Ollie Lawrence’s late try confirmed England’s first Guinness Six Nations win at Principality Stadium for six years in a tense battle against Wales.
Lawrence dotted down in the corner with six minutes to go to kill off Wales’s hopes of a comeback and consign them to a sixth straight Championship defeat.
Anthony Watson’s first-half try helped England to a 8-3 half-time advantage, but Louis Rees-Zammit briefly put Wales ahead in the first minute of the second half when he intercepted a Max Malins pass and sprinted clear.
However, England recovered quickly and scored a second try through Kyle Sinckler from just a metre out, before Lawrence sealed the victory late on after a prolonged period of England pressure.
After a Round 1 Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland, England have now bounced back to beat Italy and Wales and can still win the Championship if they beat both France and Ireland in their last two games.
Borthwick may be trying to downplay expectations and England have certainly not hit the heights Ireland, Scotland and even France have reached so far. But away victories are like gold dust and this is another important milestone for the team and their young head coach, even if they left plenty of points on the field and could – and even should – have won by a greater margin.
In contrast, Wales now must prepare for a Round 4 trip to Rome and play an Italy team who are also yet to win through three games.
ENGLAND START ON TOP
Wales arrived seeking a first win since Warren Gatland re-joined as head coach, but an uncertain build-up had dominated the conversation and added extra spice to a fixture that barely needs it.
England were chasing a first away win under Steve Borthwick and they enjoyed the majority of possession in the first 10 minutes, probing a Wales defence that conceded 69 points in their first two games.
Despite that, it was the home team who nearly made the perfect start when Taulupe Faletau charged down a Jack van Poortvlet kick and almost beat a covering Freddie Steward to the loose ball near the tryline.
It lifted an already buoyant home crowd but England scored the first points of the game when Farrell kicked through a 45-metre penalty after Wales were penalised for not rolling away.
Their confidence increasing after such a bright start, England began to find holes in Wales’s defensive line as they moved the ball quickly through the hands, with Slade in particular showing some fine touches.
And that pressure led to a brilliant team try, designed on the whiteboard, perfected on the training ground and executed in the biggest of sports.
From an England scrum 10 metres into the Wales half, scrum-half Van Poortvliet made a sudden dart to attract his opposite number Tomos Williams and then fizzed a flat pass into fly-half Farrell.
With Wales’ defence caught cold, Malins appeared on Farrell’s inside shoulder and perfectly-timed pass set the winger away in midfield. He then passed outside to the supporting Lawrence, who was just about hauled down by a desperate Mason Grady.
England got quick ball and moved sharply to their left, where a fine Alex Dombrandt miss pass sent Watson over in the corner to mark his first England start in nearly two years.
Farrell missed the conversion but that was the only blot on England’s copybook in an impressive first 20 minutes that showed how they have benefited from the two-week break between Rounds 2 and 3.
Wales, losing the battle for territory and unable to lay a glove on England inside the attacking half, needed to respond and a penalty awarded straight from the restart allowed Halfpenny to hammer through their first points of the day.
With the roof open, the aerial battle was always going to be vital – and England had the better of it in the first 40, with Steward imperious under the high ball and Van Poortvliet’s well-measured kicks keeping Wales under constant pressure. Leigh Halfpenny can attest to the latter after twice taking huge hits from the away side’s kick-chase.
However, the visitors were unable to add to their points haul, with Farrell missing a penalty from 40 metres, and Wales – slowly growing into the game – finished it the far stronger.
Twice they worked their way into England’s 22 and all the way down to the five-metre line, but twice they came away without points, as first Lawrence and then Lewis Ludlam, who was oustanding throguhout, won crucial turnovers for the visitors, allowing them to reach half-time with a five-point lead.
REES-ZAMMIT RESPONDS BUT ENGLAND HANG ON
Wales might have been frustrated at not converting their position into points but they did not have to wait long in the second half to score.
Just seconds after the restart, Rees-Zammit brilliantly intercepted a Malins pass near half-way and bolted clear to score Wales’s first try of the match.
Halfpenny’s conversion put Wales ahead but their lead was short-lived, as England wrestled it back almost immediately with Sinckler powering his way over the line from a metre out after a brilliant Ellis Genge run.
That breathless start set the stage for an enthralling second half of blood and thunder, but also a lack of quality at vital moments.
The pattern of the first 40 was repeated for Wales, who struggled to get into England’s half and appeared uncertain in attack. But the visitors struggled to extend their lead, with Farrell missing a second penalty and Ludlam losing a crucial turnover just metres from the line.
The hosts had periods of encouragement but the longer the game went on, the more their defence creaked and England eventually sealed it through Lawrence, following a period of intense pressure inside the Wales 22 that saw Henry Slade almost scamper across.
There was no bonus point but any win in Cardiff will do for England. Ireland may be the favourites from here, but Borthwick’s men are not out of this yet.