ALEX BYWATER: Wales vs England remains a rugby showpiece with the passion and fervour to match but both of these sides have a fair way to go before they can claim to being back among the best on the planet
- England beat Wales 20-10 on exciting – if lacking in quality – evening in Cardiff
- Both sides showed that they have enormous strides to make to catch up
- They remain far behind both the best in the northern and southern hemispheres
Wales and England, an age-old rivalry and annually one of the biggest clashes in world rugby.
This 2023 version had all the blood and thunder of previous meetings from down the years. The patriotic fervour was, once again, there in spades.
But, when you looked past the passion for a second at Principality Stadium and analysed the rugby, you soon realised this was a case of two teams with much still to do going head-to-head.
Right now, both Wales and England have significant strides to make if they are to trouble the best sides on the planet. That much was evident in Cardiff.
In terms of the northern hemisphere, Wales and England remain miles behind the standards being set by their Six Nations rivals Ireland and France. In the south, South Africa and New Zealand are also far out in front. Wales and especially England can both get better, of course.
And on the evidence of the showing in the Welsh capital on Saturday, they will have to.
Both sides showed the expected passion and fervour for the fixture but this was a match up of two ultimately limited sides
Wales struggled to create openings beyond their solo try – scored by Louis Rees-Zammit
England will be happy enough with a gritty away victory as a springboard for potential further improvement. But for Wales, this was a third straight defeat under new coach Warren Gatland.
After threatening to strike for this game amid a contractual dispute before calling off the action after coming to a compromise with their rugby bosses, Wales very nearly didn’t make it to kick-off.
Gatland’s side had been humbled by Ireland and Scotland before the strike threat dominated the build-up to this game. There was a worry Wales would be tired and distracted.
They weren’t. They flew into the contest and their discipline and defence was much improved.
But, oh, their attack. So disappointing. Wales had so many positions of promise, but their connectedness was lacking and it allowed Alex Dombrandt and Lewis Ludlam to seal vital turnovers.
It spoke volumes that Wales’ only try came from an intercept when the electric Louis Rees-Zammit picked off Max Malins’ telegraphed pass and raced away to score.
There is so much for Wales attack coach Alex King to work on.
England deserved to win. They were dominant physically and they kicked to compete far better than their opposition as the excellent Freddie Steward ruled the skies.
Steward, the England full-back, was player of the match by a country mile. Why Wales kept kicking to him beggared belief.
There was kick upon kick. The fact so much boot was put to ball summed up the current state of both sides; desperate to win and struggling to get their game plan going.
Owen Farrell, as he did against Italy, couldn’t stop kicking. His aerial bombardment perhaps showed a lack of other ideas. When England did try and attack, they scored a fine try.
It came from a set-piece play, England’s backs dovetailing nicely and Dombrandt producing a wonderful pass for Anthony Watson to score acrobatically in the corner.
Both sides sought to kick and gain territory – with England more successful in that department
Anthony Watson crossing over in the corner in stylish fashion showed Steve Borthwick’s side have the potential for incisive, exciting rugby
Owen Farrell’s kicking off the tee was worryingly wayward for those of an English persuasion
Watson’s try was a rare moment of quality rugby in a game which was at best mediocre for long periods. Farrell’s kicking off the tee was also worryingly wayward for those of an English persuasion.
Even with three poor Farrell misses, England did enough to inch home. Wales went hell for leather at the death in search of what would have been a glorious victory given the week’s circumstances.
But, as it was all day, their attack was as sharp as a spoon and England held out with Ollie Lawrence’s late effort putting them deservedly further clear. Lawrence had another good game.
Nonetheless, if Ireland, France or the three big southern hemisphere giants had been watching this, they would hardly have been concerned.
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