Six Nations 2013: Wales thrash England to defend crown in style
Six Nations 2013: Alex Cuthbert scored two tries to help Wales beat England by a record margin to retain their title
Alex Cuthbert’s blistering double saw Wales defend their Six Nations crown with a thumping victory at the Millennium Stadium, crushing England’s hopes of the Grand Slam.
Heading into the match needing to win by eight points or more to deny England the title, Wales stopped Stuart Lancaster’s men dead in their tracks, winning the arm wrestle up front ad scoring the two tries of the match in a thoroughly convincing win.
Rob Howley was captain when Wales rained on England’s Grand Slam parade in 1999 – and 14 years on he masterminded a repeat performance, inflicting a first away Six Nations defeat on Lancaster.
Leading 9-3 at the break with three Leigh Halfpenny kicks to one from Owen Farrell, Wales cranked it up in the second half and England had no answers to the hosts’ intensity.
Cuthbert went over twice as England could not hold the red tidal wave at bay and saw their hopes of a first Grand Slam in a decade drift away.
Both sides showed early intent to play the game with the ball in hand and roared on by a partisan home crowd, it was Wales who had the better of the frenetic opening exchanges.
England gave away just five penalties in 80 minutes against Italy but at the Millennium Stadium they had reached that tally in the first quarter – the Welsh refusing to give an inch at the breakdown.
One early England foray into the Welsh half saw Manu Tuilagi knock-on with men outside and Dan Biggar’s boot downfield saw the hosts camped upfield for a sustained period.
England defended resolutely but Welsh patience paid off when they were awarded a tenth-minute penalty – Halfpenny booting his side into the lead.
Wales were in the ascendancy and had England on the ropes and Chris Ashton and Tom Youngs both gave away penalties – the latter within Halfpenny’s reach and the full-back made in 6-0 on 17 minutes.
Back came England almost immediately however and Farrell, with the help of the right-hand post, halved the deficit after Sam Warburton was penalised for putting his hands in the ruck.
On 23 minutes Wales were awarded another penalty and Halfpenny was on target again before Farrell missed a chance to respond in kind soon after when Jamie Roberts was the offender at the breakdown.
The intensity continued – one hit from Richard Hibbard on Joe Marler shook the Millennium Stadium to the rafters – but after weathering the early storm, England began to exert their authority.
They won another penalty within Farrell’s range but instead England flexed their muscles and kicked to the corner.
Now it was Wales’ turn to defend but they almost had the first try of the match when Biggar intercepted a Ben Youngs pass and the ball was swiftly moved to George North who pinned back his ears and set off for the try-line.
He looked certain to win the foot race with the covering Tom Croft but a last-ditch tap tackle from Mike Brown came to England’s rescue.
Brown then found himself in space after a superb grubber kick through from Farrell but when poised with either taking the hit or going inside, he did neither, fumbled and Halfpenny booted clear.
There was no relenting as the half wore on and again North broke down the left, only for Farrell to make the tackle and force the knock on.
With a ferocious half drawing to a closer, Biggar almost extended Wales’ lead but his long-range drop goal drifted just wide as the hosts went in at the break 9-3.
After the break there was no let-up and Wales continued to exert their dominance at the scrum, earning a number of penalties and prompting England to replace Marler with Mako Vunipola.
Wales then found themselves knocking on the door and Roberts almost went over in the corner. The hosts continued to go through the phases just in front of the England line but some formidable defence from the Grand Slam chasers ensured their was no way through.
Referee Steve Walsh had already awarded the penalty however and Halfpenny again made no mistake with his kick, putting Wales to the top of the virtual table, courtesy of their nine-point lead.
And on 56 minutes came the decisive moment of the match. Wales’ forwards turned the ball over in the middle of the pitch and Mike Phillips spread the ball to Jonathan Davies, who in turn found Cuthbert, who beat Brown to the right-hand corner.
Halfpenny missed the conversion but sooner after, Farrell was off target with a penalty attempt after Toby Faletau was pinged for a high tackle.
Back came Wales, profiting from their dominance up front and making it count in terms of possession, pinning England back in their own 22.
After a number of phases, Biggar extended the lead to 20-3 with a shrewd drop goal and on 66 minutes, the Millennium Stadium faithful were sent into rapture.
Warburton made a blistering break down the middle and with England ragged and Wales rampant, Tipuric burst down the right and fed Cuthbert, who had the simplest of finishes in the right-hand corner – Halfpenny notching the conversion from the touchline.
Still Wales would not let up and Biggar rubbed salt into the wounds with his first penalty of the match before England spurned their best chance of a try late on – Toby Flood making the break but Danny Care overcooking his chip over the top when seeking Tuilagi on the left.
Wales looked for the try that would put the icing on the cake but while it was not coming, the RBS 6 Nations title, which looked a long way away after an opening defeat to Ireland, was theirs to celebrate.