LONDON – England moved within sight of the Six Nations title and a first Grand Slam since 2003 by beating Wales 25-21 on Saturday, thanks to a punishing first-half display and flawless goalkicking from Owen Farrell.
Farrell kicked six penalties and converted Anthony Watson’s 32nd-minute try at Twickenham, as England avenged its stunning loss to Wales during the Rugby World Cup, in the same venue, with its fourth straight win in the Six Nations.
Wales scored three second-half tries — two of which came in the final six minutes when England prop Dan Cole was in the sin-bin — to make it a tense finish, having been 19-0 down after 46 minutes.
England will win its first northern hemisphere championship since 2011 if France fails to beat Scotland away on Sunday in the last match of Round 4. If the French win at Murrayfield, the battle for the title will head to the final weekend and be between France and England, who clash in Paris.
The English already have won one prize from this year’s competition — the Triple Crown for beating all three of its rivals in the home unions — but the Grand Slam will be the ultimate reward and mark a perfect start to the Eddie Jones era.
“It’s a reality now,” Jones said. “We can’t wait to get to Paris next week and do the business.”
The Welsh, unbeaten after their first three games, came from 10 points down with half an hour left to win that World Cup thriller in September. But they left themselves far too much to do this time after getting bullied by England in the first half.
The bounding Maro Itoje was to the fore in that period, with the lock stealing two lineouts, forcing a turnover, making six tackles and three breaks — one of which created the try for Watson. Wales missed 19 tackles in the first half.
“We didn’t get out of the blocks in the first half,” Wales flanker Dan Lydiate said. “We wished we had another 10 minutes at the end.”
Itoje rounded two Welsh tacklers down the left and offloaded to Mike Brown, who sent Watson over along the touchline for his try, and Farrell’s conversion — added to his three earlier penalties — left England 16-0 ahead.
England started the second half just as dominantly and Farrell bisected the posts with another penalty for 19-0, which is when Wales began its fightback.
“There was one game of 60 minutes and one game of 20 minutes,” Jones said.
Wales had 25 minutes to make up 12 points but its chances were hit when captain Sam Warburton was carried off on a stretcher with an apparent neck injury that caused a long delay.
That took the sting out of the game and when Farrell kicked his fifth and sixth penalties, England was 25-7 up and cruising.
However, Cole was given a yellow card in the 72nd minute for a cynical foul and Wales used its man advantage to reduce the gap through George North’s try, after a break from Jonathan Davies, before Toby Faletau barreled through three tacklers for a third Wales try.
Replacement Rhys Priestland converted both tries and Wales had 2½ minutes to score what would have been a memorable comeback win. But North was hauled into touch in Wales’ final move, England took a catch at the front of the lineout and Danny Care kicked the ball out to secure England’s victory.
“The better team won, they deserved to win,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5