Five things we learned from Wales v England

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England celebrated their biggest win in Cardiff for 20 years after scoring three tries in a tense 20-10 victory away to Wales.

England celebrated their biggest win in Cardiff for 20 years after scoring three tries in a tense 20-10 victory away to Wales.

Anthony Watson, Kyle Sinckler and Ollie Lawrence crossed for tries, as the visitors secured their first Guinness Six Nations win at Principality Stadium since 2017 in Steve Borthwick’s first away game as head coach.

Louis Rees-Zammit briefly helped to put Wales ahead with a try early in the second half but another defeat leaves Wales bottom of the table.

Here’s what we learned.

Pragmatism wins the day

Wales battled hard in a performance full of heart and spirit, but after the off-field issues of the past fortnight, they were there for the taking. Win England did, but they made heavy weather of it in a pragmatic second half.

England focussed on the contest in the air, pinning Wales deep and relying on the hosts making more mistakes than them, in a contest crying out for a spark.

England might have bossed the first 20 minutes and scored a fabulous team try, but they struggled to put Wales out of sight and put boot to ball regularly in the second half instead of playing through the hands.

The tactics worked and delivered a first win in Cardiff for six years, but just three games into the Borthwick era and there are calls to release the handbrake already, highlighted by the fact that talented playmakers Marcus Smith and Henry Arundell played 28 seconds between them.

Borthwick and Farrell were quick to defend it, and they have every right to considering England’s recent record in the Principality. Borthwick believes it is the best way to win matches – but it won’t win any hearts.

“Kicking’s important in rugby, a lot of tries are scored off kicking,” said Farrell.

“We’ll kick to find space, normally, and to play on connections between the wingers. You kick to cause chaos.

“We’re trying to play the way Steve wants us to play, and that’s different and we’re learning quickly.”

Farrell adamant kicking blip is temporary

After 11 years and more than 100 caps, Owen Farrell has seen it and done it all – so there is no reason to doubt his conviction he will get his goal-kicking back on track.

The England fly-half left a huge 10 points on the field and made just two of his six goal attempts. His first miss, a conversion attempt following Watson’s try, grazed the post, but was certainly forgivable considering he was hugging the touchline.

But his next three efforts seemed to miss by a greater margin each time, carrying on the form that saw him miss two of five against Scotland and two of four against Italy.

Farrell has no plans to relinquish kicking duties to Henry Slade and Borthwick shut down talk of replacing his captain with either Smith or George Ford, but Farrell admitted he will double down on target practice ahead of the Round 4 clash with France.

“I didn’t kick well, it wasn’t coming off the way I’d like it to be,” said Farrell. “But I’ve been here before, I’ll get hard at work again.

“The team probably deserved to be further ahead, the team worked hard to be further ahead.

“And the fight they showed to stick in it, especially away from home, and in that last 20 minutes to take control of the game like we did, I thought it was fantastic. So we’ll get back to work.”

Farrell’s kicking has been excellent for more than a decade, but all eyes will be on him against Les Bleus in a fortnight.

Ludlam and Willis demonstrate England’s back-row riches

When all his horses are fit, Steve Borthwick has the enviable task of picking a back row from a deep pool of talent.

Tom Curry has been first-choice openside flanker for four years, but injury has ruled him out of this Championship, while Sam Underhill – his fellow Kamikaze Kid of the 2019 World Cup – will surely be back in contention if and when he works his way back to form and fitness.

With those two on the sidelines, Lewis Ludlam has made the No.6 jersey his own and he was outstanding again in Cardiff, adding to two strong performances against Scotland and Italy.

His turnover, just metres from his own line and minutes before half-time was crucial. Wales looked set to score but Ludlam’s excellent jackaling was rewarded, and he was rightly mobbed by thankful teammates.

He finished the match with three dominant tackles, while Wales made just two in total, and his chop tackle that then allowed fellow flanker Jack Willis to get over the ball and win a penalty early in the game was outstanding, and set the tone for a fine day’s work.

Much was made of Wales’ kicking game and many of them were poorly directed, but they were forced to kick time and again by an England back row that slowed the ball down.

Willis, who is finally delivering on his potential at Test level after a devastating knee injury in 2021, was excellent, while Alex Dombrandt may just have had his coming-of-age performance at Test level.

The No.8 has struggled to replicate his club form on the international stage but he carried brilliantly and played a delightful pass to set up Watson’s first-half try.

Hawkins and Grady hint at prosperous future

Considering the disjointed build-up, a fly-half making his first start and two centres with three caps between them, it was always a tall ask for Wales to pile up the points.

A total of 10 is hardly surprising, and even they came from a sloppy penalty conceded by England and a piece of predatory brilliance from Louis Rees-Zammit to intercept Max Malins’ careless pass.

Owen Williams, thrust into the No.10 jersey for the first time from the start of a Test match, acquitted himself well, but Wales fans will be particularly encouraged by Joe Hawkins and Mason Grady.

That the pair last started together for Wales Under-20s in last year’s Summer Series shows how bold Gatland’s selection was but, after another tough press conference following another defeat, the New Zealander’s voice notably lifted when talking about his new centre duo.

When given the ball, Hawkins showed plenty of promise, making 71 metres off 12 carries and playing some neat passes that again showed off his talent, while Grady, thrust into the spotlight on debut against veteran operator Henry Slade, was equally as impressive. He defended cleanly, carried gainfully – 42 metres from eight carries – and showed enough vision and composure to suggest he has a bright future at Test level.

With Nick Tompkins on the bench, and George North chomping at the bit to get back involved after he was dropped for this Test, Gatland has plenty of options. But with building for a brighter future top of his agenda, he might well have found a combination to stick with.

“I thought Joe Hawkins did well and Mason was great on his first cap,” Gatland said.

“We need to create some width in our attack and that is something we will work on, and out transition from going to defence to attack. It needs some work but they are areas we will concentrate on going forwards.”

Rome win is no gimme for Wales

It might be stating the obvious but there is so much riding on the Round 4 game in Rome, where the Championship’s two winless teams meet.

Italy have finished sixth in each of the last seven Six Nations but continue to prove they are not the same team as before. They beat Wales a year ago, could – and perhaps should – have beaten France in Round 1 and gave Grand Slam-chasing Ireland an almighty scare on Saturday.

With Paolo Garbisi back pulling the strings at fly-half and Ange Capuozzo continuing to prove he is the real deal in the back three, they play with an ambition that will keep Gatland awake at night.

Points at the Stadio Olimpico should be plentiful, with Italy conceding a Championship-high 94 through three games and Wales just behind them on 89. But the Azzurri have scored almost double what Wales have, and defence coach Mike Forshaw will need to come up with some answers.

On Super Saturday, Wales head to France and, while you cannot predict anything in the Guinness Six Nations, it is probably fair to say this is their best chance of grabbing a win. Failure to do so would likely lead to their first sixth-place finish in 20 years.

If Welsh rugby had a dark week off the pitch, they are now scrapping to avoid rock bottom on it.

“Every game in a Wales jersey is a must-win – but we won’t hide from the task ahead of us,” said captain Ken Owens.

“We know we need to improve, we know the areas we need to improve in. Now we must do it.”