Six Nations 2014: England 29-18 Wales
England (20) 29
- Care, Burrell
- Farrell 2
- Farrell 5
Wales (15) 18
- Halfpenny 6
England seized their first Triple Crown in 11 years and set up a tilt at the Six Nations title as they out-ran and out-fought reigning champions Wales at Twickenham.
In balmy spring sunshine, England ran in first half tries from Danny Care and Luther Burrell, only for five penalties from the faultless Leigh Halfpenny to keep the score to 20-15 at the break.
But similar kicking excellence from Owen Farrell punished an error-strewn Welsh performance as Stuart Lancaster's rapidly developing side produced another display of rich promise.
A year ago in Cardiff, Warren Gatland's men had smashed England's Grand Slam hopes in winning the title.
But despite the presence of 12 Lions in their team they were ponderous in attack and poor at the set-piece, kept tryless by relentless home defence and their own errors with ball in hand.
The win puts England level on points with Ireland and France at the top of the championship table. While an Irish win in Paris next week would almost certainly send the title to Dublin, a big English win in Italy and a narrow one for Ireland could yet see England top the pile. If France, with far inferior points difference, beat the Irish, any England win should secure the title.
It was a contest that began in a maelstrom of noise and the flutter of a thousand flags, and from the very first moments the pace and ambition was exhilarating.
England attacked ferociously from deep, Mike Brown bouncing off defenders and setting his team away on a series of drives led by the barrelling David Wilson deep into the Welsh 22.
A clear overlap on the left was missed but with a penalty called in front of the posts Care tapped and went with characteristic quick-thinking to slice through a sleeping defence and dive joyously over the line.
It was all England, but Halfpenny was gifted the chance to bring it back to 7-3 after Courtney Lawes allowed adrenaline its head in the tackle, and Wales piled on.
George North chose to kick when he had Dan Lydiate free and away outside him 10 metres out, before Farrell and Halfpenny traded a brace of long-distance penalties apiece for 13-9 on the half-hour.
At times it was too frenetic, England showing admirable desire to play open rugby without quite the precision to match, and Wales wasting openings through Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies with the home defence stretched, and also kicking aimlessly far too often.
But it was England who struck next when a fine Farrell kick led to a bungled Welsh line-out and a stepping, swerving run from Jonny May took him to within three metres of the Welsh posts.
From the breakdown, Billy Twelvetrees spotted space behind the defence, and his cute grubber kick into the corner was gathered by Burrell for the centre's third try in four appearances.
Only Halfpenny's right boot and Dylan Hartley's indiscipline were keeping the champions in touch.
Two more precision kicks brought it back to 20-15, hardly reflecting the balance of power but enough to keep alive Welsh hopes of a fourth successive win over their great rivals.
Yet the errors kept coming. Rhys Priestland spilled a simple high ball, England crumpled the Welsh front row at the subsequent scrum and Farrell opened a little daylight.
When Cuthbert and Taulupe Faletau cut fine lines to finally work room out wide, Roberts chose to kick through rather than use the overlap outside him, and Brown and Jack Nowell then counter-attacked thrillingly to take play deep into Welsh territory.
Referee Romain Poite had repeatedly warned the visitors' front row, and when Gethin Jenkins bored in at a scrum rather than driving straight once too often, the loose-head prop was sent to the sin-bin and Farrell's fourth penalty in four attempts extended the lead to 11.
Wales threw on Mike Phillips at scrum-half for the struggling Rhys Webb before the impeccable Halfpenny made the rash Hartley pay once again with the visiting full-back's sixth perfect penalty, but Farrell matched him after Davies played the ball on the ground and the pressure eased a fraction more.
On came Dan Biggar, onwards came England. Farrell kicked through for the racing May to set up more good territory only for replacement prop Paul James to buttress the Welsh scrum and win a precious penalty, but Wales could not find the wit or width to break the onrushing white-shirted defence.
Farrell began to dictate the pace as Welsh desperation grew and the errors piled up on both sides.
With 10 minutes left on the clock the home lead remained in double figures, and after yet another Welsh knock-on England broke with sublime passing - Twelvetrees to Burrell, a delicious flip to Nowell and then on to Lawes before the latter fed Burrell out of the back door - and it took a fabulous last-ditch tackle from Halfpenny to push the Northampton centre's toe into touch as he dived for the corner.
Wales threw caution to the wind as the seconds evaporated. But England held firm, and when captain Chris Robshaw held aloft the Triple Crown trophy a few moments later a stadium so often so quiet exploded into noisy celebration.
England: Brown, Nowell, Burrell, Twelvetrees, May, Farrell, Care, Marler, Hartley, Wilson, Launchbury, Lawes, Wood, Robshaw, Morgan.
Replacements: Goode for Brown (79), Ford for Farrell (79), Dickson for Care (79), M. Vunipola for Marler (64), Attwood for Launchbury (73), Johnson for Wood (79), Youngs for Hartley (69) Thomas for Wilson (73).
Wales: Halfpenny, Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, North, Priestland, Webb, Jenkins, Hibbard, Adam Jones, Ball, Alun Wyn Jones, Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau.
Replacements: L. Williams for Halfpenny (76), Biggar for Priestland (62), James for Jenkins (64), Owens for Hibbard (55), R. Jones for A. Jones (67), Tipuric for Lydiate (76), Phillips for Webb (52), Coombs for Ball (73).
Sin Bin: Jenkins (53).
Ref: Romain Poite (France)