Warren Gatland celebrated his final Six Nations match against England with a dramatic 21-13 victory in Cardiff that continues Wales’ march towards the Grand Slam.
Second-row Cory Hill forced his way over in the 68th minute after a lengthy period of Welsh resurgence to seize the lead for the first time, his team thriving amid the arrival of replacement fly-half Dan Biggar from the bench to direct the final quarter.
And bedlam ensued at the Principality Stadium in the closing moments when Josh Adams grabbed Biggar’s crossfield kicked to touch down and confirm a famous and historic 12th straight win.
Here’s our report card from a thrilling contest.
Wales class in second half: Utterly superb. England tired out after a blistering first half and lacked accuracy in attack after the break, while the hosts looked sensational going forward. With the introduction of Dan Biggar on the hour mark, the Northampton man steadied the ship, playing a central part in the first try and sending a cleverly weighted cross field kick into the path of Josh Adams for the second try. Overall, Wales took their chances at the right time and made better use of their possession and territorial advantage.
Liam Williams: Absolute brilliant under the high ball. The Saracens man was deservedly named man-of-the-match for his sublime display. He showed pace, power, vision, composure, solidity in the air and always stepped up in big game situations. He jumped superbly to pluck two balls from the sky after half-time and did exceptionally well to chase his own kick on 75 minutes and take Wales deep inside England’s half. He made 18 carries for 64 metres, beating three defenders in a virtuous display.
England run out of steam: Starting the game at warp speed, they stopped Wales from creating any opportunities and looked punishing on the break following turnovers. Overall, their game management was excellent, with tactical and territorial kicking all on song. However, as the game wore on they failed to gain a foothold in the contest and only posted three points in the second half through an Owen Farrell penalty. On the possession and territory front, England made little impact, enjoying only 35 per cent possession and 37 per cent territory over the 80 minutes. To show the pressure they were under over the course of the match, they made 110 more tackles than Wales (223 in contrast to the hosts 103) and were rudderless going forward in the second period.
Wales set piece: If Wales had a consistent line out it would add another dimension to what is an already attractive game plan. Two examples were in the first half when George Kruis’ pinched Ken Owens throw, and then just before the break, Owens throw was knocked on for an England scrum. The Dragons were lucky after the break then when the Scarlets man’s dart was turned over but it was brought back for a penalty and then they lost possession again from his throw on 58 mins. If Wales are to go on and secure a Grand Slam then they need to improve on their 76 per cent success rate (10 from 13 throws) at line-out time for fixtures against Scotland and Ireland.
17 mins: England secure a scrum penalty and Owen Farrell opens the scoring (0-3).
23 mins: Wales are awarded a penalty in front of the posts after Tom Curry fails to roll away from the ruck. Gareth Anscombe levels the game (3-3).
27 mins: The visitors steal a Wales maul – through Courtney Lawes – and from the ensuing phase, Tom Curry dives over for his first international try. Farrell slots the conversion (3-10).
52 mins: Anscombe slots a penalty to cut the deficit to four points (6-10).
56 mins: England are penalised again and Anscombe makes no mistake with the penalty (9-10).
62 mins: Farrell kicks a penalty to stretch the lead to four points (9-13).
68 mins: Biggar sends the ball to George North who takes the ball on. Cory Hill collects possession from the ensuing move to score a decisive try. Biggar kicks the conversion out wide to put Wales three points up (16-13)
78 mins: Biggar sends a cleverly weighed cross field kick into the hands of Josh Adams who does superbly well to gather possession to cross the line (21-13).
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
It was a real chess match for the opening quarter but Tom Curry’s try made the difference. Although Wales enjoyed more possession (61 per cent) and territory (64 per cent) in the first half, they failed to convert this on the scoreboard. In contrast, England looked utterly dominant and showed plenty of energy to lead by ten points at the break. Wales gained a foothold in the contest between 40 and 60 minutes, kicking two penalties and taking advantage of some England indiscipline. When Biggar was introduced, the screw turned further and the hosts began to show their class, scoring tries through Hill and Adams. They were clinical, made the right decisions and were more accurate in possession and territory. England, on the other hand, failed to respond when the pressure was on.
Wales – A
Ferocious display by Warren Gatland’s side to perform so well in the second half. Alun Wyn Jones, Williams and Biggar were all superb. The Grand Slam dream is fast becoming a reality.
England – C+
The visitors put together some impressive attacking plays in the first half but couldn’t get that momentum after the break. Wins against Scotland and Italy will still be a positive campaign for Eddie Jones’ side.
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