TTwo contrasting post-Cardiff verdicts are still in competition with each other. One is that Wales, who have lost 12 of their last 15 internationals, have shown almost no advantage and even less tactical acumen. The second is that England defended so skilfully and did such an effective job of quelling Welsh momentum that, attracting the neutrals or not, this was one of their most valuable results since reaching the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final.
Both conclusions seemed valid on Saturday night, especially when you heard one of the visitors’ scorers, Kyle Sinckler, speaking from the heart after England’s biggest victory in Cardiff since 2003. Sinckler, who now has 59 caps for his country, endured a traumatic moment at the same venue in 2019, when his loss of discipline helped Wales to a significant 21-13 victory and few stories of redemption have involved more honesty or self-awareness.
“Today was a very important moment not only in my career, but also in my life,” said Sinckler, his eyes shining with satisfaction. “Looking back at the experience I had in 2019, my career could have gone one of two ways. Not going to lie, I had some demons coming back to the Principality Stadium. It was probably one of the hardest days of my life.
“I know we played here in 2021 but it was during Covid… without fans, a totally different experience. Returning to the stadium yesterday, I remembered sitting on these steps in tears. I know we were playing Wales, but for me it was a test match between who I am today and the person I was.
“In 2019 I was a totally different person. I entered the stadium with a lot of hate, a lot of anger and a big weight on my shoulder. Warren Gatland said something that made headlines and it hurt, to be honest. I felt targeted. When I was substituted and I was sitting on the bench, I felt that I had let a lot of people down. Four years later, I can truly say it’s been a blessing. Today I leave with an open heart, much gratitude, much appreciation and much love. I finally feel like I’ve moved on.”
When Sinckler, accordingly, talks about the long-term benefits he feels England will gain from their first away win under Steve Borthwick, it would be petty to challenge his sincere belief that the team will be stronger for it. “You’re driving and there are even 80-year-old grannies waving at you. It’s incredible, this hate!
“Fair play for them – afterwards they want to shake your hand, take pictures and there are no hard feelings. (But) it’s a melting pot, an old school Colosseum, so it’s tough. In the last two years, we probably would have lost that match – especially as we started the second half. But one of the things that Steve and the coaches implemented with us is to fight, making sure we never give up.
“To be honest, with England over the last year or two, once we hit a little bit of adversity, we kind of fell apart. Today was a big step for us as a group to show that we have this fight within us. We don’t give in to pressure, at least we embrace it. From the outside, it probably looked like a confusing test match at times, but for us it’s a huge win.”
While Wales, having lost their opening three Six Nations games for the first time in 16 years, must now be considered second favorites when they head to Rome next week to face Italy, England can at least start dreaming of ruffle the feathers of France and Ireland on consecutive Saturdays. “The difference between being a hero and a coward is your actions,” Sinckler said. “We all feel fear… I’m not going to lie to you and say that when you look at these two teams you don’t have that fear.
“But what do we do with that pressure? We will walk towards it. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. I’m not saying we’re going to beat them, but we’re going to try. The first game is at Twickenham, our home ground, and we want to make that place a stronghold again. It starts when we play France.”
For England to defeat better opposition, however, they will need Owen Farrell to rediscover his boots – the captain missed four tries in Cardiff – and for Lewis Ludlam’s back-line, Jack Willis and Alex Dombrandt to be equally influential in the collapse. Giving Marcus Smith and Henry Arundell more than 15 seconds off the bench would also help. But England’s self-confidence is slowly returning and, as the passionate Sinckler can attest, the past is now less important than the future.