Rugby Union: Wales fall victim to the spell

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The Independent Online
THERE was a curiously dream-like quality to Saturday's match at Twickenham. I do not think I have ever witnessed such a peculiar encounter. Great things were at stake: for Wales, a Grand Slam and a Triple Crown; for England, a championship title if they could but put 16 points between themselves and their opponents.

At one stage in the game, England needed only four points to reach the magic margin. Perhaps Rob Andrew thought that two drop goals by him would do the trick nicely and would be less risky than trying to score tries. It is the best explanation I can think of for his numerous attempts, all of which, to be fair, were commendable efforts.

But the general impression that England gave was that, despite their awesome display of forward power, they did not sincerely want to win the championship. They were happy enough to confound their critics and to win the match. Wales wanted to win too, but they did not have much idea of how to go about it. They walked delicately on to the pitch, as if they were attending their auntie's funeral.

Alan Davies, Bob Norster and Ieuan Evans may have thought that, in so doing, they were giving an impression of coolness, composure and menace - like, say, Chris Eubank. The immediate impression they made on me was that they had been mentally pressured out of the game before it had started. Even in its latter-day neo-Mediterranean form, Twickenham had worked its old malign spell once again.

Subsequent exchanges on the field confirmed this initial response. After 10 minutes I turned to my colleague, Ken Jones, and said that it was as if the Welsh team were playing in jerseys that were a size too small. I did not mean that they looked physically bigger than they were. Quite the reverse. There was a constraint about their movements, an awkwardness in their bearing. To adapt the Prime Minister, Wales did not appear to be a team at ease with themselves.

If this was so, they had lost the match before they walked decorously on to the field. But this may be too fanciful an explanation. The more prosaic one is that England were so much stronger where it mattered, in the pack and particularly in the back row, despite a total forward weight advantage of only a stone. Dean Richards mastered Scott Quinnell, Ben Clarke prevented him from scoring a try and Tim Rodber was tremendous. However, he scored a try which he should never have been in any position to score.

The fault was undoubtedly Garin Jenkins's. But he deserves some sympathy because of the way he has been brought up. I refer to his rugby rather than to his early domestic life. All hookers are now taught the flat trajectory throw - not dissimilar from throwing a dart. This has its advantages, but it invites an interception such as Rodber's. The throw-in which is safest is the wing's old, despised, two- handed underarm offering. Alas] it will never, I suspect, come back.

I was lucky enough to be there but none the less had one of my nearest and dearest press the video's record button at 2.45. Like most people of over 40 or so, I am incapable of setting these devices in advance. Many rugby followers are similarly incapacitated. They will nevertheless have recorded the match while they were watching it in their homes on Saturday afternoon. I do not know what proportion of rugby followers possess videos. Even if it is not as large as I suspect it is, should Rugby Special continue to show lengthy edited extracts from both internationals on the following day?

On Sunday, Chris Rea had two comparatively brief sessions with his panel of Eddie Butler, Simon Halliday and John Jeffrey. Most of the time was taken up with film which, I guess, 95 per cent of viewers had seen already and to which a smaller but still substantial proportion had ready access on their videos. I should welcome more analysis on the following day - bringing in, if they could be persuaded to appear, the touch judges and at least one of the referees.