Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Wales beat England in Cardiff to claim top ranking ahead of Rugby World Cup

It was an impressive warm-up performance before Japan as the hosts reeled off an 11th successive home win

George North, left, scored the opening try for Wales against England. Reuters
George North, left, scored the opening try for Wales against England. Reuters

Wales went top of rugby union's world rankings for the first time after beating England 13-6 in Cardiff on Saturday.

Wales' rise to the summit, which ended New Zealand's unbroken 10-year occupation, comes just 34 days before the World Cup kicks off in Japan.

It was an impressive warm-up performance for the tournament as they reeled off an 11th successive home win.

George North's 34th-minute try sent Wales on their way to avenging a 33-19 defeat at Twickenham last weekend, while Dan Biggar converted and kicked a penalty to leave England 10 points adrift at half-time.

But there was an injury scare for Wales when Biggar took two blows to his left shoulder - he eventually went off five minutes from time - only six days after his fellow No 10 Gareth Anscombe suffered a World Cup-ending knee injury.

England were slicker and more cohesive after the break, but Wales restricted them to a couple of George Ford penalties before a late Leigh Halfpenny strike sealed victory.

"We're obviously delighted to get a win. We're all fully aware we didn't front up last week," Biggar told Channel 4. "A huge defensive effort there. Really pleased to get it over the line and dig it out as we have done over the years.

"The forwards were brilliant all day. England's strength is at the set-piece and from the line-out and to keep a world-class team like England tryless was a fantastic effort."

Wales made a high-tempo start, twice testing England full-back Elliot Daly under the high ball and looking to move possession wide at pace, before an eighth-minute fracas among the forwards ended with referee Pascal Gauzere warning and penalising Wales prop Tomas Francis.

It gave England some territorial momentum, with No 8 Billy Vunipola and wing Joe Cokanasiga prominent, and there was a sign of Halfpenny's rustiness after such a lengthy international lay-off when he could not gather a steepling Ford kick.

James and Jonathan Davies, the first brothers to start together in Wales colours for 13 years, were at the heart of their team's attacking efforts, but a lively opening quarter ended scoreless.

Biggar kicked a penalty to open the scoring, before Josh Adams made a break before possession found its way to Biggar, whose clever kick was caught by an unmarked North, who touched down and claimed his 38th Wales try.

Biggar converted, with England seeing scrum-half Willi Heinz going off for a head injury assessment and being replaced by Ben Youngs and Wales securing a 10-0 interval advantage.

Ford kicked two penalties in six minutes to cut Wales' lead, but England could not breach the Welsh defence and they were left frustrated seven-point losers following Halfpenny's long-range penalty during the closing stages.

England captain George Ford does not want to read too much into the result with the World Cup just around the corner.

"I can't fault the effort of the lads," he told Channel 4. "What we have to do is to come back. That was a proper Test match. Very physical, not much time and space on the ball.

"It's good for us to play at a stadium like this with the roof closed. We will keep working.

"I don't think many people remember these games. What happens at the World Cup in a few weeks' time will be completely different."

Updated: August 17, 2019 08:54 PM

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