Difference between black and white: while England hoped NZ expected

Never mind Chris Robshaw’s brain fade at the end, Wales earned victory at Twickenham

Chris Robshaw of England catches the lineout ball before being bundled into touch by Welsh players during the World Cup Pool A match at Twickenham on September 26th. photograph: mitchell gunn/getty

Chris Robshaw of England catches the lineout ball before being bundled into touch by Welsh players during the World Cup Pool A match at Twickenham on September 26th. photograph: mitchell gunn/getty

 

Richie McCaw opted for the lineout. New Zealand were trailing South Africa 20-17 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in July with six minutes to go having been largely outplayed. They had in the week worked out a strategy for such an eventuality, reckoning the game would be close and would more than probably come down to a play close to the end. It was not just a lineout they went for, but a rehearsed one.

While their head coach Steve Hansen had spent much of the week railing about the failure of the lawmakers to protect sides trying to defend a driving maul, the All Blacks were on the training field devising a ploy that would optimise their chances of scoring a try from an attacking lineout.

Remarkably simple

So when another captain with seven on his back, Chris Robshaw, was put in the same position against Wales at Twickenham last Saturday , although there were three rather than six minutes remaining, with his side trailing by three points and opted for a lineout rather than attempt to tie the scores, the assumption was that England had been working in training for this exact moment and that they had a routine that would surprise Wales.

Er, no. Robshaw stood at the front of the lineout, received the throw and was bundled into touch. Where New Zealand had expected to score in Johannesburg, England merely hoped, the difference between black and white. Robshaw made the wrong call because England did not have a move that enhanced their chances of scoring a try, one that days of analysis by Wales would not have revealed.

The surprise was that there was no surprise. Perhaps they were trying to be counter intuitive, but England had by then unravelled. At the point when they should have taken control, seven points ahead with Wales forced to play three players out of position behind the scrum, they lost their grip.

Second Captains

Wales’s bench, especially behind the scrum, seemed to lack game-changers, reflecting the injuries they had already suffered, but it was Lloyd Williams, a scrumhalf playing on the wing, who made the try that brought them back into the game. In contrast, when England lost Ben Youngs and Billy Vunipola, two of their most effective players on the night, the fault lines were exposed.

The reaction to England’s defeat has verged on the hysterical, as if the hosts had a divine right to win. Their head coach, Stuart Lancaster, is a strict headmaster on the one hand but too nice on the other, not up to it along with Robshaw. Why was all this not pointed out before the match when the common belief was that England would win?

It is not as if they have been knocked out of the World Cup, even if no side has gone on to win the trophy after losing a pool match.

Credit in reverse

While invective has been heaped on Lancaster, his opposite number Warren Gatland has not received the credit in reverse. Had Twickenham followed up an approach to him made in 2007 , he would probably now be among the hordes who sleep in the House of Lords such is the difference he has made to Wales despite the lack of impact made by the regions in Europe during that time and, in recent years, in the Guinness Pro 12.

Under him, Wales have developed New Zealand’s trait of being able to stare adversity in the face and not back down, a granite hardness that England lacked, chiselled in Gatland’s image. It won them the match. Wherever he has gone, Gatland creates an environment of self and mutual belief, getting players to reach heights they did not think they were capable of.

He has an experience Lancaster, in his first World Cup campaign, lacks and if England fail to make the last eight, Lancaster should not be dismissed. While both coaches have a strong management team, no one is in any doubt that Gatland is in charge and calls the shots. Lancaster has to make himself seen in the same way.

Never mind Robshaw’s brain fade at the end, Wales earned the victory at Twickenham. Gatland ensured his team enjoyed the moment but no more. He knows how fortunes in a World Cup can oscillate, up one match and down the next. When you have climbed one hurdle, you have to look only at the next one. For England that is Australia at Twickenham, a fixture they have won in the last two years .

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