Controversy of the day: Wales’ disallowed try
Wales coach Warren Gatland didn’t mince his words when he spoke after the match about the crucial moment in the first half when Gareth Anscombe was disallowed what looked like a legitimate try.
The Welsh full back seemed to ground the ball a milli-second before Anthony Watson, but after numerous replays the TMO Glenn Newman ruled no try.
As Gatland said after the match if the try had been awarded it could have changed the whole momentum of the match.
Gatland also rightfully pointed out that Mike Brown could have received a yellow card for a professional foul late in the match when Wales were on the attack – but both decisions went against the visitors.
In a game as tight and close as this crucial decisions like this went in the favour of England – and if they had gone the other way the result may have been different.
After the match England coach Eddie Jones grew increasingly indignant about opinions that Wales were denied a fair try.
“The TMO is there for a reason,” barked Jones. “He has all the time in the world to make his decision and he said no try.”
Of course if the decision went the other way you can be sure Jones would not have kept quiet.
Try of the Day : Stockdale’s second vs Italy
Jacob Stockdale’s second try for Ireland against Italy was as thrilling as it was telling.
The 21-year-old Ulster winger intercepted a loose Italian pass, of which there were many on the day, and pinned his ears back on a sixty-metre run to the line. Stockdale had one man to beat and a man looming up in support on the inside but Stockdale never had any doubts.
He executed a perfect in and away on Jayden Hayward then beat the Italian replacement for pace to touch down in the left corner.
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton may be pulling the strings in the Ireland attack but they desperately need the power and pace of Stockdale out wide if they are to capitalize on the chance that may come their way as the tournament gets to the pointy end.
Right winger Keith Earls and full back Rob Kearney are quality finishers but they can’t bust the game open like Stockdale.
In the end this Six Nations may come down to the final five minutes of England and Ireland at Twickenham and Stockdale given the ball ten metres out with two men to beat.
With his natural ability and growing confidence, chances are Stockdale will get over the line and win it for Ireland.
Player of the Day : Gareth Anscombe (Wales)
With Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland out injured, Wales were forced to call on their third choice fly-half, the Scarlets Rhys Patchell. Much of the talk before the match from the England side was that Patchell was not up to it and would “bottle” it when the heat really came on.
The 24-year-old was at fault for England’s first try when he failed to gather Danny Care’s high kick and he was swamped at times with ball in hand by a fast moving England back row, But he recovered well to put in the delicate cross-field kick that almost led to Gareth Anscombe’s try.
Patchell’s game lasted 55-minutes and it was when he was withdrawn that Wales looked at their most dangerous.
George North came on to the wing which saw Anscombe move in to the No10 role and the Cardiff Blues playmaker was electric.
Anscombe made a couple of long breaks that were very unlucky not to result in tries and his distribution and kicking out of hand were also dangerous.
This display, like Aaron Shingler, showed that a place must be found for Anscombe in the starting line up.
With Halfpenny back Gatland could do worse than to start the 26-year-old at No10 in Dublin against Ireland.
Joe Schmidt has refused to rule out Robbie Henshaw even from Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Wales, despite the centre suffering a suspected dislocated shoulder against Italy.
Ireland boss Schmidt remains hopeful that Henshaw could yet shake off his injury, though the British and Irish Lions star’s tournament could well be over.
Henshaw ran in two of Ireland’s eight tries in Saturday’s 56-19 win over Italy in Dublin, but required oxygen and left the field in a sling after being injured in the act of crossing for his second score.
Tadhg Furlong suffered a hamstring injury after just three minutes of Ireland’s comfortable win, but Schmidt hopes the Leinster prop could also be ready to face Wales in Dublin on February 24.
“We’ll know more after Robbie’s scan tomorrow, he looked in a fair bit of discomfort when he came off but what’s promising is the fact that he was more comfortable later on,” said Schmidt.
“What’s not promising was the degree of discomfort he was in at the time.
“We’ll have an update hopefully later once he’s had that scan.
“Robbie is superb defensively, and on the attack as well. I think Robbie is a class player.
“Tadhg Furlong just felt a tightening on deceleration. We’d be hopeful he would still be okay in two weeks’ time.”
Garry Ringrose retains a slim chance of recovering from ankle trouble in time to face Wales, with Schmidt hopeful the Leinster centre could return to offset Henshaw’s possible absence.
“Garry’s making really good progress, next weekend might be just one weekend too soon, but he’s not far away,” said Schmidt.
“But again it might be the weekend after, and for him to come back straight off an injury lay-off to play against Wales, that would be a tough call, but it’s a call we’d be happy to make based on Garry’s previous contributions.
“He’s such an intelligent player. He does add value when he comes into the side.
“He could be another option if Robbie Henshaw is unavailable, as we suspect he potentially will be.”
Asked to assess Ireland’s tile chances, Schmidt replied: “You do feel that you’ve a chance when you can get those first two wins, especially with an away win first up.
“We haven’t lost a Six Nations game at home in the five years I’ve been involved.
“There’s a real benchmark there that we can hopefully defend.
“We probably had a couple of knock-backs injury-wise today. So it’s a bit of a wait and see, really.
“But if you’d said to me two weeks ago you’d have nine points and a 39-point differential, I’d have bitten your hand off.
“We do feel that we’ve gained a bit of confidence that we’re heading in the right direction.
“Wales will be a whole different scenario. They are very attacking as a defensive side and they squeeze you and force errors.”
Italy boss Conor O’Shea admitted his Azzurri squad need to boost their fitness to challenge the world’s top sides.
“We knew they were going to hold the ball, because they don’t think we’re fit enough – and they’re right,” said O’Shea.
“We are much fitter than we were; much, much better than we were, but we’re not at the level that we need.
“There’s a reason we’re not number two or three in the world. And that’s the reason.
“When we held the ball, we looked good. We’ll just keep moving forward, forward, forward.”
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.