Wales 10-20 England: Ollie Lawrence scores late try to pile on more Welsh misery in Six Nations dogfight
Error-strewn England averted a crisis of their own with a vital 20-10 win in Cardiff to plunge strike-racked Wales deeper still into a pit of despair.
Lose this match and England could have been staring down the barrel of a grave predicament. Instead, it is Wales who will be haunted by the ghosts of a bleak future.
Owen Farrell missed 10 points off the tee but had enough nerve to grind a messy England home at the Principality Stadium.
A week dominated by Wales’ strike threat gave way to a Test match of low quality, worryingly for both sides but particularly for Warren Gatland’s men.
Athony Watson, Kyle Sinckler and Ollie Lawrence bagged the scores to drag England to their second victory of this year’s Six Nations, with Steve Borthwick’s men doubtless relieved to tiptoe out of Wales with the win.
Louis Rees-Zammit claimed an intercept score for Wales, but Gatland’s team were poor, especially at the breakdown where they were bested by England’s gleeful turnover hunters.
Wales have now suffered their worst Six Nations start since 2007, with a haunting time ahead, as much on the field as off it.
Freddie Steward was masterful in the air while Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam were imperious over the ball. Lions stalwart Farrell struggled with boot on ball but still dragged England home, seemingly on sheer will alone.
Whatever the positives, England face tournament top dogs Ireland and France to close out this competition. Surely only a major improvement will allow Borthwick’s men to add to their win tally, suggesting another mid-table finish.
England’s profligacy kept the game tight throughout. Farrell was charged down, punted straight into touch, missed five points off the tee – and still kept on coming in a mixed first half.
The gritty skipper insisted England would have to cope with making mistakes in Cardiff, but he did not expect to be at the heart of such fire-fighting. Steward mopped up after Taulupe Faletau charged Farrell down to start a raucous day.
England lost the ball three times in contact in a rusty opening, before Farrell converted an early penalty. The visitors then claimed the half’s sole score, with Max Malins and Lawrence combining to scythe the line on the same angle.
Henry Slade’s dummy line opened the door, and Malins and Lawrence busted it down. Alex Dombrandt’s floated miss-pass then sent Watson home for a well-worked try.
Farrell missed the tricky conversion then Leigh Halfpenny put Wales on the board with a penalty. England talisman Farrell then made the rare mistake of punting out on the full to spark a circumspect final 10 minutes of the half.
England won a big scrum penalty only for Farrell to miss the routine shot at goal, then Steward knocked on a high bomb to blow a try-scoring chance. Wales powered deep into England territory and punched the line time and again.
Lawrence and Dombrandt won one fine turnover penalty, then Lewis Ludlam topped that with an even better steal. England tiptoed to the break with an 8-3 lead, only to undo all that defensive work in a flash after the interval.
Malins’ stray pass gifted Rees-Zammit the intercept run-in, and Halfpenny’s conversion had Wales in front for the first time in the match. That two-point advantage was scrubbed out almost immediately though, as Sinckler bundled home after a driven lineout and the forwards going through the tight phases.
Farrell’s conversion had England leading 15-10 on the hour. England should have extended that lead by three points, only for Farrell to miss another very gettable goal.
Replacement Ben Curry pulled off another pivotal England turnover to stunt Wales’ new-found momentum, but only temporarily as the visitors had to endure another extended defensive sequence.
Lawrence scooped up a loose ball to set England back on the attack, before Halfpenny spilled Farrell’s horrid spiral bomb in his own 22. This time it was Wales who would cling on, winning a breakdown penalty to clear the danger.
England refused to relent however, and Lawrence raced in on the left flank to settle the argument. Two teams both alike in mediocrity, but England can at least be thankful not to endure Wales’ ruinous off-field malaise.