For a game containing 60 points and any amount of running with the ball in hand this match had a curiously unsatisfying feel – probably because this traditionally ferocious fixture never had the slightest whiff of any real contest about it.
Wales simply did not have a platform to work from. True they tackled fiercely, and were game to the last; but their line-out and scrummage were totally decimated by the English eight. Consequently, their game plan, whatever it was, never had a chance of being put into operation. With little or no ball you cannot control territory or tempo – and without these precious elements rugby union is a very difficult game to play.
On the rare occasions that Wales worked men free on the wide outside they butchered the opportunities through poor decision-making and technical errors. For the first half-hour they did not even compete effectively in the tackle area, so England were able to run through their patterns and phases at will.
The bottom line is that until Wales develop or discover at least three or four hard-core forwards they are going to struggle to compete at anything approaching world-class level. It is not nearly enough to put guys on the field who can only execute one or two of the basic functions of international forward play. The romantics can sigh for the likes of Bennett and John but the realists will pine for men such as Price, Wheel and Morris.
England played well within themselves and, from the comfort of the stands, it had some of the hallmarks of an extended training run. They could afford to make a fair number of mistakes, spurn a couple of gilt-edged scoring opportunities and yet still chalk up a record winning margin.
All the usual signs of this team when playing at home were on display. Lots of width, all-encompassing defence, real intensity at the tackle and, more unusually, a destructive and dominant scrum. In addition the off-loading skills of Will Greenwood, Austin Healey and the forwards in general meant that the Welsh were stretched throughout the game. Both wings stood up well in the tackle and this allowed England to switch the play with impunity. They were under so little real pressure and so secure at the set-piece that even the likes of Julian White were conspicuous in the loose.
Jonny Wilkinson controlled the game well – in the early stages there was a steely determination about England that resulted in them clocking up penalties and clearing their lines quickly when Wales exerted even the slightest bit of territorial control.
They had clearly grafted on some patience to go alongside their power in the aftermath of the Paris defeat. With so much territory and possession they inevitably made some mistakes – on another day they would have scored 70 points – and indeed the crowd reaction at the final whistle was muted.
Such expectations are unreasonable to some extent; but this side set themselves the highest standards and have the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Johnson and Jason Robinson to come back in to help them.
Technically, the outstanding feature was the ability of so many England players to pass accurately over a range of distances. With so many men running good angles off the ball carrier they posed a threat in all areas of the pitch. Going forward, they are a match for any side in the world and increasingly they are integrating an imaginative offensive kicking game alongside the running game they have been developing over the last two or three years.
Greenwood's try was a good example – it looked simple but the kick by Wilkinson that set it up was exquisite. With the increased attention paid by all teams to collective defensive patterns it is vital to keep coming up with just such new variations which give you a chance to break them down.
The trip to Italy is a formality and attention will now switch to the build-up for the World Cup. The All Blacks visit in the autumn and that clash is one to savour. They are the last side to have won at Twickenham and will act as a more than useful benchmark at the start of the long haul to RWC 2003. England are real contenders – do not be misled by their carelessness away from home. They have no real weak links and will only get better as some key personnel return.
The level at which they are operating is one which Wales cannot even dream about at present. They need a complete overhaul of their whole domestic system, both playing and political. Otherwise a proud rugby nation will be consigned to the sidelines while the real players march on.