England on course for Slam after Wales win

Date published: March 12 2016

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England set their sights on winning a first Grand Slam since 2003 next week in Paris after a 25-21 win over Wales at Twickenham.

Billed as revenge for their World Cup humbling, perhaps no victory could make up for that disappointment, but instead England delivered what had all the makings of an impressive win before a late surge from Wales left them clinging on.

Manu Tuilagi's key tackle into touch on George North made sure of a result that England deserved, but nearly let slip.

Wales for the most part were dire – slipping off tackles, penalised incessantly by referee Craig Joubert at the breakdown and generating little through their one-dimensional attack – until they threatened to suckerpunch England all over again with late tries from George North and Taulupe Faletau. They turned up all too late.

Their first points in the 53rd minute came from an England error through Dan Biggar's chargedown try rather than anything creative and even that effort could only make it 19-7, before England looked to have pulled away thanks to the boot of Owen Farrell who finished with 20 points.

Maro Itoje, named Man of the Match, produced a truly outstanding display, his first half stats alone worthy of honours after multiple turnover and lineout steals to go with his assist for Anthony Watson's try.

Eddie Jones did his best before his debut to quell the hype around the Saracens 21-year-old lock but good luck to him doing so moving forwards, because the secret is out – he is a very special talent.

Wales by contrast were abject early on, appearing lost with little to no energy about them in one of the worst halves of Warren Gatland's tenure during the first 40 minutes when they missed 19 tackles.

England's attack led to those figures but the hosts should have led by more than 16-0 at half-time given the number of chances they created, twice correctly denied by the TMO.

First blood at the scrum after levels of obscene hype throughout the week went the way of Wales, although against Dan Cole rather than the world's most-watched prop in Joe Marler.

Illegally slowing the ball down at the ruck allowed Farrell to put England ahead with a first penalty. Dictating territory, England's forwards unleashed a set of short-range drives at the Wales line with Cole ultimately ruled to be held up by the TMO.

Forcing a penalty out of the following five-metre scrum allowed Farrell to double England's tally and the centre made no mistake again after Dan Lydiate failed to release Billy Vunipola to make it 9-0.

England's back three – Jack Nowell, Watson and Mike Brown – continued to skip through tackles suggesting a score wasn't far away, but instead it was Itoje, carrying round the corner and freeing up his arms after sucking in the Welsh defenders who released Brown, in turn giving Watson the time and space to get away from Liam Williams for the game's first try.

Farrell's finely struck conversion from out wide allowed England to take into half-time a 16-0 advantage which they more than deserved, with Wales yet to turn up.

A fourth penalty by Farrell maintained his perfect record after the break prior to Wales at last coming to life.

Spending minutes camped in England's 22 proved fruitless until having done all the hard work, Ben Youngs' poor pass combined with a forced kick under pressure from George Ford allowed Biggar to rush up for a chargedown try as he calmly grounded the ball. Out of nothing, suddenly Wales had a sniff.

Any comeback was going to have to happen without their captain after Sam Warburton was stretchered off following a lengthy stoppage in play.

Moments of indecision from Ford threatened to cost England again before he was replaced by Manu Tuilagi after 60 minutes, to the an almighty roar from the home supporters before from his first carry he won a penalty, Farrell converting to make it 22-7.

A sixth penalty from Farrell gave England an 18-point cushion but they were left to finish the match with 14 men after a yellow card to Dan Cole having conceded a run of penalties in their own 22.

Wales' next immediate chance of a score was wiped out after a penalty against Tomas Francis for making contact with the eyes of Cole, with a citing no doubt to follow, but they crossed not long after through George North to close the gap at 25-14 after clever handling from Jonathan Davies.

Now bursting with energy Wales crossed again through Taulupe Faletau, Priestland converting as the whole of Twickenham tensed fearing another disaster whilst watching the clock.

Instead a tackle into touch by Tuilagi on North settled it, forcing the winger out with Danny Care booting the ball to touch from the resulting lineout.

England now advance to four wins out of four, and having pocketed the Triple Crown and with their eyes on more silverware next Saturday.

Man of the Match: Coming-of-age Test for Maro Itoje, whose athleticism offers England something different in their pack.

Moment of the Match: Turning what seemed an unlikely comeback into a very real one, Taulupe Faletau's try set up a nervous finish for the home supporters.

Villian of the Match: Nothing nasty to report given that at present we don't know whether Tomas Francis' contact with the eyes of Dan Cole was intentional or not.

The scorers:

For England:
Try: Watson
Con: Farrell
Pens: Farrell 6
Yellow Card: Cole

For Wales:
Tries: Biggar, North, Faletau
Cons: Biggar, Priestland 2

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Danny Care, 22 Manu Tuilagi, 23 Elliot Daly

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Gareth Anscombe

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

by Ben Coles

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