England had dominated the first hour of Saturday night’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales.
Owen Farrell’s penalty had opened up a 13-9 lead and with over an hour played, the visitors looked in good shape to secure a third successive Championship win in the Welsh capital.
But then came the game’s decisive moment, a 35-phase move that ended in a Cory Hill try that will be remembered up and down the valleys for years to come.
In the space of four minutes and seven seconds of lung-busting end-to-end rugby, Warren Gatland’s side ground England’s admirable defence down, culminating in a score for the ages.
DEFENCE TO ATTACK
Every Welsh player on the pitch played their part in the score. All except Gareth Davies carried the ball into contact at least once and the No.9 was the heartbeat of the move.
The passage of play begins with England in possession in the Welsh half, Alun Wyn Jones having thrown a rare intercept that Jack Nowell picked off.
But from the subsequent recycle, Mark Wilson cannot hold on to Farrell’s pass – the No.10 stepping in at No.9 and firing a tough pass to foreshadow Dan Biggar’s sublime intervention later in the same move.
From the moment Davies – who was everywhere in the game including a one-man marking job on Farrell – regathers the loose ball, Wales sense an opportunity to shift it wide and make inroads.
Hadleigh Parkes looked back to his belligerent best with ball in hand on Saturday, carrying hard throughout and this incision up the right lays the groundwork for the score to come.
But a word too for hooker Ken Owens whose flat pass with his left hand releases his regional teammate.
Owens won plaudits this season for stepping in at No.8 when his region needed him, but here he does a passable impression of a fly-half to put Parkes into space with a tight spiral off his weaker hand.
This wide passing game from front-row forwards has been a hallmark of the Scarlets’ success in recent seasons, and it was no surprise to see Owens show these skills in the red of Wales.
UP THE GUTS
Now Wales have got in behind, you might expect them to try to capitalise by shifting the point of attack swiftly back to the left.
But instead, in a clearly pre-planned tactic that bore fruit all evening, Wales opt to keep it tight and back their forwards to make the hard yards.
It is probably also a mark of respect for a well-drilled John Mitchell defence that creaked but only cracked open after 35 phases of brutal brilliance.
The next 14 phases of rugby are simple and clear, one-out runners or pick and goes that chew up the clock and the yards to take them deep into the English 22.
PICK AND ROLLS
The 16th phase is the next key one in the attack, as Welsh skipper Jones takes the ball into contact.
Having thrown an interception just before, he is understandably hesitant to release his wider backs this time and opts to pick and go close to the ruck.
He gets through the double tackle of Billy Vunipola and Ben Youngs but appears to have isolated himself from his support.
But some quick thinking from the lock sees him make two fireman’s rolls to save time and avert English hands threatening a breakdown turnover.
He shows all of his experience in gaining those crucial yards, and seconds, but stops just in time before a possible intervention from referee Jaco Peyper.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Now Wales are up to almost the five-metre line and a try looks imminent.
That it took another 19 phases to eventually break through says a lot about how well England defended but also about Wales’ brilliant ball retention.
In all 35 phases, England barely get a sniff of a turnover as Wales resource every ruck adequately and ball carriers cleverly buy time for their support.
It’s interesting also to note here that Wales have added energy from their bench, with three replacements on the pitch already to England’s two.
We have already seen Jones rolling on the floor, next to pull out a clever trick is Liam Williams in the 31st phase of the move.
The full-back, Guinness Man of the Match on Saturday night, claims Josh Adams’ bullet pass wide on the left touchline and comes within a whisker of getting on Jack Nowell’s outside from where a try would have been on the cards.
In the end Nowell, who along with Harry Williams showed an astonishing appetite for defence in these 35 phases, does superbly well to scrag his Lions teammate on the 2017 Tour.
Now the Saracens star is isolated, with four Englishmen converging on him, and for the first time Wales look to have got their numbers wrong.
But Williams releases the ball to end the tackle, then cleverly scoops it up again to re-carry. This allows both Jones and Adams to get to their teammate and secure possession once more.
WIDE TO WIDE
Having kept it so narrow for such a long time, Wales now look to surprise England and from the left touchline the ball comes springing back to the right following just one more Ross Moriarty carry – his fifth of the move.
Now England are stretched and Biggar – so influential and with yet another key intervention still to come – flings a huge miss pass off his left wing to release George North.
In the passages of play leading up to this point, North has provided a point of difference as a pick and go option, twice stealing metres up the middle.
But now he is back to his customary best on the right flank and it takes a fine double tackle from Jonny May and Elliot Daly, with Manu Tuilagi in close attendance, to bring him down before the try line.
Now England are scrambling hard to get back across from the opposite touchline, but similarly Wales scrum-half Davies is in real trouble to get across.
Spotting this, Biggar shows superb experience and awareness to step in at No.9 for the 35th, and final phase, of this dramatic move.
Biggar has had to sprint over half the width of the pitch to get to North, after throwing him the pass in the first place.
But with his lungs burning, he stays calm with ball in hand and, unlike Farrell at the very start of this move what feels like a lifetime ago, produces a sublime ball to put Cory Hill into a gap.
The lock has just enough momentum to get over the try line, despite Williams – who made nine tackles in this sequence alone – and Billy Vunipola jamming in hard.
The score owes much to the fantastic line Hill has cut back in towards the breakdown, making one last-ditch effort to hit the gas and gather the ball at pace.
But the reverse angle also shows just clever, and flat, Biggar’s final pass is.
Biggar drilled the extras, because of course he did.
And from there the game was up for England – Adams’ late score from a Biggar cross-kick the icing on a quite delicious Cardiff cake.