Morning Chronicle - England edge Wales to maintain Six Nations title bid

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England edge Wales to maintain Six Nations title bid
England edge Wales to maintain Six Nations title bid

England edge Wales to maintain Six Nations title bid

England maintained their Six Nations title bid and all but ended reigning champions Wales' hopes of a successful defence with a 23-19 win in an error-strewn contest at Twickenham on Saturday.

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The hosts were well-ahead at 23-12 when Wales replacement Kieran Hardy gave the visitors hope of a remarkable comeback with an 80th-minute converted try.

But England, who saw fly-half Marcus Smith kick 18 points, with his Harlequins team-mate Alex Dombrandt scoring a try, saw the game out to inflict Wales' second defeat in three matches this Championship and maintain their own title bid.

A scrappy first half ended with England leading 12-0 up through four Smith penalties.

England extended their advantage to 17-0 early in the second half when No 8 Dombrandt pounced on an over-thrown line-out from Wales hooker Ryan Elias.

Wales, however, hit back with two tries in seven minutes from wing Josh Adams and inside centre Nick Tompkins to leave England with a slender 17-12 advantage going into the last quarter.

Smith then put England two scores in front with a well-struck penalty from 45 metres before an effort from a similar distance nine minutes from time gave them apparent breathing space at 23-12.

England, beaten in a Calcutta Cup clash by Scotland, now have two wins and one defeat this Six Nations.

By contrast Wales, defeated by Ireland in the first round, have now suffered two losses in a Championship where unbeaten leaders France are still eyeing a Grand Slam.

England only finalised their team shortly before kick-off, with Elliot Daly starting at outside centre after the injury-prone Manu Tuilagi had been ruled out with a hamstring problem on Thursday.

Back-row Courtney Lawes returned to captain the side after missing the first two rounds with concussion.

Wales, without a Six Nations win at Twickenham since 2012, were captained by Lawes' Northampton team-mate Dan Biggar, while fit-again No 8 Taulupe Faletau ended an 11-month absence from the starting XV.

England lock Charlie Ewels came close to a try in the 21st minute, with Wales full-back Liam Williams yellow carded for handling in a ruck.

But England failed to capitalise on their man advantage.

Such was the low quality of the play that one of the biggest cheers from a capacity crowd of over 81,000 in the opening 40 minutes came when Henry Slade's well-judged 50-22 kick set up an England line-out near Wales' line.

England, however, made a mess of the ensuing catch and drive, one of their routine plays, with Wales awarded a relieving penalty.

But after Smith's grubber kick set up a Wales line-out near the visitors' line, Dombrandt caught a loose throw from Elias that and the back-row just did enough to ground the ball as he stretched over the line.

Smith was way off target with a conversion from out on the left, but England were in command at 17-0 up.

Wales, stung into action, fought back in the 54th minute with scrum-half Tomos Williams' sharp pass creating space for fit-again wing Adams to score a try in the left corner.

Fly-half Biggar, however, missed the conversion and England were still two scores in front at 17-5.

But a rejuvenated Wales, having kicked a penalty for an attacking line-out, laid siege to England's line and following several close-range rucks, quick ball allowed Tompkins to cross for a 61st-minute try that Biggar did convert.

Veteran scrum-half Ben Youngs came off the bench to replace Harry Randall and so break the England cap record of 114 Tests held by World Cup winner Jason Leonard before the frantic finale.