England extended their winning streak to 16 matches when a late Elliot Daly try secured them a 21-16 win over Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
In an attritional encounter, in which both sides went at each other hammer and tongs for the full 80 minutes, Wales will be kicking themselves for losing this Test as they dominated for large periods.
For the second successive week, England had to dig deep and they showed again that it will take a special effort to dethrone them as Six Nations champions.
Both sides gave their all on attack and defence but England showed greater composure in the former department and eventually outscored their hosts by two tries to one.
They were trailing for most of the match but Daly’s effort in the 75th minute, where he showed a superb burst of speed before shrugging off a tackle from Alex Cuthbert to score the matchwinning try, eventually secured them the result.
Although England battled for large periods there were several outstanding individual performances with Joe Launchbury and Maro Itoje deserving special praise for superb efforts in the battle up front.
The opening half was a thrilling affair with plenty of end-to-end action as both side gave the ball plenty of air in a bid to gain the ascendancy. And although England had the better of the opening exchanges, Wales gained the upper hand as the half progressed and led 13-8 at the interval.
The home side took the lead as early as the third minute when Leigh Halfpenny opened the scoring from the kicking tee after Courtney Lawes was penalised for a ruck infringement.
England bided their time and were level by the 11th minute when Owen Farrell added a penalty after Scott Williams was blown up for a high tackle on Jack Nowell.
The visitors started to dominate and were rewarded in the 19th minute when Ben Youngs dived over from close quarters after Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury and Mike Brown were all stopped just short of the try-line.
That try saw Wales stepping up a few gears on attack and they spent most of the next 20 minutes camped inside England’s 22.
Another Halfpenny penalty made it a two-point game and two minutes before the interval, Wales took the lead when, from an attacking scrum inside England’s 22, Liam Williams glided through a gaping hole in the visitors’ defence – after Scott Williams was used as dummy runner – before diving over next to the posts.
Wales had their tails up and were fastest out of the blocks after the break but could not convert their dominance into points.
England were battling to assert themselves in the forward battle which resulted in their captain Dylan Hartley being replaced by Jamie George after 50 minutes.
Five minutes later, Farrell reduced the deficit to two points when he slotted his second penalty but Halfpenny soon restored his side’s five-point lead when he added his third penalty from the kicking tee on the hour-mark.
That would be the last time the hosts would score points, however, as another Farrell penalty in the 70th minute preceded Daly’s stunning score which clinched the win for the visitors and kept alive their hopes of repeating last year’s Grand Slam triumph.
Pens: Halfpenny 3
Tries: Youngs, Daly
Pens: Farrell 3
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Jack Clifford, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jonny May
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)