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Guscott column: England won arm-wrestle as Wales paid for their errors

(Photo: Getty Images)

By Jeremy Guscott

England won this arm-wrestle of a contest by playing the conditions better than Wales, dominating territory and dictating the match after landing those heavy blows early on in the first half.

England enjoyed 60 per cent of the territory and while possession stats were far more equal, 52 per cent England to 48 per cent Wales, the key was that Eddie Jones’ side executed superbly and took their chances when they came.

Wales in stark contrast blew two clear cut opportunites, turned down kickable penalties and then were robbed by the TMO of what to these eyes was a perfectly good try by Gareth Anscombe who clearly grounded the ball before Anthony Watson.

Victory was set up by England winning the kicking game, with the 10-12 axis of George Ford and Owen Farrell, in particular, ensuring the game was played in the right areas.

England also looked far more comfortable playing a tight form of rugby. While the match was intense in its collisions, defences appeared to be on top and there were very few clean breaks – just five for each side, nothing compared to last week when both sides cut through Scotland and Italy with ease.

A big positive for Wales was their extremely low penalty count of two compared to England’s ten, but the Welsh error count was extremely high. They conceded 16 turnovers to England’s ten which kept halting their momentum in attack and leaving them more exposed in defence.

The authority and commanding presence of Farrell was key to England’s victory. His tactical kicking, organisation in defence and the bonus of a couple of breaks in midifeld made him a standout.

Joe Launchbury put in a huge shift as well in the boiler room and Mike Brown was solid as ever in the air and deserved his man of the match award. No one questions who attacks the ball best in the air – Brown has no peers in that area – and on this type of performance it’s clear why Eddie Jones keeps him in the team.

England won by playing smash and grab rugby. They played the game in the right areas which allowed them to flick the switch and make Wales pay.

The first try came from a high ball in midfield and an instinctive move by Farrell to kick long into the acres of space in the corner. He wouldn’t have heard Jonny May calling for the ball but he would have scanned the pitch and seen all the red shirts in front of him and few in the north west corner of the stadium.

The second try was relentless, wave after wave of hard physical carries that ground Wales down. The multi-phase attack was like they were playing chess and putting Wales in check over and over until the final move landed the killer checkmate via the Launchbury offload to May.

England showed great poise, skill and patience in their ball retention and then the killer instinct to finish moves off. Wales, on the other hand, showed on occasion they could not match that high-intensity play without making errors.

Fightback: Gareth Anscombe starred in the second half after being moved from full-back to fly-half (photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Wales had a couple of opportunities to counter with some penalties and get points on the board but they chose to go for territory, believing their possession game could overwhelm England – but it was a day for defences and the strategy didn’t pay off.

It’s very hard to win away from home. I saw an interesting statistic before the game that showed that since 1990 there had been 35 games between England and Wales, 25 won by England, ten by Wales with seven in Cardiff. So Wales have won only three games away from home. That’s a massive statistic and although the stats are there to be changed, it is very difficult to move away from, especially as it is becoming increasingly difficlut in the modern day to win away from home in this tournament – apart from Italy.

Wales ran the ball from everywhere and scored some lovely tries against Scotland, and you forget how poor the Scottish defence was and look to how good the Wales attack was.

Wales had good opportunities to get in the game yesterday and heap the pressure on, especially with such huge expectation on England to win at home.

The relief the players showed at the end revealed just how much the victory meant to them and how hard they had to work for it. Wales had a chance to ask some serious questions of how well Eddie Jones’ side can handle pressure but missed out because of errors or turning down three points – which in a game like this are as good as a try.

They will learn from that because Rhys Patchell had the distance to land penalties and going for the corner was an error. It was a brave shout and showed they believe in what they could do. But it didn’t pay off.

It’s only the second game in yet England celebrated like they had won the Six Nations. I can understand why they showed so much relief at the end of a game of such intensity.

It’s a big reward to win an arm-wrestle like that and although England didn’t win by a huge margin, they dominated the tactical battle and Wales never looked like winning.

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