Saturday 27 December 2014

Rampant Wales breathe fire as they slay England’s Grand Slam dreams

Wales 30 England 3

Andrew Baldock

Published 16/03/2013 | 19:13

Magnificent Wales retained the RBS 6 Nations title to leave outclassed England crestfallen in Cardiff after seeing another Grand Slam dream destroyed.

Wales, beaten at home by Ireland in their opening game six weeks ago, rose to the occasion majestically to claim a record victory against their fiercest rivals.

Wales' Mike Phillips(C) runs with the ball during their Six Nations international rugby union match against England at the Millennium Stadium
Wales' Mike Phillips(C) runs with the ball during their Six Nations international rugby union match against England at the Millennium Stadium

Wing Alex Cuthbert's second-half try double shattered England, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked four penalties and fly-half Dan Biggar landed a drop-goal, penalty and conversion.

England, smashed in the scrums and out-thought and outfought in every other key area, could only muster an Owen Farrell penalty as they crashed to the heaviest loss of head coach Stuart Lancaster's reign.

Wales needed a minimum seven-point win to deny England silverware but they went way beyond expectations, keeping their opponents scoreless during the second period.

The 2011 World Cup semi-finalists eclipsed their previous record score for the fixture of 25-0, 108 years ago, and England could not really have complained had it been even worse.

It was the first time since 1979 that Wales successfully defended a Five or Six Nations title after they delivered an unforgettable performance.

England, whose captain Chris Robshaw was a tower of strength in adversity, will bounce back from today's mauling and they will be stronger for the experience, but Wales were in a different league, leaving their opponents to reflect on a 10-year gap since their last Grand Slam.

Wales had heroes everywhere but none more so than Cuthbert, who scored the game's only try in last season's Grand Slam clincher against France, workaholic flanker Justin Tipuric and scrum-half Mike Phillips.

England showed four changes following last weekend's narrow victory over Italy, including half-backs Farrell and Ben Youngs, while prop Gethin Jenkins captained Wales in the absence of Ryan Jones.

Jones suffered a shoulder injury during the win against Scotland seven days ago, and a reshaped back-row saw openside specialists Sam Warburton and Tipuric start a Test match together for the first time.

England enjoyed early territorial dominance but they ended up back in their own 22 after centre Manu Tuilagi knocked on, and Wales surged upfield to establish a first threatening position of the game.

Halfpenny kicked a 10th-minute penalty to open the scoring and England found themselves having to soak up incessant pressure, with Phillips causing havoc around the fringes.

Phillips, whose 77th Test match appearance made him Wales' most capped scrum-half, repeatedly tested the English defence and Halfpenny's second successful penalty - this one from 48 metres - made it 6-0.

Farrell cut the arrears when a long-range strike deflected over off the post, yet Wales quickly resumed normal service, gained another scrum penalty on the back of tighthead Adam Jones' dominance and Halfpenny restored a six-point lead.

England then mounted a spell of pressure but wing George North intercepted and galloped away following a feeble challenge by his opposite number Chris Ashton, and it took a tap-tackle by Mike Brown to halt North in full flow.

England lock Geoff Parling brilliantly won possession on the floor and England looked to counter-attack after scrum-half Ben Youngs' touchfinder, yet Wales always looked dangerous with ball in hand and continued testing their opponents out wide.

The game was played at a remarkable pace with tackling of shuddering intensity. North, though, looked the most dangerous attacking force on view as he kept England's defence busy.

A punishing first half ended with Biggar rifling a drop-goal attempt wide, but the home side proved good value for a 9-3 interval lead.

England's scrummaging woes showed no sign of abating, even after Lancaster made an early second-half substitution when he sent on Mako Vunipola for loosehead Joe Marler, as Vunipola infringed at the first set-piece he contested.

Their front-row continued to give Wales a strong platform and England found themselves under prolonged siege as the home side went through phase after phase in an attempt to cross the line.

But England were having none of it, and despite conceding another Halfpenny three-pointer, they escaped from a situation that could have been far worse.

Northampton forwards Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes entered the fray after 52 minutes - replacing Tom Youngs and Joe Launchbury, respectively - only for Wales to strike just five minutes later.

England fumbled the ball 30 metres from their line and Wales did not require a second invitation to capitalise, as Tipuric and Phillips found centre Jonathan Davies, who then freed Cuthbert.

Cuthbert still had it all to do, with space at a premium, yet he finished majestically as Wales opened up a 14-point lead approaching the closing quarter.

And when Cuthbert added his second touchdown, following another lung-busting effort from Tipuric after Biggar had dropped a goal, it was game over before Biggar slotted a penalty and wild Welsh celebrations could begin.

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