Eddie Jones’ grand design taking shape as England outsmart Wales | Dean Ryan

Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, Anthony Watson among coach’s top disciples as a fresh intelligence shows in Six Nations

It was a great result for an England side growing into Eddie Jones’s blueprint. They snuck home under huge late pressure and have won a triple crown – with a Six Nations title to follow as early as Sunday if France fail to beat Scotland.

England were dominant and in control for 72 minutes and then Wales showed us what they can do. Even after Dan Biggar’s charge-down try, the match looked like petering out but the replacements Rhys Webb and Rhys Priestland injected unpredictability and dynamism. It leaves you wondering why they do not play like that far more.

Of course it is easier when you are 25-7 down and have nothing to lose but for all Gareth Davies’s emergence, Webb is a class act and Priestland gets his backs playing in a way Biggar never will. Warren Gatland is known for his attritional gameplan but Priestland and Webb showed us the high-class attack that this can sometimes stifle. For five minutes they ran England ragged.

Jones’s side, though, deserve real credit because they were smart and they were very, very powerful, particularly in the first half. They took the game away from Wales and if the Dan Cole try had been given, they would have had a 23-0 half-time lead. But it was one of those ludicrous TMO decisions when everyone knows he has scored, but it cannot be given. In a game of that magnitude and with the players Wales have in their side – who have delivered consistently in the past – you would have expected them to turn up from the first whistle, but we barely saw them.

England’s intelligence, and this is where they are beginning to perform like a Jones side, was in identifying and consistently attacking the weaker areas of the Wales defence, while avoiding its strength. Players constantly charging up the middle are meat and drink to Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and co and they will be swallowed up.

So England varied their attack and targeted Wales on the short side and out wide, avoiding the teeth of the Wales defence. They refused to run at the defenders, always taking the ball and the game just away from their grasp, and this seemed to almost starve them of the fuel they needed to ignite their own game until it was too late and they were forced to throw the ball around. At no point in the first 40 minutes did Wales gain any kind of foothold.

It was not anything particularly brilliant from England but it was sharp and powerful. That intelligent approach to the Wales defence was allied to an effective kicking game and they contested the ball very strongly. That was as well as I have seen Anthony Watson challenge for the ball – I thought he was outstanding.

They effectively denied Wales any start points in the first half by competing for the ball, winning it and turning Wales around. When England made an error the Wales scrum fired occasionally but was often bullied-off the ball and struggled to gain a set piece platform, and in that first half their lineout was very messy, largely thanks to Maro Itoje’s outstanding spoiling.

In the scrum Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole are experienced and consistently powerful, and Joe Marler is not far behind them. Wales had Rob Evans and Samson Lee who are sporadically powerful and effective but struggle to put a string of decent scrums together. Cole and Hartley are relentless and the attritional pressure this creates is huge.

I cannot remember Wales launching a strike off a scrum or lineout in that first half. If they did get the position in England’s territory they were so disrupted they couldn’t launch anything off it. The moment when Wales had an isolated move in England territory only for Roberts to run into Dan Biggar summed up both the rarity of their creating anything and their uncharacteristic sloppiness when doing so. That Biggar and Roberts walked off in different directions shouting at each other and waving their arms around showed just how rattled they were.

The irony of the game was that for all their intelligent play, at least until the final 10 minutes, England’s try came from a shambolic attempt at a strike move of their own. Two back-rowers got in the way in midfield and the whole thing was going backwards until Itoje went down the short side and beat two defenders to put them through. He was terrific: more than capable with the ball in hand, a pain in lineout defence and a constant menace at the breakdown.

This focus on the breakdown comes from the whole team and the outside backs are just as important as the forwards. The relentless pressure this produces got to Wales.

The most composed Six Nations side were properly rattled by a side that is beginning to take real shape and play a very intelligent game. The same could not be said for Wales on Saturday, despite their final flurry.


Dean Ryan at Twickenham

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