The most amazing thing about this Six Nations Championship is the way all Wales' former faults have been transferred to England. Before Warren Gatland's arrival Wales were ill-disciplined, gave up the ball too easily and had a dire kicking game. That precisely describes how England are now playing.
Belief allied to clarity of purpose has brought the best out of Wales and has been pivotal to their march to the top of the table. England seem to have totally lost faith in the way they play and this lack of belief has led to the abject displays we have seen from them. Their loss to the Scots was their most lacklustre performance yet. Another stark contrast between Wales and England is what happens to them at half-time. One side improves and the other falls apart.
In their four matches Wales have scored 73 per cent of their points after the half-time break. This is where they have won their games and Ireland on Saturday was no exception. There are clear strategies emerging from their last two encounters. Wales have kicked the ball to touch on only four occasions, from nearly 60 open-play kicks. This engineers a game that has a high intensity and encourages a higher number of contact situations – 367 in total, which is 87 more than the average. Thanks to some brutal training sessions Wales, for once, are relishing this physical confrontation. One other clear message for the men in red comes from their defence coach, Shaun Edwards. He has succeeded in helping Wales reduce what was a poor tries-conceded count – they have let in only two in four matches, an average of 0.5 per game, compared to 3.25 in last year's World Cup. Ireland failed, as did Scotland, to score a try.
Wales' half-time turnarounds could not be more different to England's. They have scored just 30 per cent of their points in the second period, although leading on one more occasion than Wales when going into the break. Decision making was lacking on the field against Scotland. Steve Borthwick showed signs of mental fatigue, calling long line-out balls in appalling conditions; Jonny Wilkinson kicked poorly out of hand; and ill discipline gifted the Scots penalties and ultimately the lead. This "foothold" on the game was critical in poor weather and was protected by a great Scottish defensive effort, which saw them complete 103 tackles and miss just two.
The messages from the Welsh dressing room are clearly being delivered.
Alun Carter was head of match analysis for the Wales team from 1998 to 2007 and technical assistant to Graham Henry on the 2001 Lions tour of Australia. He played back row for Pontypool, Newport and Wales.Reuse content