Six Nations: England resist Wales fightback at Twickenham
Last Updated: 13/03/16 5:47pm
England survived a spirited Wales fightback to record a 25-21 win at Twickenham and stay on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam.
England, who completed a Triple Crown with the victory, led 25-7 with 10 minutes remaining after a try from Anthony Watson and six Owen Farrell penalties.
But tighthead prop Dan Cole was shown a yellow card for repeated team infringements and the extra man nearly aided a shock win for the visitors.
George North and Taulupe Faletau crossed to set up a breathtaking finish and Wales were back on attack in the England half with less than a minute remaining before North was tackled into touch as England claimed the lineout and the win.
The victory puts one hand on the Six Nations trophy for England, whose only challengers for the title are next week's opponents, France. Should the French record a heavy victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday, it will set up a thrilling finale in Paris on March 19.
English confidence will have grown after a win that offers partial redemption for the loss to Warren Gatland's team in September, a result that initiated England's World Cup exit and that still left a lingering sense of foreboding when Wales threatened another unlikely comeback.
Maro Itoje was outstanding in only his second start and third Test appearance, stealing opposition line-out, poaching ball and even making the break that led to Watson's try. The 21-year-old finished as man of the match.
The scrum had been the focus of the pre-match mind games with the rival camps accusing the other of illegal technique, but the set-piece proved controversy-free all afternoon.
There were no early dramas at an early Wales put in, but there was plenty of action in an exhilarating start by England that saw Dylan Hartley produce a terrific offload before Ben Youngs was denied a try because of a knock-on.
George Ford took the wrong option as England pressed once more - the Bath fly-half had endured a poor start to the game - but the pressure was building and when Wales infringed Farrell was off the mark.
Turning to back rows James Haskell and Billy Vunipola to make ground and with Youngs sniping cleverly around the fringes, only desperate late defence from Rob Evans and Gareth Davies prevented Cole from scoring.
The Welsh scrum buckled and Farrell was on target and when Dan Lydiate was penalised for not releasing and the lead had been extended to nine points as the first quarter passed.
England's onslaught continued with Wales denied the chance to gain any kind of foothold in the game and after 30 minutes the only fault that could be levelled was that the score failed to reflect the home dominance.
That changed quickly, however, when quick ball allowed Itoje to evade two feeble tackles before Mike Brown drew Liam Williams and sent Watson over for his 10th try in 19 internationals.
Finally Wales hauled themselves into contention with Jamie Roberts determined to make something happen.
The half-time talk in the Welsh dressing room made little impact as runs from Brown and Jack Nowell swept Eddie Jones' men into the 22 before the attack ended with a penalty by Farrell.
When Wales won a penalty under the posts, they had little option but to signal for the scrum, so great was the deficit.
After minutes spent searching for the breakthrough they claimed their prize, Ford taking too long over a routine clearance, Dan Biggar charging down to score and then converting his own try.
The Welsh revival continued and Twickenham fell silent for a spell, but with Farrell adding two penalties in quick succession they had pulled ahead 25-7.
Cole was sent to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul, but in the same incident the Leicester tighthead winced in pain after receiving a palm in the eyes from replacement prop Thomas Francis so the penalty was reversed and England were able to clear their lines.
North went over for a try after Williams offloaded in the tackle to Jonathan Davies and when Faletau crossed, Wales had two and a half minutes to the rescue the game but they had run out of time.