Rugby Union / Five Nations Championship: Clem Thomas hails the return of an English colossus

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The Independent Online
EVEN though he was unable to deliver the coup de grace which would have brought England the championship, St George nevertheless showed he was no wimp as he easily quenched the fire of the Welsh dragon, thus destroying the visitors' Grand Slam dreams.

Yet even though the ferocity and steamrolling drive of the their forwards easily won them the match, there were signs that England are still frozen in a negative mode behind the scrum. With the overwhelming amount of possession won by their forwards in the rucks and mauls, England should have had a shed-full of tries.

Surely victory over Wales in this game was no substitute for the greater satisfaction of winning the championship, which, with a little more elan and imagination, England should have achieved. I believe their safety-first attitudes are a denial of the spirit of rugby and run contrary to the development of a balanced game throughout England.

Just as Dewi Morris and Rob Andrew were the heroes of Paris, this time it was the forwards, spurred by the return of that colossus, Dean Richards, who made the difference.

Time and again yesterday, Richards took on the Welsh forwards single-handed, disallowing them any opportunity to win possession and to mount attacks, or ripping the ball away from the mauls as easily as taking a dummy out of a child's mouth. This, and his engulfment of man and ball, gave England all they needed to set up attacks.

There were also huge contributions from Brian Moore and Ben Clarke in a very impressive England pack. Once again, however, the England backs could hardly be said to be firing on all cylinders as tries went begging for the lack of finishing power.

For their part, the Welsh, who presumably won the toss as Andrew kicked off, paid the penalty as the first-half wind helped England to establish territorial advantage. When Wales finally got the wind in their favour, England had gained the psychological control and in the second half began to impose intense pressure which caused Wales to become ill-disciplined, clearly illustrated when Neil Jenkins was penalised under his own posts for attempting to butt Andrew, an act the Welsh Rugby Union should examine.

Wales may be this season's champions in a bizarre Five Nations' Championship, but they are still far from being a side to challenge in the World Cup and changes are necessary during the summer.

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