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England rallies for win over Wales

AP

England fought back from 10-0 down after nine minutes to beat Wales 21-16 in the opening game of the Six Nations on Friday, avenging a painful defeat to its fiercest rival on its last trip to the Millennium Stadium.

Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph scored tries for the English, who kept Wales scoreless in the second half after going into halftime 16-8 behind. Flyhalf George Ford kicked 11 points, putting England in the lead for the first time with his second of three penalties in the 62nd.

While England arrived in Cardiff with an injury-hit squad, Wales had the luxury of a full-strength lineup but barely threatened as an attacking force after racing into the lead through Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty and scrumhalf Rhys Webb’s converted try.

The result should give England a huge psychological lift ahead of its next meeting with the Welsh — in the World Cup group stage on Sept. 26. England will hope to have more of its top players available, including star center Manu Tuilagi and locks Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury.

In the short term, the bragging rights belong on the English side of the Severn Bridge and England coach Stuart Lancaster savored a seminal win in his reign, with his callow side — with 290 caps fewer than the Welsh — winning the crucial scrum battle and dominating the breakdown. England captain Chris Robshaw made 23 tackles.

“To go 10-0 down against a side as good as Wales is a big hole,” Lancaster said. “But I don’t think we chased the game. We held our nerve.”

England botched a number of great try-scoring chances late on — one when the superb James Haskell crashed into the padded post — that would have made the margin of victory humiliating for Wales on its own turf.

It was a reversal from two years ago, when England was humbled 30-3 here in a Six Nations decider.