Wales head coach Warren Gatland says he couldn’t ask any more of his players as they overcome even more injury problems to beat England 28-25 at Twickenham in their Rugby World Cup Pool A game. England head coach Stuart Lancaster rues his team’s ill-discipline and emphasises the importance of their next match against Australia.
LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (SEPTEMBER 26, 2015) (RUGBY WORLD CUP LIMITED/IMG) – An emotionally drained Warren Gatland hailed his battling Wales side after they overhauled England to score a dramatic 28-25 win that leaves them in a great position to escape from the toughest group in the Rugby World Cup and into the quarter-finals.
Scrumhalf Gareth Davies scored under the posts with nine minutes to go, levelling the match and setting up a grandstand finish.
A seventh penalty by man-of-the-match Dan Biggar then gave Wales the lead and the men in red repelled a final England charge to the corner to secure victory.
The pulsating win at the home of English rugby leaves Wales top of Pool A, dubbed the ‘group of death’ and means England must beat Australia in a week’s time to have any hope of emerging from the group.
Such is the strength of the group that one of the sides ranked, two, three and four in the world will miss the knockout phase of the competition.
Coach Gatland, whose side turned around a 16-9 deficit at halftime despite a plethora of injuries to an already ravaged side, said Wales had won because they had wanted victory more than England.
“The way that we finished, I thought the pleasing thing for me was that we looked the stronger team in that last 10 or 15 minutes and that’s testament to the hard work that has gone into this group of guys,” he told a post-match news conference. “The celebrations in the changing rooms were amazing and to think we had two teams, we put Dan Biggar back to full back, Liam Williams on the wing, George North had gone into the centre and we coped with that. I’m incredibly proud of the boys and the performance.
“For whatever reason it can happen for you and you’ve just got to dig deep and so as a coach the way that these players stuck at their task and took the points and kept playing – we were a bit more expansive in the second half – I can’t ask for anymore. They dug as deep as they did and I think we wanted it more in the end.
“It’s up there with one of the biggest wins that I’ve ever been involved in and there’s nothing bigger than a world cup and we all know how this pool is at the moment, so for us to come up to Twickenham and to win, you know, I don’t think I’ve shown quite as much emotion at the final 80 minutes as I did today because it meant a lot, it meant a lot to me personally, it meant a lot to the coaches and the players.”
The storming second-half comeback came at a cost with winger Hallam Amos suffering a dislocated shoulder, centre Scott Williams a knee injury and groggy fullback Liam Williams a head knock that forced him to be carried off on a stretcher.
Wales have been beset by injuries, both before and during the tournament.
Key backs Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb saw their World Cup dreams ended by serious injury in their final warm-up match while centre Cory Allen, who scored three of his country’s eight tries in their opener against Uruguay, was ruled out of the rest of the tournament by a hamstring tear.
It left Gatland pondering just who he could call on with Wales facing Fiji at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff on Thursday (October 2).
“It’s massive for us. We’d spoken that if we could win today and win against Fiji then that game England-Australia is absolutely huge and the pool could be over by that stage after that,” he said.
Wales captain, Sam Warburton, added: “We never doubted the strength in depth that we’ve got in the squad. I think people outside, if we’re being honest, thought that we didn’t have the strength in depth to come to England and get such a great win and we never doubt the guys who come off the bench because we know how hard they’ve worked and how well those individuals are prepared and we know we’ve got a good squad.
“And it’s nice to see the guys who come off the bench – the quality that we’ve got coming off the bench is unbelievable and that lifts us. So even though guys are going off injured and you’re gutted for those guys, the guys who have come on, you know you’re looking at Luke Charteris, who has got over 50 caps, Justin Tipuric, a British Lion, Rhys Priestland, who’s done it already four years ago; it’s great – same as Lloyd Williams.
“It’s great to see those guys coming off and I really do believe in the depth that we have got in this squad and we’re really proud in the effort of the boys put out today.”
Liam Williams will go through concussion protocols after appearing to be knocked out by a stray boot but Gatland said Scott Williams’ injury “doesn’t look great”. Amos walked gingerly off the Twickenham turf grimacing and clutching his right arm.
England bemoaned their lack of discipline which allowed Biggar to kick seven penalties.
Repeated infringements, particularly at the breakdown, were punished by French referee Jerome Garces, pinning England back on the scoreboard time after time.
“Devastated really at losing the game having been in a position where we were playing so well and obviously had a dominance on the scoreboard but unfortunately we gave away some penalties and Dan Biggar, the world class goal kicker that he is kept them in the game and ultimately came away with the win so well done to them,” Lancaster said.
The decision to spurn a 78th-minute kick at goal and opt for a lineout could ultimately cost England a place in the quarter-finals and haunt captain Chris Robshaw for the rest of his career.
Only Will Carling has led England as captain on more occasions than Robshaw. Saturday marked the day he overtook Martin Johnson in that regard but his near four-years in charge will be condensed into that call made under the most intense pressure he would ever have experienced.
When they were awarded a penalty wide on the right Robshaw had the option of asking Owen Farrell to go for goal to secure a probable draw. Farrell had nailed every one of his five goalkicks as well as a drop-goal and most of the 81,129 crowd would have backed him to land another to fully justify his recall to the starting lineup.
Robshaw, however, opted to kick for touch and go for a lineout. England collected it successfully but their attempt at a maul was shunted into touch by an almighty Welsh drive and when the visitors won the resulting lineout, it was all over and Wales celebrated a remarkable 28-25 victory.
“That came to myself,” said Robshaw when asked who made the decision. “I spoke to the kickers on the pitch and we decided we wanted to go for the win but unfortunately it didn’t come off.
“It was a tough kick and in the two driving mauls before we’d made some good ground.”
Coach Stuart Lancaster described it, unsurprisingly, as a “big call.” “On the field they make the decision. If you go there (the lineout), you’ve got to score it,” he said.
Robshaw urged his team to focus on the clash with Australia at the same venue in a week’s time. Saturday’s defeat could make the match a must-win if England are to progress from Pool A, dubbed the “group of death”.
“We know we’ve got a huge challenge in Australia coming to town and all focus on that,” Robshaw said. “Of course we’re going to be gutted and devastated tonight but we’ve got to move on pretty quickly unfortunately.”
Lancaster said it was a crucial match against Australia.
“It’s absolutely no doubt it’s knockout rugby,” he said. “I mean Wales have got to go play Fiji, obviously they’ve still got to play Australia but our game against Australia obviously is knockout stage. Two go through from the pool, as you know and teams in the past have lost a pool game go to the final and we’ve seen that happen before so I said to the boys in the changing room everything has got to go now into beating Australia; that’s fairly obvious.”
Wales sit on top of Pool A with nine points, three ahead of England. Australia, on four points after one game, take on Uruguay in Birmingham on Sunday (September 27).