Penalty. Kick. Penalty. Kick. Repeat. The reliable boot of Marcus Smith earned England a 23-19 win over Wales on a day where neither side performed at their best.
Moments of class were few and far between at Twickenham and both sides let themselves down at the scrum, while Wales’ lack of discipline saw them concede several penalties, for which they were repeatedly punished by England’s fly-half. The hosts only managed one try and it was a scrappy game that was decided by the boot - leaving France as the heavy favourites to complete a Grand Slam.
It was a chaotic start at Twickenham even if the scoreline didn’t necessarily show it. Two Marcus Smith penalties put England 6-0 up, but there was drama around several scrummages and the play just couldn’t get going.
A key moment came on the 20 minute mark as Liam Williams was shown the yellow card after he illegally dislodged the ball while on the floor and Wales were forced to deal with the hosts a man down for ten minutes. Despite the advantage, England were unable to get into their running rugby and several scrums had to be reset, to the growing frustration of the crowd.
Taine Basham put in some strong challenges to keep the English at bay and by the time Williams returned, Eddie Jones’ men had only extended their lead to nine points, courtesy of the boot of Smith. Once again, in a dismal first half by both teams, it was an error by Wales on the stroke of half-time that allowed the unflappable Smith to convert once again. 12-0 at the break, with Harry Randall’s performance probably one of the only positives for the hosts.
In fact, judging by the shambles of a first half we witnessed in London, France will have been the happiest viewers of the lot. Fabien Galthie's side are hunting a first Grand Slam since 2010 and only have Wales and England left to play on their run towards the prestigious prize. Judging by this first-half showing, they will have no trouble on either weekend and should cruise to the crown - but we all know that isn’t quite how rugby works.
Luckily the second half produced moments of class and the Twickenham crowd were treated to a try just three minutes after the break. England pushed the red line backwards until Randall found touch. There was then a huge lack of communication for the visitors as Ryan Elias threw the ball in, no Welsh shirts jumped, and Dombrandt picked up the ball to cross and put England 17-0 up.
After an ill-disciplined first half, Wales would respond with a try of their own. Tomos Williams gets a pass out to the left and Josh Adams rounded Freddie Steward to cross the tryline. Dan Biggar missed the conversion but Wales had their tails up and would soon close the gap to just five points.
Dan Biggar got the ball to Nick Tompkins and the centre found a slight gap between Harry Randall and Marcus Smith to score and make it 17-12, after Biggar got the conversion.
This was a spirited, and surprising comeback from the Welsh given their first half performance, but England got their noses more than try clear after Smith nailed a long-range kick. Then, more Welsh indiscipline gave the Harlequins fly-half another opportunity and he swung it over the posts to put England 23-12 up, and equal his highest points total in a Test match.
Wales would score with just a minute to go to reduce the deficit as Kieran Hardy tapped a quick penalty to cross the try line, but despite keeping the ball for a further three minutes from kick-off, they ran out of steam.
This was far from pretty but in these sorts of games - the result comes first. England and Wales went toe-to-toe in the second half but were below average in first - and neither is likely to trouble France over the next few weeks.