The Phil Vickery Column
Forget Wales' tactics - they were just too weak
Phil Vickery
February 9, 2015

One defeat does not mean a team are in crisis. There is no need for Wales to rip up their tactics book and start again, no need to panic. Last Friday, under the stars in Cardiff, they were simply beaten by a better side. England out-muscled Wales and it was a brilliant result for them - they were far better than the scoreline suggests.

Two years ago Wales lost their opening Six Nations match against Ireland. A few weeks on and they were lifting the championship title having seen off England. It is possible they could do the same this year. They have the experience, the nous and the coaching staff to win four on the bounce but they will have to take stock after last Friday's loss. It will have hurt. They went into the game as favourites and came out with a bloody nose.

It would have been an unfamiliar situation for Wales. The way they play with their big ball carriers, they rely heavily on the go-forward and their game plan comes off the back of that. But they got absolutely no joy from that in the second half. England came out and took the game to Wales without making too many mistakes.

The target on England's backs got a whole lot bigger after last Friday night

I saw some asking Wales where their Plan B was but I'm always a little sceptical about that school of thought. Teams have a plan when they go into the game and there are inevitably tweaks throughout as the coaches start relaying messages through the water carriers. However, they won't have clear, definable differences between one game plan and another which can be introduced mid-match. Wales simply didn't have any answers to England's physicality; it wasn't a case of poor tactics.

The second half is the finest I have seen England play under Stuart Lancaster. Taking into account what happened two years ago, they were a different beast. Friday's performance can be a catalyst for them to move forward. The players will be mentally a lot tougher and they can use it as a foundation to really nail their colours to the mast and say 'this is who we are'. I felt hugely proud watching them.

England had a relentless desire to win and the enthusiasm of the team to get back on their feet defensively was unbelievable. They also carried the ball a lot better than Wales. Their leg drive improved immeasurably in the second 40 which gave England a solid grasp on the game and no-one impressed me more than James Haskell.

Haskell was Man of the Match by a country mile, with Dave Attwood also deserving praise, but this was a team performance built on discipline. Wales pride themselves on conditioning but England looked stronger and faster.

The tactics were spot on and while I have criticised some of England's substitutions in the past, I thought these were made at the right time by Lancaster. Nick Easter coming on for George Kruis gave me the yips a little bit as that right-hand role in the second-row is key for the tight-head, but apart from the block for Attwood's non-try, Easter did well.

Wales' George North battles on, Wales v England, Six Nations Championship, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, February 6, 2015
Wales lost the battle of the gainline on Friday © Getty Images

The good thing for England is there are areas they can improve. Was their lineout brilliant? Not really, and neither was the scrum. It's a nice step on for them as they are so often reliant on the set piece but even though that wasn't as watertight as it has been, they just kept on going.

England will now come back down to earth. Both teams will return to their team bases and start looking forward to the next round. There isn't a huge amount for Wales to change for Scotland. They will do their analysis and Scotland will pose a different threat to England. They are a lively bunch and played with a lot of endeavour against France.

Wales face a big challenge but so do England. I've never played an easy game against Italy but England can go into the match full of confidence. It will be a completely different scenario: last Friday they were underdogs but they are overwhelming favourites for Saturday's game now.

Italy haven't really pushed on in the last 15 years since they joined the Six Nations and we're still talking about the intangibles like passion and desire when referring to the Azzurri. They have a decent scrum and lineout but they have produced little else yet they still have the potential to cause an upset. England cannot rest on their laurels.

Before the start of the championship I saw Joe Schmidt saying he felt Ireland had a target on their backs but this England team is building a reputation now. Everyone will want to beat England, more so now than ever before; the target on their backs got a whole lot bigger after last Friday night.

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