England clinched the Triple Crown and kept their Six Nations title hopes alive with a 29-18 win over champions Wales at Twickenham yesterday.
On a sunny dry day, ideal for running rugby, England saw scrum-half Danny Care and centre Luther Burrell score tries in a match where fly-half Owen Farrell kicked 19 points.
All of Wales’ points came courtesy of six penalties from full-back Leigh Halfpenny as England deservedly gained revenge for a record 30-3 defeat by the Welsh in Cardiff last year that cost them a Grand Slam.
This defeat, though, ends Wales’ hopes of an historic third successive Six Nations title. This was a first win against Wales for England coach Stuart Lancaster and it was a timely one too, with this match the last between the old rivals at Twickenham before they meet at the London ground in the pool stages of the 2015 World Cup.
Victory left England, who finish the Championship away to bottom of the table Italy on Saturday, level on three wins from four games with both Ireland and France, who next face one another in Paris.
A narrow French win over the Irish, who have a huge points difference advantage, coupled with an England win in Rome could see Lancaster’s men take the title.
But this result meant Wales, whose starring line-up included 12 of the British and Irish Lions their coach Warren Gatland guided to a series win in Australia last year, had lost for the second time this Championship following a 26-3 drubbing by Ireland in Dublin.
England, who dominated the much vaunted Welsh front row at the scrum, played by far the more enterprising rugby yet turned round just 20-15 in front.
They caught Wales cold in the fifth minute when, after prop David Wilson and captain Chris Robshaw had taken them to within 10 metres of the visitors’ line, Care’s typically quick tap penalty saw him cross for an unopposed try.
Farrell converted and England were 7-0 up. Prior to that score, Wilson had been turned badly by Wales front-row Gethin Jenkins at a scrum.
But Wilson then started to get on terms with the veteran Welshman repeatedly warned by French referee Romain Poite for scrummaging at an angle.
Halfpenny kicked the first of his penalties in the eighth minute but England made it 10-3 when Farrell landed a 45 metre effort after Poite penalised Jenkins at a scrum.
Halfpenny and Farrell exchanged penalties before the Welsh full-back cut England’s lead to 13-9.
And in the 34th minute, England scored their second try.
An excellent cross-kick from Farrell set up a Welsh line-out deep in the visitors’ 22.
Wales hooker Richard Hibbard’s throw sailed over his intended recipient and England regathered possession. The ball was worked left before England’s centres combined effectively, Burrell quickest to Billy Twelvetrees’s well-weighted grubber kick.
Farrell added the seemingly difficult conversion and England were 20-9 in front with five minutes of the first half left. But that still gave Halfpenny the time to kick two more penalties.
England, however, forced another scrum penalty early in the second half after which Poite warned Wales captain Sam Warburton that a repeat incident would see one of his players sin-binned.
Even more importantly for England, Farrell kicked the 30 metre effort to put the hosts two scores in front at 23-15. Wales then twice threatened a try but England’s defence held firm and, after good work by full-back Mike Brown, wing Jack Nowell took them into Welsh territory.
His run led to a 53rd minute scrum and when Wales infringed once more, Poite made good on his threat and sent Jenkins, equalling Stephen Jones’s Welsh appearance record of 104 caps, to the sin-bin.
Farrell then made it six goalkicks from as many attempts to leave England 26-15 in front, with Wales a man down.
Halfpenny cut England’s lead with his sixth penalty only for Farrell to reply in kind to put the hosts 29-18 ahead and, from that position, there was no way back for Wales.