England 25 Wales 21: Grand Slam in sight for Jones

England's Owen Farrell celebrates victory with team-mate Jack Nowell (right).
England's Owen Farrell celebrates victory with team-mate Jack Nowell (right).
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IF England ever needed a moment to prove they have developed, grown, matured this was it. And they delivered. Just.

Eddie Jones’ side edged home to victory against Wales today to win the Triple Crown, stay on course for the Six Nations title and stand just 80 minutes away from a first Grand Slam in 13 years.

They made life tough for themselves, however, at Twickenham. Having led 19-0 after 53 minutes following a superb first period, the hosts - with young lock Maro Itoje outstanding - somehow almost conspired to lose again and repeat the misery of their World Cup debacle against the same opponents five months previously.

They had crept forward to 25-7 when prop Dan Cole was sin-binned in the 72nd minute after repeated offences from his side close to their own line.

Wales, despite having seen captain Sam Warburton being stretchered off with a head injury and being utterly rudderless in the first period, fired up and quickly scored two tries.

George North finished off a combination of rare clarity in the 74th minute and then Taulupe Faletau barged through a meek Danny Care tackle to set up a frantic last couple of minutes.

Wales earned a penalty and kicked to the corner - just as England did infamously against them last September only to bomb their chance and eventually suffer an embarrassing World Cup exit at the pool stages.

That memory must have been high in their thoughts - there was 13 survivors in this squad - as the same opponents looked to turn the screw once more.

However, with their mental fortitude and physical resolve tested, they survived the examination.

North escaped down the wing but, fittingly, Manu Tuilagi, the centre making his first Test appearance in 20 months after serious groin problems, raced across and nudged the giant British Lion into touch.

England secured the line-out via Joe Launchbury and Care hoisted the ball into the stands. They play France in Paris next Saturday to complete their recovery.

Owen Farrell enjoyed a 100 per cent record with the boot, scoring six penalties and converting Anthony Watson’s first half penalty, but 21 year-old Itoje was the star.

The Saracens lock, making only his third Test appearance, was sensational, playing more like Alun Wyn Jones, the veteran British Lion he faced, than a rookie still learning the game at this level.

He stole two line-outs in the first period but was a nuisance to Wales around the field, too, with some punishing defensive hits, a strong carry to set up England’s sole try for Anthony Watson and, perhaps most impressively, a crucial turnover late on in that first period when hapless Wales finally mounted some pressure.

Watson, the Bath wing, was great in the air and finished his try well for a ninth score in his last 11 England appearances.

From the first minute there was plenty of attacking intent from England who looked primed, sharp and ready to run their visitors ragged.

Within seconds, George Ford executed a lovely runaround with his captain Dylan Hartley to give winger Jack Nowell an early running opportunity.

They made two clear line-breaks within the opening minutes both, frustratingly, wasted, however. Something that nearly cost them at the end.

Mike Brown, who fizzed all afternoon from full-back, accelerated through a gap down Wales’ left edge but came inside when, if he had dared, would arguably have reached the corner venturing in the other direction.

Instead, he was snared and, though Ben Youngs touched down after desperate Wales ripped the ball from the ruck, the video official correctly ruled there was insufficient control.

Next, it was Ford, the vibrant fly-half, who found himself unexpectedly breaking down the blindside of the left.

He, to, was tempted infield when winger Anthony Watson was screaming for the ball and there was the same end result.

Cole thought he had crawled over only to see his effort rule out but, with Farrell having slotted three successive penalties to build a 9-0 lead after 21 minutes, it was Watson who finally got things right, finishing off 12 minutes later after Itoje busted Wales down the left and Brown applied the correct time with his pass.

They should have taken control from thereon in but it didn’t quite go according to plan.

Dan Biggar charged down Ford’s kick in the 54th minute to score and convert and Wales suddenly had a sniff.

There is still work to be done for England. That said, the Grand Slam remains on offer and, if Scotland beat France tomorrow, Jones’ side are Six Nations champions.

England: Brown; Watson, Joseph (Daly 76), Farrell, Nowell; Ford (Tuilagi 63), Youngs (Care 63); Marler (M Vunipola 57), Hartley (Cowan-Dickie 72), Cole, Itoje, Kruis (Launchbury 79), Robshaw (Brookes 72), Haskell (Clifford 69), B Vunipola.

Wales: Williams; Cuthbert, J Davies, North; Biggar (Priestland 74), G Davies (Webb 63); Evans (Owens 54), Baldwin (P James 54), Lee (Francis 54), B Davies, Wyn Jones (Charteris 63), Lydiate, Warburton (Tipuric 57), Faletau.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)