x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Wales beat England in fraught encounter

Wales pile more misery on Martin Johnson as they beat England 23-15 in the Six Nations.

Stephen Jones of Wales breaks past Lee Mears of England.
Stephen Jones of Wales breaks past Lee Mears of England.

Wales piled more misery on Martin Johnson as they continued their quest for a second successive Six Nations title and Grand Slam. But the England manager Johnson could take comfort from arguably his team's best display of a fraught six-Test reign. The England winger Paul Sackey and the fullback Delon Armitage scored tries as England responded impressively from a 9-0 deficit that ensured Wales were taken to the wire. England's continued disciplinary woes surfaced again though, with referee Jonathan Kaplan sin-binning the centre Mike Tindall and fly-half Andy Goode. Stephen Jones ensured Wales' third successive Six Nations victory against their arch-rivals by booting 18 points. His immaculate six penalties from six attempts ensured Wales kept their heads above water, while the Welsh winger Leigh Halfpenny's second successive Six Nations try kept England at a safe distance. Goode dropped a goal for the visitors, yet while Wales continue to chase successive Grand Slams for a first time since 1909, English clean sweep hopes have again evaporated. They will travel to Dublin for an appointment with Ireland in two weeks' time having grown in confidence, but Wales possessed far more collective nous. And that should serve them well when they travel to Paris on Friday week to face France, knowing it is arguably their pivotal game of the tournament. The Millennium Stadium roof was open at England's request as they looked to stave off a hat-trick of Six Nations defeats against Wales. England made two changes from the side that laboured to a 36-11 victory over Italy last Saturday, calling up Tindall and flanker Joe Worsley.

Wales, meanwhile, were without their record try-scorer Shane Williams, who succumbed to an ankle injury suffered during the tournament-opening victory over Scotland. Mark Jones replaced him, winning his 44th cap. Wales were quickly into their stride, dominating early territory and taking a 3-0 lead through Jones' opening penalty inside three minutes. England were penned inside their own half, and after Halfpenny arrowed a long-range penalty strike wide, the home side soon doubled their lead. Jones duly obliged, profiting from England receiving a seventh yellow card in three Tests when Tindall was sin-binned for killing possession. Johnson could scarcely disguise his sense of frustration, and his mood darkened when Jones landed a third penalty for a 9-0 advantage. The visitors had offered next to nothing, yet they provided a bolt out of the blue for their long-suffering supporters by conjuring a try from nothing. Goode, who had experienced a testing time in defence, floated a kick into space, and England reacted quickest as Sackey won the race to claim an opportunist touchdown. Goode failed to land the difficult conversion, but England had served notice they were not in Cardiff simply to make up the numbers. But just when England needed a solid start to the second period, their technical indiscipline surfaced again. Goode became the second England player to be sin-binned, and it had significant consequences for the visitors.

Jones slotted the resulting penalty, but worse was to follow for England as Wales struck a potentially telling blow. Quick ball moved wide - Wales' trademark under head coach Warren Gatland - resulted in a slick try for Halfpenny, and England were suddenly staring defeat in the face at 17-8 adrift. Johnson sent on Leicester's Toby Flood for Goode, but Jones' fifth successful penalty left the visitors with a mountain to climb at 12 points adrift. England knew they had no option but to play, rather than adopt safety-first tactics, and it had the desired effect after 57 minutes when Armitage sprinted to the line from distance. Armitage's angled run and score gave Wales food for thought, especially when Flood converted to make it 20-15. England, despite trailing, were far more adventurous than at any time during their victory against Italy last weekend, and Wales knew they could not relax entering the closing quarter.

Johnson made a quadruple 65th-minute substitution, sending on Julian White, Luke Narraway, Dylan Hartley and Mathew Tait, hoping that fresh legs might make a telling difference. Wales, despite the promise of a healthy lead before Armitage struck, struggled to close the game out, and it was as if a muted audience sensed their struggle. Jones' sixth penalty eased Welsh nerves as the clock ticked down, and when Flood missed an angled strike six minutes from time, Wales could begin to breathe a little easier, knowing their job was effectively done. *PA Sport