England 29 Wales 18: Aggressive Courtney Lawes serves up humble pie in Six Nations victory

 

In one sense only, Rhys Priestland had the right idea. The Wales fly-half sat so deep in the first half at Twickenham he was almost playing in Llanelli, and though the  principal reason was doubtless something to do with a game plan based on clever kicking that never came to pass, you sensed a survival instinct at work.

By treating the gainline as foreign territory, Priestland was keeping his body a safe distance from Courtney Lawes. And who can blame him? No sooner had Dan Biggar replaced Priestland midway through the second half than he was chopped down by the Northampton lock forward, who is redefining the way second-row forwards play the game.

Martin Johnson was the last England captain to lift the Triple Crown before Chris Robshaw yesterday, an extraordinary 11 years ago. Extraordinary, because it was a component part of a Grand Slam in 2003 that led on to winning a World Cup that led on to… a decade of English disjointedness and disappointment. They won the Six Nations title in 2011 under Johnson’s management but were hammered in the final match in Ireland. Last year, the burgeoning regime of Johnson’s successor Stuart Lancaster put themselves in a position to win the Crown and the Slam but were thrashed in Cardiff. This season, but for Gaël Fickou’s late try on the first Six Nations weekend in Paris, they would be going for the clean sweep in Italy.

The difference, at only a minor risk of hailing a false dawn, is that this England team is constructed differently. It is built on bright-minded, strong-willed, and – crucially – humble men like Lawes. He and Johnson, in their separate eras, occupied nominally a similar role: shoving in the heart of the scrum; jumping in the line-out; eyeballing the biggest and meanest men among the opposition, a master’s degree in arm-wrestling enforcement  – that kind of thing. But while Johnson certainly had a footballer’s brain behind that beetle brow, he would never be able to replicate the ability of Lawes to fly out of a defensive line and fell fly-halves like a Canadian lumberjack might deal with a modest-sized spruce.

“I’ve got the pace which is my main difference from most second rows,” Lawes explained, a few days before England cut the now ex-Triple Crown holders and 2013 Six Nations champions down to size.

 

Coming from a man or a team with different values to Lawes’s and England’s, it might have been gauche or even arrogant. The kind of comment expected from Robbie Savage or Joey Barton, who, amusingly, the BBC interviewed at half-time to represent jointly football and respectively Wales and England. From the lanky 25 year-old who, among his other many attributes, has surprised the game and perhaps himself by learning to run the technical discipline of the line-out, it was a matter-of-fact statement of the obvious.

In the rare moments when Wales were able to get on the front foot, their hands let them down – from the second-minute fumble by Jamie Roberts, attempting to skewer England with precisely the same line-out move involving Sam Warburton that had brought a try against France a fortnight previously. George North and Justin Tipuric were others who might have hurt England if they could have held their passes.

The point here, with Lawes’s multi-faceted role in the line-up, was the white straitjacket England’s defence threw around Wales, and are able to throw around most teams (aside from the All Blacks, maybe, but we will see).

The reason Lancaster was able to follow the ill-deserved two-point loss to France by more or less predicting – if you read between his carefully chosen lines – that England would win their other four matches in this Championship was that he could see the development his team was making.

After the fifth of Owen Farrell’s seven successful kicks sailed its 35-metre course in the 46th minute, Wales trailed by eight points and were in need of a lift. Some supporters of theirs somewhere in the sun-dappled North Stand had a go, but they raised the weakest chorus of “Hymns and Arias” since the Merthyr Tydfil Male Voice Choir went down with mass laryngitis. This England dominate, and it will take different selections and a different tactical approach for Wales to reverse this comprehensive result when the teams meet in Cardiff in next year’s Six Nations and back here at Twickenham on 26 September 2015 in the World Cup.

England ever so humble... really? What about the try-scoring fist-pump of Danny Care, the scrum-half giving the best of himself now after being given a chance by Lancaster to sort out a slightly wayward private life. Or Dylan Hartley’s photos tweeted last night of himself and Owen Farrell with the England footballers Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick, Oscars-selfie style. Surely they fall into the bracket of permitted celebration.

Dylan Hartley's post-match selfie Dylan Hartley's post-match selfie It was impossible to lip-read accurately from the press benches halfway up Twickenham’s East Stand, but it may be assumed Joe Marler, the England prop, was not politely asking his opposite numbers Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones where they would be taking their post-match tea after one of many instances of Welsh scrummaging discomfort. We can forgive Care’s fellow Harlequin that too, because Marler – like Lawes, another forward talent on the rise, not plateauing or dipping like some of Wales’s – must have been floating on an emotional cloud at the realisation that England had subdued the twin pillars of more than one Welsh Six Nations title.

It is not entirely certain whether Wales, riven by rancour between their national Union and the regions who employ those players yet to have been signed to French clubs, have any props quite ready to step in.

Nor was it a case of anyone rubbing Wales’ noses in it that they waited on the field at the final whistle long enough to see England posing for photos with the Triple Crown trophy. To the victors, the flashbulbs.

Actually, the trophy is a silver salver, nothing like a crown, but this England look like a team who will wear it well.

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn