Guinness Six Nations
England 33-30 Wales
England secured their fifth Triple Crown of the Six Nations era and maintained their Championship title bid with a bruising 33-30 victory over Wales in front of a raucous Twickenham crowd.
Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly both crossed for the hosts while Owen Farrell added ten points from the tee as Eddie Jones’ men stormed into an 11-point lead at the break.
Two penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and another for Dan Biggar kept Wales in touch before Justin Tipuric raced over inside 30 seconds of the restart to give the visitors hope.
But two more Farrell penalties plus a try from Manu Tuilagi, converted by George Ford, repelled the fightback as England piled the pressure on France at the top of the table.
The only blot on England’s evening came in the 74th minute when Tuilagi was shown red for a high tackle on George North as Wales grabbed two late consolation scores through Biggar and Tipuric.
Despite only one side still being in contention for the Championship title, the age-old rivalry between England and Wales ensures intensity is never in short supply in this fixture.
And the tone was set with less than a minute on the clock with a crunching double tackle from Tom Curry and Tuilagi on Biggar, who had recovered from a knock picked up for Northampton Saints to start at fly-half for the visitors.
Maro Itoje also dished out his own unique welcome to the Wales No.10 as both sides traded high kicks in the early stages before the second-rower set off on a charging run through midfield.
It was a blistering start to the game and it was no surprise when the hosts landed the opening blow after four minutes with a move that appeared to be straight out of the Red Rose playbook.
From a lineout on the Wales five-metre line, England spread the ball to the returning Watson in midfield and the winger showed his lightning quick feet to dance past two defenders and dot down.
The extras were added by Farrell but Wales soon roared back. The visitors entered the England 22 and came within a whisker of the tryline, only to be held up by a resilient wall of white shirts.
Wayne Pivac’s men did not come away empty-handed, though, as indiscipline from a pumped up Farrell cost his side a penalty – a gift that Halfpenny was more than willing to accept.
The tackles continued to fly in from both sides, with Curry in particular like a kid in a sweet shop, but the scrap quickly turned into an aerial battle as kicks were traded with abandon.
When the ball was kept in hand, England took advantage and after Wales titan Alun Wyn Jones was penalised at the breakdown Farrell cancelled out Halfpenny’s effort.
The first quarter ended with a second Wales penalty bang in front of the posts but just as the visitors looked to be getting a grip on the game, England pounced again.
More quick ball off the lineout presented Ben Youngs with a chance to spread the ball wide and fast hands from Farrell and Ford unleashed Daly to score in the corner.
A Farrell penalty plus another three points extended England’s advantage to 20-6 before Wales hit back through a Biggar penalty with the clock in the red to reduce the deficit to 11 points at the break.
With Wales staring at third consecutive Championship defeat for the first time since 2007, the visitors needed to come out of the blocks firing after the restart.
And they did just that. Josh Navidi and Nick Tompkins combined straight from the kick off to put Tomos Williams through before the scrum-half sucked in Daly and popped the ball to a motoring Tipuric, who raced under the posts from 25 metres out.
Twickenham was stunned into silence. It had taken only 30 seconds for Wales to cut the gap to four as Biggar slotted the extras, with many fans still returning to their seats after the interval.
England appeared rattled but just as Wales looked to be building momentum Courtney Lawes won his side a crucial penalty, allowing Farrell to restore calm with three more points.
The hosts further improved their position after wielding their might in the forward battle, winning a scrum against the head to huge roars as Farrell added another penalty.
With the hour-mark approaching a host of changes were made by both sides as Joe Launchbury and Luke Cowan-Dickie replaced George Kruis and Jamie George for the hosts.
And despite Wales freshening up with Taulupe Faletau and Rhys Carre, they were unable to turn the tide as Tuilagi strolled over for England’s third try, converted by Ford after good work from Youngs in the build-up.
While the result was no longer in doubt, Wales refused to go down quietly and enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure in the England 22 as they strived to close the gap.
Wales’ territory eventually resulted in a try for Biggar but only after Ellis Genge had been sin-binned and Tuilagi sent for an early bath after a high tackle on North as the winger attempted to go over in the corner.
Tipuric also went over for his second in the dying seconds but it was too little, too late for Wales as England secured a fourth straight home win over their rivals for only the second time in the Six Nations era.