Wales left at lowest point by grotesque capitulation

Wales 9 England 43: Pitiful confusion of Red Dragon exploited by efficiency of England's second XV
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The Independent Online

Those nice people at Qantas have a scheduled flight from Sydney to London at 22.15 on 2 November, with one-way tickets an absolute snip at A$1742.68. (£720.03) If the impoverished Welsh make a block booking now, they might even save themselves a few bob, especially if they go for the non-transferable, non-refundable option. Why wouldn't they? As Wales play the All Blacks earlier that day and will probably need to beat them to stay in the World Cup, they are unlikely to be concerned with either transfers or refunds. And by flying to Heathrow, they can get their disguises sorted long before they reach the Severn Bridge.

The fact that this pathetic performance - confused, shapeless, spineless, deeply unprofessional and almost entirely skill-free - resulted in a record home defeat (leaving aside the 51-0 pasting they suffered at the hands of the French at Wembley in 1998) and that it was inflicted by the English, of all people on God's earth, made it doubly - nay, quadruply - painful. But it was a third fact, that England managed to wreak havoc on so devastating a scale while resting their first-choice Test XV, that left Welsh rugby at its lowest point in living memory. Yes, it was worse than the 96-13 defeat by South Africa in Pretoria five years ago. Significantly worse.

Assuming Steve Hansen, a coach now eyebrow deep in the quicksand of crisis management, sticks to his so-called "process", his élite players - please don't laugh, it's really not that funny - will not take the field again until they face the tough-nut Canadians in Melbourne on 12 October. Given that their confidence levels are now somewhere in the vicinity of the earth's core, he may want to reconsider. Wales take on Scotland at the Millennium Stadium this weekend, and if those who capitulated so grotesquely on Saturday have any semblance of the warrior's soul about them, they will demand an immediate opportunity to right their wrongs.

Hansen, hangdog in the extreme on the eve of the match, was more upbeat after it, which said something about his befuddled state. "This is not the time for someone else to just roll up and take over this job," he pronounced. "I'm confident I'm a good coach and, while it's not my decision, I'm happy to take this side to the World Cup. I also believe we'll get something out of the tournament.

"England will be the best-prepared side ever to leave Britain, I'm sure. They have everything right, including the money side of the business. But people are making the mistake of comparing teams that don't bear comparison. We have one major nation in our pool - New Zealand - plus Italy, Canada and Tonga. Those three are in the same situation as us." Heaven help them.

England, on the other hand, are not in the same situation as anyone apart from the All Blacks and France, who also appear to have their acts together. Indeed, things are coming together with perfect precision. Julian White, the bad-boy scrummager from the depths of the West Country, gave the highly rated Iestyn Thomas such an unholy seeing-to at the set-pieces that he can start packing for Australia without further ado. So, too, can Lewis Moody and Joe Worsley, the brat-pack back-rowers. Martin Corry, the third member of the second-string loose combination, also ran himself to a standstill, losing three kilograms in weight in the Cardiff sweat pit. Unfortunately for him, he could not find the three metres in pace that would have enabled him to leapfrog one of his younger, quicker rivals. His chances now rest with Clive Woodward's positional arithmetic.

Of those still ensnared in the paranoia of the situation, three - Simon Shaw, Andy Gomarsall and James Simpson-Daniel - could not conceivably have done more to press their claims. Shaw's ball-carrying and all-round footballing skills were entirely beyond anything the Welsh locks could offer; only his line-out frailties can count against him now. Gomarsall, instructed to bring a more sergeant-majorish approach to his bossing of the England pack, shouted himself hoarse and led the Welsh back row a merry dance around the fringes. Simpson-Daniel, meanwhile, performed the occasional spellbinding feat on the left wing and would contribute with greater regularity if only his back-line colleagues could work out ways of giving him the ball.

If Woodward has a serious issue to address, it is in midfield. Alex King missed his kicks at the Millennium Stadium - at least, he missed too many for comfort - and while some of his playmaking bordered on the exceptional, not least his creation of Dan Luger's fine try early in the second half, that may not be the point. If England are not going to rip up opponents in the centre - neither Jamie Noon nor Stuart Abbott capitalised fully on the ocean of ball washed up by Danny Grewcock and company - they will have to land their goals. Paul Grayson, nowhere near as creative as King but equipped with the more accurate radar, remains in the coach's thoughts.

Grayson would be the safe choice, King the bold pick. There is nothing timid or diffident about the 28-year-old Wasp these days; he relishes his defensive duties after avoiding them like the plague for much of his career, and sees attacking possibilities that would scarcely occur to a Carlos Spencer or Stephen Larkham, let alone Jonny Wilkinson, whom he hopes to understudy this autumn. When he ghosted through with spectral stealth after 55 minutes, the home defence was so flummoxed that Grewcock, playing with the physical authority of an undisputed heavyweight world champion, clattered his way into the "red zone" to set the platform for Luger's game-breaking score. It was as good as rugby gets.

Two full scores ahead at 23-9, the visitors were able to give King the luxury of a calming penalty on 59 minutes, which he duly converted after three morale-sapping miscues early in the half, before cranking up the heat in pursuit of further tries. The first came 90 seconds later, when England's tight five shunted the Welsh scrum backwards and set up a child's-play score for Worsley. Abbott was next on the board, claiming a debut try in the left corner after another stampede from the pumped-up Grewcock, before Dorian West wrapped it up with a drive-over effort in the same spot.

It was too easy for words - so easy, in fact, that not even Jason Leonard, who never says anything at all if nothing is an option, could resist a brief bask in the sun. "We've worked so hard on all facets of our game," said the temporary captain, "that it's a pleasure to call something and see it come off. The Worsley try was a wonderful reward for the tight forwards; we all fancied that scrum, and we were still going forward when we heard him score."

Leonard might even have scored himself - a second try would have given him the phenomenal strike-rate of one every 52 Tests - but for West's intervention. "Did you see him nick the ball from me as I was crossing the line?" Leonard groaned. If the venerable Harlequin has his way, a certain Leicester hooker will be watching the World Cup on the box.

Wales: Penalties S Jones 3. England: Tries Moody, Luger, Worsley, Abbott, West; Conversions King 2, Walder; Penalties King 3; Drop goal King.

WALES: R Williams (Cardiff Blues); Gareth Thomas (Celtic Warriors), M Taylor (Llanelli Scarlets), S Parker (Celtic Warriors), M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets); S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets, capt), G Cooper (Celtic Warriors); I Thomas (Llanelli Scarlets), R McBryde (Llanelli Scarlets), G Jenkins (Celtic Warriors), R Sidoli (Celtic Warriors), C Wyatt (Llanelli Scarlets), C Charvis (unattached), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Llanelli Scarlets). Replacements: G Williams (Cardiff Blues) for McBryde 61; J Thomas (Neath-Swansea Ospreys) for Wyatt 62; A Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys) for Jenkins 72; Gavin Thomas (Neath-Swansea Ospreys) for D Jones 72.

ENGLAND: D Scarbrough (Leeds); D Luger (Perpignan), J Noon (Newcastle), S Abbott (Wasps), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester); A King (Wasps), A Gomarsall (Gloucester); J Leonard (Harlequins, capt), M Regan (Leeds), J White (Leicester), S Shaw (Wasps), D Grewcock (Bath), M Corry (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester), J Worsley (Wasps). Replacements: S Borthwick (Bath) for Shaw 11-16; D West (Leicester) for Regan 37; O Smith (Leicester) for Luger 56; A Sanderson (Sale) for Moody 62; D Walder (Newcastle) for King 71; W Green (Wasps) for White 72.

Referee: P Deluca (Argentina).

Hansen rings the changes

Steve Hansen, the Wales coach, has resisted pressure to give the team thrashed 43-9 by England on Saturday a chance to redeem itself by making sweeping changes for Saturday's game against Scotland.

Hansen has largely stuck to his policy of only selecting his big names once. The flanker Colin Charvis and the hooker Robin McBryde are the only exceptions, each winning a starting place against Scotland with Charvis taking over the captain's armband from Stephen Jones.

Charvis becomes Wales's fourth captain in as many games following Gareth Thomas against Ireland, Stephen Jones against England and Mefin Davies in the match against Romania at Wrexham on Wednesday.