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Robshaw’s act of defiance sets tone for England’s revenge

February 7, 2015

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Bullied out of the Millennium Stadium in a Six Nations title decider in 2013, England wasn’t about to let the same thing happen two years later.

The visitors’ first statement of intent in Friday’s 21-16 victory over Wales in the opening game of this year’s tournament came before the game had even started.

Captain Chris Robshaw and his England team were standing in the tunnel before kickoff when they were told to run out on to the pitch. With Wales’ players still in their dressing room, Robshaw stood firm.

“We wanted to have a bit of control,” Robshaw said. “We didn’t want to be out there. I’m sure they would have made us wait for five minutes in the field.”

The defiance evoked memories of Martin Johnson’s refusal to move his England team at Ireland’s request as they lined up before completing the Six Nations Grand Slam in Dublin in 2003.

It also set the tone on a night a raw, callow, injury-hit England came of age.

Deprived of a slew of first-choice players and playing against a full-strength Wales lineup, England delivered a mature, assured performance to bury the memories of its last trip to Cardiff — a record 30-3 loss that denied the team the Six Nations title and the Grand Slam.

“I remember being interviewed two years ago here, and it was the lowest point of my coaching career without a doubt,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said. “Today’s win is probably one of the highest points. The emotions coming into it, the challenge we had in terms of getting new combinations together.”

The strains of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” — the song of English rugby — as England’s players circled the pitch after the final whistle was rewarding enough, but even more satisfying for Lancaster was the emergence of genuine depth in his squad.

England was without its first-choice locks Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, flanker Tom Wood, No. 8 Ben Morgan, star center Manu Tuilagi and flyhalf Owen Farrell. British and Irish Lions players Brad Barritt and Geoff Parling were also unavailable. Prop Alex Corbisiero didn’t even make the squad.

“I actually had a quiet moment, thinking about the lads who are potentially available next week who are going to come back in the equation,” Lancaster said. “And you’ve got quality sat back at home watching on TV, but also texting saying they are behind the lads.

“That shows great unity. That’s one of our ultimate strengths.”

James Haskell, in for Wood, was relentless in his ball-carrying, with Lancaster saying: “It was his best game for me.”

Jonathan Joseph, filling in at center, scored a try and was a danger throughout. Lock George Kruis was superb in his first Six Nations match.

It will hard for Lancaster to change a winning team for next Saturday’s home game against Italy.

“Our belief internally has always been strong,” Lancaster said. “The players are buying into what we are doing as a group. This cements the belief that we are going in the right direction.”

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