- England beaten by Wales in Rugby World Cup clash at Twickenham
- Stuart Lancaster’s gamble on power backfired on Saturday evening
- England 25-28 Wales: CLICK HERE to follow the action as it happened
- RWC 2015: All the latest news and more from the Rugby World Cup
Oliver Holt For The Mail On Sunday
Somehow, Stuart Lancaster kept it together. He was screaming inside but he answered every question in the post-match press conference courteously. He was gracious in his praise for the Welsh. He did not make excuses.
His voice cracked occasionally as he searched for reasons for the devastating defeat he had just suffered. It was the only real clue to the enormity of the reverse that had just befallen him and his team.
This was a personal defeat for Lancaster as well as a defeat for England. He had gambled and he had lost. He had made a big call by dropping George Ford and however well his replacement, Owen Farrell, had played, Lancaster’s move had not worked. England had lost. That was all that mattered.
England players look dejected after losing 28-25 to Wales in Saturday evening’s Pool A World Cup clash
Wales’ Dan Biggar celebrates kicking the winning penalty with Gareth Davies against England at Twickenham
Stuart Lancaster’s great gamble on power over panache backfired and he now faces tough questions
This was Lancaster’s first big shot at personal triumph, too. He had prepared so long for this game. He had wanted so much to score a victory over one of the game’s great coaches, Warren Gatland. He had wanted to show he could explode Warrenball. He had failed.
Suddenly, chaos is raining down on an orderly man. The next seven days will bring the kind of upheaval and recrimination that Lancaster has never had to deal with before. Everything he has worked for is on the line now. England face being thrown out of the biggest and best party rugby has ever staged.
All is not lost yet but they must now beat Australia here next Saturday and this 28-25 defeat was a heavy, heavy psychological blow to the team and the coach. His selections in this tournament have been bold and fearless but against the Welsh, they were thrown back in his face.
Lancaster admitted beforehand he would face tough questions if England lost this match and now they will come. Most of all, he will be chastised for the decision to drop George Ford and the concentration on trying to stop Jamie Roberts and Wales rather than playing to England’s strengths. The days ahead will not be easy. It is time for crisis management.
England captain Chris Robshaw (left) is tackled by Jamie Roberts in the first half of the World Cup clash
So much had rested on this clash for Lancaster. He knew it was the kind of game that could define his entire reign as England coach. So did everybody else. ‘It is the type of decision which can make or break someone,’ England World Cup winner said of Lancaster’s abandonment of Ford.
This defeat had wider significance, too. Lancaster will also know it represented a failure of the culture he has tried to instil in this England squad in the three and a half years since he took over as coach. He has tried to replicate the passion and the fervour that Wales and its players summon for rugby and it had not worked.
There was a period in the second half when Twickenham looked like a field hospital. After every engagement, it seemed a Welsh player was stretchered off. And yet still England’s opponents would not yield. Even though their disadvantages grew, they hung in there.
And in the end, they broke England. As skipper Chris Robshaw admitted later, they forced England into poor decisions, not least the failure to attempt the penalty that would have drawn the game in the dying minutes. The mystique that surrounds Welsh rugby, the mystique Lancaster had been so desperate to negate, had triumphed again.
There is something mystical about the threat that Wales bring to occasions like this, something that makes the English feel threatened, something that goes beyond logic, something that draws on the greater love for the game that is supposed to beat within the Welsh.
Rugby is more germane to Welsh culture than it is to English culture. Rugby is more wrapped up in the Welsh idea of nationhood than it is in England’s increasingly confused vision of itself.
Davies’ try propelled Wales to an astounding victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday
There’s a romance about Wales and rugby that England can never match, no matter how successful England are. It’s in their soul. It’s mixed up with their choirs and their earth and their coal and their valleys. It’s everywhere.
Lancaster knew that long before Saturday night. He realised it fully back in March 2013 when England were trounced 30-3 by Wales at the Millennium Stadium in the Six Nations and the England coach felt the power of a nation pouring down from the stands.
That defeat and the knowledge that England would face another critical test against Wales in this Pool A match has shaped much of Lancaster’s thinking in the past three years.
It is a clash of countries that is often used to point out what England lack. It is a match-up where people love to point to the visceral determination of the Welsh and their devotion to the cause as if it is something England can never hope to emulate. It happened again on Saturday night.
Sam Burgess (pictured second left after Jonny May’s try) was selected as a man for the big occasion
That is part of the reason why Lancaster has been so keen to try to renew pride in being English to the team and its fans. He commissioned a film on Englishness and what it means. One of the most important elements of Englishness, he said, was never taking a backward step.
And so, on a night when the Welsh brought their passion to England and carried it before them as their greatest weapon, Lancaster decided he would match them with men of pride, men who carried an aura, men for the big occasion, men who would not take a backward step.
Burgess and Farrell did not let him down but it was hard to escape the fact that this was an England team shorn of guile. This was a team designed to try to stop Jamie Roberts and the Welsh, not to play to England’s strengths.
Ben Youngs attempts to evade the attention of two Wales players as he tries to drive England forward
It came close to working but indiscipline undermined England yet again as they gave away penalty after penalty and allowed Wales to stay in the game. Farrell was flawless with his penalty-kicking. And he made a big contribution in defence, too.
But England lost and so Lancaster’s gamble failed. He will come under pressure to reinstate Ford for the Australia match. His tactics will be questioned, his suitability as England coach will be raked over.
He cannot afford another failure now. Everything is on the line now: his principles, his ability, his leadership. Chaos is all around. He has a week to work things out. One way or another, he has to restore order.
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