TWICKENHAM: Anthony Watson marked his return to Test rugby with a try inside four minutes as England beat Wales 33-30 at Twickenham on Saturday to win the Triple Crown and keep alive their Six Nations title hopes despite a red card for Manu Tuilagi. England were cruising at 33-16 ahead on the hour mark thanks to tries from Watson, Elliot Daly and Tuilagi. But five minutes from time, powerhouse centre Tuilagi was shown a red card by referee Ben O’Keeffe for a shoulder charge on George North as he prevented the Wales wing going in at the corner after replacement England forward Ellis Genge had been sin-binned.
Dan Biggar and Justin Tipuric, with his second try, crossed England’s line in the closing stages but it was all too late for the visitors, although they did secure a losing bonus point. “I thought we stayed calm in key moments,” England captain Owen Farrell told ITV Sport. “We were composed. Wales are a great team, they’re always going to throw everything at us and have their moments, which they did,” he added after what is likely to be World Cup finalists England’s last match for several months, with their scheduled Championship finale against Italy in Rome next week postponed due to the deadly coronavirus.
‘TOO LITTLE TOO LATE’
Defeat meant reigning Grand Slam champions Wales, under new coach Wayne Pivac, had suffered a third successive Six Nations defeat for the first time since 2007. “It shows what we can do with those two tries,” said Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones. “It was too little too late in the end. “However you want to play, ultimately if you don’t win it doesn’t matter. That is where we find ourselves today.”
Victory saw England, beaten by France in their tournament opener, keep the pressure on the Grand Slam-chasers ahead of Les Bleus’ match away to Scotland on Sunday. England led 20-9 at half-time thanks to tries from Watson and full-back Daly. Both scores were converted by Farrell, who landed all six of his goal-kicks in a 15-point haul. Wales’ first-half points came courtesy of two penalties from full-back Leigh Halfpenny and one from fly-half Biggar. England had been 10-3 up at the break in last year’s corresponding fixture in Cardiff, only to lose 21-13.
And they were caught cold from the kick-off at the start of the second half thanks to a brilliant Wales breakaway try finished by flanker Tipuric before pulling clear again, with Tuilagi’s score leaving them in command. England have a habit of making fast starts under coach Eddie Jones — coming into this game they had scored a try in the first 10 minutes in 16 of their past 30 Tests, winning 75 percent of those matches.
And it took Watson, making his first England appearance since November’s World Cup final defeat by South Africa in Japan, fewer than four minutes to cross Wales’ line. North’s knock-on allowed England lock Maro Itoje to charge through as he set up a line-out deep in Welsh territory. England won the set-piece and, with Wales braced for a driving maul, scrum-half Ben Youngs released Watson with a clever inside pass that saw the Bath flyer dance his way through the cover. Farrell converted to take the centre past 900 points for England. But Farrell was at fault when conceding a penalty with a late challenge as England lost Jonny May to a head injury.
Farrell and Halfpenny exchanged penalties before England scored their second try eight minutes before the break. Itoje again won line-out possession, with fly-half George Ford sending Daly in at the left corner. Farrell converted and his second penalty then extended England’s lead before Biggar’s goal-kick reduced the arrears. Wales started the second half with a brilliant score.
From the kick-off, England-born centre Nick Tompkins exchanged passes with returning No 8 Josh Navidi before finding Tomos Williams, who sent in the charging Tipuric for a try between the posts. Biggar converted and England’s lead was down to 20-16. But two Wales infringement allowed Farrell and Ford to calm home nerves with a pair of penalties that left England two scores ahead at 26-16. England had their third try when Tuilagi strolled in against a tiring defence only for their indiscipline to set up a frantic finale. – AFP