Saturday 22nd February was an outstanding day for English rugby; in fact I’d go so far to as to say that it was a monumental day. In front of 81,555 at Twickenham and millions more watching on TV Stuart Lancaster’s England team came of age as they beat one of the best teams in the world.
A number of times Stuart Lancaster’s squad have been guilty of being the ‘nearly men’… nearly beating New Zealand… nearly beating France… but yesterday they ripped off that tag in emphatic fashion. Character, heart and determination were qualities shown in absolute spades and Andy Farrell couldn’t have hit the nail on the head better when he said that his team showed ‘massive balls’ to overcome the Irish.
It was a test match of epic proportions, the intensity was greater than anything that we have seen this year in the RBS 6 Nations and the quality of rugby shown out there on the pitch from both teams was world class. Ireland threw everything that they had at England and England threw it all back with just enough interest to win the game.
Looking at the match itself as many have already said it was the most enthralling 3 – 0 first half that we have seen in a very long time. Pitchside you sensed that half time arrived just at the right time for both teams in order to rehydrate, regroup and hear a few choice words from their respective coaches. We all know that the first score after half time is critical and sadly for England it went to Ireland and there was an immediate and huge momentum shift against them. In previous matches England have struggled at this point however yesterday they rallied and showed a huge amount of inner confidence to turn the game around. This is what pleased Stuart Lancaster the most and this is why I am saying that it was a monumental day for England Rugby.
It would be remiss of me not to mention certain individuals, from an English perspective, that were instrumental to yesterday’s win. The brilliance of Danny Care and Mike Brown clearly manifested itself on the scoreboard but it was the tireless work of a few others that should also be noted and praised. David Wilson, who I’d heard called the ‘poor man’s Dan Cole’ last week, played out of his skin for 69 minutes before Henry Thomas came on and was equally influential at scrum time. Billy Twelvetrees was one of England’s leading tacklers with 13 to his name and Joe Launchbury was simply world class deservedly earning his description by many as the ‘forward of the match’.
Am I being too optimistic? Am I praising England too highly? I have to say that I don’t think that I am… I defy you to replay that match, as a fan of England Rugby, and not feel the same way. Stuart Lancaster rightly pointed out that this win will count for nothing if his team cannot build on it and of course he is right. However in the cold light of day that fact remains that yesterday’s performance was a huge step in the right direction and if England replicate or dare I say it, build on it against Wales in two weeks’ time it will be one hell of a battle and certainly a very, very different one to that fateful day last year at the Millennium Stadium.