Thursday 14 December 2017

After staring down barrel of defeat Daly's late try saves England's day

Wales 16 England 21

England’s Elliot Daly on his way to scoring the winning try against Wales Photo: Reuters
England’s Elliot Daly on his way to scoring the winning try against Wales Photo: Reuters

Mick Cleary

Never mind the dirty tricks, this was England's Houdini act, rolling back the stone from the seeming dead to extend that unbeaten run to 16 wins and keep the defence of their Grand Slam on track.

England had appeared to be on their uppers, tossed this way and that by a passionate Wales, cloying and defiant in all that they did, until finally, and gloriously for their travelling army of fans, they pulled out a wonder finish four minutes from time, wing Elliot Daly streaking past Alex Cuthbert to touch down in the corner after Wales had failed to clear their lines.

It was brutal in its efficiency, chilling for those in red and rendered silent the massed ranks of the Principality Stadium. England are a team defined by their resilience. They never give up, they believe in each other and in the cause.

Once more the bench played its part, an upfield break from Ben Te'o and Danny Care creating the initial position from where Daly profited. Even so, Jonathan Davies ought to have sent the ball into touch when England were checked and turned over. Instead George Ford went left, Owen Farrell fizzing out the try-scoring pass. On such margins there will be misery in Wales for a long time to come.

This was feisty, full-on and engaging. As ever, the play itself is the thing, the actors themselves the only performers that matter. This is the cast that the fans have come to see deliver their lines. And they did, with an up-tempo, high-octane show, full of wit, devil and spills.

Wales were fired-up and fit for purpose. This was their turf and they were determined to put on a show. England had more heft than Wales up-front but what they gained in ballast they ceded in back-row nous. It was a telling difference, England giving away half a dozen turnovers.

England's back-row trio was one of potential rather than of proven substance, a mere 20 caps of experience as against the battle-hardened 130. It was the key battleground. Four times England lost ball in contact. Wales prevailed in that free-for all, Sam Warburton always busy, always interfering.

There was far more bite and purpose to England's game this weekend, especially among the forwards. They had had a gee-up from Jones and it showed. Nathan Hughes was offering himself, although the Wasps No 8 did lose a promising ball in contact. England's early sloppiness was soon corrected, however, the forwards pounding the red Welsh line, forcing them ever backwards. They did not yield easily but the pressure eventually told in the 17th minute.

England had to go through 26 phases to get across the line but they kept their nerve, went through their routines, before spinning the ball wide to the left. A lovely long floater from Jonathan Joseph found Daly who cut inside and found Mike Brown and Ben Youngs took advantage by burrowing through.

There was much more in England's play. Hughes was conspicuous, so too Maro Itoje as well as both locks, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes.

Wales were aware that they had to convert their chances. And yet, for an inexplicable reason they spurned three straightforward points in the 29th minute when opting for a scrum over a kick at goal only for England to demolish them and win a penalty themselves.

Three minutes from half-time Rhys Webb charged down his opposite number, Joe Marler then knocking on. From the scrum, Wales made no mistake. Webb had a word with his wing, Liam Williams before the packs engaged. A flick up from the No 8, a dummy run from Scott Williams and Liam Williams was through the hole, Leigh Halfpenny converting to send Wales into the break with a 13-8 lead.

Jack Clifford started well, chopping down Sam Warburton and then deftly flipping the ball out behind him to add zip to an England attack. However the introduction of James Haskell as early as the 48th minute indicated that England needed more thrust and power.

They needed more composure too. Mike Brown sliced out on the full, Joseph flung a wild pass over the head of Jack Nowell. A penalty from Farrell in the 55th minute ought to have calmed things but didn't, England turning over ball yet again only a minute later.

Halfpenny's third penalty restored Wales' five point lead on the hour.

England did not have the necessary clinical edge. It was to cost them. They hammered at the Wales line but did not get over and allowed Biggar to intercept a Youngs pass and streak 70 metres upfield.

It was tight and it was taut. Again Farrell reduced the deficit but England looked as if they had been denied. Care was closed down after Te'o's break, then May was stopped short on the far flank, Wales' defensive effort enhanced when winger Liam Williams, managed to grasp the ball on the floor and turn England over. All that was left was for Davies to hoof the ball into the stands. That error will live long with him.

England struck hard to save the day, Daly touching down in the corner. England's chariot rumbles on. It will take some stopping.

Scorers - Wales: L Williams try; Halfpenny 3 pens, con. England: Youngs, Daly try each; Farrell 3 pens, con



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