Wales 10 – 20 England
A trio of tries confirmed England’s second Six Nations victory under Steve Borthwick, as Wales’ miserable championship continued with a 20-10 defeat in Cardiff at the end of tumultuous fortnight.
After a week in which Wales’ Tuesday squad announcement was cancelled, and the threat of players in the country striking remained until late on Wednesday until an extraordinary meeting into the future of Welsh rugby and contract conditions was concluded, Gatland’s charges played with great spirit but no real structure.
Wales – Tries: Rees-Zammit (41). Cons: Halfpenny (42). Pens: Halfpenny (22).
England – Tries: Watson (19), Sinckler (45), Lawrence (75). Cons: Farrell (45). Pens: Farrell (10).
Anthony Watson – on his first Test start in two years – Kyle Sinckler and Ollie Lawrence scored tries for the visitors, with England leading for all but four minutes at the start of the second half when Wales’ Louis Rees-Zammit scored an intercept try on his return from injury.
In truth, the contest was bereft of much quality, but England held on for a valuable win at the Principality Stadium – a first in the Welsh capital since 2017 – despite skipper Owen Farrell having another off day with the boot.
Wales almost had the ideal start when No 8 Taulupe Faletau charged down Freddie Steward on his own 22, but the England full-back recovered admirably to run the ball back out of danger. The act set the tone for the opening minutes, though, with a massively high tempo seeing Wales produce two breakdown turnovers when on the back foot, and debutant centre Mason Grady force a Lawrence knock-on.
Warren Gatland made some nine changes to his Wales side after a tumultuous week. Wing Louis Rees-Zammit recovered from an ankle injury to start over Rio Dyer. No 8 Taulupe Faletau, lock Alun Wyn Jones, flanker Justin Tipuric, loosehead Gareth Thomas were recalled. Fly-half Dan Biggar was dropped to bench, with Owen Williams in. Leigh Halfpenny was fit enough to start at full-back after a back spasm, with Liam Williams dropped, while prop Tomas Francis (concussion) returned. Centre Mason Grady was named in place of George North for his Test debut.
For England, wing Anthony Watson was recalled for his first Test start in two years, replacing the injured Ollie Hassell-Collins, while Courtney Lawes returned to the squad among the replacements. Tom Curry was ruled out of the championship due to another hamstring injury, while prop Kyle Sinckler (facial injury) was passed fit to start.
In the end, England skipper Farrell registered the first points of the contest on 10 minutes, dispatching a penalty from 46 metres or so after Wales captain Ken Owens had failed to roll away. But the visitors’ next promising attack in the Welsh 22 was halted for crossing.
On 19 minutes, England did get through to score as the returning Watson – making his first Test start for two years – leapt over in the corner after opposite wing Max Malins and Lawrence had combined for the crucial line-break. Farrell’s conversion effort hit the post, and visiting hooker Jamie George was then penalised for sealing off directly from the restart, enabling Leigh Halfpenny to get Wales on the board with a simple effort for 8-3.
Farrell next kicked out on the full, as England appeared to lose some of the mojo generated from their confident start, but Wales scrum-half Tomos Williams was soon guilty of quick-tapping a penalty Wales ought to have kicked for points. A penalty against Wales’ Tomas Francis for sealing off put England attacking by the 22 again, but Alun Wyn Jones crucially stole the lineout.
England should have extended their lead past the half-hour mark, when a scrum penalty handed Farrell a kick at the posts, but he surprisingly missed wide. A Lewis Ludlam break then ultimately came to nothing in the next key passage, as the away side continued to look the more threatening.
That was until the final couple of minutes of the half, when an extended period of Wales phase play gave way to an incisive Rees-Zammit slaloming run, and it was only an outstanding defensive breakdown penalty won by a combination of Alex Dombrandt and Lawrence that relieved the pressure. There remained time for one final Wales attack, but Ludlam repeated the breakdown trick just as the hosts were beginning to build up momentum in the 22 once more.
Just 45 seconds into the second period, Wales required no such build-up to score their opening try as a poor Malins pass was intercepted by flyer Rees-Zammit, who sprinted in untouched to a huge ovation. An angry and frustrated England would reply within four minutes, though.
A costly Wales penalty conceded at the breakdown for an extra roll after a poor Farrell kick granted cheap territory, and once the likes of Sinckler and Ellis Genge carried hard up to the England try-line, it was only a matter of time before the Welsh dam would burst: Sinckler powering over for England’s second try – though no clear footage was seen on television replays of its grounding.
The Test turned slightly scrappy thereafter, as Rees-Zammit knocked on into touch under a harmless Jack van Poortvliet box-kick, before neither side could produce a sustained spell of play without mistakes. Farrell should have handed England a two-score lead with 17 minutes to play, but poorly missed his second penalty of the game, miscuing well short of the posts.
French referee Mathieu Raynal curiously called advantage over quickly the next time England had a penalty on halfway – Halfpenny failing to release before jackalling at the breakdown – as Wales avoided more pressure, but they were indebted to openside Justin Tipuric for a brilliant breakdown turnover near his own try-line to keep them in the game.
That was until Lawrence struck for England’s telling third with five minutes to go, touching down in the corner after his midfield partner Henry Slade had been stopped just short, guaranteeing a first championship victory in Cardiff for six years.
What they said…
England skipper Owen Farrell told BBC Sport post-match…
“I thought it was a step forward for us. This was another challenge for us, a different challenge for us to come away at a place like this that has had a lot going on this week and has unified to come together for this crowd this weekend.
“Fair play to them but we had a job to do but we took a step forward. It is not all a matter of scoreboard, sometimes it is about building pressure as well.
“Sometimes we deserved to be further ahead at times because I was bad off the tee today. It was a good test for us, we stuck in there, and we took control of that last 20 minutes.”
Wales skipper Ken Owens told BBC Sports post-match…
“We spoke about the emotion of the last two weeks and we have a massive effort for 80 minutes.
“We were right in the game throughout. If we look back, we probably left a couple of opportunities out there but I can’t question the effort of this squad.
“We are in a bit of a rebuilding phase, we have got to rebuild pretty quick. We can’t use the last two weeks an an excuse.”
After next weekend’s second fallow week in the Six Nations, Wales travel to face Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in Round 3 on Saturday March 11 (2.15pm kick-off GMT).
Wales’ Six Nations 2023 fixtures
|Saturday, February 4||Wales 10-34 Ireland|
|Saturday, February 11||Scotland 35-7 Wales|
|Saturday, February 25||Wales 10-20 England|
|Saturday, March 11||Italy vs Wales||2.15pm|
|Saturday, March 18||France vs Wales||2.45pm|
England are also next in action on Saturday March 11 (4.45pm kick-off GMT), as they host France at Twickenham for their Round 3 clash.
England’s Six Nations 2023 fixtures
|Saturday, February 4||England 23-29 Scotland|
|Sunday, February 12||England 31-14 Italy|
|Saturday, February 25||Wales 10-20 England|
|Saturday, March 11||England vs France||4.45pm|
|Saturday, March 18||Ireland vs England||5pm|