales
George North! and Jonathan Davies make up about 40 yards between them after a high kick. Wales play through some forwards phases in an attempt to run down the clock. [Good Mike Phillips is doing an absolutely brilliant job of marshalling this savvy Welsh response to the yellow card.]
Lydiate makes a little 10 yard break round the side of the ruck. Wales spin it out, but the English line is up fast and snuffs out the attack.
Terrible short pass from [Bad Mike] Phillips to Warburton, but Warburton keeps hold of the ball. 21 phases in, they’ve eaten almost 5 mins off the clock, and then Walsh awards England a penalty.
England lineout on the Welsh 22.
Great tackle from Jonathan Davies and the ball goes flying back to the halfway line. He chases, and Walsh awards Wales a penalty. Turns out it should’ve been a knock-on against Davies.
England defending, concede a penalty in their own half.
Halfpenny takes his time setting up the penalty. Walsh: “Let’s go, boys. Oy! Let’s go.” Halfpenny makes the kick.
England 12 - 9 Wales
Ryan Jones comes on for Alun Wyn Jones. Butler says that AWJ hasn’t played any rugby, which I think is a bit harsh, but it turns out he’s talking about in other matches, not today.
George North! again catches a high ball with outstretched arms. The first time he knocks one of those on I’m going to shout at him a lot.
Tuilagi has a chance to run from deep, but Ryan Jones brings him down.
Knock-on by England, and Priestland comes back on. Wales actually gained three points while they were a man down. [A monumental 10 minutes from Wales. With the benefit of ScrumV-watching hindsight, I can add here that Wales kept the ball for 8 min 30s of the 11 min 25s that passed in the absence of Priestland. That is immense.] I still feel sick, though. [Fair enough, if only you had Brynmor Williams’s Stat-Pad to ease your nausea…]
Moore is mortified by the officials’ failure to spot Adam Jones’s illegal binding in the scrum. “They’re not watching and they don’t care!”
England turn the ball over at the halfway line and attack. Again Priestland bounces off Tuilagi. Get right back on the horse, Rhys. Wales turn it over, but then England win it right back.
Courtney Lawes comes on for Botha, and Ben Youngs comes on for Dickson.
England steal a lineout. I am starting to feel very bad about this. They concede a penalty to calm my nerves a little. Priestland misses touch! [His pallid complexion rules out him being Lee Byrne in disguise, but am beginning to wonder.] He then receives the ball after England’s kick, runs it himself, and Halfpenny is forced to go in off his feet to stop the turnover. Priestland’s not having his best game in a Welsh shirt, today. The kick is in front of the posts, but long, and Farrell pulls it [and seemingly his hamstring or something similarly painful-looking at the same time. A shame for him to be injured, he’s had a fine game.]
Halfpenny makes a great save after a very good English kick, evading a tackle. He then very obviously runs into his own man and starts a de facto maul. One of the English forwards throws his hands in the air at the no-call, but Walsh thinks it’s fine.
Moore makes the point that Wales tactics are completely not working. They keep kicking for territory, but every time, England just run or kick it back and Wales don’t actually make any ground.
Farrell and Corbisiero come off. Matt Stevens and Toby Flood come on.
2nd half territory: England 62%. Dallaglio was right!
Welsh scrum in the English half.
Moore isn’t very happy about that decision, “‘Head on head’. It’s very dangerous is ‘head on head’. Vastly more dangerous than a collapsed scrum.” He is being sarcastic. “I dunno what the referees… They’ve never played in the front row—they don’t know what they’re talking about.” Ben Youngs gives away a penalty by tackling Faletau before he’s actually picked the ball up from the scrum. Moore: “That is clueless from Ben Youngs.” Walsh lets them play advantage.
Wales attack. Scott Williams is through the line! Foden makes a try-saving tackle. Why didn’t Williams pass for the certain try? Advantage is over, and England steal the ball. [The support runners, were perhaps a yard too deep, but my god that’s the sort of overlap-ignoring that I haven’t seen from a Welsh centre since Mark Taylor retired. Gatland is gonna tear him a new one for that.]
Warburton is brought down in the air at a lineout [rush of blood from England captain Robshaw, there], landing heavily on his side. Butler and Moore (and me) [and me] think it’s baffling that that’s not even worth a yellow compared to the instant red for a tip tackle.
Apparently Priestland makes a great kick for touch, but I will have to take Eddie Butler’s word for it because the BBC are busy showing us several different angles of the transgression at the lineout.
Wales continue to attack. They’re not looking much like scoring, but England give away a penalty—hands in the ruck. [It’s easy to confirm that was the offence, as prior to the whistle, Walsh was bellowing “WHITE 17 HANDS OUT” loud enough for the top tier of the stand to hear him. White 17 did not heed this advice.]
Halfpenny has an easy chance at goal.
England 12 - 12 Wales
8 mins left to play.
Hartley and Morgan come off. [English subs not really up to much so far—see “WHITE 17!” above. And Wales have hardly subbed anyone. The Gdansk Effect!] George North! catches the ball with outstretched arms, so I don’t shout at him. Filthy, cheating, off-the-ball hit from Lawes (I think) on Gethin.
England attack, but then Ben Youngs [the sub] completely loses the plot and throws the ball away, despite having a choice of about 4 players to pass to.
Five minutes left. Leigh Halfpenny receives the ball at the halfway line, but after he’s tackled, there’s a non-existent Welsh ruck, and England win the ball.
All of a sudden Scott Williams rips the ball off Lawes [the sub], kicks ahead, gets a lucky bounce and scores a try! I am on my feet, screaming. I can’t think of anything to say about that. Just awesome. [You could hardly have a more “Boy’s Own” solo try—21 years old, off the bench to win the Triple Crown for your country. And solo as it was, it started from a three man gang tackle on Lawes—Warburton, Evans and Williams together, seconds after we’d turned it over ourselves, just a fantastic illustration of the Welsh defensive work ethic today.]
Halfpenny converts, and just like that, Wales are up by seven with only four minutes to play. [I think Scott Williams may now have avoided the new-one tearing referred to above. Which is nice.]
England 12 - 19 Wales
I’m simultaneously joyous and frantic with nerves.
Croft wins the ball after the restart. England will have a chance to draw level.
Tuilagi again requires 3 players to be brought down.
Flood puts a little kick over the Welsh line, will Strettle beat George North! to the ball in the corner? North bats it into touch [legal?] and it’s an English lineout. Wales steal the ball after the lineout, but give away a penalty. England kick for another lineout. It’s scrappy, and there’s a ruck. Great tackle from Warburton on Cole. England work their way across the pitch with forwards phases. Wales again turn it over but again concede a penalty doing so. England kick for another lineout with 20s remaining. They win this one cleanly and maul. Wales drive them back momentarily, but then England push back. Penalty, but that’s not enough for England. England spin it wide. LOooong pass, [which Brown (the sub) ships on a fraction too early, but still] surely Strettle will score! Two Wales players (Halfpenny and Davies) smash him hard, [Halfpenny makes the first contact, launching himself like a loony head-first at Strettle’s knees, then as Strettle contorts over the top of Halfpenny, Davies clatters in flipping Strettle almost onto his back], (Double hit!) but Strettle’s momentum takes him over the line [and simultaneously, George North! slides in along the goal line at full throttle, in a desperate attempt to stop Strettle contorting his arm into a position to apply downward pressure,] and we’ll go to the video ref to decide whether he grounded the ball. [Can you tell that the Beeb gave us a *lot of replays of this particular three seconds of Saturday afternoon?]*
It’s pretty unclear. Moore thinks it might be a try. Butler thinks it isn’t. Moore doesn’t think the ref can give it, though. My gut feeling is that Strettle probably did ground it, but that you cannot see conclusively from the replay. Video ref agrees. No try, and time is up. Wales have, for the first time ever, won the Triple Crown in England.
Final Score: England 12 - 19 Wales
Could you get a closer finish?!
Moore gives man of the match to Warburton. I’ve mentioned him a few times, but he also did a lot of great hustle-work that I didn’t write about. [As did Sam’s back-row colleagues Lydiate and Faletau. Definite advantage Wales across the back row today. Likewise in the front row, where Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins put in performances worthy of their reputations, and Ken Owens acquitted himself admirably on his full début. Ryan Jones had an excellent twenty minute cameo. Ian Evans was a real handful, and North and Halfpenny were the pick of the backs for me.]
Davies thinks England were brilliant defensively. I can’t disagree. [I think both sides were.]
How heartbreaking for England to lose based on a single bit of play by Scott Williams after, if I’m honest, being in the driving seat for two thirds [five-eighths, tops] of the match. I, obviously, am jubilant.
Sonja attempts to goad Warburton into jinxing himself by asking him what happened the last time Wales won at Twickenham in 2008. He won’t comply, though. [Sam is such a sensible captain. He should have a nickname that encompasses that concept.]
The studio team don’t think Farrell should be blamed for his one missed kick. They do keep harping on about it, though.
Jonathan Davies is the only member of the commentary team other than Charvis who pronounces Tuilagi as it is spelt. Okay, that concludes it. It’s definitely pronounced Tuilangi. [Hard to imagine a more reliable pronunciation guide than “something different to how Jiffy says it”.]
I can tell this was a good match by the vast number of typos I’ve made. It’s gonna take me a while to tidy this one up for publication.
Guscott and Dallaglio think Strettle did get the ball down in the final play. Jonathan Davies says he doesn’t, but you can hear the massive grin on his face as he says so. Dallaglio concedes that there’s no way the video ref could have given it.
Ken Owens is an awesome interview! He is exceedingly Welsh, in a way that you don’t often get to see on TV. (i.e. he’s not from the Valleys.) [Scott Williams, by way of contrast, is clearly a recent graduate of the Leigh Halfpenny school of sincere-but-100%-cliché/management-speak interview techniques. Still, we’ll let him off his public-speaking shortcomings today, shall we?]
Conclusion: Possibly most entertaining performance I’ve ever seen from England. Another unconvincing game from Wales. But yet, another win. Great match.
[Conclusion: I think I can count the times I’ve seen Wales “win ugly” on pretty much any small-numbered thing you care to mention. Work rate, scrum, defence, belief all astonishing today. Overall game management, ability to vary tactics, kicking from hand—not so much. But they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (okay, the jaws of a draw), and I’ve seen the opposite snatch manoeuvre so many times, that I’m just ecstatic. Silverware!]
Coming back to this a little later on, I have a couple of extra things to add on Wales’s performance and the continuing feeling I’m having that something is different about this team. Firstly, the Williams try and George North!’s early break were both the sort of sudden, match-changing occurrence that we could reliably expect the old Wales to have go against them. Having this sort of thing fall in our favour really feels novel.
Secondly, and more importantly, I don’t feel I stressed enough the importance of the Welsh performance while Priestland was in the sin bin whilst writing live. This is where the old Wales would have capitulated2. And yet in this match, Wales really took control of the game for that vital period, and actually ended the ten minutes in a better position than they started it. The more I think about it, the more impressive and telling it seems.
Looking forward to (and increasingly nervous about) the Italy game in (a bit under) two weeks.