England 25 Wales 28: As Welsh lock Bradley Davies moved through the Twickenham mixed zone he spotted Wasps team-mate James Haskell mid-interview. Without breaking stride he swiftly yanked the England flanker’s shorts to around his knees, to Haskell’s amusement. It summed up the evening.
Wales, somehow, had just pulled England’s pants down in front of 82,000 in south-west London and a television audience of millions.
Wales applied the Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope tactics but with no expectation of ever getting off the ropes to land the decisive blow.
That they did was a shock to an England side who dominated for 70 minutes before caving in against a Welsh team that finished the game with a wing in the centres, a scrum-half on the wing and no-one at full-back.
“I am completely pissed off and gutted,” said England lock Geoff Parling. “At half-time we were in control and had momentum.” They did. England had a 10-point lead against a Welsh team shorn of many of their best players, many of their reserves, and then the back-ups to the reserves. To lose from there was criminal.
Yet still they had the chance to save it all. If Stuart Lancaster’s side do exit this competition before the knockout stages, and he does indeed lose his job, then the head coach will look back at a three-way conversation as the one that cost him.
Clearly, Chris Robshaw should have asked Owen Farrell or George Ford to go for the posts rather than touch with two minutes remaining. Instead, the skipper went for the corner, the Welsh easily read the short line-out and that was the game.
“You tend to back yourself as a kicker, but we wanted to back the decision,” said Farrell. “If it doesn’t work out you’ll get criticised. It’s something to jump on. We wanted to go and win the game and backed ourselves to do that.
“It’s not worked out this time, but if we’d got the match-winning try everyone would have praised the decision.”
Perhaps, but it was a travesty it was that close. England dominated the set-piece, the wide expanses and at least had parity at the breakdown. But they lost due to ill discipline and one of the worst chokes in World Cup history.
No side has ever won the tournament after losing a pool game, and if England come second by beating Australia next week they would likely face South Africa and New Zealand just to reach the final. It is a huge ask, and when you concede a dozen penalties, nigh-on impossible.
“I don’t think it’s just in the last quarter, through the whole 80 minutes our discipline could have been better,” said Sam Burgess, who acquitted himself well after his controversial selection in midfield.
“That kept them in the game. We have full respect for them, they were clinical when they had the chances and ultimately they punished us.
“We have to learn from that. Although calls didn’t go our way we have to react quicker to the way the game is being adjudicated. We have to get better, simple as. The way we do that is not dwelling on what is in front of us.
“That’s what we will focus on. We won’t be frustrated, we will train with focused minds and get ready for the next job.” The next job is a daunting one, with England’s woes at the breakdown likely to be exacerbated by a meeting with Matt Hooper and David Pocock.
This, though, is not to take away from what was a sensational effort by Wales. To see them limp through the mixed zone, applying ice and deep heat as they went, was to acknowledge a quite astonishing effort.
The fear is that they may not have a team to put out to face Fiji on Thursday, but they do have Dan Biggar. The fly-half took a rather large step up the rugby ladder on Saturday night, but his match-winning 49 metre kick was not a surprise to all.
“He has shown a lot of balls to take that kick,” said lock Alun Wyn Jones. “Irrelevant of who you are and what game you are in, to strike that under that pressure is impressive.
“I was fortunate enough to play with him as a youngster and it is a pleasure — most of the time — to play with him.
“But let’s realise this is the second game of the pool stage. Let’s enjoy the game. We led the first 10 and the last six minutes. We started and finished well and were a bit patchy in between.
“We have Fiji on Thursday and it is a sobering thought what they can do if you don’t respect them. And we will have the utmost respect for them as there is the potential for an upset.”
Wales will be riding the crest of a wave, however. To see Warren Gatland celebrate was to see a man who knows the biggest hurdle has been overcome.
Gatland is in his element with his back against the wall; think that final Lions Test in 2013 after he dropped Brian O’Driscoll. As such, he will cope with the likely long-term losses of Hallam Amos and Scott Williams.
“We put all our eggs in one basket but got it done,” said Jones. He was referring to that last lineout, but it applied to the game itself.
Wales got it done. They pulled England’s pants down.
M Brown, A Watson, B Barritt, S Burgess, J May, O Farrell, B. Youngs; J Marler, T. Youngs, D Cole, G Parling, C Lawes, T Wood, C Robshaw, B. Vunipola.
G Ford for Burgess (69), R Wigglesworth for B. Youngs (49), M. Vunipola for Marler (61), Webber for T. Youngs (66), Brookes for Cole (71), Launchbury for Lawes (40), Haskell for B. Vunipola (62).
L. Williams, G North, S. Williams, H Roberts, H Amos, D Biggar, G. Davies; G Jenkins, S Baldwin, T Francis, B. Davies, AW Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton, T Faletau.
Priestland for L. Williams (67), Cuthbert for S. Williams (63), L. Williams for Amos (67), Owens for Baldwin (49), Lee for Francis (49), Charteris for B. Davies (70), Tipuric for Lydiate (70).
Jerome Garces (France).
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