13 Mar 2016

England eye title after late Welsh scare

8:11 am on 13 March 2016

England survived a terrific Welsh fightback to put one hand on their first Six Nations title for five years as an Anthony Watson try and 20 points for Owen Farrell helped them beat Wales 25-21 in a Twickenham thriller.

The England first-five Owen Farrell.

The England first-five Owen Farrell. Photo: Photosport

The win secured the triple crown and sends England into their final game in France next week on course for a first grand slam since 2003.

England's 58-point's differential advantage over France, who visit Scotland on tomorrow morning (NZ time) means even a heavy defeat in Paris would be unlikely to deprive England of the title following four successive second-place finishes.

A Scotland win at Murrayfield would guarantee England top spot.

"The grand slam is a reality and we can't wait to get to Paris and to do the business," said England coach Eddie Jones. "We need to prepare well and the grand slam is there for us to take."

With Wales due to host Italy in their final match, this morning's Twickenham showdown was effectively a title decider -- as well as a chance for some England revenge for their World Cup defeat -- yet it was one-way traffic from the start.

England looked sharper and hungrier and did not let up during one of the most dominant halves seen in a game between the two old rivals for many years.

After 20 minutes three Farrell penalties had made it 9-0 and Wales had not created an attack.

The opening try came after 31 minutes when prop Joe Marler found himself at halfback and set man-of-the-match lock Maro Itoje up to blast through and create a hole that Mike Brown used to feed Watson for an easy score.

Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards would have been fuming as the visitors, usually so well-drilled, missed tackle after tackle while their attack was non-existent.

England turned round 16-0 up at the break and soon stretched it with another penalty but then gifted Wales a lifeline when Dan Biggar charged down George Ford to score under the posts.

England still looked unruffled though and added two more penalties.

In the last 10 minutes, however, with replacement halfback Rhys Priestland pulling the strings and England down to 14 men after a yellow for Dan Cole, Wales suddenly rediscovered their verve.

George North and Taulupe Faletau scored within four minutes to cut the deficit to four and change the whole atmosphere.

Wales still had time to launch another attack but Manu Tuilagi, on as a replacement for the first time in almost two years, foiled it.

That allowed the home fans, who had seen their team blow a seven-point lead in the last 10 minutes in the World Cup, to breath a huge, collective sigh of relief.

"We were terrible in the first half, it's very unlike us and it really cost us the game," Wales coach Warren Gatland said.

Earlier this morning the Six Nations holders Ireland rediscovered their form to record their first victory of this year's championship, running in nine tries to thrash Italy 58-15 and end a frustrating run of results.

Ireland were already too far behind leaders England to retain their title and win an unprecedented third successive Six Nations outright but a ruthless display nevertheless handed Joe Schmidt's injury-hit side a much needed confidence boost.