In 2003 as we are sure you all know, England won the Rugby World Cup, a magnificent achievement. In the quarter-finals, they suffered an alarm to their World Cup plans, when Wales in the first half caused them huge issues, with some brilliant attacking rugby as well as some errors made by England. The try analysed in this piece is Stephen Jones’ effort, which captures superb attacking play by Wales, all coming from England having possession, and one poor execution of a kick sets up the attacking platform for their opponents.
England has a ruck that provides clean ball for the scrum-half, Matt Dawson. It is a planned move, as he has Jonny Wilkinson getting back into position, but decides to pass to Mike Tindall. The English centre, whose kicking game was decent, but certainly not a key strength of his, puts boot to ball, but the execution of the kick is not good. One option was to go for a cross-field kick, which the fact that he is the furthest English teammate in the attacking line seems to suggest, and to use his height to good use in an aerial challenge with Welsh winger, Shane Williams. The other option for Tindall was to look to find touch. Whichever it is, the kick is either too long for an aerial challenge or too short for a kick to touch. As you can see by the ball’s position (circled in yellow), it leaves Wales with free ball and space to move. To compound the error, the ball is going to the most elusive player in space Wales have on the field, Shane Williams, who is circled in black.
Shane Williams has caught the ball, turned and is now looking to make the most of the opportunity he has. Poor Ben Kay, who is in front of him, has been left in a terrible position. A lock forward up against a quick pacy winger. Williams steps inside and Kay is instantly beaten. Three Welsh players (circled) are working to provide support to Williams to give him the option if he wishes to pass. Just one poorly executed kick and England now have a dangerous opportunity, and they need to get back into position quickly.
Taking the pass at pace
Williams has beaten Kay and now has Jonny Wilkinson coming straight at him (circled). Williams looks inside and Gareth Cooper, the Welsh scrum-half, has joined his winger and is racing up on the inside. Williams times the pass perfectly, and Cooper takes the offload at full speed. Wilkinson, fully committed to the tackle, hits Williams but the ball has gone, and Cooper is now a real danger to the English defence.
Calculating the options
Cooper races between two English defenders, and has in front of him Jason Robinson, the English full-back. Cooper’s great burst has left defenders floundering, but has also left him short of immediate support. Stephen Jones (the eventual try scorer) and Gareth Thomas, both circled, are trying to get to their teammate, but are not there yet. Cooper either has to take Robinson on or slow down to try to allow his teammates to assist him. Slowing down also will give England a better chance to regroup in defence though. Cooper slows, and as Robinson is about to tackle him, Gareth Thomas moves inside to take the pass off his scrum-half.
Gareth Thomas takes the pass and, after a few steps, Jonny Wilkinson (highlighted in red), racing back after his initial hit on Shane Williams, ankle taps the Welsh full-back. Thomas stumbles and as his knees hit the floor, passes to Shane Williams who also has now caught up with play. Williams, at this moment, has one defender in a position to stop the pending try. That player, highlighted in orange, is Ben Cohen. Williams has Stephen Jones inside him if needed.
Williams, as the ball approaches him from the pass, tries to adjust as the ball hits him in the midriff. He flips the ball up with two hands, but it is not under control as yet. From the below picture, Williams has eyes on the ball and Cohen senses that this is a real opportunity to tackle Williams and be the hero of the hour. He races across, but as he does the ball now is back in Williams’ hands. The winger throws a lovely offload back inside to Stephen Jones who has been tracking this move from very early on in the attack. Finally, he has the ball in his hands.
After the lovely bit of skill from Williams, Jones takes the pass. Jason Robinson is too far away to make any challenge, and Jones runs the last few yards to score a superb Welsh try.
This try sums up what a game of small margins rugby union is. One poor kick in midfield from England to the worst possible player to give the ball to in space, and Wales create an opening from which they score a try less than a minute later. Shane Williams is involved in the move twice, but where the movement gains momentum is the pace, and the break Gareth Cooper injects into the play. He takes three English defenders out of the game, and England’s defence never fully recovers. England would go on to have the last laugh, but Wales did worry them, and this try was a part of that process.