The returning Anthony Watson set England on their way to a 33-30 win at home to Wales that keeps their Six Nations title challenge on track.
With Grand Slam contenders France not in action against Scotland until Sunday, Eddie Jones’ England piled on the pressure with a hard-fought triumph at Twickenham.
The hosts were boosted by the inclusion of wing Watson in the XV for the first time in the tournament, after a calf injury lay-off, and he got the first of three England tries.
Elliot Daly crossed later in the first half and, after Justin Tipuric raced through for Wales at the start of the second period, Manu Tuilagi secured a third win in four matches for England before being sent off with five minutes remaining. Dan Biggar and Tipuric grabbed consolation tries for Wales in the closing moments, earning them a losing bonus point.
It took Watson less than four minutes to make his mark, dancing through a pair of tackles after a smart move from a lineout on the right to score the opening points.
An eventful start continued as Jonny May departed with a head injury before a scuffle broke out in front of the England try line, prompting a penalty against Owen Farrell that Leigh Halfpenny dispatched over the posts.
Farrell and Halfpenny traded further successful trips to the kicking tee as the match settled slightly, but a spell of England pressure resulted in their second try after 32 minutes as the hosts worked the ball from right to left and Daly steamed up the outside to lunge over.
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Another Farrell penalty stretched England’s lead again, only for some sloppy play to allow Biggar to boot a response heading into half-time.
And Wales came out for the restart with renewed vigour, scoring inside 30 seconds through a stunning counter that sent Tipuric clear under the posts.
But England continued to forge opportunities for their kickers, with Farrell adding three more points before George Ford assumed the responsibilities – his captain struggling with a dead leg – and followed suit.
Successive scores seemed to dampen Wales’ spirits, and a patient England move made space for Tuilagi to walk in on the left.
A slew of late penalties against England resulted in a yellow card for Ellis Genge, and Tuilagi departed for a shoulder charge to George North’s head.
That allowed first Biggar and then Tipuric to score against 13 scrambling white shirts, but the late tries proved only enough to rescue the bonus point.
Watson wastes little time
England had been shorn of their star wing since the Rugby World Cup final, and Watson made sure to quickly show Jones just what he had been missing. His 18th international try combined skill, speed and strength in impressive fashion from the first notable attack of the match.
Captain Farrell unflappable
This was a niggly game, best evidenced by the clash Farrell became involved in early on, but England made the most of each Welsh foul. Farrell’s kicking from various ranges was typically clinical, taking the match away from Wales each time they threatened a recovery.
Key Opta stats
– England have won six of their last seven games against Wales in the Six Nations (L1). Their last five victories in that run have each come by fewer than seven points.
– England made a breakthrough in the fourth minute of this game, the 10th time in their last 11 Tests at Twickenham that they have scored a try in the opening 12 minutes.
– Tipuric scored 22 seconds into the second half of this game, the quickest second-half try in the Six Nations since Charlie Hodgson’s five-pointer for England against Scotland in 2012 which also came after 22 seconds.
– Tuilagi became the first England player to be red-carded in a Five Nations or Six Nations game and the first player from any nation to score a try and be sent off in the same game in the championship.
– Tuilagi has scored seven tries for England since the beginning of 2019, and no other centre in Test rugby has scored as many tries in that time.
– Farrell scored 15 points to take his tally past 900 for England (914). Only Jonny Wilkinson has more for England (1,179).
– Alun Wyn Jones made his 57th appearance in the Six Nations, moving past Gethin Jenkins as Wales’ most-capped player in the championship.
England must wait to learn when they might fulfil their final fixture against Italy, who have seen consecutive matches postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Wales complete their disappointing campaign at home to Scotland next Saturday.
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