England limped over the line against a brave Wales at Twickenham with two first half tries from Jonny May – and a controversially disallowed try to Gareth Anscombe – proving the difference. Here are our three takeaways from the match:
Aaron Shingler is the real deal
The Wales No6 had never been to Twickenham but on his first visit he certainly made an impact.
The 30-year-old Scarlets flanker may be relatively old to be making his mark on the Test arena but his mobility, defence and work at the breakdown were outstanding – overshadowing the much vaunted England backrow.
Shingler played a big role in Scarlets winning the PRO12 title last year but the former England Under 19 cricketer was not expected to play a key role for Wales because of the riches available in the back row.
However following injuries to Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton the way opened for the 1.97m, 105kg blindside flanker to join his club-mates in the national side.
One break early in the second half typified Shingler’s impact. The ball was turned over in Wales’ half and Shingler sprinted through a gap showing surprising speed to outpace the defence.
He came to the full back and with a man in support tried an audacious kick ahead.
In the end the move came to nothing but there was enough on show to suggest a permanent place needs to be found for Shingler in the Dragons’ starting XV.
England are not as good as they think they are
Here were worrying signs for England.
After much vitriol before the match about Rhys Patchell having no “bottle” and how England would monster Wales – in the end the hosts just got home.
They were outplayed for long stretches by a Wales team without Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny – ruled out with a foot infection shortly before kick-off. Put that quartet in to finish off the platform set-up by the impressive Wales pack and the result may have been different.
Wales dominated for long periods both in the set-pieces and with some high quality close-in handling from the forwards.
If not for some desperate defence and a high Wales error rate, England would have found the going a lot tougher.
England look tired, devoid of ideas and reliant on a touch of class from a few key players. On this performance they look decidedly beatable with Ireland – and even Scotland and France – capable of dethroning the champs.
Farrell needs to be wrapped in cotton wool
For a team with such a winning recent record, 24 wins from their last 25 matches, England looked short of truly world-class players.
The pack especially, even the majestic Maro Itoje, looked very human and were backpedaling for much of the afternoon.
Without doubt the one player who is near the very best in his position across the globe is fly-half/ centre Owen Farrell.
Almost everything good England did came from him – his handling, positional play and vision were outstanding.
The moment of class for Jonny May’s first try when Farrell spotted the empty spaces behind the Wales defence and put in a perfectly- weighted grubber kick was precision at its best and England certainly got a lift when George Ford departed with Farrell moving into the No10 spot. Without him England would be rudderless.
England had some other standouts – Chris Robshaw who never stopped working and Jack Nowell who got good go-forward when he came on in the second half – but overall this was a workmanlike performance from a team that is nowhere near the level of the All Blacks – dream though they might.
On this performance England will not beat Ireland, whether it’s at Twickenham or not. The Red Roses simply look like they have hit a wall and desperately need some spark.
The former Brive, Castres and Montpellier fly-half is faced, however, with a near blank playbook ahead of Scotland’s Six Nations clash with France in Edinburgh on Sunday.
France are undergoing something of a reformation under recently appointed coach Jacques Brunel, meaning Townsend has little to learn from watching their defeats by Japan, South Africa and New Zealand in November when the since sacked Guy Noves was in charge.
“We’ve asked ourselves, ‘how much do we watch from November’, with a different coaching group,” said Townsend.
“Obviously there is a certain expectation of the French national team to play a certain way — ‘combat’ as they call it.
“The set piece, the forward exchanges, the big hits around the tackle area are very important to French rugby players, their supporters and their club coaches.”
The Scotland coach said his time in France was “pivotal” in his development as a player and a manager, and he is now up against Brunel who already has international experience from taking charge of Italy between 2011-2016.
“Jacques Brunel is a very experienced coach and you could tell throughout the game last week that France got better the more they were playing together,” said Townsend.
“It must be a tough job bringing the French team together from more clubs, different ways of playing, but they look to have improved throughout that 80 minutes which is a good sign for them.
“There are two different psychologies in the French team, from the clubs and from the national team. There is a ‘win at all costs’ mentality at some clubs.”
Townsend will have little more than his knowledge of the French game and a recording of France’s last-gasp 13-15 loss to Ireland to help him overcome Scotland’s own psychological barrier of a heavy 34-7 loss to Wales in Cardiff during last weekend’s opening round of fixtures.
“There were a couple of things from Saturday’s game against Ireland which had similar themes that we saw in November,” said Townsend.
“One is around competing for the ball post-tackle and that is something that they (France) do more than other teams, so we have got to be very wary of that.
“We are certainly aware that if France get any momentum and confidence they are very, very dangerous. That is when they execute their backline plays, their three-on-twos, better than anyone else in the world.
“If they get an early score their chests go out, their shoulders go back and they can play outstanding rugby.”
Townsend added: “If we can make sure that that confidence doesn’t come early in the game and we can keep making that work through defending very well, and knocking their big men down — because they have got very big men — they will have to get up off the floor while we’ve got the ball.
“We will be stressing them with whatever rugby we play, and we’ll make sure that they are working harder than they have ever worked before, and that is where we can have the advantage.”
Scotland (15-1): S Hogg, T Seymour, H Jones, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; R Wilson, H Watson, J Barclay (c); J Gray, G Gilchrist, S Berghan, S McInally, G Reid. Reps: S Lawson, J Bhatti, J Welsh, B Toolis, D Denton, A Price, C Harris, B Kinghorn.
France (15-1): G Palis, T Thomas, R Lamerat, G Doumayrou, V Vakatawa; L Beauxis, M Machenaud; M Tauleigne, Y Camara, W Lauret; S Vahaamahina, A Iturria, R Slimani, G Guirado (c), J Poirot. Reps: A Pelissié, E Ben Arous, C Gomes Sa, P Gabrillagues, L Picamoles, B Serin, A Belleau, B Fall
Referee: John Lacey (IRE);
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Eddie Jones has questioned whether Patchell, his team’s third choice fly-half, has the “bottle” to reproduce his heroics in the round one thumping of Scotland in the more challenging environment of Twickenham.
Lawes is England’s most ferocious tackler, but the Northampton lock insists England will “hunt” Wales as a collective rather than look to rely on any one player.
“Patchell’s a good player. He’s quick and he’s got some skills, but as a team we’ll put him under pressure and make it very difficult for him,” Lawes said.
“We’re hunting Wales this week. It honestly doesn’t matter who is running down my channel or who is in front of me, I’m there to do my job and make an effective tackle.
“But I’m not going to fly out of the line and try to make a difference myself. That’s not what the team needs from me. We’re going to get off the line and hunt Wales as a team.
“We have prepared very diligently and we know their key men and the people we need to keep an eye on.
“They have great players throughout their team and it is on us to be able to contain them and put pressure back on them.”