Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Tyrone Howe: England’s classy defence has last laugh to silence Gatland

Warren Gatland ate humble pie and Dylan Hartley had the last laugh after 80 minutes at the Millennium Stadium.

Following on from their impressive autumn internationals, it was confidence and self-belief that brought Martin Johnson’s men through their Cardiff test.

They never looked flustered, and Johnson seems to have finally infused the side with a composed toughness with few self-imposed cracks.

That may well be the biggest difference between the two sides. Wales’ confidence is wafer-thin and it is taking less and less to expose.

This manifested itself in attack by kicking the ball away when it made far more sense to keep it in hand. Too often Wales took the former approach — the sign of a side low in self-esteem.

England’s increasingly robust nature is expressed most obviously through the star names in attack.

For me, however, the man of the match was outstanding second row Tom Palmer — imperious in the lineout, his sojourn in France seems to have transformed his rugby nous and all round play.

The impressive England mindset may actually have less to do with attack and more to do with Ireland’s former defence coach, Mike Ford, who is now an integral part of the England coaching team.

Watching England defend reminded me so much of Ireland in their heady days — organised, aggressive and composed. Defence underpins confidence and a team’s performance.

It takes quite a while to understand the ‘system’, but once clarity is achieved, it makes for a mean defensive line and a solid foundation.

For Gatland, things might get more difficult. Scotland will be positively looking forward to another opportunity to take the pitch and add further misery to Wales’ run of losing games.

Murrayfield is a difficult place to visit and while it will be a warm welcome, I do not believe that Wales will find the Scots, so desperate for a win, in too generous a mood.

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