Steve Borthwick is heading in the right direction with England win

CLIVE WOODWARD: Steve Borthwick is heading in the right direction with England after their tense victory at the Principality Stadium but France will offer a real test… while Wales MUST beat Italy or face further Six Nations humiliation

  • England’s tense victory in Cardiff shows the progress Steve Borthwick is making
  • They outclassed Wales in their 20-10 triumph in the crunch Six Nations clash
  • Bigger tests await but all signs look positive under Borthwick’s watchful eye 

I was very encouraged by England’s success in Cardiff. Ahead of the game with Wales, I expressed how pleased I was about the side’s direction of travel under Steve Borthwick and victory at Principality Stadium rubberstamped that for me.

I’m sure Borthwick would have taken two wins from three at the start of his tenure as head coach. England can now look forward to France with real relish.

Don’t get me wrong, England faced a poor Welsh side. I read a lot of comments after the game that it was far from a classic and both teams still have significant work to do.

I’d agree with that, but looking at it from an English perspective, I think they should be very, very pleased. Borthwick deserves a great deal of credit.

No England win in Cardiff comes easily. I actually didn’t think England were going to lose at any point. Even when Wales scored through Louis Rees-Zammit’s interception, England went straight up the other end and Kyle Sinckler grabbed a try.

Steve Borthwick has now led the England to two wins from three since replacing Eddie Jones

England showed their strength in depth during their Six Nations clash with Wales in Cardiff

Lewis Ludlam (middle right) was one of England’s early aggressors against the Welsh

I thought the English back-row won them the game. They were just fantastic. Time after time, Lewis Ludlam, Jack Willis and Alex Dombrandt secured crucial turnovers, a number of which came with Wales attacking in the English red zone.

On two occasions, Ludlam and Dombrandt got over the ball to stop what would have been certain Welsh scores. Wales’ attack was very poor. You just can’t afford to waste such prime opportunities in international rugby.

But the fact their attacking game was stopped in its tracks was as much due to the work of the English back-row as it was Welsh wastefulness.

The game was the first time I had been to watch an international in Cardiff as a fan. I’d been there as a coach and a television pundit many times, but watching from the stands was a real privilege. 

There can be no doubt that Principality Stadium is the best rugby arena in the world. Even with the roof open, the atmosphere was superb. 

After backing their players’ threat of strike action, before it was withdrawn at the 11th hour, Wales’ supporters did so again when the action began. It was a huge test for England in Borthwick’s first away game as coach.

England passed it emphatically and would have won more convincingly if Owen Farrell had not missed four kicks at goal. Freddie Steward was man of the match and utterly dominant in the air.

I could not understand why Wales kept on kicking to him. There was lots of boot on ball but a crucial difference was that England kicked to compete far better.

Freddie Steward (white shirt jumping) was extremely dominant under the high ball on Saturday

Wales players produced a valiant effort in the wake of their contract dispute with the WRU

But Leigh Halfpenny endured a torrid afternoon when facing several England’s high kicks

That was an area of significant improvement from the Scotland game, where England kicked far too long and paid the price. Against Wales, England’s kicks caused Leigh Halfpenny plenty of trouble.

When Wales did the same, Steward ruled the skies. England were dominant physically and deserved to win. I was pleased for Ollie Lawrence to grab a try at the end and build on his Italy performance.

Now England can look forward to facing France at Twickenham. That is a game they absolutely can win. 

Antony Watson (right) celebrates scoring England’s first try with Seward on Saturday

England can now look forward to an epic encounter with World Cup favourites France next

They will have to improve to do so, but with momentum building in terms of results, I feel England have more than a good chance. Home advantage could prove key.

I liked the fact Borthwick kept most of his back-line which started the game on the field for the majority of the game. That shows he wants to build continuity.

It’s so nice to be able to comment on a positive English display and while not everything is perfect, I can’t wait for the France game now.

Wales travel to Italy next on the back of three Six Nations defeats ‑ four, if you include their defeat to the Azzurri last March. It will be a seriously tough test for them.

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