Can’t say I was feeling that confident about an England grand slam before Saturday’s game, yes the thought that scraping past Italy might have given them the wake up call required but it was just another step on the downward path.
While England were getting slowly worse over the tournament Welsh Wales were getting better. Stuffing the Jocks and then grinding out a tough one against the Irish were England’s highlights.
I had thought at the time that away performance in Dublin showed England could go on and do enough in Cardiff to pick up their first slam in a decade but since that game it’s been a downward spiral in performance. France won the game for England and Italy were lucky not to get something from their trip to Twickenham and it all culminated in a shockingly nothing second half against Wales as they not only let the Grand Slam slip away but the 6 Nations title as well.
My confidence wasn’t helped either when I saw who was the referee was. He didn’t let me down. When during the game a Welsh commentator states it’s the ref’s show you get the idea. Everyone was there to see him, didn’t you know?
As soon as he let the Welsh hooker away with double pumping his first lineout through you knew what was coming. Any opportunity to penalise England and he took it. Though he did it with the help of some of those in white. Knowing what was happening Youngs repeatedly delaying the put in to the scrum just played into the official’s hands. You can’t give him the opportunity to blow the whistle.
In the end even though he did his best for them, Wales really didn’t need any help from the officials. Once Tuilagi butchered England’s first, and probably only, chance to cross the try-line after taking his eyes off an easy pass the writing was on the wall.
It was going to be one of those England games. Easy things not done. Youngs slow, high passes. Tackles missed. Lost count of the number of first up tacklers that missed. Kicks missed. Scrums destroyed. Lineouts gifted away.
All reaching the nadir when Lancaster threw in the towel and put Toby Flood on.
It’s still a work in progress for Lancaster and when you consider where they came from the number of caps difference between the teams and that there has to be improvement things do look bright. It’s just that this was such a god awful thumping.
Better scrum-half. Better hooker who can throw in the lineouts. Scrummaging that can last the whole tournament. Either a better winger or teaching Ashton to tackle and getting him back making the runs he did when he started. No coincidence that the Welsh targeted him and that he failed. Some of those attempted tackles were so powder puff it was unbelievable. Especially compared to some of the brutal hits that went on in that game. It was almost an horrific first half of hits.
Still for England it could have been worse. Could have lost to Italy and fighting for the wooden spoon like Ireland and France.