Six Nations 2014: England beat Wales to keep title hunt on track
England win their first Triple Crown in 11 years and set up Six Nations title bid as they battled past defending champions Wales
Tries from Danny Care and Luther Burrell – and a flawless kicking performance from Owen Farrell – saw England clinch the Triple Crown with a 29-18 victory over Wales which keeps them firmly in the hunt for a maiden Six Nations title under Stuart Lancaster.
On the ten previous occasions England have been bidding for the Triple Crown at Twickenham they have delivered and this was no different with the impeccable Farrell kicking 19 points in Lancaster’s first-ever win over Wales.
Wales occasionally threatened through their powerhouse wingers George North and Alex Cuthbert but Leigh Halfpenny’s equally perfect record from the tee was all they could muster.
It was a far cry for 12 months ago in Cardiff, indeed England won the scrum battle and their margin of victory could have been higher had indiscipline not crept in, allowing Halfpenny to kept Wales afloat.
England’s young tyros certainly weren’t over-powered either and they will now head to Italy next week aware that victory – coupled with a France win over Ireland – would almost certainly seal the title.
The early signs were ominous for England when Wales – so dominant at the set-piece 12 months ago – won a penalty from the first scrum in the second minute.
Wales could not capitalise on their early territory however, thanks in no small part to the elusive running of Mike Brown, who ignited the Twickenham crowd with a trademark counter-attack.
And on four minutes England had the first try of the game through Care, who touched down for his second RBS 6 Nations score in as many matches.
It all came from the Harlequins scrum-half’s quick-tap around halfway and after going through the phases, England burst the line through prop David Wilson.
Wilson didn’t have the gas to get to the line and nor did the supporting Chris Robshaw. England had a glaring overlap on the right but Billy Twelvetrees couldn’t capitalise.
Referee Romain Poite had called a penalty for offside however and another quick tap from Care saw him dart over – Farrell added the extras.
Wales responded almost immediately when Courtney Lawes was pinged for not releasing and Halfpenny slotted his first penalty on nine minutes.
North then got his first taste of the action after a lovely offload from Jonathan Davies but his kick in behind – opting against taking on Brown – bounced into touch.
Then it was the turn of England’s No.11 to threaten and only composed cover from Halfpenny denied Jonny May his first international try after a clever chip ahead.
On 18 minutes England restored their seven-point lead however when Gethin Jenkins was penalised at the scrum, Farrell making no mistake from the tee.
English indiscipline was preventing them from building a sizeable lead however and two minutes later, after Burrell came in at the side, Halfpenny responded in kind.
Farrell had his second penalty of the day soon after following an infringement from Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb at the breakdown before Roberts gave the hosts a scare, piercing through the line but unable to find support.
Again Wales trimmed the gap however on 30 minutes, Robshaw the culprit this time and Halfpenny was in the groove, bisecting the posts for 13-9.
Farrell’s kicking – from both hand and tee – was equally impressive and a diagonal punt to touch put pressure on the Welsh lineout, England won the ball and while May couldn’t sidestep his way over on the left, Twelvetrees’ shrewd grubber was expertly touched down by Burrell.
Farrell converted for 20-9 but two penalties in the closing stages of the half for Wales, both conceded by Hartley and both dispatched by Halfpenny, saw Wales trail just 20-15 at the break.
After the break North kick-started Wales with a bulldozing run down the left but again the final ball was lacking for Wales and after Priestland fumbled a booming boot from Farrell, England had a scrum, and soon a subsequent penalty.
On 50 minutes, Cuthbert sprang to life and motored down the middle and the ball passed through the hands of Priestland, Taulupe Faletau and Halfpenny but England held firm.
Wales spread the ball to the right but Roberts’ grubber was wasteful – although Wales had found another gear and threatened again through Webb.
A fine tackle from Burrell dislodged the ball however and Jack Nowell wriggled through the Wales line, raced into the Wales half and while the Red Dragons finally brought him down, it was at the expense of a scrum.
Things got much worse for Warren Gatland’s men – Jenkins was penalised, shown a yellow card and Farrell notched another penalty on 55 minutes for 26-15.
Once more Wales hit back straight away however – Hartley again the offender, taking Faletau out in the air – and Halfpenny struck penalty number six with unerring accuracy.
Farrell was not to be outdone however and after Davies was pinged for hands in at the ruck, he restored England’s 11-point advantage with another expert kick.
Wales huffed and puffed to find a way back into the match, thumping into the England line time and again but Lancaster’s men proved their defensive qualities against Ireland last time out and this was no different.
Burrell almost scored a second try in the corner with six minutes to go but a superb last-ditch tackle from Halfpenny – who injured himself in the process – denied him and England the icing on the cake.
As a result, second-placed England’s points difference is 32, a full 49 less that Ireland, ensuring they would need a cricket score in Rome next Saturday but it is far superior to that of France and should Les Bleus prevail in Paris, Lancaster and co will be celebrating provided they beat Italy.