England gave themselves a great chance of winning only their second Six Nations title in 11 years when they comprehensively overwhelmed double-defending champions Wales 29-18 on Sunday, securing their first Triple Crown since 2003 in the process.
England avenged their 30-3 thrashing in Cardiff a year ago by delivering a display full of confident running and high-pressure defending, scoring first-half tries through Danny Care and Luther Burrell.
Superlative goalkicking by fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who landed six out of six penalty attempts before suffering a dislocated shoulder late in the game, somehow kept Wales in touch for an hour as England’s breakdown errors threatened to undo their good work.
The hosts, responding to a terrific Twickenham atmosphere on a hot and sunny day, eventually took complete control through their own great goalkicker, Owen Farrell, to set up a Saturday finale when the title is almost certain to be decided on points difference.
Ireland, France and England all have six points, but Ireland’s huge +81 points difference means they will surely take the title if they win in Paris in the final game of the championship.
If France, who are +3, prevail, England, who are currently +32, would be well placed for the championship should they manage any sort of win over Italy in Rome earlier in the day.
“The performance is right up there,” coach Stuart Lancaster told reporters. “We’ve tried to remove the fear of failure and asked them to go out and play ... and overall our intent to play brought us a reward.”
“We’ve got a big game next week now, we’re still in the fight and we want to be ready for Italy,” he said.
England, who were somewhat unlucky to lose their opening game of the campaign to France, were itching for revenge for last year’s humbling in Cardiff, though only six of their starting team from that day were in Sunday’s side.
They should have been virtually home and dry by halftime after totally dominating the opening 40 minutes.
England’s decision to play an adventurous, running game seemed to catch Wales out. The visitors were certainly asleep for the opening try after five minutes when Care tapped a penalty and ran in untouched.
In a pattern that would be repeated all half, England immediately gave away a breakdown penalty which Halfpenny slotted.
England, lifted by a vibrant Twickenham crowd basking in the sunshine, continued to make all the running and when Billy Twelvetrees sent a clever kick into the corner for impressive center Burrell to dive on they were 20-9 ahead and in charge.
However, two more sloppy penalties allowed Halfpenny to get his team back within five points at 20-15 at the turnaround — a situation coach Warren Gatland later said he was delighted with having been so comprehensively outplayed.
Wales, featuring no fewer than 12 Test British and Irish Lions, upped their game after the break, but poor decisionmaking ruined their best opportunities and instead it was England who cashed in with three more sweetly-struck Farrell penalties.
England were less adventurous as the game went on, as Farrell introduced more tactical kicking, but their aggressive and determined defense kept Wales pinned deep as the champions, seeking a fourth successive win over England, tried desperately to claw back an 11-point deficit going into the final quarter.