England booked their place in next week’s Autumn Nations Cup final with a 24-13 win away to Wales at Llanelli on Saturday.
But the Six Nations champions’ victory was far from the pre-match rout forecast by many pundits, with this success a triumph for the visitors’ set-piece dominance rather than attacking flair.
Wales stunned England when Johnny Williams’ try opened the scoring in a behind-closed-doors match at Parc Y Scarlets.
But tries in either half from Henry Slade and Mako Vunipola, allied to 14 points from the boot of England captain Owen Farrell, saw the visitors to a victory that meant they finished top of Pool A.
Defeat meant Wales had won just once — against second-tier Georgia — in eight matches.
This was only the second Wales-England international in Llanelli, following a 0-0 draw back in 1887, with Cardiff’s Principality Stadium transformed into a field hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.
England had George Ford back at fly-half after he came off the bench during last week’s 18-7 win over Ireland, with Farrell moving into midfield alongside Slade in the absence of the injured Ollie Lawrence.
Meanwhile James Botham, the grandson of England cricket great Ian Botham, was in a Wales back-row missing the sidelined Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi.
Behind the scrum, Cardiff scrum-half Lloyd Williams made his first Wales start for four years.
After some aimless early kicking exchanges, England’s pack won an eighth-minute scrum penalty but Farrell’s 40-metre goal-kick went to the right of the posts — the first of several misses.
And it was Wales who opened the scoring when fly-half Dan Biggar charged down Slade’s kick and Johnny Williams raced clear for an 11th-minute try.
Full-back Leigh Halfpenny converted and Wales led 7-0.
Slade, however, atoned for his mistake seven minutes later.
Openside flanker Sam Underhill, impressive throughout, burst into the Welsh 22 before passing to Kyle Sinckler.
The prop was held up just short of the line but the ball was worked back across field, with Slade going in on the overlap out on the right.
Biggar complained he had been tackled in the air during the build-up but the try stood.
However, the normally reliable Farrell was again off-target with a place kick before Halfpenny missed a long-range penalty.
Underhill made another surging run and released the onrushing Ford but Wales won an important turnover.
England’s pressure led to a 30th-minute penalty Farrell found his range to put his side 8-7 up off the back of a scrum penalty.
Wales’ set-piece problems continued at the start of the second half, a crooked line-out leading to another scrum penalty.
England then forced a five-metre scrum when Wales No 8 Taulupe Faletau was gang-tackled behind his own line.
England No 8 Billy Vunipola made a blindside break off the back of the scrum but was held up short before his brother Mako powered over for a 51st-minute try.
Farrell converted and England had a seemingly comfortable 18-7 lead.
Biggar’s boot, however, gave Wales hope before England pulled clear again thanks to Farrell.