Wales won the 2021 Triple Crown after scoring more points than ever before against England in a controversial game at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Wayne Pivac had been able to welcome back Josh Navidi, Jon Davies, George North – winning his 100th cap – and Josh Adams for the visit of the English to Cardiff, while Kieran Hardy was preferred to Gareth Davies at scrum-half.
It was Wales who started positively, with referee Pascal Gauzere handing out some soft penalties against England, and specifically against Maro Itoje, allowing Dan Biggar to put three points on the board early on, but Owen Farrell hit back soon after Ben Youngs had taken advantage of some poorly organised defence.
The away side counted to fall foul of the referee though and it was from a penalty the first try was scored as Dan Biggar shaped to kick Wales into the corner but switched at the last second to kick cross-field for Josh Adams to take in the air and score. Dan Biggar converted and the hosts led despite the protestations of English captain Farrell.
Farrell managed to add three more points off the tee but he may well have been unhappy again on the 30-minute mark when the second Wales try came in surprise circumstances.
Josh Adams put a smart kick in for Louis Rees-Zammit to get on the end of but it appeared that the winger had knocked the ball on, with Liam Williams chasing the loose ball down to slide over the try line. The referee and TMO looked at the replay and decided a flick off Rees-Zammit’s boot negated a knock-on and the try was awarded, with Biggar converting.
At 17-6 it seemed like Wales were firing on all cylinders but as half-time approached England started turning the screw. A few penalties allowed them into our 22 and from a driving maul platform they carried hard and fast around the fringes of the breakdown before Anthony Watson had space to operate in on the right wing and produced a fine finish.
Then with the clock red Tomas Francis was pinged for offside after a slick break from Henry Slade, and Farrell made the score 17-14 as the teams headed in at the break.
Wayne Pivac was forced into a substitution early in the second half as Callum Sheedy replaced Dan Biggar, and there was an immediate impact as he orchestrated an attack that put Wales into the England 22. Jonny Hill infringed at a breakdown and Kieran Hardy was so sharp to take the tap penalty and fly over from 20 metres, with Sheedy converting.
England weren’t quite ready to lie down yet, again imposing their physicality on the Welsh and creating a platform for Owen Farrell to get into space from a pull back pass. He put Jonny May away on the left wing and although the Gloucester man was hauled down short, Ben Youngs was on hand to snipe over from the breakdown, with Farrell drawing the scores level off the tee.
From there though it was all Wales for the final quarter of the game though, with Sheedy making a stunning line break and kicking ahead. This resulted in a penalty and the fly-half began a fine evening off the tee, kicking two more penalties for a nine point lead over the next 10 minutes.
Sheedy was then back in action as England pushed to stay in the game late on but the Bristol Bears player popped up with a timely interception and allowed Louis Rees-Zammit to chase a kick through. The winger couldn’t quite dot the ball down for a try but he forced Elliot Daly into conceding a five-metre scrum. Willis Halaholo carried off the first phase and then on the second phase Cory Hill powered over from close range.
Sheedy’s conversion wrapped up the scoring and, for the first time ever, Wales scored 40 points against England with a 40-24 final scoreline to secure a Triple Crown win that will go down in history.
Many may point to the fortune behind the refereeing decisions in the first half, but the utter dominance shown in the final quarter of the game is evidence enough that Wales were good value for the win at the Principality Stadium and, after all, test rugby is all about winning, no matter how you do it.
Next up, Italy…