Sunday, March 17, 2013

England Humbled By Wales In Six Nations Finale

England started Saturday afternoon's game against Wales with a chance to claim their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003. They finished it with a record 30-6 defeat in Cardiff that not only crushed their Grand Slam ambitions, but saw the Dragons claim the Six Nations title for a second successive season.

English Rugby will understandably feel disheartened in the aftermath of what was certainly a crushing defeat. However, the 2013 Six Nations should still be reflected upon as being a positive tournament overall for this English side and Stuart Lancaster's team have plenty to build upon ahead of the 2015 World Cup on home soil.

The game itself was a one-sided affair from the off. Wales had energy and drive that England simply couldn't match for the most part. A dogged defence prevented any more damage than a 9-3 halftime lead for the Welsh, but the feeling was that it was only a matter of time.

For England's part, they wasted far too many opportunities while in decent position. On several occasions decent positions were squandered in the Welsh half with careless, potentially even nervous, attacking play. Those mistakes were exploited ruthlessly by a Welsh side that showed all of the attacking fluency that guided it to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2012.

The defending champions fielded 12 players who featured in that campaign and it was very clear that they were determined to retain their title when given the chance to do so on home soil in Cardiff. They did so and in impressive fashion against their big rivals.

It would be easy to be hard on an England team that scored just one try in the last four games. A team that didn't look like real challengers on the big occasion. However, Lancaster and his coaching staff should take plenty of positives from this competition. This is an inexperienced and young English line-up, a fact highlighted with 10 members of the starting line-up playing their first international in Cardiff on Saturday.

The defensive effort throughout this year's Six Nations was admirable and impressive. There was a fight, grit and determination in the way in which this team defended, especially deep in their own half, which should be of great encouragement moving forward.

On the other hand, this is a team that has work to do when it is going forward. They seem devoid of speed and frequently over the last three games especially issues cropped up in terms of passing fluency. Lancaster won't want to sacrifice his defensive grit, but it is clear that he needs to instill and generate more attacking threat out of this team whether that be in terms of tactical changes or in terms of line-up alterations.

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