Six Nations 2021: Wales 40-24 England

By Sports Desk February 27, 2021

England fell foul of some contentious refereeing decisions and indiscipline as Wales clinched a Six Nations triple crown with a 40-24 bonus-point win in Cardiff.

Eddie Jones' team felt hard done by in the first half with referee Pascal Gauzere at the centre of the discussion, allowing questionable tries from Josh Adams and Liam Williams to stand.

Anthony Watson's try handed England some momentum heading into the second half, though Kieran Hardy's effort seemed to have put Wales back in control.

Owen Farrell moved onto 1000 points in international rugby either side of Ben Youngs' score to level proceedings, yet a trio of composed penalties from Callum Sheedy and a late Cory Hill try settled a topsy-turvy contest.

Biggar kicked Wales ahead in the fifth minute, though Williams just denied Mario Itoje an opening try after a charge down at the other end.

Farrell restored parity after Ben Youngs' break resulted in an England penalty, but the visiting captain was soon left seething with referee Gauzere soon after.

England were given little time to set from a penalty restart, and Biggar's kick found Adams, who raced over in the corner.

Farrell channelled his frustration as he slotted a long-range penalty between the posts, though another contentious call then went against the Red Rose as Williams went over.

Louis Rees-Zammit's fumble in the build-up was adjudged to have gone backwards, and Biggar's conversion clipped the post on its way through.

England hit back when Watson forced himself through a crowd of defenders, and though Farrell missed the kick, he atoned with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.

Hardy cruised through a gap to restore Wales' cushion, though Farrell's penalty pulled England to within seven points – the skipper then reached his milestone 1000 international points by converting Youngs' try.

But with the scores level, defensive errors cost England, and in the space of eight minutes, Sheedy had struck nine points.

It set the stage for Hill to add further gloss as he bundled over under the sticks to send Wales to the top of the standings in style.

Wales looking good in Wayne's world

It was a tough 2020 for Wayne Pivac, but the New Zealander now has his team playing with real confidence and belief.

England might point to the refereeing decisions going against them, but their own errors in the final stages ultimately proved decisive and Wales took full advantage. They now top the standings by two points, with France not playing this weekend due to a COVID-19 outbreak in their camp, and having wrapped up a triple crown, look well on course for a Grand Slam.

Farrell's landmark proves fruitless

It is now 1000 points from 91 caps for England captain Farrell, who appeared to be leading his side back into the contest until those costly defensive slip ups.

Farrell is just the second man to reach that tally for England after World Cup 2003 hero Jonny Wilkinson (1179).

What's next?

England face another huge test in the form of France in round four, while Wales travel to Rome to face lowly Italy.

Related items

  • Rashford a doubt for Man Utd's clash with Burnley, confirms Solskjaer Rashford a doubt for Man Utd's clash with Burnley, confirms Solskjaer

    Marcus Rashford is a doubt for Manchester United's Premier League clash with Burnley on Sunday, boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed.

    The England international did not make it off the substitutes' bench during United's 2-0 win over Granada on Thursday, a result which sealed a 4-0 aggregate victory to book a Europa League semi-final against Roma.

    Rashford – who is suffering from an ongoing foot injury – took his tally to 20 for the season in the first leg, making him the first United player to hit double figures in consecutive campaigns since Wayne Rooney 11 years ago.

    The 23-year-old has missed just three games for United this season and Solskajer said he will give Rashford as long as he needs to prove his fitness. 

    "It's a big bonus that he didn't have to put any pressure on his foot [against Granada]," Solskjaer told a media conference. "I have got to hope he can be available and not make it worse. That is the decision I have got to make, so fingers crossed.

    "He wasn't due to be on the bench really. He didn't train yesterday [Wednesday] but, just in case, he put his hand up and said 'if needed, I could do a job'. 

    "So, it is a decision I have got to make on Sunday morning. But he is important for us. It is a difficult one. You have to go by how Marcus feels in a couple of days."

    United host Burnley at Old Trafford looking to win five consecutive Premier League games for the first time since they won their first six under Solskjaer's leadership in January 2019. 

    While another three points would take them another step closer to sealing a top-four finish, it is unlikely to help them rein in leaders Manchester City, who have an 11-point lead over their neighbours, having played a game more. 

    Solskjaer is not prepared to write off United's title chances just yet, but he does concede it seems improbable that City will drop enough points to allow them back into the race. 

    "Of course we'll never give up," he said. "Manchester United will never, ever give up. This club has had too many setbacks and too many great comebacks to have it in our DNA. 

    "Is it realistic? No, probably not. When you have a team that is so consistent as Manchester City have been, you don't expect them to lose three games of the last six. 

    "As long as we do our job, we want to finish the season strong and go one game at a time."

    With a seven-point lead over Leicester City, United look well placed to improve on their third-placed finish last season. 

    While Solskjaer is pleased with his side's progress this term, he will not be satisfied until they have won the Premier League title for the first time since Alex Ferguson's last season in charge in 2012-13. 

    "You've got to make progress, step by step, that's the reality," he explained. "If we can manage second place and keep winning and get second, if Man City win all games and we win ours, you want to finish strongly. 

    "Third last year, second this, close to a trophy. It's progress. It's not the end game; the end game is winning the league. But we are not in the era of Sir Alex and we've had a transformation period since he left.

    "But it's progress, step by step, and if we do that well enough, that is when you get trophies and league titles which, of course, is our ambition."

  • Foden must keep showing it on the grass – Guardiola Foden must keep showing it on the grass – Guardiola

    Pep Guardiola shrugged off the suggestion Phil Foden's sensational form proves he was right to slowly ease the youngster into first-team action, insisting football is only about the present.

    Manchester City prodigy Foden made his Premier League debut in 2017-18, playing five times in total. While his talent was obvious, Guardiola was cautious with his development, opting to drop the attacker in and out of games, sometimes causing ire in the media.

    A total of 13 league appearances followed in 2018-19 before Foden truly began to establish himself last season, making 37 appearances across all competitions.

    Guardiola's cautious approach has seemingly paid off, with Foden one of City's most impressive players this campaign.

    The 20-year-old has played 41 times in total, including 29 starts. He is joint-second – alongside Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling – in City's scorers' list with 13 goals, behind Ilkay Gundogan (16); Foden's latest strike coming against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

    His tally of nine assists is bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne (16), with the Belgian (99) and Riyad Mahrez (75) the two City players to have created more chances than Foden (65).

    But asked if he can take credit for Foden's development, Guardiola insisted the England international must continue to prove himself in every game.

    "It's not about what we believed in the past, it's about what they show on the grass," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of City's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Saturday.

    "So, footballers have to show every single day. The journalists will talk a lot about the past, or the future. In football it's about the present.

    "In the present it doesn't matter what we have done, it's what we do today. Everybody is involved, talking and talking. The players have to talk on the grass.

    "It's the only way they can protect their position and win in the present and in the future. It's as simple as that.

    "Phil in that case, everything we get right now is on the grass, not in any other situations. He's going to continue being there depending on his performance, not on what he has done so far at a young age. You have to every game win something to stay in the position and playing every day."

    While Foden is thriving, one player whose form has been called into question in some quarters is Sterling, who only came on for a brief cameo towards the end against Dortmund.

    Guardiola, however, disregarded the suggestion it had to be a choice between Foden or Sterling for a spot on the left.

    "If you know a bit the trajectory of this team selection, then the answer is obvious," said Guardiola, who also confirmed Sergio Aguero will not be fit to feature at Wembley.

    "Of course they can play together, they have played many times together. Phil can play in five positions, Sterling in three positions. Everyone can play in a few positions, so it depends on them."

    Sterling has created fewer opportunities than Foden this season (45), though he has the same amount of assists, having crafted the same number of Opta-defined "big chances" (12) and both are over-performing their expected assists to a similar degree.

     

    Foden has a slightly better shot conversion rate – 16.1 per cent compared to 15.7 – though has attempted two fewer (81 compared to 83) attempts than the former Liverpool winger.

  • Los Angeles Chargers: How Herbert and Co. can ascend in 2021 Los Angeles Chargers: How Herbert and Co. can ascend in 2021

    Despite playing in a disappointingly empty new SoFi Stadium, few teams managed to electrify more than the Los Angeles Chargers last season.

    Even the most ardent Chargers fan would admit that, prior to 2020, there hadn't been much appetite for the franchise in Los Angeles.

    It will be interesting to see to what extent that has changed if fans are allowed in stadiums in 2021, following a record-setting rookie season from Justin Herbert.

    Herbert silenced all the doubters who questioned the Chargers for taking him with the sixth overall pick, delivering a remarkable campaign that earned him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

    It still was not enough to stop the Chargers from enduring a season defined by gaffes and late-game heartbreak, head coach Anthony Lynn paying with his job despite a four-game winning streak to end the year 7-9.

    Fuelling further optimism is the appointment of Brandon Staley as Lynn's replacement.

    Staley earned widespread plaudits for what he did as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, building a reputation as one of the most innovative defensive minds in the game.

    He will hope to get the most of a defense stacked with blue-chip talent while offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is tasked with helping Herbert to the next step in his development.

    What can that duo learn from the Chargers' performances of last season? Using Stats Perform data we look back on a 2020 campaign that left Chargers fans excited about what this team could become.

    Offense

    Herbert went into his rookie season being seen as an inferior quarterback to Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. As a rookie, he outperformed both, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season having not played the opener.

    He came in for Tyrod Taylor after the Week 1 starter had his lung punctured by a team doctor who was administering a painkilling injection.

    That error proved serendipitous for everyone but Taylor, who had to play the role of the onlooker as Herbert racked up the second-most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Herbert's 4,336 trailed only Andrew Luck, who racked up 4,374 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

    Herbert was also second all-time among rookies with his completion percentage of 66.6, falling shy of Dak Prescott who connected on 67.8 in 2016. Where Herbert did set rookie records was in completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1), passing touchdowns (31) and 300-yard games, of which he recorded eight.

    Yet for all the remarkable exploits of the sixth overall pick, finishing drives and scoring points remained an issue for the Chargers.

    They ranked 21st in red zone touchdown efficiency and in average red zone points, putting up 4.79 per trip inside the 20-yard line of their opponents.

    Many will see the departure of Lynn, heavily criticised for his play-calling and game management in key situations, as a significant step towards the Chargers improving in that regard.

    But Los Angeles will also look for more from the running game. An injury-affected season for Austin Ekeler hindered the ground attack, which was 30th in yards per rush (3.83) and tied 27th in touchdowns (12).

    Too often Herbert led the Chargers into the red zone only to see the drive end in a field goal or a stop for the defense. While Ekeler being at full health would help, the onus will be on Lombardi to ensure their issues inside the 20 are less frequent in 2021.

    Defense

    As is so often the case with the Chargers, misfortune was a critical factor in their defense not realising its potential.

    They lost Derwin James for the season before a ball had even been snapped, the All-Pro safety sidelined following torn meniscus surgery.

    It was also another year in which edge rusher Joey Bosa did not play a full season. Had both of those stars been available for the entire year, the Chargers might not have ranked so poorly in opponent scoring efficiency.

    The Chargers ranked 23rd in that respect and 21st in opponent touchdown efficiency, with an inability to create turnovers playing a role in their issues.

    They generated 19 takeaways in 2020, putting the Chargers tied for 22nd in the NFL, though that number was only three fewer than Staley's Rams defense registered last season.

    However, the Rams scored 15 more points off takeaways than the Chargers and were significantly better at creating negative plays for opposing offenses overall.

    The Rams forced 88 negative plays for minus 441 yards, ranking seventh in the league, while the Chargers were 30th with 72 negative plays for minus 222 yards.

    Yet Staley should be confident he can create a similar formula to what he had with the Rams, with Aaron Donald wreaking havoc up front and Jalen Ramsey an eraser in the secondary. Bosa and James are excellent candidates to fill those roles for the Chargers.

    Los Angeles will need to add talent around that duo for this defense to realise its potential, but the Chargers do possess the resources with which to do that.

    Offseason

    The Chargers used what financial resources they had, in a year where the salary cap was reduced, to beef up the offensive line and ensure Herbert will have the benefit of better protection.

    Corey Linsley was signed to a five-year, $62million deal that was more than justified after a 2020 season in which he was named first-team All-Pro, having allowed a pressure rate of 2.8 per cent last season (NFL average: 4.9).

    The versatile and underrated right tackle Matt Feiler arrived on a three-year deal from the Pittsburgh Steelers while another tackle, Oday Aboushi, was brought in on a one-year contract.

    Los Angeles will hope Jared Cook can help fill the void left by tight end Hunter Henry’s departure to New England. Cook produced a big play on 31.6 per cent of his targets in 2020. The league average for tight ends is 26.1 per cent.

    Further help for Herbert, who suffered the ninth-most sacks in the NFL (32) last season, may come with pick 13 in the draft if the Chargers choose to spend it on a long-term solution at left tackle.

    However, with Casey Hayward and Melvin Ingram still on the open market and Rayshawn Jenkins having left for Jacksonville, cornerback, edge rusher and safety are all areas Los Angeles could target.

    After hiring a defensive mastermind at head coach, better support from that unit and cleaner pockets for their franchise quarterback will be the keys to the Chargers going from upstart to playoff team in Staley's first season.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.