RBS Six Nations: Bath trio inspire 21-16 England win over Wales in Millennium Stadium curtain-raiser
By Ben Hampshire | @BH92
Last Updated: 07/02/15 2:22pm
England gained vengeance for their Cardiff heartache with a thrilling 21-16 victory over Wales in a night of high drama in the 2015 RBS Six Nations curtain-raiser at the Millennium Stadium.
Following the resounding 30-3 defeat which saw England’s 2013 Grand Slam hopes ended and earned Wales the Championship, the visitors rallied from 16-8 down at the break to earn a morale-boosting triumph.
Bath duo Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph were the try scorers for England, who were led by the phenomenal game management of fellow west countryman George Ford, who kicked 11 points.
Rhys Webb bagged the first try of the match, but his try along with two Leigh Halfpenny penalties and a Dan Biggar drop-goal were not enough to see Wales over the line as England gained the psychological advantage ahead of a Rugby World Cup pool showdown between the teams seven months down the line.
One of the rugby’s fiercest rivalries consumed headlines for weeks before the Six Nations opener, but the fireworks commenced well before the whistle.
Kick-off was six minutes late due to a theatrical stand-off between the sides in the tunnel, but when they did finally emerge, it was a hostile atmosphere that greeted an England side with half as many caps as their adversaries.
Nerves surfaced early as Jonny May conceded a penalty inside the opening minute, allowing the metronomic boot of Halfpenny to get Wales on the board.
And when Saracens lock George Kruis knocked on within 10 metres of England’s try line, Wales were offered a perfect attacking opportunity.
Despite a fantastic drive from the visiting pack, Taulape Faletau made a stunning break off the back of the scrum to release livewire Webb, who evaded a sprawling effort from May to race in the first try of the match and Halfpenny’s drilled conversion left England 10 down inside the opening 10 minutes.
The early deficit meant the pressure on England intensified, but they seized their opportunity when it came with full-back Mike Brown stabbed a deft kick behind the Welsh defence and Watson accelerated excellently to dot down a world class finish that halved the arrears.
George Ford, who struck the right woodwork with his conversion attempt, went on to exchange three-pointers with Halfpenny, who offered the home crowd a rare collectors’ item when his usually impeccable record was broken with a pulled kick.
Inaccuracy was not an issue for Wales fly-half Dan Biggar, who overcame a bloody blow to the head to strike a beautifully-orchestrated drop-goal on the stroke of half-time, giving Wales a 16-8 advantage as they returned to the dressing room.
England returned from the break rejuvenated, scrum-half Ben Youngs leading the way in upping the ante, but it was perseverance that proved pivotal for the visitors.
Stuart Lancaster’s troop wore the Wales defence down before Joseph displayed masterful footwork to evade George North and Webb to slide under the posts after a 20th England phase and Ford’s conversion brought England within a point of their hosts.
Ford’s goal-kicking will again be brought into question after missing a relatively straightforward penalty attempt, but he was able to slot England into the lead on the hour.
A barnstorming James Haskell run was blocked only by the post before Alex Cuthbert illegally intervened and earned himself a yellow card, gifting Ford a chance to put England ahead for the first time in the match.
Lock Dave Attwood was convinced he had completed a trio of Bath tries for England, but play was brought back for a Wales penalty, only for the visitors to strangle Warren Gatland’s men.
Ford held his nerve to land a 45-metre penalty to put England five points ahead and Lancaster’s men saw out the final moments to make the perfect start to the Rugby World Cup year.