Wales pay the price of missing starting gun at Twickenham

By Richard WilliamsBBC Wales Sport
Jamie Roberts and Dan Biggar run in to each other
Jamie Roberts and Dan Biggar have 121 caps for Wales between them

Wales' Six Nations Championship hopes evaporated in a display of lethargy and blunders during an extraordinary first half at Twickenham.

They were almost rekindled in an even more remarkable second half when Wales - trailing 25-7 with six minutes remaining - nearly pulled off the greatest of escapes.

But it was a comeback too far for a team who have almost made winning after starting poorly an art form. A brutal, sometimes bloody and always nail-biting one; but art isn't always beautiful.

Wales' slow starts are proving to be a hard habit to break, and a bad habit to have.

A team with 'previous'

Think back to the 2013 Championship and the opening day defeat after trailing 23-3 at half time against Ireland.

Wales did not concede another try that season and won the title.

Liam Williams looks dejected after Wales' defeat at Twickenham
Liam Williams appeared in his 30th Test Match at Twickenham

Against Ireland this year they were 13-3 down approaching half-time before fighting back for a 16-16 draw.

They were trailing against Scotland until the hour mark.

But England are not Scotland or this season's injury-hit Ireland. They are better.

The truth, which Warren Gatland acknowledged without saying it outright, was that England deserved to win.

Wales were lucky to be still in with a shout after a first half which Gatland did comment directly on.

"Unacceptable" was his one-word verdict. Other single words were used by Welsh fans, but they cannot be printed.

Comedy of errors

England were very good when they had the ball, which they did for most of the first hour.

It was a contrast to the errors Gatland's team made in possession.

Occasionally comical, as when Jamie Roberts and Dan Biggar collided in midfield, Wales' many mistakes meant they could not build momentum themselves. Oh, and they missed 19 tackles in the first half.

In the context of Wales' fixture list, these are worrying trends.

Sam Warburton
Sam Warburton is a doubt for the clash with Italy

Before the end of June, they face England in Twickenham again, and then three Test matches in New Zealand.

A first half like that in Auckland or Wellington will be very costly. The All Blacks don't butcher gilt-edged chances the way England did twice.

Neither do they take their foot off the gas.

After Lord Mayor's Show

So instead of playing for a fourth title in eight years when Italy come to Cardiff next Saturday, Wales are playing for second place after being second best for much of the Twickenham encounter.

Injury could rule out captain Sam Warburton, who is undergoing concussion protocols after receiving an accidental kick in the head.

And Gatland, not a man for sentiment in selection, hinted that further changes are in the air.

Six Nations league table

"Some people came off the bench and did some good things for us," he said.

"Ken Owens, the way he carried the ball, gave us some go-forward and we need to look at potentially an opportunity for players and to develop the depth in the squad as well.

"It may be making a few changes but we also have (to be) smart as well because if England do beat France then when we play Italy we are playing for second place which is pretty important as well."

The New Zealander will be hoping they can repeat in a week the turnaround they achieved in less than 40 minutes against the English.

Italian lessons?

The problem facing Wales is Italy will arrive in Cardiff demoralised after shipping more than 50 points against Ireland.

Without underestimating them, it is not the yardstick against which Gatland needs to measure his side.

The danger is Wales could win comfortably, finish second in the championship - depending on other results - without learning much.

Italian captain Sergio Parisse's power to coax a reaction out of his battered team could be as vital to Wales as that of their own players.

A big finish in Cardiff next Saturday will not really make up for the slow one in London.

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