Juggernauts on a roll

Clem Thomas sees the Welsh spirit crushed by a relentless pack
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The Independent Online
THE MASSED choirs of Cardiff gathered yesterday to answer the huge confidence of the English, but so mauled was the dragon of Wales in the forward exchanges that the home backs were never really in with a chance of turning back the tide.

Wales had an excellent first quarter, but the Leviathans in the English pack broke the spirit of the Welsh front line with their juggernaut-like charges. After absorbing the early Welsh pressure, Will Carling set the best example to his side by getting under the first high kick by Neil Jenkins, taking it with such aplomb that he gave his team a quick infusion of confidence.

Even though Wales won much of the early set-piece ball, particularly at the line-out, and were prepared to be expansive, England's mastery of the rolling maul saw them into the lead. After their defeat at Twickenham, the French identified the upper-body strength of the English forwards as one of their principal qualities and, once they claimed supremacy up front, Welsh spirit was drained. No forward failed England, and the back row of Richards, Clarke and Rodber were magnificent. Rodber, who had been on a peace mission in Ireland last week, was an aggressive presence yesterday.

Wales never looked like scoring a try, so committed was the English defence. The concentration and alertness of the English backs was remarkable. From the scrum-half Kyran Bracken to the full-back Mike Catt, they proved an impenetrable force.

England, it seems, are set on an unerring course to win the Grand Slam (although Scotland must now harbour aspirations in that direction) and they should go close in the World Cup, even if the rolling maul will be a less effective method of attack on the hard grounds of the South African veld.

In contrast, Wales will have to take a long look at their squad, and make some difficult decisions. But they should still be good enough to qualify for the quarter-finals in South Africa if they put in a lot of hard work between now and May.