Sunday, March 17, 2013
Wales overwhelm England to win Six Nations championship
By Mitch Phillips
CARDIFF (Reuters) - Alex Cuthbert scored two second-half tries as a rampant Wales overwhelmed England by a record 30-3 scoreline to retain the Six Nations title and deny the visitors a grand slam on a memorable evening at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Wales began the game wondering if they could somehow fashion a seven-point victory to wrest the title away from England. Instead, they produced their biggest victory over their fierce rivals with the 27-point margin surpassing the 25-0 win chalked up in Cardiff 108 years ago.
The Welsh, under fire from all sides when they fell to an eighth successive defeat when beaten by Ireland on the opening weekend of the tournament, led 9-3 at halftime with three Leigh Halfpenny penalties before cutting loose after the interval as right wing Cuthbert scored twice within 10 minutes to send the Millennium Stadium wild.
Scrumhalf Mike Phillips was back to the form that made him such a key operator for the British and Irish Lions in South Africa four years ago while the rest of the backline, unchanged in every Six Nations' match this season, looked sharper and cleverer than their callow rivals.
England had won all four of their away games in the competition under Stuart Lancaster, three last season and in Dublin last month, but it was the home fans, who had had to endure five successive home defeats spanning more than a year, who were celebrating a truly special occasion. England's only two Six Nations defeats in two seasons have been against Wales.
Wales had not conceded a try since the 42nd minute of their opening week defeat by Ireland and, had they woken up at kickoff instead of just after halftime in that match, they could well have been celebrating a second successive clean sweep.
England, who struggled to get past Italy last week, can have no complaints about the result having failed to impose themselves on any aspect of the game and eventually being blown away.
England's defeat joins the list of previous grand-slam failures, including three in a row from 1999 and another in 2011. On that occasion in Dublin there was at least the consolation of their first title since 2003 but this time the victor took the spoils in a dramatic, floodlit presentation ceremony.
With the roof closed and the crowd fuelled by a long afternoon in the pubs clustered around the stadium, the atmosphere was electric by the time the long-awaited kickoff took place.
The frenetic action lived up to its billing too as a series of thunderous collisions helped produce a production line of turnovers and dropped ball in a chaotic match which flowed from one end to the other.
Wales had the best of the early pressure, with centres Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies rediscovering their destructive running, and they made it pay with three Leigh Halfpenny penalties. Wales looked certain to snatch the first try too when George North burst clear down the left wing before a desperate but perfectly executed tap-tackle by Mike Brown brought his opposite number crashing to the turf.
England competed furiously but looked short of ideas in attack. Owen Farrell landed one penalty but missed another and Wales never looked like being breached.
England's set-piece struggled too, losing a couple of early lineouts and getting on the wrong side of referee Steve Walsh in a series barely completed scrums.
A 23-phase forward assault on England's line earned Halfpenny another penalty in the 52nd minute which he slotted to put Wales 12-3 ahead and, for the first time, go beyond the eight-point margin needed to take the title.
If the home fans were happy with that, they were delirious soon after when another midfield turnover set up winger Cuthbert to show his fantastic finishing ability by scorching round Mike Brown with a timely handoff before gleefully diving over in the corner.
England were in disarray and after Dan Biggar slotted a drop goal Cuthbert sealed the victory after great work by flankers Justin Tipuric, who was named man-of-the-match, and Sam Warburton.
"It's a bit unreal. I think it's a dream to be honest. I never really thought we'd play so well in front of a great crowd," Tipuric told the BBC.
"The boys were outstanding. We knew what we could do. We've been ready since Monday. To turn up with such a great performance, we're chuffed to bits."
Lancaster said the better side on the day had won.
"We lost the physical battle and the first score of the second half was vital and we lost momentum," he said.
(Editing by John Mehaffey)