England put last year's humbling in Cardiff to rest with an assured performance in their 29-18 victory over Wales on Sunday.
England put last year's humbling in Cardiff to rest with an assured performance in their 29-18 victory over Wales at Twickenham on Sunday.
First-half tries from Danny Care and Luther Burrell gave England the early advantage and they never looked back, keeping the lead throughout as Owen Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny fought each other in a world-class kicking duel.
There is no longer any doubt though; Wales are not the best team in Europe anymore. Bar their breakdown prowess, which was exceptional, crucial failures at key times in the scrum, line-out and defence brought the two-time champions title defence to an end.
Had it not been for soft penalties conceded by England in the opening 40 then the scoreline would have read even less in Wales' favour. Against Scotland there is now an opportunity for Warren Gatland to experiment.
For England it was all about progress. Even had they lost, which they should never have done based on their performance in the first-half, there were enough encouraging moments to keep believing that they are still building towards next year.
The likes of Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Owen Farrell have all stepped up a level and in doing so secured England's first Triple Crown since 2003.
England's opening break came from the most unlikely of sources; David Wilson cantering into space and laying the platform for Care to eventually catch Wales off guard with a trademark tap penalty.
Starting the match at a million miles an hour had Wales napping, but England's ambition then became over-exuberance. Attempting to play out of their own 22, Wales won a penalty at the breakdown for Halfpenny to slot over from out on the right.
Wales were nervy. The small parts of their game, tiny knock-ons included, were a hindrance.
Jonathan Davies' pass to George North went just behind him – had it gone to hand then England would have been in trouble. North still had a chance with a grubber only to watch it roll dead.
It was England's turn now to win a penalty at the scrum, Richard Hibbard popping up to allow Farrell to restore the home side's seven-point advantage.
Jonny May then embarked on one of his cross-field runs. Even the Gloucester wing admits he doesn't always know where his breaks will take him, but when isolated over on the far side – after some brilliant tracking defence from Jamie Roberts – Wales won the penalty at the breakdown for Halfpenny to kick his second three-pointer.
England's attack however kept Wales working, the likes of Sam Warburton racking up tackles but a discrepancy was never far away. Farrell added another penalty to restore that seven-point gap – 13-6 to England coming up to the half hour.
There was sparkle from Wales thanks to a burst from Roberts into space, but the breakdown remained their main source of points. Nowell ran into the same lair that scuppered May moments earlier, Wales too savvy in that area to let a chance slip as another penalty followed from Halfpenny. He never looked like missing.
Billy Twelvetrees then displayed a similarly perfect touch with the boot. Farrell's kick had pinned Wales back into a corner and when Warburton failed to reel in the ball at the line-out, England pounced. The grubber from Twelvetrees bounced up kindly for Burrell to score his third try in four games.
Halfpenny still couldn't miss, adding two more penalties before half-time arrived to leave Wales five points adrift at the break.
England though now controlled the scrum. Consecutive penalties pushed the hosts from within their 22 to a 30-metre shot at goal for Farrell which put England 23-15 ahead.
Wales were chasing, and not very well. First, a horrendous kick from Roberts killed an overlap on the outside from which Wales should have scored. Then they lost Gethin Jenkins to the bin on his 104th cap, something referee Romain Poite looked to have been itching to do for some time.
Halfpenny countered Farrell's fourth penalty with his seventh, but Wales were again penalised for Farrell to keep the champions at arm's length at 29-18.
It took Wales until the 61st minute to replace struggling Rhys Priestland. His game management paled sorely in comparison to that of Farrell, who continually appeared to thread kicks into the corners.
With the likes of Mike Phillips, Dan Biggar and Paul James now on Wales had a jolt of intensity, a reminder for England that the job was not yet done.
A break from turnover ball deep in England's half nearly ended in a second try for Burrell, Halfpenny doing enough to keep him out with a try-saving tackle that saw him depart with an injury.
There was no time though for Wales to respond. Instead an ecstatic Twickenham crowd savoured the closing minutes, with the side now heading to Rome hoping for a favour off France and with their title hopes still alive. For Wales, there are more questions than answers.
Man of the Match: With a barn-storming afternoon filled with huge tackles and some impressive carries, Courtney Lawes stood taller than anyone else. This though was a team effort.
Moment of the Match: The fastest start. England flew out of the blocks and with Wales bewildered, Danny Care made them pay to give them the lead.
Villian of the Match: Refereeing interpretations at the scrum are always up for debate but after Gethin Jenkins had already been warned, he should either have been brought off or adjusted. From the moment he went to the bin the result was settled.
Tries: Care, Burrell
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 5
Pens: Halfpenny 6
Yellow Card: Jenkins
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 David Attwood, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 George Ford, 23 Alex Goode
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jon Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Jake Ball, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Andrew Coombs, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Liam Williams
Referee: Romain Poite (Fra)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Aus), Lourens van der Merwe (RSA)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ire)
by Ben Coles