Upbeat England ready to pounce in title shake-up
England 29 Wales 18
England's chariot rattles onwards to Rome, with a shot at the Six Nations title in their sights and the assurance of a Triple Crown tucked away in their war chest. The significance of that bauble should not be underestimated, for it is their first piece of silverware since the glory days of 2003.
If the match lacked the swagger and polish of the Ireland game, there was still conviction in England's performance as well as the notable scalp of the back-to-back champions to parade. Boys no more, England have proven their manhood. Those jibes have no currency. There was real value in this display.
"That win was right up there for me," said England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, who claimed his first ever success over Wales.
Even if there is a considerable points differential of 49 to make up on market leaders, Ireland, there is still the little matter of victory over France for Joe Schmidt's side to negotiate. That is no given, hapless as Philippe Saint-Andre's team are, looking close to a collective nervous breakdown. It will be a rousing finale to the 2014 Six Nations Championship.
This is an England side callow in caps but with a lengthening tally of conquests against its name. Wales, crabby and cramped, were poor but that is to England's credit. It was Wales who cracked, cautious to the point of being craven in their directionless kicking game, lacking ambition, living off English mistakes as Halfpenny the Boot did his stuff with a perfect return of six goals. Owen Farrell, too, was on the goal-kicking money with a 100pc return from seven pots at goal. Their feats were one for the connoisseur.
Welsh woes were compounded by a shoulder injury to Halfpenny that has brought the full-back's season to a premature end. England gave it a good lick in attack, scoring two tries and were within a dab of whitewash of another from Luther Burrell late in the second half, Halfpenny denying the England centre with a flying tackle that saved the try-line but cost him his season. Wales, in contrast to England, were cautious and blunt.
Fly-half Rhys Priestland was woeful. Wales had set great store of becoming the first side ever to win three consecutive Six Nations titles.
That quest ended with a whimper.
The Twickenham faithful drifted off into the unseasonably warm Sunday air all a-chatter, buoyed not just by a hard-fought win over a side that was threatening to get the hex over them with a fourth successive victory, but by the knowledge that the well-being of England's 2015 Rugby World Cup has not been given a severe dent 18 months before it even starts.
England showed once again that they deliver more than the sum of their parts. The relative pen pics in the programme had threadbare entries for England, sizeable chunks of data for the 12 Test Lions in Welsh ranks. Yet it was England who showed nerve and daring. These youngsters are not afraid to play, loose at times, wacky and wayward in part, but with a sense of daring and defiance that makes opponents take a deep breath. England will not go to their sporting graves wondering what might have been. This is a team with attitude.
There was a typically up-tempo showing from scrum-half, Danny Care, whose opportunist try in the fifth minute set the tone for another vibrant afternoon in the No 9 shirt. He caught the Wales defence napping from a tap penalty, sauntering through as if he were on a Sunday stroll along the banks of the Thames. That was England's first try against Wales since 2011.
Courtney Lawes led the forward charge, flipping the tale of last season's sorry Cardiff experience, causing such duress to the Wales scrum that Lions loosehead, Gethin Jenkins, was sin-binned in the second-half for persistent illegal binding. That was a notable triumph for England.
Billy Twelvetrees is a slow-burner at inside centre but his one moment of sublime skill, dabbing the ball through for Burrell's try six minutes before half-time shows why so much faith has been invested in him. The touch was exquisite, the vision 20/20, Burrell being directed wide by his midfield partner as play headed that way. That score ought to have sent England into the interval with clear water. Instead they transgressed twice, allowing Halfpenny to narrow the gap to five points at 20-15.
Wales had their best period just after the break, with first George North skimming past Jack Nowell, then Jamie Roberts wasting a good build-up with an over-clubbed kick in behind. That was as menacing as it got for Wales who look as if post-Lions fatigue has well and truly set in.
England are upbeat and bristling. The title shakedown is in Irish hands but England's status has been enhanced no matter what unfolds next weekend. Lancaster's bright young things are here to stay. (© Daily Telegraph, London)