A ridiculous yellow card and a wayward pass were the margins that cost Wales dear in the Six Nations on Saturday, England winning 30-17.
A ridiculous yellow card and a wayward pass were the margins that cost Wales dear in the Six Nations opener on Saturday, England winning 30-17.
Alun-Wyn Jones' pointless trip on Dylan Hartley five minutes before half-time was England's catalyst in what had been a tight game up until then. While he reflected on the importance of discipline in the sin-bin, England scored two tries. Wales nearly pulled the 17-point deficit back, only for Stephen Jones to throw a pass for Delon Armitage to intercept and set England away for the game-clinching try.
The Welsh are going to have to pick themselves up from this one. There'll probably be a little honesty session on Monday, followed by a swift call of 'get back to work', for a good deal of what they offered here was spot on.
Conversely, although England will no doubt be able to relax as they head into their second week, they'll also have to temper their glee with a little reality. With that much possession, England ought to have put the game away long before the final five minutes. Instead, had the pass Armitage intercepted gone to a Welsh hand, England could even have lost it. It was better than November, but it was not that good.
As if to illustrate the point: England had 74 per cent of the possession of the first ten minutes, but Wales had 67 per cent of the territory. Whatever England did made absolutely no headway at all. When Wales got the ball with their first two meaningful Martyn Williams broke the gain-line significantly both times – the second time ended with a cheeky chip that saw Shane Williams bundling Jonny Wilkinson into touch.
Balls that went to touch were also a problem for the Welsh, who lost no fewer than six line-outs on their own throw. That seems ludicrous for a team boasting the beanpole figure of Luke Charteris and a British and Irish Lion in Alun-Wyn Jones, but the throwing was out of kilter, Steve Borthwick and Simon Shaw were excellent and James Haskell and Lewis Moody were much better at mopping up the mess than their counterparts.
With James Hook and Stephen Jones unable to land four relatively long shots at goal between them, Welsh penalties were not really punitive measures, more irritants for the English. On the flip side, Jonny Wilkinson's punishing boot and England's superior set piece meant the Welsh were frequently under pressure in their own half.
Wilkinson controlled the game excellently, with his longer kicks close enough to the touchline to cause Lee Byrne all sorts of consternation, his high kicks delicately measured and his goal-kicking 100 per cent accurate. That was another significant difference between the teams.
The Welsh scrum was on top, the defence stronger and the attack functioning just fine, but it was all undermined. When Jones saw yellow, the line-out fell apart properly, but it was the lack of Jones' presence in defence that was most keenly felt. England scored 17 points in his absence.
Wilkinson booted England into an 11th-minute lead after Wales forward Andy Powell was punished for being off his feet in a ruck, yet there remained little to choose between the sides.
England had started to exert some dominance at the line-out, taking three of Wales' first five throws, but their indiscipline at an attacking scrum – prop David Wilson was punished – blew a promising position.
Wales had two long-range penalty chances during the opening 22 minutes, yet both were sent wide by centre James Hook as neither team settled.
Jones replaced Hook when Wales gained another long-range chance thirteen minutes before the break, and he found the target with an equalising strike.
Wilkinson applied an immediate punishment for Jones' transgression, kicking the resulting penalty, but worse was to come for Wales as Jones pondered his responsibilities from his seat in the stand.
Despite some heroic defensive work, especially from Adam Jones, Wales could not hold England out and Haskell stretched over for a close-range try.
Wales initially did well to thwart England's efforts, before Haskell squeezed through the combined challenge of scrum-half Gareth Cooper and Wales captain Ryan Jones right on half-time.
Wilkinson added the conversion, lifting England into a 13-3 lead and underlining Alun-Wyn Jones' crass indiscretion.
But worse was to come for the Ospreys lock as England scored again before he could return to the field.
England skipper Steve Borthwick stole possession superbly for his side, creating an attacking platform that Care prospered from by racing through an absent Welsh defence.
Wilkinson's conversion put England 20-3 ahead, and Wales knew they had to score next or face oblivion.
But the visitors delivered, lock Jones going a small way to atoning for his sin-binning by delivering the scoring pass to prop Jones that gave Wales a glimmer of hope and had captain Jones rousing his troops while fly-half Jones converted (if ever there was a sentence born in Wales, this one is it).
Hook then increased Welsh optimism with a darting score, but England finished them off when Armitage intercepted, Tait took the ball on and Haskell rounded it off with his support for his second. Wilkinson iced the cake with a late penalty.
Both sides need vast improvements if they are to contest the Six Nations title, but England are up and running, which is all Martin Johnson will worry about.
Man of the match: It's not often this happens, but we'll opt for a member of the losing side here, with Adam Jones putting in a flanker's share of running in defence and attack, delivering a sterling scrummaging performance and capping all that off with a try.
Moment of the match: James Hook's try was the finest moment of individual skill, but a close second was the angled run and change of pace Mathew Tait used to capitalise on the Armitage interception and set up Haskell for the clinching try.
Villain of the match: Alun-Wyn Jones' yellow card rendered all Wales' good defensive work until then null and void and gave the Welsh too much to do. That's a fine…
Tries: Haskell 2, Care
Cons: Wilkinson 3
Pens: Wilkinson 2
Tries: Adam Jones, Hook
Cons: Stephen Jones 2
Pen: Stephen Jones
Yellow card: Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales, 35, tripping)
England: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 James Haskell, 5 Steve Borthwick (c), 4 Simon Shaw, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Louis Deacon, 19 Steffon Armitage, 20 Paul Hodgson, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Ben Foden.
Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Tom James, 13 James Hook, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8