February 25, 2024

Matt Dawson column: 'Disappointing England fails to entertain but it's two by two'

Winning is key, but England have been very public about their desire to entertain and improve the atmosphere at Twickenham.

I didn't feel entertained on Saturday and I'm okay with that, because England's win over Wales means they've won two out of two matches in the Six Nations and that's where they wanted to be.

But they came out of their bubble to say that they care about how the fans feel and that they know what the fans want.

This is fine, but it gives the audience the right to respond.

The feeling afterwards of the Twickenham car parks and hospitality was that it was a bit disappointing. This does not detract from the way the boys worked hard to achieve the win.

Wales gave a great account of themselves as they were in the first 40 minutes of this tournament, when they were 20-0 down at home to Scotland, while England were reduced to 13 men at one stage on Saturday and showed some great defence.

But the performance wasn't necessarily what they said they would do. It wasn't raining too much and there were plenty of opportunities to play differently.

I don't think any of the players of my generation aspired to be an English player for the sake of entertaining the nation, it was about winning games.

Some of the opportunities you get in the game give you a chance to entertain, while it is usually just kicking the ball out of the box.

I don't think fans care much about the longer pre-game walk to the locker room, but they do care about controlling every aspect of the play rather than skipping a few points.

If they go out there and win games with physicality, effort and hitting at the right time, I can guarantee the fans will be excited. What gets fans excited is when they come to Twickenham and think no visitors will win here.

England were supposed to have six chances to entertain and they chose not to.

One of their really good defensive combinations in the first half ended with them turning the ball over and having possession 20 or 30 meters from their goal line.

They passed the ball from the left to Elliot Daly and fired it up the pitch but Wales were wide of their feet. They had the ball for several phases and England defended well and then turned the ball over.

A trick kick or step from the right and there was no way Wales would have been able to cover. They're the kind of moments that it's the individual's responsibility to be entertaining.

video caption,

Six Nations 2024: England 16-14 Wales – Highlights

Signs of defensive improvement

There was definitely a step forward on defense.

There was more consistency in how they defended. Wales were screwing themselves because England were rooting for them and bringing Wales back again and again, so there were some really good things in the performance.

There was one Welsh serve in the second half when Rio Dier went down the right flank and it was similar to Italy's second attempt last week.

England couldn't recycle defenders and were all looking inwards – Daly made the wrong decision and Wales just went through.

I'm sure they practice this, but if you're going to blitz, you have to recycle your defenders, reload, and mark up.

You have to force the opposition to throw the pass over but you've taken all the cover out, so it's left one-on-one and George Ford is back to make a good tackle on Dier.

“It should be a Ford team now.”

There were parts of Ford's game that I liked.

He's very instinctive, has the skills to react and has more of the X factor about him.

“It has to be his team now and the shackles have to be released. He often makes really good decisions but I think he has to control the game more and decide which direction England will go.”

He has proven he can do that when he uses his instinct, such as the cross-kick that Dier had to touch from five meters out in the first half and 50-22 in the second half.

England should try to put him in these positions in the open field because he will cut them in, but you can't do that if you're just kicking the box for large parts of the game.

Up front, Ben Earl is the star player at the moment. If you could pick just one Six Nations player to fill out a full squad, it would be him.

video caption,

Six Nations 2024: Ben Earl breaks through the Wales defense to score a try for England

He's taken another load of loads but I don't want to see him in the top eight. I want to see him at seven or even six. I would like to see the balance change a little.

He's a great player but I want to see him again. I don't think we have anyone in the country who's better at eight than him, but when he's out there, it's a bit of a close thing.

At full-back, Freddie Steward was very solid in every part of the game.

He made some passes, distributed in a way we don't always see and was great in defence.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport's Mantej Man.