Rugby World Cup: Fair play to Wales
14:22 27 September 2015
PA/Press Association Images
Big blow for beaten England
Despite the potential damage to England’s hopes of progressing from the ‘Group of Death’ at this World Cup, victory for Wales at Twickenham was great for the neutral and sporting romantics.
Although not as seismic a shock as Japan’s win over South Africa in the first round of fixtures, the 28-25 Welsh success was still a decent-sized upset given the circumstances.
Sure, it might have spoilt Saturday night for many up and down the land, but hats off to them. I know a few Welshmen who will have been crying into their beer with delight.
English supporters would have felt grateful to see their side going into the match almost at full strength, with only Jonathan Joseph absent after picking up an injury against Fiji, although the inclusion of rugby league convert Sam Burgess in his place was a topic of debate.
The Welsh, meanwhile, had been deprived of Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies before the tournamant began, saw Eli Walker ruled out soon after and Cory Allen join the casualty list after scoring a hat-trick against Uruguay.
And before completing their remarkable win over Stuart Lancaster’s men, they lost Liam Williams, Scott Williams and Hallam Amos to more injuries, potentially tournament-ending ones.
To triumph in such adversity deserves huge praise. The Welsh refused to be beaten, even when England led by 10 points with half an hour to go and when they had to reshuffle their back line in the closing stages due to those latest injuries.
Scott Williams admitted in commentary that he had never seen anything like it, as more of his fellow countrymen limped off the field.
Not many had witnessed the kind of drama that unfolded in those final few minutes, to throw the pool wide open.
Lancaster had earned criticism for picking Owen Farrell ahead of George Ford at fly-half, but the Saracens man was faultless from the kicking tee, converting Jonny May’s first-half try, slotting a pair of penalties and chipping a drop goal to put the hosts 16-9 up at the interval after England had dominated the set-pieces.
Studio guests Jonny Wilkinson and Sir Clive Woodward had predicted a slender England victory before kick-off, while proud Welshman Gareth Thomas tipped a win for his boys.
HRH Prince Harry and Prince William were shown sitting in the stands, taking sibling rivalry to a new level in support of England and Wales, respectively, and all knew there was still plenty to play for in the second half, although two more penalties from Farrell made it 22-12 and looked to be putting England on their way to a key victory.
With his extended pre-kick routine, Dan Biggar (shoulder, fringe, shoulder, wiggle, wriggle) matched Farrell (tilted head, eyes to the posts, head, eyes) kick for kick, though, to keep Wales, dangerously, within one score before the matchwinning moment came nine minutes from time.
I can’t remember at exactly which moment I had said “England are going to lose this” but it had begun to feel sickeningly inevitable during that second half.
An odds-defying win just seemed to be there for the taking for Wales and replacement scrum-half Lloyd Williams, playing as a makeshift winger, kicked infield from the left for number nine Gareth Davies to touch down under the posts.
The simple conversion tied it up, then Biggar smacked the decisive penalty from just inside England’s half after the hosts were penalised by French referee Jerome Garces at the breakdown once again to finish with a record 23 points to his name.
There were still a few minutes for England to get into position for another drop goal attempt, or to force another penalty, which they managed to do albeit out wide by the right touchline.
The decision to turn down the difficult kick at the posts and go for touch instead will be argued long and hard, as unlike Japan, who had gambled in similar fashion against the Springboks before claiming their winning try, England’s lineout could not deliver possession to launch a final attack.
Instead Wales, having waited three years for this moment since the draw was made, worked down the clock before booting the ball gleefully into the stunned Twickenham stands.
Cue the accolades, the criticism, the full post-mortem.
The fact is England will need to beat Australia (comfortable 65-3 winners over Uruguay in their second outing) next weekend – the cricketers managed to beat their rivals this summer – while the walking wounded of Wales take on Fiji, who have upset them at a previous World Cup, don’t forget.
Who would even dare to make any predictions?