James Lawton: Six Nations mismatch between England and Wales was reminiscent of Foreman's pummelling of Frazier

If this had indeed been a fight... England’s most grievous mistake would have been not to have claimed a last-minute injury in the gym

In the red glow of Welsh celebrations which might have been more appropriate at ringside – George Foreman's pummelling of Joe Frazier comes to mind – the great Barry John admitted it had not been his kind of match.

How could it have been? "You know," said the dream-like half-back, who had a daffodil in his lapel button, "there are now only two things the same as when I played – the size of the pitch and the shape of the ball. Yet I suppose there will always be another thing which is good forever. It is a team's heart and understanding of its greatest strengths. This was a great, great performance. It was full of power, it was bloody brilliant."

When you pass the tests that are inevitably set in the minds of old players like John, his partner Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett, so completely you know you could not have done better and long before the end of the destruction of the new England, the burning question about who their mentor and Lions coach Warren Gatland takes on the plane offered at least one compelling answer.

It was to take all of them, an entire job lot of Welsh rugby players who not only re-kindled the promise of their World Cup performance in New Zealand less than 18 months ago but also delivered in Justin Tipuric a flanker potentially for the ages.

With the magnificently restored Sam Warburton again on the warpath and Toby Faletau reminding us that even if he remains unwilling to say boo to a goose he might well charge a rhino, the Welsh had a back row of withering impact. But then wherever you looked, there was a Welsh player utterly in charge of all his resources.

Later the England coaches made little attempt to conceal the scale of the defeat. Stuart Lancaster, who had so admirably cleared away the debris which came with England's competitive and moral breakdown in the World Cup, produced one of the most desperate mantras in all of sport. "We must learn our lessons," he intoned from very far away.

If this had indeed been a fight rather than a wider raw test of collective nerve and ambition and superbly marshalled physicality, England's most grievous mistake would have been not to have claimed some last-minute injury in the gym. Certainly the progress of the respective camps had been in jarring conflict with the generosity of the bookmakers before Saturday's kick-off. Wales were even money at plus one point. Mother Teresa at her most benevolent couldn't have dreamed up such odds had she been around to see Wales shut down Scotland at Murrayfield and England labour so perilously against Italy at Twickenham.

For Lancaster and his lieutenants Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt the obligation plainly runs much deeper than some one-off analysis of a bad day in the Millennium maelstrom.

Required is wholesale reassessment of that optimism which persuaded so many that England would not only crown their resurrection with their first Grand Slam in 10 years but also lay down serious markers for the 2015 World Cup.

Instead, they experienced not a moment of truth but 80 minutes of quite relentless subjection. It happened everywhere and consumed everyone in a white shirt. The verdict could only be brutal. In no area of the field, at no phase of the contest, did a single English player inflict himself with the authority that grew so huge in the red shirts.

Some did better than others, notably lock Geoff Parling and hooker Tom Youngs, but ultimately they were outgunned by stronger, more resolute opponents. Lancaster, gamely, suggested that the scale of defeat had been enlarged by England's need to chase the game after the first of Alex Cuthbert's two devastating tries. Unfortunately, the argument would have sat rather better on some evidence – even a scrap of it – that at any point England threatened to slacken the Welsh grip.

Wales simply had too many vital players, wielding infinitely too much influence, to permit such a possibility. In head-to-head ratings, it was obligatory to tick 15 Welsh boxes, starting with the one occupied so impeccably by Leigh Halfpenny (pictured).

Back in New Zealand on the march to that ill-starred semi-final against France, the full-back talked happily of all those days his grandfather, a former Swansea player, collected him from school and had him firing kicks at the posts of a nearby field. He was an emerging Welsh possibility then, a dead-eyed kicker, and now he is a master.

You could make it a litany of Welsh heroes, lingering almost arbitrarily on such big actors behind the scrum as the try-scoring Cuthbert, George North, who would have joined him but for the near-miraculous ankle tap of the gallant but over-matched Mike Brown, the bullying Mike Phillips and the acute Dan Biggar, who found his feet so adroitly that his opposite number Owen Farrell shed a little more of the composure he conjured so impressively in the early, illusion-filled going in the Six Nations tournament.

Beside Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts, England's Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt were the mere carries of distinctly blunt spears. Chris Ashton's old aura had never looked more remote.

Up front, it was a slaughter in which on another day the contributions of Adam Jones and Alun-Wyn Jones would surely have been set apart for their excellence.

Wales' interim coach Rob Howley, who not so long seemed to have inherited nothing so much as a poignantly lost horizon, spoke of the best day of his coaching life, a reassertion of the most basic values. He also made the old point that a collection of superior athletes do not go bad overnight.

For England the reflection had to be diametrically different. Maybe the most pressing need is acceptance that nor does the reverse happen. New, raw teams do not make short cuts to becoming other than that – and certainly not to being extremely good.

That lesson was perhaps Wales's only gift on a day when reality was not so much imposed as driven into the ground, alongside all those English bodies.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones