England on verge of Grand Slam as Wales leave it too late at Twickenham
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | March 12, 2016
England 25-21 Wales
- TMO twice rules out Red Rose tries early on
- Farrell kicks nine first-half penalty points for hosts
- Watson’s converted try puts England into 16-0 interval lead
- Biggar, North, Falateau lead response for Dragons
- More Farrell penalties seal home win
Grand Slam glory beckons for Jones
England could be crowned Six Nations champions – for only the second time since 2003 – before facing France in the final match of the 2016 edition, should Les Bleus lose to Scotland, as Eddie Jones’ Red Rose defeated title rivals Wales 25-21 at Twickenham to claim the Triple Crown.
An ascendant first-half display put the hosts into a 16-0 lead despite TMO reviews twice ruling out early tries. England winger Anthony Watson followed up Owen Farrell’s three penalties with a converted try to establish that commanding advantage.
Facing such a deficit, the subdued Dragons had too much to do after the interval, though kicker Dan Biggar did convert his own second-half try and replacement Rhys Priestland followed suit with other crossings from George North and Toby Faletau.
These proved little more than consolations, however, because of the boot of Farrell as roles and the result were reversed from the Red Rose’s Rugby World Cup loss.
Youngs and Cole tries fail to pass TV reviews
Referee Craig Joubert took charge of his first international match since a controversial penalty decision, made without consulting the TMO, cost Scotland a place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals against Australia.
For more contentious decisions here, the match official was prepared to refer things to television replays, however, and that twice kept Wales in it during the first 15 minutes.
Red Rose full back Mike Brown, part of an unchanged XV named by Jones, profited from visiting errors on three minutes and burst forward, allowing Ben Youngs to seemingly go over the tryline.
Joubert needed to establish whether there was a knock-on and a lengthy TMO review showed there was, as the scrum half fell short of the whitewash before initial grounding.
Dan Cole thought he’d scored the opener too, but a combination of Gareth Davies’ leg and the wrist of the England prop appeared to be behind a lack of conclusive evidence when sent up to the video ref.
England get over eventually
Missing 19 tackles in the first-half, an out-of-sorts Wales may have caved in to pre-match scrummage mind games from Jones, with official Joubert penalising them more than once for wheeling after engaging.
Farrell profited from such Dragons ill-discipline by putting nine first-half penalty points on the board to make up for the Red Rose’s lack of a try, but Watson went over eight minutes before the break and it had been coming.
Quick to win their own lineout, England swiftly switched play from right to left, with young lock Maro Itoje’s powerful run and riding of a Biggar tackle allowing Brown to find winger Watson for a try the hosts deserved.
Dragons fortuitously find their breath
Warren Gatland’s Wales did show signs of a response either side of half-time, with Itoje needing to win a key turnover towards the end of the first 40. All eyes were on more scrums early in the second period, but the hosts weathered Dragons pressure until a mistake let the visitors back into it.
Youngs fired a pass into George Ford following a lineout, and Biggar charged down his fellow fly half’s kick and raced clear for a try to put the Welsh on board. A conversion from the Dragons’ kicker reduced their arrears to 19-7.
Losing Sam Warburton – stretchered off with a head injury – dampened their ardour, though Red Rose flanker James Haskell’s neck roll on Liam Williams may have merited more severe punishment than just a penalty.
Farrell kicks crucial
Both Jones and Gatland looked to their respective benches, with big name duo Manu Tuilagi and Rhys Webb both making their international returns from lengthy spells out injured.
Centre Farrell kicked England further ahead with three second-half penalties, rendering the late sin-binning of Cole little more than a footnote despite the concession of late tries.
Before going off for his own foul play in the scrum, however, the hosts’ prop appeared to be the victim of an eye rake by Dragons replacement Tomas Francis. A citation and ban could follow with the possibility of retrospective action raised by Joubert.
Late Welsh tries set up grandstand finish
Making their man advantage count, Liam Williams found winger North to skip over for a third try of this Six Nations. Priestland converted from both his and Faletau’s crossing, but the Red Rose lead was just too great with too little time left.
Jones would love a Grand Slam to rubber stamp his solid start to coaching England, and they’re odds-on to get it at 4/11 in Paris next week. No Tasmanian devilry, but a Red Rose showing signs of blooming.
Had Gatland got the second-half showing out of the Dragons in the first, then this may not have been a defeat. There will be much to rue here taking the M4 road back to Cardiff.
Ireland run in record nine tries against Azzurri
Earlier in the day in Dublin, former Six Nations holders Ireland responded to losing their crown in rampant fashion, crushing minnows Italy 58-15. Andrew Trimble and Jack McGrath, who made some real yards at prop, grabbed the first couple of a record nine tries inside 15 minutes as Joe Schmidt’s side were always in command.
Edoardo Padovani’s penalty put the Azzurri on the board, but an impressive Irish back row soon put the hosts out of sight. CJ Stander followed up a Johnny Sexton kick when the fly half took a late hit; while either side of half-time and returning Jared Payne’s crossing, number eight Jamie Heaslip helped himself to a couple of tries.
Leading 39-3 with just 10 minutes of the second 40 played, Schmidt knew the match was won and withdrew Sexton and skipper Rory Best. Respective replacements Sean Cronin and Ian Madigan also went over, with David Odiete nicking a try for the visitors in between.
Although Azzurri captain Sergio Parisse survived a hint of a forward pass to find Leonardo Sarto for another consolation, the final say went to Ireland thanks to Fergus McFadden.