Wales against England is always one of the most anticipated clashes of the Guinness Six Nations, and this year’s match certainly delivered.
After the lows of 2020, Wales came into the game off the back of wins over Ireland and Scotland, knowing that victory over England would seal the Triple Crown.
They did that and much more, producing their highest ever points total against England on the way to a 40-24 victory.
The final scoreline is an emphatic one but does not tell the whole story, with the scores level heading into the final quarter.
Wales’ bench had made a big impact in their first two games of the Championship, on both occasions against 14 men.
This time around, England had a full complement, but the Welsh replacements again altered the trajectory of the game.
And in a contest which swung one way then the other, there were some key moments which ended up tipping the balance. We have picked out five of them:
14 mins – Wales lineout finally fires and Biggar shows opportunist side
The Welsh lineout struggled in the opening game against Ireland and had an early wobble in Scotland. Against England they found themselves under pressure in the first quarter of an hour, especially a minute before their opening try when Ken Owens’ throw was picked off by Jonny Hill in the England 22. Ben Youngs’ clearing kick gave him another chance and this time Owens went to Alun Wyn Jones at the front. The shorter throw limited the options but Wales did well to turn the maul and bypass most of the England pack, making an easy ten metres in the process. Three quick hit-ups from the forwards made little progress and England looked well set in defence. However Owen Farrell fell on the wrong side as he tried to deal with the powerful George North on the carry. The England skipper was penalised and told to go to speak to his team about their discipline. Dan Biggar spotted that Josh Adams was lurking out on the left wing and as Pascal Gauzère calls time back on with England beginning to fan back out in defence, the fly-half played the perfect cross-kick for his winger, who was able to outjump George Ford to score.
40 mins – Ford gem gets England back to within three but it could have been more
The next crucial passage we are going to focus on has fine moments for both sides. It starts with a scrum on halfway where England get the nudge on and earn a penalty advantage. They looked slick with ball in hand all game long, and never more so than in this attack where George Ford tempts George North as he flings a pass out to Henry Slade, skipping both Anthony Watson and Owen Farrell in the process. North cannot get there, opening up a huge gap for Slade to race through. He makes 20 metres before drawing last man Liam Williams and feeding Elliot Daly outside him. This is where Louis Rees-Zammit’s much-celebrated pace comes into play. When North was caught out, that had also put Rees-Zammit out of position, but he is able to turn and get back to Daly who he not only tackles, but also prevents from offloading with Jonny May waiting in the wings for a simple run-in. England recycle quickly and Tomas Francis strays offside, but the best chance of a try is gone. Farrell’s penalty reduced the deficit to three points at the half, but if not for Rees-Zammit’s recovery, England might well have gone in ahead.
47 mins – Hardy catches England napping again
If England were frustrated at the way they conceded tries in the first half, they only had themselves to blame at the start of the second. From a lineout in the England 22, Wales work the ball left before coming back to the right and going through the phases. Jonny Hill gives away an unnecessary penalty as he comes in from the side. Scrum-half Kieran Hardy, in just his second start, makes a bold call as he takes the quick tap, but it pays off handsomely with England’s defence caught napping. Only Tom Curry gets back to make any sort of attempt to tackle Hardy, with Elliot Daly turning his back on the play as he moves back to his spot. It would have been an easy three points for Wales, but Hardy spots an opportunity and ends up going over virtually untouched. With the easy conversion, Wales are now 24-14 up.
60 mins – Youngs dummy gets England back level
A strong scrum had got England back to within seven points and they then threatened soon after following a powerful carry from Mako Vunipola. A penalty against Tom Curry for coming in at the side allows Wales to clear their lines, but it served as a warning of what England can do. A minute later they make no mistake as Jonny May gets up highest to recover an up and under ahead of Callum Sheedy. England quickly move the ball to the right where Anthony Watson cuts back inside, shifting the point of attack and making ground. That has opened up space on the left and a deft pass in behind by Charlie Ewels allows George Ford to release Owen Farrell and then Elliot Daly. Daly finds May, although Louis Rees-Zammit does not bite on either of the inside men and is able to bring May down. But the ball comes back quickly and Ben Youngs finds Maro Itoje for a powerful carry. More quick ball has Wales scrambling and Youngs spots Wyn Jones drifting early and throws the dummy, darts through and then shrugs off Liam Williams’ tackle to score. Wales had been given a warning of Youngs’ threat off the back of rucks in the first half when he broke clear only to lack support. This time he was close enough to the line that he did not need any support as he went over for the try that levelled matters.
64-72 mins – Four penalties in eight minutes that ended the visitors’ challenge
Having trailed by 14 points in the first half, England had done well to get back into the game. But their indiscipline had been costly early on and it proved to be once again in the final quarter. Having made it 24-24, they conceded four penalties in an eight-minute spell, all of which were unforced, as Wales were able to pull clear. The first came from a Welsh lineout about 35 metres out, Maro Itoje jumping across and finding himself on the wrong side of the maul in an offside position. Callum Sheedy takes full advantage to put Wales back in front. Next it is Ellis Genge who is penalised for going off his feet and sealing off as he tries to support Billy Vunipola on the charge. Again Sheedy slots the penalty. On 71 minutes is probably the most frustrating of the lot. With Wales in their own 22, Charlie Ewels commits the same offence as Itoje a few minutes earlier, jumping across the lineout and allowing Wales to clear their lines. They do so, then put up a high ball which Louis Rees-Zammit chases only to be blocked off by Dan Robson. The infringement is spotted, Sheedy slots three more points, and in no time at all, Wales are back into a two-score lead.
Of course there were plenty of other crucial moments across the 80 minutes, but those key passages tell much of the story of a fine Welsh win, one that puts them one step closer to another Grand Slam, two years on from their last.