England see off Wales for Nations Cup final spot
MATCH REPORT: Henry Slade and Mako Vunipola scored a try each as England secured a 24-13 win over Wales to secure top spot in Group A and cement their place in the finals.
Slade’s first-half effort cancelled out Wales’ only try, scored by centre Johnny Williams, while prop Vunipola powered over early in the second half.
Owen Farrell suffered some early jitters off the tee but finished strongly with four penalties at Parc y Scarlets, as England pulled away in the second half in a result that maintains their 100 percent Nations Cup record.
Brimming with confidence following a shut-out win against Georgia and comfortable victory against Ireland, England were quick out of the blocks in Llanelli.
They had a zip to their passing and strode imposingly into Wales’ half in the first five minutes, while George Ford and Owen Farrell kept the hosts pinned into their own 22 with some early high kicks.
That pressure bore fruit with a scrum penalty inside nine minutes but captain Farrell surprisingly missed and Wales made him pay.
Dan Biggar charged down a Slade kick in midfield and reached the loose ball first, kicking ahead for the centre Johnny Williams, who kicked again and pounced on the ball for a try.
England responded immediately though, as flanker Sam Underhill made a line break and carried to the Wales five-metre line before the ball was worked left and Farrell set up Slade for a simple score.
Farrell’s early kicking woes continued as he pulled the conversion wide, while Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny missed a penalty from long range.
Farrell rediscovered his touch by booting England 11-7 ahead with a pair of penalties, the second secured by Vunipola at the scrum.
Wales replaced prop Samson Lee with Tomas Francis in a bid to fix their scrum but breaching England’s defence was another problem entirely as the visitors starved them of territory.
England then extended their lead ten minutes into the second half when they turned a scrum at Wales’ five-metre line into a Vunipola try, as the prop burrowed over from a metre out with the help of Joe Launchbury.
Wales hit back with two Biggar penalties to make the score 18-13 and the momentum seemed to change at Parc y Scarlets as the hosts began to pile on the pressure.
England countered that by almost adding a third try when replacement wing Anthony Watson scampered down the right and almost escaped.
England went back for a penalty and Farrell opted to kick for goal before nailing it through the posts to extend their advantage back to eight points.
The introduction of flank Jack Willis and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie added some fresh legs and extra intensity for England, and they pulled away late on as Farrell added a further penalty.
Moment of the match: Wales chucked all they had at England at the beginning of the second half but Eddie Jones’ men stood tall and scored a crucial try through Vunipola. Just a metre out, the prop put his head down and drove for the line, spinning out of a tackle and planting it down.
Man of the match: Vunipola was excellent but flanker Sam Underhill takes the award for an all-action display. A picture-perfect turnover of James Botham inside England territory encapsulated the Bath player’s afternoon as he constantly harried and pressured Wales into errors.
Pens: Biggar 2
Tries: Slade, M.Vunipola
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 4
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Josh Adams; 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Lloyd Williams; 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 James Botham, 6 Shane Lloyd-Hughes; 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball; 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Owen Watkin
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonathan Joseph, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Curry, 5 Joe Launchbury, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Jack Willis, 22 Dan Robson, 23 Anthony Watson.
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere, Alex Ruiz
TMO: Brian MacNeice