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Monday March 10, 2014 MYT 1:27:45 AM
Monday March 10, 2014 MYT 1:27:45 AM
by mitch phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - England gave themselves a great chance of winning only their second Six Nations title in 11 years when they deservedly beat double-defending champions Wales 29-18 on Sunday, securing their first Triple Crown since 2003 in the process.
England avenged their 30-3 thrashing in Cardiff a year ago by delivering a display full of confident running and scored first-half tries through Danny Care and Luther Burrell.
Superlative goalkicking by fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who landed six out of six penalty attempts, kept Wales in touch for an hour as England's breakdown errors threatened to undo their good work.
But the hosts, responding to a terrific Twickenham atmosphere on a sunny day, eventually took complete control through their own great goalkicker Owen Farrell to set up a Saturday finale when the title is almost certain to be decided on points difference.
Ireland, France and England all have six points but Ireland's huge +81 points difference advantage means they will surely take the title if they win in Paris in the final game of the championship.
If France, who are +3, prevail, England, who are currently +32, would be well placed to take the title should they beat Italy in Rome earlier in the day.
"We set our attacking intent from the start," coach Stuart Lancaster told the BBC.
"We didn't get everything right and Leigh Halfpenny punished our indiscipline but we were deserved winners.
"We've got a big game next week now, we're still in the fight and we want to be ready for Italy. They will be wanting to put on a display, so we'll need to be ready for that. But today is our day."
England were itching for revenge for last year's humbling in Cardiff, though only six of their starting team from that day were in Sunday's side.
They should have been virtually home and dry by halftime after totally dominating the opening 40 minutes.
England's decision to play an adventurous, running game and seemed to catch the Welsh out. The visitors were certainly asleep for the opening try after five minutes when Care tapped a penalty and ran in untouched.
But, in a pattern that would be repeated all half, England immediately gave away a breakdown penalty which Halfpenny slotted over.
England, lifted by a vibrant Twickenham crowd basking in the sunshine, continued to make all the running and when Billy Twelvetrees sent a clever kick into the corner for impressive centre Burrell to dive on they were 20-9 ahead and in charge.
Two more sloppy penalties, however, allowed Halfpenny to get his team back within five points at 20-15 at the turnaround - a situation Wales would have been delighted with having been comprehensively outplayed.
Wales, featuring no fewer than 12 test British and Irish Lions, looked more dangerous after the break but poor decision-making ruined their best opportunities and instead it was England who cashed in with three more sweetly-struck Farrell penalties.
England were less adventurous as the game went on as Farrell introduced more tactical kicking but their impressive defence kept the Welsh pinned deep as the champions, seeking a fourth successive win over England, tried desperately to claw back an 11-point deficit going into the final quarter.
They did not ever really look like doing so and it was England who finished the stronger, Burrell desperately close to a second score after brilliant length-of-the pitch move featuring off-loads and one-handed passes rarely seen from the men in white.
The teams will meet again at Twickenham in the pool phase of the 2015 World Cup, when, with Australia also in their group, the result is likely to be even more important.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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