Wounded England boss Steve Borthwick looked to put a positive spin on his team’s second-half capitulation to Wales on Saturday evening in Cardiff. His charges led 9-6 at the interval in their opening Summer Nations Series match ahead of the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
However, they failed to conjure a try despite numerous visits to the opposition 22 and they ultimately paid a heavy price for that mishap as they were hit by a two-try Welsh riposte and went down to a 20-9 defeat that could have been far worse, particularly if Louis Rees-Zammit got a TMO decision to go his way when he thought he had scored late on.
For England, who limped to the finish line in the Guinness Six Nations earlier this year and ultimately lost three of their five matches, this latest loss will be a blow to the fragile confidence given how they weren’t able to build on the half-time position.
Once Gareth Davies grabbed his early second-half try, Wales were always in the driving seat and even the return of George Ford off the bench in his first appearance since March 2022 couldn’t impact the dominant Welsh momentum which intensified with George North’s try.
It all added to up the England management heading into a Saturday night summit on a despondent note to decide their 33-strong World Cup squad which will be publicly unveiled on Monday at Twickenham after the players are informed on Sunday morning before they head home from Wales.
“I will speak to all the players tomorrow morning [Sunday] and inform them of the selection and we will announce it on Monday morning,” said Borthwick, explaining how he will cut down a squad that numbered 41 plus two extra injury rehab options coming into match week last Sunday.
“Over the coming weeks the team will sharpen up,” he insisted after a fixture in which he had yet to get a full medical update but did say that David Ribbans was withdrawn due to a HIA.
“We are still in quite a big training phase, but the team will start to sharpen up in the next few weeks. From my point of view, I am looking forward to announcing the squad on Monday and I’m really looking forward to the Test match against Wales at Twickenham next Saturday.
“Before this game I was really clear that I’d reflect on where I am in terms of the squad selection and reflect whether this game changes that.
“It’s another piece of information in terms of the complete picture that I am after, a full picture of each and every one of the players in order to make the best informed decision.
“The game today informed many different elements and it is another step for us as we build forward. That is why I say we will build in these four games.
“I have spoken to the team and everyone knew (it was) the turnovers (that hurt) and the count I saw was 21 to nine – it is very difficult to win Test matches with that turnover count. What it means is we created opportunities in the opposition 22 and didn’t take them.
“In that first half we created a load of opportunities in the opposition 22. In Test rugby you have got to score and ultimately we came away in that first half with three penalties… that would be a big take away from it.”
Then there was the faded set-piece. “We talked about our set-piece and first half our scrum was strong and won penalties and lineout provided a load of ball for our attack but in the second half both those areas faltered. There was interchange on both teams and those two areas faltered.
“Ultimately there were a high number of handling errors and errors in contact and whilst our breakdown was good against a team that jackal the ball, handling errors cost us.
“There are areas for us to work on, but to create that number of entries to the opposition 22, that was a step forward from where we were.”