Tuesday, September 29, 2015

England v Wales

On Saturday afternoon, Springboks flanker Schalk Burger made the most remarkable comeback in rugby history. In 2013, Burger was in hospital suffering from bacterial meningitis; so bad was the illness, Burger’s family were called to say their goodbyes. Just two years later the Stormers man touched down for a Springboks try against Samoa.
Wales’ comeback the same day will surely feature highly upon that list of great rugby comebacks; alongside the French defeat of the All Blacks at Twickenham in ’99 and Munster’s Miracle Match victory against Gloucester.
Wales already had their credentials tested before a ball was kicked. Injuries befell Welsh players like Spinal Tap drummers. But, with every injury Wales pulled harder, bound tighter, believed more; any more injuries and they'll win the World Cup.
Not that you would have believed it at quarter to nine GMT on Saturday. After the players had trudged off at half time, it was very much the England in the ascendancy. Their scrum rumbled unrelenting, with Jerome Garces penalising the Welsh front row so often the blood must have run from his left arm.
And while the scrum marched Wales back, Ben Youngs ran England forward. Each time the old rivals meet, the scrum half rises to the occasion; on the previous two meetings he was a man of the match contender. When he set Jonny May away to cross down the left wing, it was clear this game would be no different.
At 10 points down and with a creaking scrum, Wales looked down if not yet out.  Not helped by losing Scott Williams to a Brad Barritt tackle, then Liam Williams and Hallam Amos together in one passage of play. Wales went to Twickenham on a coach, but could have brought fit players back on a minibus.
The back division was patched up like a second hand lilo, with a winger at centre, fly half at fullback and a scrumhalf on the wing. However, this is Gatland's Wales and adversity is just fuel for fire in the belly. What was to follow would make a Hollywood film franchise look understated; on this occasion Dan Biggar would take the leading role.
Faultless goal kicking and exemplary under the high ball; Biggar provided everything people feared had been cruelly snatched away, along with Leigh Halfpenny. But those who have watched Biggar knew, they had seen the commanding performances he had put in for region and country.
As the pressure grew, so did Toby Faletau. By the time Jerome Garces blew his whistle for full time, Faletau's stature was positively colossal. England’s advertising campaign in the build up to tournament features some of their biggest names as giants wandering the streets; On Saturday it was Faletau who stood head and shoulders above his opponents.
The whole squad dug deep. Forget the old sporting adage of digging the well; Wales could have excavated the whole of South London with the effort they put in. England meanwhile became ill disciplined, giving away penalties cheaply.
Wales needed a moment of magic if they were to take anything from the game and Lloyd Williams can expect an invitation from the secret circle, such was his conjuring trick with just minutes remaining.
Brynmor's boy did well enough with a break down the left wing, however, it was the deft kick which split the defence in a manner that would have done Gareth Bale proud. That allowed Gareth Davies to race on to the ball and score under the sticks. 
Biggar added the conversion to draw Wales level, before punishing further English indiscretions to put Wales into a slender lead.
England hit back immediately to try and get over the Welsh line and earned themselves a penalty on the 20 metre line. However, England shunned the chance to level the scores instead deciding to go for the corner and glory. Brave? Stupid? The English press have certainly had their say on the decision.
England failed where Japan succeeded seven days before. There would be no late winning try, the heroics would belong solely to Wales as they dismantled England rolling maul to drive it into touch. 
Driven on by the thin air of Switzerland, the sweltering heat of Doha and the gigantic freezers of Hensol at 3am; Wales battled until the final second when the final say was fittingly had by Dan Biggar, who hoofed the ball into a deflated Twickenham crowd.
It leaves England teetering on the brink of crashing out of their own World Cup, as questions linger around Stuart Lancaster and his captain Chris Robshaw.
For Wales, it's Fiji up next and victory would be a big leap towards qualification. However that task has been made all that more difficult with less than five days between games and an injury list now stretching into double figures.
But there’s no time for either team to dwell, this is the world stage and the show must go on.
Queen - The Show Must Go On

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