Wales defeat disappointing England in Cardiff

Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies scored his 16th international try
Wales (6) 20
Tries: G Davies, North Cons: Halfpenny 2 Pens: Halfpenny 2
England (9) 9
Pens: Smith 3

Wales overwhelmed disappointing England to give themselves a major pre-World Cup lift.

Gareth Davies and George North scored tries, with Leigh Halfpenny kicking 10 points on his 100th Wales appearance.

Victory was the perfect start for new captain Jac Morgan, while Marcus Smith kicked three penalties for England.

Head coach Steve Borthwick will name his final 33-man World Cup squad on Monday, while Wales’ Warren Gatland will wait a couple more weeks.

After a poor year, Gatland had promised Wales would “surprise people” and “do something special” at the World Cup.

It is early days but this performance provided some optimism before the return warm-up fixture at Twickenham next Saturday.

Wales’ first-half display will be remembered for a dogged defensive effort with centre North proving crucial in denying England two tries and Aaron Wainwright shining at number eight.

Borthwick will be concerned with England’s inability to profit on their first-half dominance and the manner in which they allowed a second-half revival from the hosts as the visitors conceded 22 turnovers.

Wasteful England miss opportunities

This was the last chance for England players to shine before Borthwick announces his final selection – and not many will have made an impression.

The England coach indicated the majority of his squad has been finalised with only “one or two places” still to be decided.

Borthwick chose to rest key personnel and gave opportunities to new faces, with flanker Tom Pearson making his debut and uncapped forwards Theo Dan and Tom Willis coming off the bench.

With Borthwick indicating he will take three scrum-halves and three fly-halves to France, Harlequins half-backs Danny Care and Marcus Smith started in the knowledge they are almost certain to travel, while wing Joe Cokanasiga and centre Joe Marchant were looking to impress.

Borthwick will be concerned at how England failed to convert a couple of chances and spurned two attacking line-outs.

They might have a settled World Cup squad earlier than most but they will have to develop a distinctive style of play before the tournament starts in France.

Full-back Freddie Steward at least proved imperious again in Cardiff under the high ball just as he had in the Six Nations match in February.

Gatland changing the narrative

Louis Rees-Zammit carries for Wales
Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit was denied a spectacular try by TMO late in the match

In contrast to England, Wales have three warm-up matches. Gatland is due to announce his squad after the final game against South Africa, having said this week he only knew one of his squad and places were up for grabs.

A turbulent 12 months had seen Wales lose nine out of 12 games as Gatland returned for a second stint in place of Wayne Pivac.

A fifth-placed finish in the Six Nations was followed by the loss of the experienced Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb and Ken Owens and off-the-field controversy with players threatening to strike over contractual injuries.

Gatland has spoken about changing the negative narrative surrounding Welsh rugby and he will hope this win starts that process.

After tough training camps in Switzerland and Turkey, there were Test debuts for centre Max Llewellyn and Cardiff props Corey Domachowski and Keiron Assiratti.

The prop duo struggled in the scrums in the first half with three set-piece penalties conceded between them, but they will have learned from the experience and Gatland believes some of the decisions against them were unjustified.

Flanker Taine Plumtree and former England prop Henry Thomas also impressed as they made their Wales debuts off the replacements bench.

Fly-half Sam Costelow made his first start and provided a threat to the English defence typified by almost releasing Louis Rees-Zammit for a first half try. Wing Rees-Zammit was also denied a late try after almost creating a brilliant individual score for himself.

Costelow’s clever cross-kick also set up a try for Scarlets scrum-half Davies. Aaron Wainwright gathered possession before feeding Morgan who released Davies to score.

The fly-half might have proved suspect under the high ball on a couple of occasions, but that will be balanced by his attacking ability that will offer extra options to the experience of Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe.

Captain Morgan leads by example

Wales honoured legend Clive Rowlands, who died at the age of 85 last Sunday, with a minute’s applause at the start of the game. He was the only man to coach, captain and manage Wales and made his debut against England in 1963.

Sixty years on, flanker Morgan – who played junior rugby for Rowlands’ home village of Cwmtwrch -captained Wales for the first time in what was effectively the first of three World Cup leadership auditions.

With Jones, Tipuric and Owens unavailable, Gatland is looking for a new leader and planning to appoint a different skipper for each warm-up Test before announcing his final squad and captain.

Others in the captaincy frame include Biggar, Dewi Lake, Will Rowlands and Adam Beard, but 23-year-old Morgan impressed against England, especially in the second half along with Wainwright, who demonstrated there is a number eight alternative to the currently injured Taulupe Faletau.

He played a crucial part in Wales’ opening try for North and produced a crunching second-half tackle on opposite number Pearson.

It was not Morgan who led the side out though. That honour fell to full-back Halfpenny who, almost 15 years after his debut, became the ninth man to play 100 internationals for Wales.

He followed in the footsteps of Alun Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins, North, Biggar, Stephen Jones, Gareth Thomas, Martyn Williams and Faletau.

Injury concerns hit Wales

Injuries were always going to create problems and Wales hooker Ryan Elias and lock Dafydd Jenkins will provide Gatland with some concern.

Elias was forced off the field after just six minutes with a hamstring injury. He had already missed the Six Nations because of an Achilles problem.

Another Scarlets hooker, Owens, has already been ruled out of at least the tournament group stages with a back problem leaving Elliot Dee, Lake and Sam Parry as the three remaining hookers in the squad.

Jenkins limped off in the second half which forced a major reshuffle with centre Mason Grady slipping into the back row because all forward replacements had been used before North later switched to the flank.

Wales were not hampered, though, and Grady almost scored with his first touch before being denied by England captain Ellis Genge in the corner.

That resourcefulness typified Wales’ second-half display and set up their success.


Wales: Halfpenny; Rees-Zammit, North, Llewellyn, Dyer; Costelow, G Davies; Domachowski, Elias, Assiratti, Jenkins, Rowlands, Tshiunza, Morgan (capt), Wainwright.

Replacements: Dee, Smith, H Thomas, Carter, Plumtree, T Williams, Biggar, Grady.

England: Steward; Malins, Marchant, Porter, Cokanasiga; Smith, Care; Genge (capt), Blamire, Stuart, Ribbans, Martin, Ludlam, Pearson, Dombrandt.

Replacements: Dan, Rodd, Sinckler, Hill, T Willis, Van Poortvliet, Ford, Slade.

Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)

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