England trailed 14-5 at half-time after a penalty try and Alex Mann's score put the visitors in the ascendancy in an opening period that saw the hosts reduced to 13 men for six minutes thanks to two yellow cards.
Ben Earl crossed for a crucial try while Ollie Chessum and Ethan Roots were in the bin, before Fraser Dingwall’s second-half score – sandwiched by two Ford penalties – helped an increasingly composed England prevail.
Following last weekend’s victory in Rome, England have won their first two Six Nations matches for the first time in five years and they now head to Scotland for a mouth-watering Round 3 contest plotting their first Championship challenge since they last won the trophy in 2020.
Wales travel to Ireland next and will rue a missed opportunity for their first Six Nations win at Twickenham in 12 years.
PATIENT WALES PRAY ON ENGLAND ERRORS
Jamie George had called on England’s fans to bring the noise to their first home game of the year but he really need not have worried – his side certainly gave them plenty to shout about in the early stages, both good and bad.
The hosts started freely, passing wide early and often as they tested Wales’ defence, but each early opportunity ended in frustrating disappointment. Freddie Steward lost his footing when one-on-one with the last defender after an excellent line-break, Rio Dyer did brilliantly to field a dangerous George Ford cross-kick and Tommy Reffell got over the ball to win a Wales penalty inside their own 22.
That was all inside the first 10 minutes but England’s early momentum came to a shuddering halt when Chessum was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Kieron Assiratti. That gave Wales a platform from which to build and within five minutes, they were over for the game’s first try when a driving maul from five metres out was hauled down by Roots. The England flanker was sin-binned and a penalty try given, putting Wales 7-0 up and England down to 13 players.
If Steve Borthwick was frustrated by his team’s predicament, he would have been thrilled with the response. Maro Itoje smashed into Wales fly-half Ioan Lloyd to win a scrum under the posts, and after his pack secured the ball, Earl picked it up from the base and muscled his way over the line. It looked certain to be 7-7 but, before he could even kick his conversion, Ford twitched in his stance and Dyer sprinted off the Wales line to kick it clear – summing up a chaotic first 20 minutes.
Dyer had an excellent half. He followed that up by chasing a Cameron Winnett kick into England territory and hurrying Ford into a clearance that did not make much ground, as the visitors continued to grow in confidence and gain a measure of control.
They struck a huge blow just before half-time with a fine try started by the excellent Reffell. The flanker stepped off his man and offloaded to Tomos Williams, who burst clear of England’s defence. Faced with the last man, he passed outside to Mann who ran under the posts for his second try in a week.
DINGWALL AND FORD TURN THE TABLES
After that gut punch, England needed a fast start to the second half and they so nearly had it as Elliot Daly dived for the line in the corner following a fine right-to-left move, but Winnett’s brilliant cover tackle just about forced him into touch. They eventually settled for a Ford penalty after Wales were caught offside in front of the posts to make the score 14-8.
Wales soon responded with their first spell inside England’s 22 after a well-judged Lloyd cross-kick found Dyer down the left. The winger put boot to ball and Steward had to scamper across and put it into touch but Underhill won an England penalty from the resulting Welsh lineout.
Wales were increasingly dangerous and Winnett almost sparked a third try by breaking through a tackle and releasing Josh Adams on halfway. The winger ran deep into England’s 22 but knocked-on just as he tried to pass inside to a free Dyer.
England soon started to gain a foothold in the Wales half and they punched their way through for a second try just after the hour-mark. Alex Mitchell made the initial break from just outside the 22, taking England inside the Wales five-metre line, before Ellis Genge tried to power over and was held up inches short.
But, with Wales defenders sucked in at the breakdown, space opened out wide. Mitchell went to the backs, but it appeared the move would break down when Ford’s flat pass caused Daly to stumble. However, the winger somehow managed to keep his balance for long enough to pass to Dingwall in the corner, and he slid over for the score. Ford failed to nudge England ahead, however, with his missed conversion leaving Wales 14-13 up.
With that try, the balance of play shifted decisively in England’s favour and they soon had the winning score.
They won a Wales lineout on halfway shortly after before a Ford 50:22 pinned the visitors back on their own try-line. That pressure paid dividends as Mason Grady was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on, leaving Ford an easy penalty from in front of the posts that he made to put them 16-14 up.
England then saw it out, keeping Wales at arm’s length inside their own half for an important victory.