See our breakdown and analysis of England's victory over Wales at Twickenham in round two of the 2018 Six Nations.
England continue their path towards a record three Six Nations titles in succession and a possible Grand Slam with their victory over Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Twickenham clash was one of the best examples of a fine margins result, with England flexing their muscles as a teak-tough test side. Danny Care, George Ford, Owen Farrell and Mike Brown all proved hugely influential in their game management and test experience, trumping their Welsh counterparts in their territorial, chess-like battle.
Kicking game wins the day
As hinted towards above, the biggest difference between the two sides proved to be accuracy and intelligence from the boot. Across both half-back pairings, George Ford was left as the last man standing with Ben Youngs, Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar all succumbing to injury.
England's replacement for Youngs was the ever present Danny Care, who has been criticised throughout his career for the irregularity of an accurate box-kicking game, seeing him fall to second choice behind the aforementioned Youngs. The 31-year-old's kicking game has come on leaps and bounds under Jones and hit an all time high last weekend, well and truly outperforming his Welsh counterpart, Gareth Davies.
Every single kick from Care was contestable for wings Anthony Watson and Jonny May, who managed to retain possession and gain ground nearly every other kick. Welsh half-back duo Davies and Rhys Patchell in comparison sent kick after kick straight into the arms of England fullback Mike Brown, virtually handing him the man of the match performance themselves. See below for the time afforded Brown and the England back three under the high ball.
Wales may well have got away with their kicking against Scotland last weekend, with the game opening up plenty of chances to create scores. However, Saturday's clash turned out to be a very different prospect. Wales proved their fitness and ability to turn defence into attack to be superior to their English counterparts, but their poor kicking cost them a Twickenham scalp.
England's kicking in comparison was both accurate and calculated, with plenty of early testers sent the way of Wales right wing and new kid on the block, Josh Adams. The Worcester Warriors man was earning only his second cap at the weekend.
The first of Jonny May's tries was a direct result of a contestable box kick from Care and the inexperience of Adams on the right wing. See the whole score below.
Farrell will quite rightly enjoy huge plaudits for his identification of the space for his kick through that led to May's score, but Care's kick and Adams catching himself so narrow is what led to the acres of open grass.
Care is the catalyst for this try, hanging the ball just long enough for Watson to get his hand to it and regain the possession, knocking it back into Farrell's path.
Compare this to Brown's regather we saw earlier, England gave their wings the chance to either compete or put down their opposite man immediately following the catch. Wales allowed Brown, May and Watson ample time to take the ball with little to no pressure, about to identify the options in front of them before being forced into a decision.
The moment in which Farrell puts boot to ball highlights how new to test rugby Adams is. See below how the 22-year-old finds himself on the the complete opposite side of the field, leaving almost a quarter of the field completely unattained.
Scarlets' blindside flanker Aaron Shingler is left as the widest defender, yet is still right in the middle of the pitch. Farrell takes a split second to realise this with May already at full pace screaming for the kick.
This phase of play highlights both the superior kicking of the English game and the fact that the Welsh back three were all playing together for the first time, still very unfamiliar with one another and the test arena itself. England were clearly aware of this and spent plenty of time testing Adams's and Anscombe's efficiency as a unit, with a reasonable amount of kicks heading their way in the first 20 minutes.
Welsh attacking threat gets through as fitness fades
As we have now identified, the kicking battle proved the biggest difference on the day, but this alone would not be enough to close out a game left so finely in the balance. As we suggested in our match preview, England recognised their need to put a stranglehold on the game with Wales showing just how dangerous their Scarlets contingent can be.
Wales were afforded very few chances to recreate their previous week's success, only able to show a few glimpses of their offloading and running game. These moments came on the few occasions England's kicks proved incontestable and when the superior Welsh fitness shone through. One notable example here is a lackadaisical tackle attempt from England blindside Courtney Lawes, allowing Wales blindside, Shingler, the chance to break the line and threaten. Take a look at the Shingler break below.
Last week, we highlighted Shingler as a potential threat to England, unlike any other they have previously faced during Jones' tenure. Agility, pace, offloading threat and a pest at the lineout, the 30-year-old was a man who could not be afforded space and time. Fortunately for England, Wales gave away one of only two penalties throughout the entire 80 minutes immediately after Farrell dives on the ball. While conceding only two penalisable offences throughout an entire test match is extremely admirable, here they let their opponents off after one of three threatening moments they were able to create.
Two other notable moments Wales were able to create involved the much talked about Ansombe no-try and the Sam Underhill tackle on Scott Williams in the dying minutes. Anscombe and Wales can feel hard done by for their disallowed try, with the TMO failing to recognise the grounding. When a player is not in possession of the ball and is merely looking to pounce, all they need do is provide a touch with downwards pressure, something Anscombe achieved. This moment highlighted some of Wales' more accurate kicking, with Patchell recognising the opportunity to put the kick through that saw this particular moment transpire.
Wales' second chance came from the popular Sam Underhill tackle, in which the 21-year-old expertly dragged Welsh centre Williams into touch.
The reason this opportunity comes for Wales is their ability to capitalise on opponents' mistakes, of which there were relatively few. Care sends a pass far behind Farrell, forcing the centre to clear the ball whilst under pressure.
Farrell does manage to find grass, but Anscombe is able to collect the ball and cut through the middle of a tiring English defence, resulting in the break along England's right wing.
It's a credit to the efficiency of the Welsh backline that they are able to ensure they identify and execute such moments, as they are far and few between at the top level of international rugby. If not for a particularly canny tackle technique and exceptional work rate from Underhill, Care's pass could have lost England the game.
If Wales had been afforded more possession and time on the ball, their ability to create such moments could easily have plundered Twickenham. England were forced to put a stranglehold on the game, restricting Wales from recreating their previous week's success in dismantling the Scots in Cardiff. In addition to their contestable kicking game, England were keen to avoid allowing Welsh openside, Josh Navidi, turnover ball that would force England to convert their attacking shape into defence, something Wales proved their Scarlets contingent are more than capable of doing.
The threat of Navidi was restricted by English carriers targeting the Cardiff Blues flanker as a tackler, forcing him onto the ground and unable to latch onto the ball and compete at the breakdown. Just under ten times throughout the match, English carriers specifically changed their angle of run towards the dreadlocked Welshman.
England's strategy was a canny one and something that may not have been picked up on first viewing. England's carrying game was kept even tighter than usual on Saturday, with supporting players showing a significant step up in speed and urgency to the breakdown, in an attempt to secure their own rucks.
Stranglehold expected for Scotland
At the end of the day, it was England's superior kicking game and stranglehold that won the day, forcing the Welsh into an arm wrestle far from their preferred open, attacking game. Head coach Eddie Jones summed the game up in blunt yet succinct fashion at the final whistle, "It was a real arm wrestle. The good thing is we're getting good at winning those sorts of games."
With Scotland well famed for their attacking threat, we can expect a similar tactic in round three at Murrayfield, with England likely to restrict Scotland from having time and space to run the ball back through the likes of Stuart Hogg, Huw Jones and Finn Russell.
Look for our preview of England's clash with Scotland in the week leading up to their away trip to Edinburgh for round three of the 2018 Six Nations.
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