England 19 Wales 26: England feel the power of Edwards' intervention
"When she heard we were losing, my mum went to the cemetery and prayed," said Shaun Edwards, a slightly bemused Lancastrian dressed so stiffly in formal Welsh attire that he might have been wearing a suit of armour, as he reflected on a day of extreme emotion that would have left a weaker individual searching hopelessly for his psychological bearings. "By the time she got back, we were winning." Serious injuries, rank bad luck, a dose of blind panic...and divine intervention too. Put this way, it is little wonder England finished second.
While Wales had waited 20 years to put one over the Hooray Henrys and Chinless Wonders at Twickenham – how they love a stereotype down there in Cardiff and all points west – the most recent addition to a brand new back-room team was experiencing his first international as a rugby union professional, having secured the blessing of his employers at Wasps to do some part-time coaching in a country he will never call his own. These circumstances alone gave the occasion a whiff of the extraordinary. That the game fell on the birthday of Edwards' late brother Billy Joe, killed in a car crash in 2003, made it all the more wrenching.
"He would have been 25," said Wigan's finest, a rugby league maestro so complete that he secured a place in the pantheon of that harsh game long before he gave up playing and shifted his attention to the "other" code. "It's a difficult time for the family, and especially for my mother. Over and above everything, I'm pleased this has put a smile on her face."
If it was difficult to begrudge Wales this famous victory before Edwards started talking, it was damned near impossible by the time he had finished. Their rugby in the final quarter was full of dash and derring-do – when players as creative as Martyn Williams and James Hook find a little space in which to work, anything and everything is possible – and had the game continued for another 20 minutes, the visitors would have scored another 20 points. With or without the good Mrs Edwards' contribution, they had the force with them.
And it is this that will concern England most, for it is devilishly difficult to turn a Test on its head by amassing so many unanswered points unless the opposition lose all sense of direction and all grip on the realities of sporting conflict at the elite level. Not since the great French uprising in the classic 1999 World Cup semi-final against a gifted but feeble-minded New Zealand side – a contest also staged at Twickenham – had such a thing happened on so grand an occasion. Had Brian Ashton, the defeated coach, ever directly experienced anything of the like? "Not in my 61 years," he replied.
Ashton went on to express open and honest bemusement at the collapse of his side's ability to perform the most basic rugby functions as they stumbled from 19-6 up to 19-12, 19-19 and, almost inevitably as it seemed at the time, 26-19 down – a change in fortunes best compared to a heavily favoured racehorse drifting in the market as word goes round that it has only three legs.
"I don't know what happened, and I won't until I sit down and talk to the people involved. All I know is that we said we wouldn't feed the Welsh, and ended up taking out all the food we had and putting it on a plate for them," Ashton said.
There is no point denying – and the Welsh did not attempt to – that England were severely disrupted by injury, especially those suffered by the open-side flanker Lewis Moody and his like-for-like replacement, Tom Rees.
While one or other of the specialist breakaways was on the field, the beaten World Cup finalists played with authority. Wales could barely win a line-out (Steve Borthwick played the most impressive of hands here) and were even more compromised on the floor, where Andrew Sheridan plundered the jewels excavated by a fresh-faced trio of loose forwards operating in harmony.
England should have turned round somewhere between 15 and 20 points to the good, and would have done but for Paul Sackey's misfortune in grounding the ball on Huw Bennett's outstretched arm as he churned his way to the line. At that stage, there was no reason to suspect the refusal of the "video referee" to award a try would make the blindest bit of difference, but when the leaders re-emerged for the second half with the lumbering Ben Kay in place of the stricken Rees, it was clear they were in make-do-and-mend territory.
Even so, a disciplined team equipped with a clear understanding of its systems and able to rely on the navigational skills of its principal decision-makers would have defended a 13-point lead with a minimum of fuss and bother. In the event, Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Gomarsall would have struggled to navigate a barge down a canal. Both half-backs endured desperate humiliations, as did Iain Balshaw, who plays like a dream when the saints and angels are behind him, but is prone to the odd nightmare when things turn a little purgatorial.
Wilkinson had a particularly rough time of it. When he ignored an overlap going left and ran splat into some heavy Welsh traffic, he left Balshaw and Gomarsall with their knickers in a twist and saw Hook kick an easy penalty as a result. A couple of minutes later, he threw the wildest of passes to Danny Cipriani, who had just taken the field for his England debut in the unfamiliar role of outside centre. In the ensuing chaos, Sackey made a pig's ear of a tackle on Hook, thereby allowing the outside-half to manufacture a try for the impressive Lee Byrne.
Wales were all over England like a rash now, and when Balshaw's laboured clearance kick was charged down by Michael Phillips, whose physicality around the fringes of the rucks and mauls was crucial, the winning try was there to be scored. It needed some flypaper handling from Gethin Jenkins and a wonderful pass out of contact from Williams to bring it to fruition, not to mention an intelligent looping run from Phillips to make the extra man. But the Welsh are good at this broken-field stuff. Better than England, for sure.
For all that had happened in the second period, Ashton was justified in emphasising the importance of "not forgetting how we played in the first". Williams said something similar. "We can't afford to forget the hammering we took before the interval, because we probably won't win a game like that ever again," he conceded. Two of the brighter men in world rugby, singing from the same hymnsheet. Which leads us neatly back to the mysteries of the divine, and the prayers of Shaun Edwards' mum.
England: I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), M Tindall (Gloucester), T Flood (Newcastle), D Strettle (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); A Sheridan (Sale), M Regan (Bristol), P Vickery (Wasps, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath), J Haskell (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester).
Replacements: L Vainikolo (Gloucester) for Strettle 13; T Rees (Wasps) for Moody 15; B Kay (Leicester) for Rees H-T; L Mears (Bath) for Regan 58), D Cipriani (Wasps) for Tindall 64; M Stevens (Bath) for Vickery 70.
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), S Parker (Ospreys), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); J Hook (Ospreys), M Phillips (Ospreys); D Jones (Ospreys), H Bennett (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A W Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: A Popham (Llanelli Scarlets) for Thomas 13, T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues) for Parker 45; G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues) for A Jones 45; M Rees (Llanelli Scarlets) for Bennett 58; I Evans (Ospreys) for W Jones 82
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).
When Davies took Wales to heaven
It was 20 years ago on Wednesday that Bleddyn Bowen's Welsh side won 11-3 at Twickenham on their way to the Triple Crown. Belinda Carlisle had just been at No 1 with "Heaven is a Place on Earth", and for Wales that place was in west London.
It was a low-scoring encounter, but Wales, with four stand-offs in their back line, scored two tries in free-flowing style. The first came when an aimless kick by Les Cusworth was picked up by the Welsh full-back Tony Clements, and after a series of passes Adrian Hadley finished well. He scored again after Jonathan Davies' trickery flummoxed Mickey Skinner and the ball was worked out to the wing, Hadley going over in the corner.
An audacious drop goal from Davies completed England's misery. The key, though, as Davies remarked in the run-up to Saturday's match, was that the Welsh backs were the equal of England's.
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