Friday 19 December 2014

Warburton holds sway to sink England

Paul Rees

Published 17/03/2013 | 05:00

It was not even close. Wales retained the championship title for the first time since 1979, a year when they defeated England 27-3 in Cardiff. They went three points better yesterday in recording their biggest victory over the team they enjoy beating most, overpowering them up front, destroying them at the breakdown, where Sam Warburton held sway, and even outclassing them behind.

ENGLAND 3

It was not even close. Wales retained the championship title for the first time since 1979, a year when they defeated England 27-3 in Cardiff. They went three points better yesterday in recording their biggest victory over the team they enjoy beating most, overpowering them up front, destroying them at the breakdown, where Sam Warburton held sway, and even outclassing them behind.

Wales took the field to an explosion of fireworks and noise, but England were not disturbed by the cacophony and started strongly. They worked an overlap after three minutes, but Manu Tuilagi, spooked by Alex Cuthbert closing in on him, knocked on when Owen Farrell's pass should have put him through a generous gap. Wales seemed unnerved by England's bold approach and it took a quick penalty by Mike Phillips, setting a new record of 77 caps for a Wales scrum-half, to settle his side.

Very quickly the match became played on Wales's terms. They started to dominate the breakdown, their twin spearhead of Warburton and Justin Tipuric forcing England to concede penalties in the tackle area, and the scrum also became a weapon of mass destruction for the home side. England gave away five penalties in the opening 16 minutes, as many as they had conceded in the entire match against Scotland. Leigh Halfpenny converted the two within his range to give Wales a six-point lead, not quite the margin they needed to retain their title.

Wales were not making the most of their supremacy up front, where Joe Marler was struggling in the scrum against Adam Jones and was among the culprits blown at the breakdown for trying to slow down Wales's possession. He handed Wales their first three points for collapsing a scrum and his fellow front-rower Tom Youngs supplied the next by preventing release at a ruck.

England needed a foothold and Warburton supplied when he was penalised for going off his feet at a ruck two minutes after Halfpenny had made it 6-0. Farrell halved the deficit, with the assistance of the right-hand upright, only for Halfpenny to make it 9-3 when Youngs popped out of a retreating scrum.

When Farrell missed a 45m penalty after Adam Jones had been penalised for dropping a scrum, the game started to fragment. George North looked to be away, after breaking from his own half, when Mike Brown's full-stretch lunge clipped the wing's ankles, and Brown looked away when he caught Farrell's cross-kick, only to lose the ball after Cuthbert's tackle.

Wales looked the more assured, but missed the opportunity to lead 12-3 when Biggar's 40m drop goal went to the left of the posts.

Marler departed four minutes into the second period. Another scrum fiasco was enough for the England management, but Wales responded to the sight of Mako Vunipola by ordering another, and the prop who had spent some of his formative years in Pontypool found himself tasting grass and was penalised for it.

While England started with the same intent that they had in the first half, the tackles they had been forced to make started to tell. Chris Robshaw was unable to stop Jamie Roberts and, after Tipuric and Jonathan Davies were held up close to the line, another breakdown infringement gave Halfpenny the chance to make it 12-3. Wales were, for the first time, leading by a margin large enough to overhaul England at the top of the table.

It was the moment of reckoning and Wales finished off England with two tries in 10 minutes, both scored by Cuthbert. Warburton made the first, putting Geoff Parling under such pressure on the floor that the second-row threw the ball away and Tipuric took possession. Cuthbert looked to have too much to do down the right, but Brown was shown up to be a full-back playing on the wing. He flapped rather than tackled and the covering Farrell could only watch Wales's top try scorer in last year's Six Nations score his third of the campaign.

When Farrell missed a 45m penalty at the end of the third quarter, England were spent, slam dunk rather than Grand Slam. The crowd were shouting 'easy, easy' when Biggar dropped a goal from 30m and the coup de grâce was applied when Warburton, the game's dominant figure, charged away from a ruck and hurled himself at Farrell.

Wales moved the ball quickly right and Tipuric looked as if he would score himself, passing to Cuthbert after drawing Brown's tackle. Biggar kicked the conversion with Halfpenny hobbling and made it 30-3 on 69 minutes with a penalty, the 14th England had conceded.

The title had been won and lost. It was not Wembley 1999 over again because Robshaw's men had been totally outplayed; they may have beaten the All Blacks, but Wales have become the masters of the attritional game that is the Six Nations. Gethin Jenkins and the injured Ryan Jones received the trophy as Wales's captains this campaign, but it was the man who led Wales on the opening day, Warburton, who deserved to be hoisted aloft.

Observer

Scorers – Wales: A Cuthbert 2 tries; L Halfpenny 4 pens, D Biggar pen, con, drop goal. England: Owen Farrell pen.

Wales: L Halfpenny, A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts (S Williams 75), G North, D Biggar (J Hook 75), M Phillips (L Williams 75), G Jenkins (P James 61), R Hibbard (K Owens 52), A Jones, A Wyn Jones, I Evans (A Coombs 70), S Warburton (A Shingler 75), J Tipuric, T Faletau.

England: A Goode (B Twelvetrees 64), C Ashton, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, M Brown, O Farrell (T Flood 67), B Youngs (D Care 64); J Marler (M Vunipola 44), T Youngs (D Hartley 52), D Cole (D Wilson 72), J Launchbury (C Lawes 52), G Parling, T Croft, C Robshaw, T Wood (J Haskell 67). Referee: S Walsh (Australia)

Irish Independent

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