Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

England 29-18 Wales: England lift Triple Crown... and it's a three-way battle for the 6 Nations Championship

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09:  Captain Chris Robshaw of England celebrates alongside team mates with the Triple Crown trophy after victory in the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Captain Chris Robshaw of England celebrates alongside team mates with the Triple Crown trophy after victory in the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Danny Care of England (C) celebrates with Joe Launchbury (L) and Dylan Hartley (R) as he scores their first try during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Luther Burrell of England celebrates as he scores their second try during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
England's Danny Care scores a try during the RBS Six Nations match at Twickenham, London.
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Owen Farrell of England kicks past Jamie Roberts (12) and Sam Warburton of Wales (7) during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Luther Burrell of England celebrates after scoring during RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Luther Burrell of England beats the tackle of Leigh Halfpenny of Wales to score during RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Wales fans enjoy the atmosphere during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Prince Harry sings the national anthem prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Danny Care of England kicks clear during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Wales player Leigh Halfpenny (c) is led from the pitch after picking up an injury during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Jack Nowell of England is tackled by Sam Warburton and Alex Cuthbert of Wales during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Owen Farrell of England kicks for goal during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: George North of Wales is tackled by Jack Nowell of England during RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: England captain Chris Robshaw lifts the triple crown after the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Courtney Lawes of England is tackled by Rhys Webb of Wales during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Luther Burrell of England beats the tackle of Leigh Halfpenny of Wales to score during RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Leigh Halfpenny of Wales kicks at goal during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: The victorious England Triple Crown Champions after their 29 - 18 win in the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

England have lifted their first RBS 6 Nations Triple Crown in 11 years after defeating Wales 29-18 at home at Twickenham - ensuring they enter the final day of the 2014 championship as title contenders.

Stuart Lancaster's side will have to beat Italy in Rome next weekend to have a chance of winning the championship - and will be hoping for a narrow France victory over tournament leaders Ireland in Paris.

It was a dominant performance over reigning champions Wales, with scrum-half Danny Care landing a try just four minutes in.

Centre Luther Burrell scored finished from a Billy Twelvetrees kick, while Owen Farrell kicked 19 points, landing all seven of his shots at goal.

Only Leigh Halfpenny's astonishing accuracy - six penalties from six attempts - kept Wales interested, but they could have no complaints as England's dominance gained a rich and right reward on the scoreboard.

It was a landmark success in England coach Stuart Lancaster's two-year reign, and also struck an early psychological blow ahead of the countries' World Cup 2015 pool meeting in 18 months' time.

Wales' woeful kicking strategy and tendency to concede penalties at regular intervals played into English hands, yet the hosts also possessed the game's sharpest attacking forces in Care and full-back Mike Brown.

England should arguably have won by more than they did as their impressive upward curve under Lancaster continues, but for Wales, it is back to the drawing board.

Their bid for an unprecedented Six Nations title hat-trick effectively ended on a sobering afternoon for a team that was also dismantled by Ireland four weeks ago.

England showed one enforced change from the side that ended Ireland's Grand Slam hopes a fortnight ago, with Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan replacing ankle injury victim Billy Vunipola.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09:  Luther Burrell of England celebrates after scoring during RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Luther Burrell of England celebrates after scoring during RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Wales, meanwhile, welcomed back fit-again British and Irish Lions centre Jonathan Davies for his first Test start since early November, with lock Jake Ball replacing Luke Charteris, who is nursing a neck problem suffered in training four days ago.

England, as if spurred on by their Millennium Stadium horror show of 12 months ago, blasted from the starting blocks and were ahead after just five minutes.

It took a superb tackle by Wales skipper Sam Warburton on his opposite number Robshaw to initially thwart England following prop David Wilson's break, but when the visitors then infringed, Care caught them napping.

Wales were asleep defensively, and no-one laid a finger on Care as he scampered over following his quick tap penalty, with Farrell's conversion making it 7-0. It was England's first try against Wales since August 2011.

Halfpenny cut the deficit through an eighth-minute penalty, but Wales should have wiped it out completely when wing George North broke free, but he ignored an unmarked Dan Lydiate outside him and kicked into touch instead.

It was a dreadful option by North, and England regained a seven-point advantage after Wales conceded a scrum penalty with Farrell punishing them from 40 metres out.

Although Halfpenny maintained his 100 per cent accuracy by kicking a third penalty, this time from halfway, Wales then imploded after a lineout inside their own 22.

Hooker Richard Hibbard's off-target throw gave England an attacking opportunity, and they ruthlessly punished Wales when centre Billy Twelvetrees' superbly-placed kick was gathered by Burrell for his third try in four Six Nations games this season.

Farrell effortlessly landed the touchline conversion, before Wales were again indebted to Halfpenny, whose fourth successful penalty made it 20-12 and at least retained a glimmer of hope for the misfiring visitors that they could turn around a game England had dominated.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09:  Leigh Halfpenny of Wales kicks at goal during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Leigh Halfpenny of Wales kicks at goal during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

And that optimism increased on the stroke of half-time when Halfpenny landed another long-range strike after England wing Jonny May was harshly penalised for a challenge on Jamie Roberts in the air.

Given how much England had dominated, Wales still trooped off just five points adrift in a game that had shades of their 1999 victory over England at Wembley. On that occasion Wales were outplayed for 40 minutes, but Neil Jenkins' boot kept them in it and they went on to win.

Wales needed a strong third quarter, yet it went England's way as two further Farrell penalties opened up an 11-point advantage and the visitors saw prop Gethin Jenkins sin-binned for a second successive match.

Referee Romain Poite's patience with the scrum finally snapped, and prop Gethin Jenkins, who was equalling Stephen Jones' Wales cap record of 104, received a yellow card at a critical time in the contest.

Another Halfpenny penalty - his sixth - clawed Wales back to 26-18 behind, before Farrell closed the game out with his fifth successful strike, and Burrell was narrowly denied his second try after his foot brushed the touchline following a scintillating England move.

In emphatically avenging a record drubbing at Wales' hands last season, England's 29-18 victory means if they beat Italy in Rome next Saturday and current tournament leaders Ireland lose or draw away to France, then Chris Robshaw's men will take the title.

Ireland only need to beat France to secure the Six Nations title due to their impressive points difference.

Lancaster: Halfpenny punished us, but I'm proud

England coach Stuart Lancaster is pleased to still be in the fight for the RBS 6 Nations title.

Speaking after the Wales win, Lancaster told the BBC: "I am really proud. We set out attacking intent from the start. We didn't get it right in the first half and Leigh Halfpenny punished us but overall I think we were deserving winners.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09:  England captain Chris Robshaw lifts the triple crown after the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: England captain Chris Robshaw lifts the triple crown after the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

"We have got a big game next week. We're in the (title) fight. We have a big game against Italy to come.

"They (Wales) got one over on us last year and that was in the back of our minds as well, but today is our day."

The victory against Wales also meant England won the Triple Crown following their victories against Scotland and Ireland - the first time they have won the silverware since 2003.

England second row and man-of-the-match Courtney Lawes hailed the side's growth over the past 12 months following the win.

He said: "We have grown a lot as a team during the year. It's been a long time coming to perform like that and we still left opportunities out there but the boys were great today and we needed that win.

"It is fantastic. It was a great game. They came out hard and we knew from the off it was going to be a battle."

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