CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales strengthened its unlikely bid for a Grand Slam in the Six Nations by racking up its biggest score against England in a 40-24 win over its great rival on Saturday.
After benefitting from two contentiously awarded first-half tries, the Welsh broke a 24-24 tie by scoring 16 unanswered points in the final 13 minutes inside an empty Principality Stadium to capture the Triple Crown, having beaten other home unions Ireland and Scotland in the opening rounds.
They have their eyes on a much bigger prize — somewhat unexpectedly, considering their poor form in 2020 under Wayne Pivac — with games to come at home to Italy then away to France.
As for the English, their title defense is in ruins. Humiliated by Scotland at Twickenham in Round 1, England conceded 40 points in a test against the Welsh for the first time and four tries in Cardiff for the first time since 1998.
Their indiscipline is back under scrutiny, too, after conceding 14 penalties and letting Wales back into the game after a couple of early and heavily debated setbacks.
The Welsh powered to a 17-6 lead after 30 minutes, rather controversially. Firstly, winger Josh Adams scored in the left corner after receiving a cross-field kick from flyhalf Dan Biggar while England’s players were gathered around captain Owen Farrell in front of the posts. French referee Pascal Gauzere had told Farrell to speak to his team after repeated infringements, and England’s captain remonstrated with the match official about not being given enough time.
Then, fullback Liam Williams collected a ball that had been dropped by winger Louis Rees-Zammit and managed to ground it under pressure over the line. The TMO took a look at the try because Rees-Zammit appeared to knock on — but decided the ball fell backwards off his hand and leg.
A wry smile by Rees-Zammit spoke volumes.
“I have played in a few games on the end of those decisions,” Wales captain Alun Wyn-Jones said. “It is up to the officials to make them.”
England recovered through Anthony Watson’s try and a penalty by Farrell but Wales hit back for 24-14 when scrumhalf Kieran Hardy took a quick tap and scooted over as England fullback Elliot Daly switched off.
Another penalty from Farrell, followed by Ben Youngs’ brilliantly taken try via a dummy at the ruck, brought England back into the game again but Wales capitalized on English indiscipline in the final quarter as Callum Sheedy knocked over three penalties — in the 67th, 70th and 75th — before Cory Hill’s last-minute, bonus point-clinching try next to the posts.
“I thought the intent was good today,” Farrell said, “but we can’t let teams off that many times like we did.
“It’s the whole team’s job to make sure we’re all on the same page and we’ll look at how to do that better.”
The Welsh Grand Slam bid has come as a big surprise, considering they won only three of 10 games in 2020 under Pivac — and those victories were against Italy, twice, and Georgia.
Their wins over Ireland and Scotland in the Six Nations were narrow, too, coming only after their opponents each had a man sent off.
“It’s been a big few weeks for us,” Pivac said. “I’m very, very pleased for the players that put a big effort in.
“Some people will say (luck) has been on our side the last three matches but you have to be in games to win them. England put a lot of pressure on us and came back. It was a hell of a game and a lot of resilience from our boys.”
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