LONDON (AP) — England could yet steal the Six Nations rugby crown from France after seeing off Wales 33-30 at Twickenham on Saturday.
The English have rebounded from their drubbing in Paris on the opening day to beat Scotland, Ireland and Wales and earn a first Triple Crown in four years.
But their chase of unbeaten France goes into limbo because the new coronavirus caused their last-round match against Italy in Rome next weekend to be postponed. The English have done what they can, though, to have France feeling their breath down their necks and a little extra anxious not to slip up against Scotland on Sunday or Ireland next week to claim the crown.
Certainly, England made Wales uncomfortable until the last minutes when Ellis Genge was yellow-carded and Manu Tuilagi was red-carded. Wales, 33-16 down, exploited the two-man advantage with two converted tries. The final scoreline still flattered the visitors.
“Wales are a great team, they’re always going to throw everything at us and have their moments, which they did. But under the sticks, it felt good, it felt calm,” England captain Owen Farrell said.
“We got points back at the right times and seemed to be in control. We enjoy defending, being physical. At times I thought we got off the line and put them under some pressure, and that’s a big part of the game at the minute.”
For the first hour, England ruled the kickfest. When Wales tried to run, it was constantly cut down by white shirts behind the gainline and hassled at the breakdown. Wales struggled to sustain anything, while England was slick and accurate, and executing chances.
Winger Anthony Watson, playing his first match in eight weeks, was over in the fourth minute. A spilled pass by Wales was returned with interest and scrumhalf Ben Youngs, marking his 99th England cap in brilliant form, drew Wales wide off the ruck and flicked inside for Watson, who stepped Tomos Williams and reached out to score.
Both sides exchanged penalties while they niggled at each other off the ball, including England prop Joe Marler grabbing Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones’ genitalia. The act was caught on TV but missed by the officials.
“If I react I get a red card. It’s tough isn’t it?” Jones said. He hoped World Rugby investigates.
After half an hour, Youngs burst from another ruck, and George Ford gave Elliot Daly an overlap to score in the left corner for 17-6.
Wales, forced into 12 handling errors alone in the first half in the face of England’s relentless rush defense, grabbed a penalty kick in injury time but was seeing England beginning to ride over the horizon at 20-9.
England kicked off the second half, and Wales produced its finest moment.
Nick Tompkins, English-born but Wales-qualified through a grandmother, made the catch and played give-and-take with flanker Josh Navidi to open the field. Williams drew the last man and Justin Tipuric scored between the posts just 22 seconds into the new half.
It was a flash in the darkness for Wales, though.
Farrell and Ford added penalties, and England’s scrum was dominant, even without loosehead Mako Vunipola, dropped after England feared he had COVID-19. He didn’t, and helped his Saracens club win on the other side of the River Thames.
England put the result to bed from another Youngs break. Wales eventually ran out of defenders and Tuilagi strolled in.
The conversion by Farrell was his 12th consecutive goalkick spread over the Triple Crown tests.
Wales came back and replacement prop Genge was sin-binned after England was put on a last warning for repeated fouls. Then a minute later, Tuilagi was sent off for shoulder-charging the head of North, while North was being denied a try by Henry Slade. North hugged Tuilagi as he walked off.
England coach Eddie Jones called the red card bizarre and ridiculous. Wales coach Wayne Pivac called the decision right.
Down to 13 men in the 74th minute, England held out for four minutes until Biggar scored a try and Tipuric his second in injury time, both converted by Biggar, who tallied 14 points.
“There was only one team that was ever going to win the game and that was us,” Eddie Jones said. “They were chasing their tail … at the end. We had people missing off the field and couldn’t seem to do anything right with the referee. It was difficult.”
Pivac hopes their run of three straights defeats — Wales’ worst run in the championship in 13 years — can be overcome next weekend when Scotland visits.
“We’re our own worst enemies at the minute,” Pivac said. “We’re contributing to the result in terms of too many errors.”
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