England 33-30 Wales: Home side win Triple Crown and keep Six Nations title hopes alive
By Michael Cantillon at Twickenham
Last Updated: 08/03/20 6:05pm
England remain in the 2020 Six Nations title race - for now at least - after they secured a 33-30 victory over Wales at Twickenham in a tetchy encounter on Saturday.
Tries from Anthony Watson - playing his first game for England since the 2019 World Cup final on November 2 - Elliot Daly and Manu Tuilagi, in addition to a metronomic performance from the boot of skipper Owen Farrell, saw Eddie Jones' side clinch a first Triple Crown since 2016.
Wales had stuck in the contest via the kicking of Leigh Halfpenny and then Dan Biggar, before an outstanding Justin Tipuric try brought the game back to four points at the start of the second half.
Wayne Pivac's charges couldn't press on from there, however, and slipped to a third straight championship loss, despite facing 13 men for the final six minutes after Ellis Genge had been sin-binned and Tuilagi red-carded - harshly - for a shoulder charge on George North - although the visitors did register late Biggar and Tipuric tries in that time.
England's title fate now lies in the hands of unbeaten France, who face Scotland in Edinburgh on Sunday, before they are due to host Ireland in Paris on Saturday, March 14 - a Test which could yet be postponed, just like England's Round 5 encounter against Italy in Rome was.
It took England just four minutes to crash over for the opening try when Watson scored on his return off a set-piece move, taking an inside ball from Ben Youngs, shimmying past Tomos Williams - whose defence wasn't the strongest - before reaching out and grounding despite the attentions of Liam Williams.
Wales responded with some impactful phase-play of their own in the England 22, but when North reached out in an attempt to score a metre from the line, he lost the ball forward in-goal.
That spillage led to an almighty scrap between the two sides, after-which England skipper Farrell was penalised for inciting things by shoving North after the error. Halfpenny duly converted off the tee from close range, narrowing the gap to 7-3.
The edginess continued in the contest as players continued to steam into tackles, borderline late on occasion, before England regained their seven-point lead in the 16th minute when Farrell struck over after Alun Wyn Jones had been penalised for interfering with England nine Youngs while lying on the wrong side.
A Tuilagi high tackle on Josh Navidi - with Wales already on penalty advantage for offside - saw Halfpenny kick three more points onto the board five minutes later, but Wales could not add further points in their next visit to the 22 when centre Hadleigh Parkes knocked on.
As it was England would score the next try in clinical fashion down the other end when full-back Daly slid over in the corner eight minutes from the break, again off an attacking lineout - this time seeing Youngs snipe and tackled high before England shipped the ball wide rapidly on penalty advantage.
Farrell's conversion, plus a penalty moments later when Wales were pinged for collapsing a maul, left things a daunting 20-6, and suddenly a tight and scrappy game had gotten away from the visitors.
Four minutes into dead time, Biggar did add three points for Wales after another high tackle - this time from Itoje - to leave things 20-9 at the interval but still a far from easy task.
Yet, 27 seconds into the second period and direct from England's restart, Wales scored one of the tries of the tournament running from their own 22 to the opposite sticks.
Nick Tompkins set Navidi away down the right to start the move, before the back-row fed Tompkins again on his inside, who in turn found Williams - the scrum-half delaying enough to hold Farrell as the last defender and set Tipuric clear to dive under the posts for a stunning score.
England responded instantly, however, when Courtney Lawes jackalled over a breakdown to force a penalty in the Wales half, which Farrell dispatched to leave things 23-16.
The home side extended their lead to 10 points when Wales replacement tighthead Leon Brown collapsed a scrum on a Wales put-in near the away side's 22, handing George Ford a simple effort off the tee.
The next try was always likely to be hugely significant, and it was England who got it through Tuilagi after Youngs had created the initial line-break with a super bust. Thereafter, a dummy run from Henry Slade and quick hands from Ford saw Tuilagi jog over untouched.
Farrell, flawless off the tee all day, added the conversion to make it 33-16 - from which there was no way back for Wales.
Despite pressure in the England 22 for the remainder of the contest and a yellow card to England prop Genge, Wales could not add further points until Tuilagi was sent off.
With North seeking to score in the corner and having been tackled by Slade, Tuilagi came in with his arm tucked and made contact with the head of the Wales wing - who by the point of contact was on his knees.
The referee deemed it a red card offence, but despite playing against 13 men, Wales chose to keep the ball in the maul in the consequent play and conceded a turnover.
Biggar touched down off a five-metre scrum with two minutes left, while Tipuric scored a second in the corner with the final play after a lovely Rhys Webb offload as England's severely-stretched defence struggled to cope, but there was just too much left for Wales to do.
England's power again here was something to marvel at, and they set their stall out from the very first collision as Tom Curry and Tuilagi combined to smash into Biggar.
Wales came with the intention to mix it physically, but they fell short, and many a side will against the sort of power within Jones' ranks.
England also had the better of the aerial battle, which is more and more crucial within Test rugby each year it seems.
A note of admiration too for Wales, who stuck in the game for so long. They really never do know when they're beaten.
Wales' spirit and intent to attack and play wide was super, but their execution let them down at Twickenham as they produced what resembled more so a steady stream of frustrating knock-ons.
Tuilagi's red card was the first given to an England player in a Five/Six Nations Test in history. Each other dismissal has occurred during other Test windows. And when reviewing it, it looks a harsh call.
The centre came across with his arm tucked, and so was rightfully penalised for a no-arms tackle, while he did make contact with North's head. But the Welshman was on his knees, having dropped in height considerably due to a tackle split seconds before, by the time Tuilagi came across.
If that isn't a mitigating factor to take a tackle such as Tuilagi's from a red card down to a yellow, then things will become exceptionally difficult for players.