England extended their winning run to 16 Tests as wing Elliot Daly’s late try clinched a dramatic Six Nations victory over Wales in Cardiff.
The first defeat of Eddie Jones’ coaching reign appeared to be looming large as Wales led by two points with four minutes left, but Daly finished off brilliantly following a poor Jonathan Davies clearance, and Owen Farrell’s conversion saw England home 21-16.
Wales looked to have done enough to end England’s Grand Slam hopes as wing Liam Williams scored a first-half try and full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked 11 points.
England led through a Ben Youngs touchdown, while Farrell also booted two penalties, but they had to dig deep into their resources before ultimately prevailing.
Jones’ men won a Grand Slam and recorded a historic Test series triumph against Australia last year, and that character and quality again shone through.
It was also a first defeat in five games for Wales under interim head coach Rob Howley, who is in charge this season while Warren Gatland concentrates on British and Irish Lions business, but England made it four Six Nations wins in a row at their hosts’ expense.
A pulsating contest packed with huge defensive work by both sides and a willingness to move possession wide kept a capacity Principality Stadium crowd engrossed throughout.
It remained in the balance until the dying minutes, but proved a tale of heartbreak for Wales as all their hard work was undone by Daly.
Wales showed two changes from the side that saw off Italy in Rome last weekend, with wing Alex Cuthbert replacing leg injury victim George North, while props Rob Evans and Tomas Francis also started. There were two switches in the England side following a tense battle against France, as wing Jack Nowell replaced Jonny May and flanker Jack Clifford took over from Tom Wood.
Wales blasted out of the blocks, dominating territory either side of a third-minute Halfpenny penalty before Farrell put England level after Wales No.8 Ross Moriarty was penalised. The visitors began to find impressive rhythm and Wales could only hold out until the 18th minute as England moved possession wide and at pace, before a ruck close to the line resulted in Youngs touching down underneath a pile of bodies.
Farrell missed the angled conversion attempt and Wales kept chipping away as a second Halfpenny penalty cut the deficit to two points. Wales stand-off Dan Biggar then broke clear, tussling with Nowell before England cleared the danger, but only after Biggar’s half-back partner Rhys Webb was inches away from touching down.
But Wales finally broke through, courtesy of a training-ground move, as Moriarty fired quick scrum ball to Webb and Liam Williams cut a brilliant angle, running between Farrell and Jonathan Joseph, before Nowell’s intervention was too late to prevent a try. Halfpenny added the conversion and Wales trooped off 13-8 ahead.
Wales resumed the game in determined fashion, with Moriarty making crunching tackles on Farrell and Maro Itoje in quick succession.
Jones soon began using his bench, replacing captain Dylan Hartley with Jamie George and sending on James Haskell for Clifford and a second Farrell penalty made it 13-11.
A Halfpenny strike following Wales pressure restored a five-point gap, but in a thrilling finale following another Farrell penalty, Daly applied the killer blow to Wales and Farrell added the extras.
SCORERS: wales: Tries: L. Williams. Cons: Halfpenny. Pens: Halfpenny 3.
england: Tries: Youngs, Daly. Cons: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 3.
wales: Halfpenny, North, J. Davies, S. Williams, L. Williams, Biggar, Webb, Evans, Owens, Francis, Ball, A. Jones, Warburton, Tipuric, Moriarty. Replacements: Roberts for S. Williams (71), G. Davies for Webb (65), Smith for Evans (53), Baldwin for Owens (60), Lee for Francis (53), Hill for Tipuric (78), Faletau for Moriarty (53). Not Used: S. Davies.
england: Brown, Nowell, Joseph, Farrell, Daly, Ford, Youngs, Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Clifford, Hughes. Replacements: May for Nowell (71), Te’o for Joseph (65), Care for Youngs (65), Mullan for Marler (71), George for Hartley (46), Sinckler for Cole (71), Haskell for Clifford (49). Not Used: Wood.
referee: Jerome Garces (France).. attendance: 74,500.