Wales on Saturday surged clear in the closing stages to beat England 40-24 in Cardiff to clinch the Triple Crown and stay on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam.
Defeat all but ended reigning champions England’s hopes of a successful title defense.
England, in a match where French referee Pascal Gauzere controversially allowed two of Wales’ four tries to stand, battled back from 17-6 down to 24-24 with 18 minutes left.
However, England’s indiscipline, a long-running problem for coach Eddie Jones’ men, allowed Wales replacement Callum Sheedy to kick three penalties before Cory Hill’s late try rounded off the victory.
It was the latest chapter in a remarkable Wales turnaround after they won just three of 10 matches last year under coach Wayne Pivac.
Wales led 17-14 at the break following two controversial tries scored by Josh Adams and Liam Williams.
England wing Anthony Watson’s try reduced the deficit before captain Owen Farrell’s penalty on the stroke of halftime cut the gap to three points.
However, England could have no complaints when scrumhalf Kieran Hardy crossed for Wales’ third try early in the second half.
From 24-14 behind, England hit back with a Farrell penalty and a try by Ben Youngs just after the hour. With Farrell adding the conversion, England were level heading into the last quarter.
Yet Wales responded by finishing with their highest points score against arch-rivals England.
“I’m very, very pleased for the players,” Pivac told the BBC.
“Some people will say it [luck] has been on our side the last three matches, but you have to be in games to win them,” the New Zealander added.
“I have played in a few games on the end of those decisions, it is up to the officials to make them,” Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said.
Fellow skipper Farrell was equally wary of discussing Gauzere’s display, saying “we will control what we can control.”
“I thought the intent was good but we can’t let teams off that many times like we did today,” he added.
Wales’ first try came while Farrell, at Gauzere’s request, was still talking to England about their discipline.
There was more controversy over Wales’ second try on the half hour when it appeared wing Louis Rees-Zammit had knocked-on before fullback Williams grounded the ball.
However, Gauzere on the advice of his television match official, stood by his original decision to award a try on the grounds Rees-Zammit had knocked the ball backward with his boot.
“We can’t argue with the referee. The result’s there and we’ve got to accept it,” Eddie Jones said. “Wales were worthy winners.”
“They’re huge decisions,” he said. “We can’t debate it, we are not allowed to debate it. All I will end up with is a fine and that won’t help anyone. The dog won’t be able to eat its food, wife won’t be able to eat, so I can’t say anything.”
“We gave away penalties we shouldn’t have, it was just from the effort and sometimes you get in situations where emotionally you struggle because of the circumstances and you try too hard,” he said. “Whenever you get beaten and bettered by a penalty, then discipline is an issue, but there were bigger issues in the game than that.”
Additional reporting by AP
IRELAND V ITALY
Ireland got their first Six Nations win this campaign with a 48-10 victory over Italy as the hosts fell to their 30th consecutive defeat in the tournament.
Tries from Garry Ringrose, Hugo Keenan and Will Connors lifted the Irish 27-10 at halftime.
C.J. Stander, Connors and Keith Earls added three more after the break for a bonus-point win for the Irish who had lost their opening two games against France and Wales.
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton marked his return with 18 points on the day in the Stadio Olimpico.
“Thankfully we got victory we were desperate for,” Sexton said. “Some brilliant stuff, especially in first half, I thought we were outstanding.”
“It doesn’t mean we’re fixed, we have to keep improving. It’s a massive test in Murrayfield [against Scotland] and six-day turnaround and then against England,” he added.
The Italians had started brightly with flyhalf Paolo Garbisi scoring first with an opening penalty.
Johan Meyer had revived Azzurri hopes just before the break with a try which Garbisi converted for their only points of the day.
Italy’s six-year drought continued as Franco Smith’s side are without a win in the tournament since beating Scotland in Murrayfield in 2015.
The Azzurri have not beaten Ireland since 2013 with Irish trio Iain Henderson, Dave Kilcoyne and Cian Healy the only survivors of that clash on duty on Saturday.
“Today we weren’t at the same level as Ireland,” said Smith, whose side have conceded 139 points and 19 tries in their last three matches. “It’s really hard. All of Italy are waiting for a win, and we’re fighting all the time to give them one.”
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