Stuart Lancaster insists England need to continue to concentrate on their own game rather than worry about other fixtures after their 29-18 win over Wales set up a three-way tussle for the RBS Six Nations title.
England secured their first triple crown in 11 years with a clincal display at Twickenham, with first-half tries from Danny Care and Luther Burrell proving the difference.
Their first win over Wales in four attempts leaves them level on six points with Ireland and France going into the final weekend of fixtures, with England’s two rivals for the championship doing battle in Paris after Lancaster’s men face Italy in Rome.
Ireland have a healthy points difference lead going into the deciding matches, but Lancaster has urged England not to worry about other factors.
“Ireland are a quality side,” said Lancaster. “But France on their day at home, with something to play for – who knows?
“But we can’t control that, we’re first up. We’ve got a proud Italian side to play against who gave us a hard time two years ago and gave us a hard time last year at Twickenham.
“So we’ve got to get our heads right and do what we can do and control the controllables for us.”
Lancaster had high praise for his England side, saying the victory was as impressive as their 13-10 defeat of Ireland a fortnight ago, especially coming a year after their 30-3 thumping at the Millennium stadium.
“It’s right up there for me. It was a different type of game, the game against Ireland probably had a little bit more flow to it,” he said.
“But because of the significance of the game last year and obviously the pressure on the boys to deliver, in light of the World Cup in a year and a half’s time and playing at Twickenham, the boys wanted to win this game and I’m delighted for them that they did.
“If Luther had gone in for that try in the corner, I think it would have been reward for our counter-attacking and our intent to play.
“I think Leigh Halfpenny’s goalkicking really kept the scoreline close for a long period of time.
“But overall, if you’d have said to me at the start of the day this was going to be the result I would have taken it, 100 per cent.”
Wales’ misery was compounded by injuries to Halfpenny and Rhys Webb, with head coach Warren Gatland confirming Halfpenny’s shoulder injury has ruled him for the rest of the campaign.
“Leigh’s dislocated his shoulder so I think that’s him gone for the rest of the season,” said Gatland.
“I’m not too sure about Rhys (ankle) but definitely that’ll be Leigh’s season over, which is disappointing for him.”
Gatland admitted fatigue may have been a factor in his side’s performance, with a number of his Wales players having turned out for the Lions last summer in their tour of Australia.
“It’s been tough on these players in retrospect – a Grand Slam, a championship, a Lions tour – it’s been a long 18 months for those players,” he said.
“But this is professional sport and you’ve got to get yourselves up and unfortunately we weren’t as good as we can be today and that’s disappointing. I thought we were better in the second half. We spoke about that at half-time – there were a few missed tackles by our tight five. Teams are pretty close in this competition. I think the four top teams are all capable of beating each other on their day if they get their performance right and England got their performance right today.”
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.
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.
Hooker Richard Hibbard’s off-target throw gave England an attacking opportunity, and they ruthlessly punished Wales when centre Billy Twelvetrees’s superbly-placed kick was gathered by Burrell for his third try in four Six Nations games this season.
Halfpenny’s five penalties kept Wales interested but three successful kicks from Farrell in the second half kept the deposed champions at arm’s length.
England: Brown (Goode 79), Nowell, Burrell, Twelvetrees, May, Farrell (Ford 79), Care (Dickson 79), Marler (M Vunipola 64), Hartley, Wilson (Attwood 73), Launchbury, Lawes, Wood (Johnson 79), Robshaw, Morgan. Unused replacements: T Youngs, Thomas.
Wales: Halfpenny (L Williams 76), Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, North, Priestland (Biggar 62), Webb, Jenkins (James 64), Hibbard (Owens 65), A. Jones (R. Jones 67), Lee, A. Jones, Lydiate (Tipuric), Warburton, Faletau. Unused replacements: Coombs, M. Phillips.
Referee: R Poite (France).