Wales vs England: Wales’ tunnel vision and an obsession with gamesmanship backfired badly


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The Independent Online

Warren Gatland was busy picking over the entrails of the defeat long before Friday night was done, ruminating over a couple of key line-outs which he was unhappy with, and some scrum penalties that his men were on the wrong side of. He was looking in the wrong place.

Gatland should have been searching within – to find out whose bright idea it was to use artifice and gamesmanship in an attempt to spook the English. It backfired badly.

You only had to step into the blistering cold of Cardiff’s St Mary’s Street on Friday to know that there was more than enough natural hwyl – that indefinable sense of Welsh communal spirit – to make the Millennium Stadium a formidable place for an Englishman. But instead of letting things build naturally, the WRU put on a lights show to manufacture spirit.

The English, not unreasonably, had no intention of stepping out from the tunnel, to be lost alone in the middle of all this, waiting for the Welsh to arrive for the big welcome. “You go out first,” the English said. “No, you go first,” replied the Welsh. “We wanted to go out second, as we always do,” Sam Warburton later explained. The stand-off  meant the game kicked off five minutes late.

There is no doubt that the indignity Wales tried to put England through helped built an esprit de corps among Stuart Lancaster’s men. You only had to listen to Ben Youngs, the outstanding scrum-half, to see the English were bolstered by their sense of indignation.

“We knew Wales would play this way,” Youngs said, late on Friday night. “We were fully aware that they would have made us wait. We didn’t want to go out and stand there for five minutes and wait for the show [to finish] for them [to arrive].”

Youngs would not reveal which Englishman decided that they would refuse to walk. “The most important stuff is the rugby stuff,” he insisted. “We just go out there, absorb the crowd and use it to make us perform.”

But the whole charade belongs to a broader conversation about Wales being too bound up in machinations to focus on the fact that they will rarely have a better chance of overcoming England. There was Shaun Edwards on England’s obstructive tactics; there was Gatland pontificating about England “meeting the challenge” and keeping the stadium roof on. Serial winners in sport don’t have the remotest inclination to talk about the opposition. They know they are dealing the side they are playing a free piece of motivation.

“We didn’t deal with the breakdowns,” Warburton reflected in defeat. If Wales have learned a lesson it should be that the old fashioned virtues  – preparation, focus, fitness – to excel beyond the hour-mark are what matters. Not a fancy light-show.