CARDIFF (AFP) – Elliot Daly’s dramatic try four minutes from time saw Grand Slam champions England come from behind to beat Wales 21-16 in a Six Nations international in Cardiff on Saturday (Feb 11).
Wales were 16-11 in front with nine minutes left but an Owen Farrell penalty reduced their lead before left wing Daly went in at the corner for a converted try that extended England’s national record winning streak to 16 victories.
A fast-paced first half of few set-pieces ended with Wales five points in front at 13-8.
Leigh Halfpenny’s boot appeared to have secured victory for Wales but England rallied to ensure their Australian coach Eddie Jones retained his perfect record as Red Rose boss.
The decisive passage of play saw Wales force a turnover near their own try-line only for centre Jonathan Davies’s aimless kick to be run back in style by Daly, who beat Alex Cuthbert for pace for a stunning try.
Significantly, Farrell added the awkward conversion and that meant Wales had to score a try just to equalise. But England’s defence held firm.
An early penalty apiece from Halfpenny and Farrell left the score tied at 3-3.
But England, after Daly missed a long-range penalty, scored the first try of the match through scrum-half Ben Youngs.
However, sustained Welsh pressure was eventually rewarded on the stroke of half-time when wing Liam Williams ran a sharp line from behind a scrum for a try Halfpenny converted.
Wales saw right wing George North pull out an hour before kick-off after he failed a fitness test on a leg injury, with his place taken by Cuthbert.
But fly-half Dan Biggar, who came off at half-time in Wales’s opening 33-7 win away to Italy, was passed fit.
Wales kicked off with a huge advantage in back-row experience.
England’s loose forward trio comprised Jack Clifford, fit after a chest injury and in for Tom Wood, No 8 Nathan Hughes and blindside flanker Maro Itoje, best known as a lock.
Jones dropped Wood to the bench for a fixture where the coach won the right to have the stadium’s retractable roof remain open.
Prior to Saturday’s match, Hughes, Clifford and Itoje had a mere four Test back-row starts between them, whereas the Wales loose forward trio of Ross Moriarty, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric previously had a combined 130 appearances to their credit.
That difference in experienced told early on as two promising England moves ended with Wales forcing ruck turnovers.
England, however, kept Wales pinned in their own 22 as the visitors retained possession.
It seemed they might succumb to ‘white-line’ fever until, after several darts by the pack, the ball was spun left and Youngs crossed for a try that Farrell could not convert.
Wales gradually came back, although their cause was not helped by captain Alun Wyn Jones declining two kickable penalties, with the lock also knocking-on in sight of England’s line.
On the stroke of half-time though, England’s defence cracked.
From a close-range scrum, scrum-half Rhys Webb found Liam Williams with the wing making the most of centre Scott Williams’s ‘decoy run’.
Coach Eddie Jones decided to send on some of his ‘finishers’, so important in England’s opening 19-16 win at home to France, earlier than usual, with captain Dylan Hartley replaced by reserve hooker Jamie George just seven minutes into the second half.
Wales coach Rob Howley responded by changing both his props and bringing powerful No 8 Taulupe Faletau, out injured since Christmas Eve, off the bench.
Another penalty exchange left Wales 16-11 in front heading into the final quarter.
Somehow England’s forwards found the energy to lay siege to the Welsh line only for Youngs’s pass off a ruck to be picked off by Biggar, who cleared the danger with a 70-metre interception break.
But England edged closer when another Farrell penalty let them just two points behind at 14-16 before Daly had the final say.