Magnificent Wales retained the RBS Six Nations title to leave England crestfallen in Cardiff with another Grand Slam dream over.
Scorers: Wales: Tries: Cuthbert 2. Con: Biggar. Pens: Halfpenny 4, Biggar. Drop goal: Biggar. England: Pen: Farrell.
Wales, beaten at home by Ireland in their opening game six weeks ago, rose to the occasion to claim a record victory against England. Wing Alex Cuthbert’s scored a second-half try double and full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked four penalties and stand-off Dan Biggar landed a drop-goal, penalty and conversion.
England could only muster an Owen Farrell penalty.
Wales needed a minimum seven-point win to deny England but they went way beyond expectations, shutting out England in the second half and eclipsing their previous record score for the fixture of 25-0, 108 years ago. It was the first time since 1979 that Wales had successfully defended a Five or Six Nations title.
England captain Chris Robshaw was a colossus in adversity but his side were left to reflect on a ten-year gap since their last Grand Slam.
Wales had heroes everywhere but none more so than Cuthbert, workaholic flanker Justin Tipuric and scrum-half Mike Phillips. Afterwards, man-of-the-match Tipuric said teamwork had been crucial.
“It is a bit unreal really, it is a dream to be honest,” he said. “We played so well in front of a great crowd and our boys were outstanding and worked so hard for each other. We have been ready since Monday and to turn up Saturday and with such a great performance, we are chuffed to bits.”
Cuthbert acknowledged Wales’ poor start to their title defence but felt they got everything their hard work in recent weeks deserved.
“We had a bit of blip but we didn’t want to let go of that trophy, we wanted it back and we are so glad that we have,” he said.
“We have worked hard in the last few weeks and it has all worked out – we couldn’t ask for anything better.”
England made four changes after last weekend’s victory over Italy, including half-backs Farrell and Ben Youngs, while prop Gethin Jenkins captained Wales in the absence of Ryan Jones. A reshaped back-row saw openside specialists Sam Warburton and Tipuric start a Test match together for the first time.
England had early territorial dominance but ended up back in their own 22 after centre Manu Tuilagi knocked on, and Wales surged upfield. Halfpenny kicked a tenth-minute penalty to open the scoring and England found themselves having to soak up incessant pressure.
Phillips, whose 77th Test appearance made him Wales’ most capped scrum-half, repeatedly tested the English defence and Halfpenny’s second successful penalty made it 6-0.
Farrell cut the arrears with a long-range strike but Wales took the initiative again, won another scrum penalty on the back of tighthead Adam Jones’ dominance and Halfpenny restored a six-point lead.
England had a spell of pressure but wing George North intercepted and galloped away following a feeble challenge by Chris Ashton, and it took a tap-tackle by Mike Brown to halt North in full flow.
England lock Geoff Parling won possession and his side tried to counter-attack after scrum-half Youngs’ kick, yet Wales always looked dangerous with ball in hand.
The game was played at a remarkable pace with tackling of shuddering intensity. North looked the most dangerous attacking force as he kept England’s defence busy. A punishing first half ended with Biggar rifling a drop-goal attempt wide but the home side were good value for a 9-3 interval lead.
In the second half, their front row continued to give Wales a platform and England were under siege as the home side went through phase after phase and despite another Halfpenny three-pointer, it could have been much worse for England. Northampton forwards Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes entered the fray after 52 minutes – replacing Tom Youngs and Joe Launchbury, respectively – only for Wales to strike just five minutes later.
England fumbled the ball 30 metres from their line and Tipuric and Phillips found centre Jonathan Davies, who then freed Cuthbert, pictured left. Cuthbert still had it all to do but finished majestically as Wales opened up a 14-point lead. And, when Cuthbert added his second touchdown, following another lung-busting effort from Tipuric after Biggar had dropped a goal, it was already game over before Biggar slotted a penalty.
England backs coach Andy Farrell said: “The magnitude of the game and the loss means it is a pretty disappointed, dejected dressing room.
“We couldn’t sustain any type of pressure in the Welsh half and at 12-3 down we were fighting for our lives. Then there was a lack of composure around halfway and they got a break. That made it 17-3, which is hard to get back from. And then from 60 minutes we lost our composure. All credit to Wales. I thought they beat us in every department.”
Wales: Halfpenny; Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, North; Biggar, Phillips; Jenkins (c), Hibbard, A Jones, A-W Jones, Evans, Warburton, Tipuric, Faletau. Subs: Owens, James, Andrews, Coombs, Shingler, L Williams, Hook, S Williams.
England: Goode; Ashton, Tuilagi, Barritt, Brown; Farrell, B Youngs; Marler, T Youngs, Cole, Launchbury, Parling, Croft, Robshaw (c), Wood. Subs: Hartley, Wilson, Vunipola, Lawes, Haskell, Care, Flood, Twelvetrees.
Referee: S Walsh (Aus). Attendance: 74,104