Bigger picture looms for Biggar as Wales leave England reeling

In the aftermath of a glorious, ­cacophonous occasion, Dan Biggar was seeing a bigger picture, as befits Wales’ king of cool. Biggar came on for Gareth Anscombe as substitute stand-off and lobbed the long pass and cross-kick that created thrilling last-quarter tries for Cory Hill and Josh Adams; turning an England lead of 13-9 into a season-defining defeat.
Englands Elliot Daly can only watch on in anguish as Josh Adams touches down for Wales match-clinching second try.
Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty ImagesEnglands Elliot Daly can only watch on in anguish as Josh Adams touches down for Wales match-clinching second try.
Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Englands Elliot Daly can only watch on in anguish as Josh Adams touches down for Wales match-clinching second try. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

“Let’s see if we can get it to 14 first, and go from there,” Biggar said, combining a reference to Wales’ new national-record run of 12 straight Test wins with a hope they can go on now to a Six Nations Grand Slam by beating Scotland in Edinburgh and Ireland in Cardiff next month.

“Look, we’re in a good spot, but we are fully aware the World Cup is coming up at the end of this year, so we are 
conscious of not peaking too soon. We’re getting good results, but we have to keep delivering.”

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England retreated from the Principality Stadium after their first loss to the Welsh since Eddie Jones became head coach in 2016, in the knowledge they can still win the Six Nations Championship if Wales slip up. Owen Farrell’s team will be expected to rout Italy in their next match at Twickenham, with Scotland to follow, also at home.

But of all the words spoken, before, during and after this switchback contest – which a more worldly-wise, tactically-flexible England would have won – the jibe from Wales’ head coach Warren Gatland lingered longest.

“I look back on England in the last few years,” said the man who coached Ireland in the Six Nations from 1998 to 2001, and Wales since 2008, and the British & Irish Lions three times in that period. “And when it’s really mattered, I’ve questioned whether they can win these big games.”

Somehow it carried as much oomph as the staggering impact made by the outstanding Wales flanker Josh Navidi in a pack who used the pick-and-go in attack, and almost maniacal tackling in defence, to keep England’s Billy Vunipola at bay, and find gaps in 
the wide channels when it counted.

Gatland was referring, perhaps, to the 2015 World Cup, when England were beaten by Wales and Australia in their pool at Twickenham, or the Grand Slam matches lost in Wales in 2013, and Ireland in 2011 and 2017.

England’s hooker Jamie George responded: “I think that’s unfair. [But] Warren can say what he likes. He is in a position of power after winning that game so fair play to them. We have won big games before and we are going to win big games again. We are a team that genuinely week on week – and I have never been a part of like it in any England, Saracens or Lions team – is desperate to learn and get better.”

Among so many knife-edge moments, the ones just before half-time epitomised England’s demise, as Farrell refused a dropped goal after an 11-man drive for the line was disrupted by the brilliant Alun Wyn Jones, and Ben Youngs’s misfired pass led to a kick to Jack Nowell that Wales defended.

England eschewed a captain’s run and kicking practice in Cardiff in favour of a late arrival on Friday afternoon – something to do with prepping for the World Cup, and this despite ten of the 23 visiting players having never played in the stadium before.

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Oh well, they have played there now, and the takeaway before a possible rematch with Wales in the World Cup knockout stages this October was a second half in which England conceded crucial penalties and sustained injuries to Jonny May (concussion) and Courtney Lawes (what looked a serious ankle problem) to compound the absence of Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola and Dylan Hartley.

Farrell had kicks blocked or put out on the full. There were passes knocked on to hand Wales possession. Tom Curry and Kyle Sinckler, England’s twin tackling machines, could not keep it up forever.

Wales had their lineout wobbles but Gatland said: “The second half was as good as it gets and a lot of people out there might sit up and take a little bit of notice. The biggest challenge for us now is to not be happy with beating England and accepting where we are, but to try and build further and create something very special.”