Rugby Union: Fifteen minutes of fame as the Welsh sink without trace

Tim Glover at Twickenham sees a gifted fly-half reduced to an artless dodger
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MIDWAY through the first half somebody watching this game on a television set in Llareggub might have popped into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. In the time it took to boil the kettle, the name of the village in Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood had been infamously reversed.

Allan Bateman had scored two stunning tries and Wales led 12-6. Fifteen minutes later England walked into Twickenham's tunnel 34-12 ahead and out of sight. The Daitanic had sunk without trace.

Wales did not have a replacement stand-off among their seven substitutes. That was one of their first mistakes. After Wales had run into a veritable sea of icebergs it would be cruel and unjust to put the blame on one player. The designers of the ship (a back row who were obliterated, a second row who were hammered in the line-outs and an overall problem in discipline which led to a massive penalty count in England's favour) shoulder a huge responsibility for the most disturbing collapse in the Five Nations' Championship in the history of Welsh rugby.

But the fact remains that Arwel Thomas - as stand-off , one of those on the bridge - had a nightmare. Everybody agrees that Thomas is gifted, but when things start going wrong, as they did for him early on yesterday, his confidence drains to such an extent that his gifts remain unopened.

The doubtful Thomas looked like an extra out of Oliver Twist. The Artful Dodger he was not.

When the game actually looked like an international match and not something out of the Middlesex Sevens, Thomas began with two aimless kicks, the first sliced to Matt Perry, the second an innocuous effort that rolled over the dead-ball line.

However, he should have been immensely encouraged when he put up a high ball which rebounded off Perry's shoulder and took a kind bounce for Bateman to score by the posts. At this stage England, who rarely kicked the ball out of hand in their epic draw against New Zealand at Twickenham a few months ago, were suffering an aberration and kicking almost everything away. Bateman scored again in a length of the field movement and it was England who looked as if they would concede 60 points.

The warning signs were there, however, when the Welsh launched another promising attack which broke down when Arwel threw out an awful pass that enabled England to relieve the pressure. And then on the half hour came the turning point of the half, if not the match.

Once again his kicking touch deserted him and he sent the ball straight into the arms of Perry, who returned a beauty into the corner and an overstretched defence conceded a penalty from which Neil Back scored.

Before the game Neil Jenkins, a stand-off forced to play full-back, had voiced his dissatisfaction. If Jenkins was not his normal self, Thomas was unrecognisable. It got worse in the second half. He hardly attempted anything and when, finally, he tried to run at England he was scragged by a lump of a forward and thrown to ground like a rag doll.

Even when a kick ahead rebounded perfectly into his arms and he appeared clear, Tony Diprose managed to tap his ankle. His contribution, as they say in Llareggub, was bugger all.

Jenkins might argue that he should play stand-off but, on this overall performance, he would find few supporters. It may be a good thing that, as hosts, Wales did not have to qualify for the World Cup next year. On the other hand, it may not.