England grab Six Nations initiative with dramatic late Cardiff win
England's hopes of a second successive RBS Six Nations win took a giant stride towards being realised when Eddie Jones' men secured a dramatic 21-16 victory over an impressive Wales side at the Principality stadium in Cardiff.
A superb game began with an exchange of early penalties, before England scored the game's first try after 17 minutes through Ben Youngs, who forced his way over the line after Mike Brown had made a decisive break.
The try was unconverted and a kick by Leigh Halfpenny reduced the arrears to two points as Wales regrouped, their superior strength threatening to overwhelm England's inexperienced back row. Then, with less than three minutes to half-time, Liam Williams capped a brilliant Welsh move by diving in under the posts and Halfpenny added the extras. With the home side dominant, Wales could easily have been further ahead by the break.
Up against it for the second week running, England needed the big boot of Owen Farrell to be in good working order and it was as he landed a penalty on 55 minutes to trim the deficit to 13-11, but on the hour Halfpenny kicked an easy penalty from in front of the posts to restore the five-point gap.
Soon after, a Dan Biggar interception threatened a breakaway try for Wales, but a sliding interception by Elliot Daly prevented the kick-through turning into a decisive score.
Even so, the clock was ticking and although Farrell kicked a penalty with ten minutes left, Wales looked like they were holding on.
However, having turned the ball over with five minutes to go, Wales funnelled the ball back to Jonathan Davies. He kicked long but, instead of finding touch, the ball was caught by George Ford, who dashed forward, slipped it left to Farrell, and he in turn fed a jet-heeled Daly, who tore down the flank and dived over in the corner. With Farrell adding the extras, England had secured an extraordinary victory against the odds.
Speaking after the match, Jones said England had used up all their "get-out-of-jail-free cards" for the tournament already as they stretched their winning run to 16, 15 of which have come under his leadership. He reflected that "we don't want to be in that position again", before adding: "We are a gritty team with characters in there that don't know how to get beaten, and that was evident here."
However, he added, it is time England picked up some bonus points - now available for scoring four or more tries - observing they have the chance to do that if they "put Italy to the cleaners" at Twickenham two weeks from now.
Fans booking corporate hospitality for the Italy game may expect no less, after the outclassed Azzurri suffered a second successive heavy home defeat as Ireland romped to a 63-10 win to regain some momentum after their opening-day defeat at Murrayfield.
Scotland will be the other visitors to Twickenham in the championship, with their visit on March 11th being a potential title clincher for England.
The Scots were unable to follow up their win over Ireland as they were edged out 22-16 at the Stade de France.