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Wales’ late surge sees them to Triple Crown against England

Wales surged clear in the closing stages to beat England 40-24 in Cardiff on Saturday to clinch the Triple Crown and stay on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam.

Defeat all but ended reigning champions’ England’s hopes of a successful title defence.

England, in a match where French referee Pascal Gauzere controversially allowed two of Wales’ four tries to stand, battled back from 17-6 down to 24-24 with 18 minutes left.

But England indiscipline, a long-running problem for Eddie Jones’ men, allowed Wales replacement Callum Sheedy to kick three penalties before Cory Hill’s late try rounded off victory.

It was the latest chapter in a remarkable Wales turnaround after they won just three of 10 matches in 2020 under coach Wayne Pivac.

Wales led 17-14 at the break following two controversial tries scored by Josh Adams and Liam Williams.

England wing Anthony Watson’s try, however, reduced the deficit before captain Owen Farrell’s penalty on the stroke of half-time cut the gap to three points.

England, however, could have no complaints when scrum-half Kieran Hardy crossed for Wales’ third try early in the second half. 

But from 24-14 behind, England hit back with a Farrell penalty and a try by Ben Youngs just after the hour.

And with Farrell adding the conversion, England were level heading into the last quarter.

But that was as good as it got for England, with a delighted Pivac telling the BBC: “I’m very, very pleased for the players that put a big effort in this evening.

“Some people will say it (luck) has been on our side the last three matches but you have to be in games to win them,” the New Zealander added.

Wales’ first try came while Farrell, at Gauzere’s request, was still talking to England about their discipline.

And the build-up to their second appeared to feature a knock-on.

But Gauzere did not send an England player to the sin-bin, with Pivac saying they had been “lucky” in not being yellow-carded once.

‘Can’t argue with referee’

England counterpart Eddie Jones, asked about Gauzere’s rulings, replied: “It is what it is. We can’t argue with the referee. The result’s there and we’ve got to accept it.

The veteran Australian coach added: “Wales were worthy winners. I was pleased with how our players fought back to 24-24.”

England knew they had to win to maintain their title hopes after a shock opening loss to Scotland was followed by a comfortable victory over perennial strugglers Italy.

But they conceded three penalties in the opening four minutes, with Wales fly-half Dan Biggar kicking the hosts into a 3-0 lead before centre Farrell equalised.

But in the 16th minute, Wales caught England cold when Biggar, rather than going for goal from a penalty, opted for a quickly taken cross-kick caught by wing Adams for a try in the corner.

After awarding the penalty, however, Gauzere told Farrell to talk to England about their indiscipline.

Farrell, however, was still in conversation with his side, including his wings, when Gauzere allowed Biggar to take the penalty.

But for all Farrell’s protests, the try stood and Biggar kicked a difficult conversion before the England skipper’s second penalty reduced Wales’ lead.

There was more controversy over Wales’ second try on the half hour when it appeared wing Louis Rees-Zammit had knocked-on before full-back Williams grounded the ball.

But after studying replays, Gauzere, on the advice of his television match official, stuck with his original decision to award a try on the grounds Rees-Zammit had knocked the ball backwards with his boot even though the wing’s expression suggested he thought he had lost the ball forwards from his hands.

Biggar converted to make it 17-6 in a behind closed doors clash at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. 

England, however, hit back when wing Watson went over in the corner after the ball was worked quickly back from a driving maul.

England were caught napping in the second half as scrum-half Hardy burst clear for a try from his own quick tap penalty.

Sheedy, on as a replacement for Biggar, converted to put Wales two scores in front at 24-14.

But Farrell’s fourth successful penalty and veteran scrum-half Ben Youngs’ sniping break try left the game level at 24-24.

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