England 25-21 Wales

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Highlights: England 25-21 Wales

England will go to Paris next weekend with a Grand Slam in their sights after hanging on against a resurgent Wales to secure the Triple Crown in an epic encounter.

Only a heavy defeat will deny them a first Six Nations title since 2011 despite a dramatic finale that so nearly cost them dear at Twickenham.

A first-half try from Anthony Watson and three penalties from Owen Farrell established a 16-0 half-time lead as the hosts took control.

A charge-down try from Dan Biggar gave Wales hope but, with Maro Itoje outstanding, Farrell’s boot appeared to have calmed any nerves left from the infamous collapse from a similar position in the World Cup last autumn.

Two tries in four minutes from George North and Talupe Faletau changed all that, and in the final moments North almost powered free again.


But England escaped, and Eddie Jones’ first season in charge may yet end in triumph.

Not since 2003 have England won the Grand Slam, and while they have been hammered in their past two deciding matches, they will start as favourites against a struggling France.

They could even be crowned Six Nations champions on Sunday, with France needing to beat Scotland at Murrayfield (15:00 GMT) to take the title race to the final weekend.

And France will need to beat Scotland and England with a cumulative 59-point swing in order to deny England the title – although a win of any margin in Paris would prevent England from claiming the Grand Slam.

Itoje leads the way

England had begun at pace, the Welsh defensive line getting stretched and both Mike Brown and George Ford failing to make the most of scything breaks.

Farrell slotted two quick penalties but with Dan Cole held up over the line they could and perhaps should have led by more.

Wales were being starved of the ball, Itoje disrupting their line-out and handling errors sucking away their momentum on the rare occasions they did have the ball.

And it was Itoje’s power with ball in hand that led to the game’s first try, the young lock smashing through Biggar and Scott Baldwin before releasing Brown to send Watson in down the left for his 10th try in 19 Tests.


Watson’s try was his 10th in 19 international appearances

History threatens to repeat

Wales had missed 19 tackles in the first half and shipped eight penalties, and after Brown and Jack Nowell cut further lines Farrell landed his fourth penalty to make it 19-0.

At last Warren Gatland’s men won some territory, opting for a series of scrums from penalties in front of the posts, but each drive was absorbed by a white wall of defenders.

It took a pair of mistakes from England’s half-backs to open the door – Youngs with a long inaccurate pass, Ford’s clearing kick charged down by Biggar and the fly-half diving on the loose ball as it rolled under the posts.

Gatland threw on a replacement front row and then Justin Tipuric when his skipper Sam Warburton was carried off on a stretcher, and suddenly it was a different game.

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Six Nations 2016: Eddie Jones eyeing Grand Slam for England

North went over in the left corner, only for referee Craig Joubert to rule it out for a questionable knock-on from Jonathan Davies,

Jones responded – Danny Care on for Youngs, Manu Tuilagi back in midfield, Farrell in to 10 in place of the struggling Ford.

It seemed to have worked, only for Wales to strike twice in the last seven minutes and cut the lead from 25-7 to within a single try.

But North was shoved into touch as he sprinted for the left-hand corner, and a comeback that would have outdone even the victories of last September and 2008 was just about denied.


Man of the match

Maro Itoje was compared to a Vauxhall Viva by his coach at the start of this tournament, and to an Astra after the win over Ireland, but this was a Rolls-Royce of a display from the the young Saracens second row.

What the coaches thought

England boss Eddie Jones: “We made a number of changes on purpose to test players and to test the strength of the team [later in the game] and maybe those changes didn’t work. If you look at our first 60 minutes there was some fantastic rugby. The Grand Slam is a reality and we can’t wait to get to Paris and to do the business.”

Read more: Grand Slam is on for England – Jones

Wales boss Warren Gatland: “I’m very disappointed with the first half. We looked tired and didn’t look enthusiastic. I told the players they needed to come up with answers themselves. We wonder what could have been. We outscored them 3-1 in terms of tries but the best team won and I take my hat off to them.”

And what about the pundits?

Former England scrum-half Matt Dawson: “The two benches were going to be important and Wales had the better bench. Thankfully, the clock won for England.”

Former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies: “England choked a bit towards the end and it was a delight to see Wales play a different game and show what they’re capable of. England deserved the win, they were the better side for 70 minutes.”

England: Brown; Watson, Joseph, Farrell, Nowell; Ford, Youngs; Marler, Hartley, Cole, Itoje, Kruis, Robshaw, Haskell, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Tuilagi for Ford (64), Daly for Joseph (74), Care for Youngs (63), M Vunipola for Marler (56), Cowan-Dickie for Hartley (71), Launchbury for Kruis (78), Brookes for Robshaw (71), Clifford for Haskell (67).

Sin Bin: Cole (72).

Wales: Williams, Cuthbert, J. Davies, Roberts, North, Biggar, G. Davies, Evans, Baldwin, Lee, B. Davies, Jones, Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau.

Replacements: Priestland for Biggar (74), Webb for G. Davies (63), James for Evans (53), Owens for Baldwin (53), Francis for Lee (53), Charteris for Jones (63), Tipuric for Warburton (56).

Not Used: Anscombe.

Ref: Craig Joubert (South Africa).

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