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.


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