Wales go to No.1
MATCH REPORT: Wales moved to the No.1 ranking in the world, a week after they first let slip an opportunity to do so.
Wales bounced back from last week’s loss top England to beat their Six Nations rivals 13-6 and a brutal arm-wrestle in Cardiff on Saturday.
The win saw them overtake New Zealand in top spot – the first time ever that Wales went to No.1.
“I think we probably got a bit caught up in all that last weekend,” said Welsh flyhalf Dan Biggar.
Wales held a 10-0 lead at half-time, the first time in 88 games England failed to scored any points in the first half of a Test.
They held onto their lead in a tight second half.
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The All Blacks may have lost the top dog status – they have held it since November 2009 – but they handed out a warning with the World Cup approaching by thrashing Australia 36-0 earlier on Saturday.
“We want to keep going about our business we are looking to get better but it is nice to be where we are,” Biggar said
England captain George Ford said it was a disappointing performance but put the matches into context.
“It was a proper Test match and pretty physical,” he said.
“However, I do not think people will remember these games when the World Cup begins.”
Indeed Wales coach Warren Gatland may have more concerns about the fitness of fullback Liam Williams and flank James Davies.
Williams cut a despondent figure on the sidelines after pulling up with a tight hamstring in the warm-up and was replaced by Leigh Halfpenny.
Injury-plagued Davies – who with brother Jonathan Davies became the first pair of siblings to play for Wales since the Robinsons in 2006 – had to make way for Josh Navidi in the 24th minute.
Biggar responded brilliantly to criticism from Wales legend JJ Williams, who had said he should not be the number one at the World Cup, first choice Gareth Anscombe having been ruled out, because of his lack of creativity.
The game shifted considerably to Wales’s advantage just after the half hour mark with the hosts leading 3-0 through a Biggar penalty.
French referee Pascal Gauzere sin-binned Anthony Watson for a deliberate knock on when the Welsh had a three man overlap.
However, with the England wing running off Biggar caught the English napping and took the penalty immediately – his cross field kick being taken by Josh Adams.
England managed to deny Adams but having probed deep into the 22 Biggar kicked cross-field again this time to the left wing and George North was there to collect it and touch down for his 38th try in Test rugby.
Whilst Ford had a word with Gauzere, Biggar converted for a 10-0 half-time lead.
England had not gone pointless in the first-half of a match since the 2011 World Cup clash with France.
Ford got England’s first points finally in the 51st minute converting a penalty for 10-3 and added another shortly before the hour mark.
England rarely threatened the Welsh line going closest when Watson finally got his hands on the ball but was brought down five metres short.
Wales sealed their place at the top of the world rankings when late call-up Halfpenny knocked over a penalty with just under five minutes remaining.
Man of the match: George Ford, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ellis Genge were all very impressive. Billy Vunipola was, by some distance, England’s most productive player – with plenty of effective carries and even winning a couple of crucial turnovers. His defence needs some work though. Dan Biggar, clutching at his shoulder a couple of times, Aaron Wainwright, Josh Navidi and Ken Owens were among Wales’ best players. Alun Wyn Jones was everything that was good about Wales – strong carries, impressive defence and a mountain of work at the breakdown. Jones, the Welsh captain, wins our award.
Moment of the match: It revolves around the yellow card issued to England wing Anthony Watson in the 32nd minute. Almost immediately afterwards George North scored a try, as Wales tapped quickly and exploited the extra player and scored a try that gave them a handy 10-0 lead at the break. That turned out to be the match-winning moment.
Villain of the match: Physical and even brutal at times. But nothing villainous.
Pens: Biggar, Halfpenny
Pens: Ford 2
Yellow card: Anthony Watson (England, 32 – cynical foul, slapping the ball down illegally)
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (Captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Owen Watkin.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Joe Cokanasiga, 10 George Ford (captain), 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Lewis Ludlam, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 George Kruis, 20 Jack Singleton, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Manu Tuilagi.
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)