The away changing room at Twickenham last weekend was a hard place to be. The looks on the players’ faces, that feeling in the pit of your stomach, it’s not something I want to revisit.
It was in that exact moment that we all knew we hadn’t delivered. It just wasn’t good enough. Compared to where we set our standards, we fell well short both as individuals and as a team.
The frustrating thing for everyone is that we prepared so well for the game, the week leading up to facing England had gone very smoothly. But with all the preparation in place, we simply did not deliver for the 80 minutes. But that’s sport and the reality is that England deserved to win.
England played the gain-line well in defence and, although they didn’t cause us a lot of problems in attack, when they did get a chance, they took it and scored.
After that initial dressing-room moment of despair, there was a bit of a boost when Ryan Giggs walked in straight after the game. I was somewhat shell-shocked to get the chance to talk to him, an absolute legend of Welsh sport, and I think all the guys were pretty stunned that he knew each and every one of our names.
I spoke to him about various things – about how Manchester United’s season is going right now, which is not where he or they would want it to be. There’s a parallel to us I guess, and he spoke about how you recover from those lows. He’s had so many highs in his career but there have been those low moments, those defeats too.
Dissecting our own performance, we missed too many tackles. Sure, players like Mike Brown with his angles of running and Luther Burrell with his power, they’re hard guys to bring down but that’s no excuse as we pride ourselves on our defence. Also, we didn’t make those moments count in England’s 22, we didn’t put on enough pressure or build our own momentum.
We’ve got wrongs to rectify and the ideal situation is to have a game the following week to make amends.
I’m not going to pretend the past few days have been easy – it’s been a difficult week. Everyone’s asked questions of themselves – it’s been a very honest week.
We’re not too proud to put our hands up when we make individual mistakes, to admit quite simply that it wasn’t good enough. There were a lot of proud Welshmen watching that game in the stands and on TV and, for them, it wasn’t good enough. We know that. Compared to the high standards we set, we haven’t hit them.
What’s particularly difficult is that there were months of preparation going into this game. England in the Six Nations – it’s a match that’s always in the back of your mind, that you’re always building up to until the kick-off comes. But it’s a game that’s gone, it’s over, we have to move on and ensure that we don’t let losing become a habit for us as a side.
Scotland have been steadily getting into their stride in this championship. With Scott Johnson, they’ve got a coach that knows Wales well having coached the national side before. We’ve seen how good he is with his mind games.
I can’t say he’s a guy I know hugely well but I got a call up to train with the national side by him back in 2005-06. But he’s a sharp operator and has turned Scotland into an impressive unit. OK, he’s baffled quite a few with his selections but I believe he’s selected the strongest available Scottish line-up for this match.
We need to win, it’s important. It’s going to be a big challenge coming off the back of last weekend but it’s important looking ahead to the autumn internationals and next year’s World Cup to be able to end on a high.
Going into the game, we need to ensure we don’t suddenly go into our shells after what happened last weekend. We need to keep trying to express ourselves. More than ever, we need to play positive rugby and a flowing game.
The championship has gone for us now, the hat-trick that had been spoken about beforehand has slipped away from us. The reality is that we didn’t deserve a hat-trick of titles – we simply didn’t play well enough away from home.
I don’t believe we cracked under the pressure of that target or the expectation of possibly being history makers. What let us down was the inconsistency in our performances – from what we achieved at the Millennium Stadium against France to the following round of matches with England at Twickenham.
I’ve heard it said a lot that it’s the British and Irish Lions hangover but I don’t buy into that for one moment. It’s plain and simple just nonsense. As a player it doesn’t matter what’s going on before, there’s time to recover from a tour like that and as a professional rugby player it’s up to you to improve season upon season.
Blaming it on the Lions tour is an easy excuse and I don’t think you’ll find one player in this squad or one member of the coaching staff suggest that was the cause of our two defeats. Simply put and I know I’ve said it before, we just haven’t been good enough.
Going back to this weekend’s game, we’ve had some changes – six in all, some of them forced by injury and some not. Mike Phillips is back and I think that will add extra impetus in the sense that he hasn’t started the last two games and he will be raring to go. Plus he’ll want to wrestle back that No 9 jersey for the long-term.
Missing for us is Leigh Halfpenny. Everyone knows how important Leigh is to us – his goalkicking has won has so many games and so often kept us in games that maybe we didn’t deserve to be in, the England one included. He prides himself on that kicking but also his immense defending and he’s a player we’ll miss. Hopefully he’ll be back very soon. But Liam Williams gets his chance at full-back.
I only got my chance at international level because of injury so Liam knows he’s got a great chance to prove his admirable talents. As cruel as it sounds to Leigh, this is a great opportunity for Liam to put his name forward. Liam’s a very talented and a funny fella as well off the pitch. It’ll be good to have him in the game.
Then there’s Gethin Jenkins, “Melon” as we like to call him, making a record 105th appearance for Wales. To try to explain the level of that achievement isn’t easy.
When I was first picked for Wales, he was already a senior player and yet he’s still there at the top of his game. He deserves all the plaudits he gets and I’m still amazed by his mobility around the field for a big guy whose taken some war wounds over the years playing the game.
It was tough on him being sin-binned at the weekend. I can’t comment too much on front-row play – that is not my area of expertise, by any means – but there are a lot of factors that go into that from technique to a referee’s interpretation. In this instance, things went against him but he fully deserves to stay in our line-up.
As Giggsy’s old manager Sir Alex Ferguson might say, Gethin’s a top, top player, and it’s up to us as a team to give him a performance deserving of his historic achievement.Reuse content