This weekend saw the middle weekend of the Six Nations rugby tournament and a key match between England and Wales who were both unbeaten from their first two games. I know a post about rugby may not mean much to any Swedish readers; however I do know that you play rugby since one of my co-workers plays his weekend games alongside the Swedish captain.
The game was at Twickenham, where Wales had not won since 1988, but on a clear sunny day they started the brightest, almost conjuring a try from a well worked lineout. They continued to dominate the first quarter and even had the chance to score the first points, until Leigh Halfpenny fluffed the penalty.
England, vastly improved from the World Cup with a new coach and set of players, duly came back into it with some excellent passing moves and strong forward play, and should have scored a try themselves but for an excellent last ditch tackle and some good Welsh defending.
There followed a series of penalties back and forth, all converted by England’s Owen Farrell (son of Rugby League’s Andy) and Halfpenny, and England led 9-6 at half time.
England had won their previous two games with last minute interceptions, and at the start of the second half it looked as if it would continue to be a winning tactic, as first Rhys Priestland had his clearing kick, right in front of his own posts, charged down and although England couldn’t score the try, Priestland himself gave away a penalty for offside and found himself in the sin bin for ten minutes. England duly scored to lead 12-6 and Wales were down to fourteen.
Usually the side who are down a player will concede seven points and last time the two met at Twickenham, Wales had a man sin binned and they shipped seventeen. But here they played their best rugby of the match. They kept possession, kept England pinned in their own half and were rewarded with a penalty of their own which Halfpenny slotted over. And when Priestland returned they had technically conceded no points at all.
It was easily the turning point of the game. England began bringing on their replacements, much less experienced than the Welsh and Owen Farrell after missing a penalty also found himself injured and had to leave the field himself following a great performance. Suddenly Wales found themselves stronger and after relentless pressure earned themselves another penalty to level the scores at 12-12. There were eight minutes left.
For years this was where the Welsh weakened but they have won tight matches already in this tournament and here they did again. England were attacking, but Courtney Lawes was tackled and Scott Williams wrestled the ball out of his grip. With a smart kick forward into acres of space behind England, he set off in chase.
Now, a rugby ball with its odd shape can bounce in all directions but he got the luck he needed as it continued to bounce forwards but in a slight curve too, evading the English defence. It jumped up perfectly into his arms and he dived over the line, just by the posts, amid roars and strains of ‘Bread of Heaven’.
Wales were ahead for the first time in the match, Halfpenny converted and it was 19-12 with five minutes to go. England unsurprisingly counter-attacked. They moved the ball left and right, won penalties on either wing, but they needed to score a try. And then, as the clock wound down, it seemed that they had. David Strettle had dived over, surrounded by Welsh bodies and the referee called for the video replay.
The wait was agonising. Had he touched down or hadn’t he? Would England have the chance to level the game with an unlikely Toby Flood conversion from the right touchline? In the end the replays proved inconclusive, the ref blew the final whistle and Wales had won.
They now have the chance to secure the championship and Grand Slam if they can beat Italy and France in their final few games, but England should be pleased. This was a much more attacking, intelligent style of rugby than they have played for many years, and come next year with some more experience, really will be the team to beat.