Wales dominate England to snatch Six Nations

STEVE DOUGLAS
Last updated 10:31 17/03/2013
Wales
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CHAMPS: Alex Cuthbert (14) of Wales celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second try.

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Rampant Wales inflicted a record victory over England to steal the Six Nations from its old rival's grasp, retaining the title with a 30-3 win and denying the long-time tournament leader a Grand Slam.

Winger Alex Cuthbert grabbed two second-half tries as the Welsh fed off a fevered atmosphere under the closed roof at Millennium Stadium to bolster their status as Europe's dominant rugby nation.

It was a stunning turnaround for a team that appeared in disarray after starting the Six Nations with a 30-22 loss at home to Ireland, its eighth straight defeat.

"We outclassed England," Wales coach Robert Howley said. "We kept sending the message that good teams don't become bad teams overnight, and we were consistent with our message."

The English would have won the title even with a loss by six points but had no answer to Wales' passion, energy and drive. Their scrum was massacred, winning just one on its own put-in, and they didn't threaten the Welsh try line once.

They finished the tournament in a bedraggled state, smashed in the Northern Hemisphere's biggest rivalry and with just one try from their final four matches.

"I don't think it was a psychological thing," England coach Stuart Lancaster said. "Wales played well and we didn't turn up, and we didn't match their physicality."

It was Wales' fourth Six Nations title in the past nine years, turning it into a dominant period for the country's national sport. Not since the 1970s, a famous era that turned the likes of Barry John and Gareth Edwards into national heroes, has Welsh rugby enjoyed so much success and a 26th overall title in the tournament matches England's record haul.

A boisterous crowd were signing, "Easy, easy" long before the final whistle as Wales preyed on England's inexperience to top the team's previous best victory margin, 25-0 back in 1905 in the days of three points for a try.

While 10 of England's starting lineup were playing its first international in Cardiff, Wales fielded 12 players who started last season's Grand Slam-clinching victory over France in the same stadium. And how it told. Pundits had agreed throughout the week that it was too close to call - and they were proved massively wrong.

"I think in the bigger picture, we will learn a lot from this," said Lancaster, who had "no complaints" about the heavy defeat.

From numbers one to 15, England was dominated in a breathless, intense match in which the atmosphere was fuelled by the roof being closed at the request of both coaches. When the stadium is rocking like this, there is no better rugby venue, "unique" according to Howley.

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Fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked Wales into a 9-3 halftime lead, with England's only reply coming from the boot of Owen Farrell, but the hosts pulled clear in a one-sided first 20 minutes of the second half.

Halfpenny slotted over a fourth straight penalty before England No. 8 Tom Wood lost possession in contact in midfield and the ball was recycled out to Cuthbert, via Mike Phillips and Jonathan Davies. Cuthbert handed off opposite winger Mike Brown and just kept his feet in play as he finished in the right corner.

Wales had one hand on the trophy at 17-3 up and when Cuthbert ran onto Justin Tipuric's offload in the 66th to dot down for his second try, there was no coming back. England couldn't penetrate a defense that hasn't conceded a try in 355 minutes - since Brian O'Driscoll's try in the tournament's curtain-raiser.

"They put up a red wall across the pitch, but they were physical with it," England defense coach Andy Farrell said.

With the British and Irish Lions tour less than three months away, there were squad places up for grabs as coach Warren Gatland watched on in the stands - and he couldn't have failed to have been impressed by the Wales players he leads in his full-time job.

Props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones held sway in the scrum while lock Alun-Wyn Jones and flankers Sam Warburton were ubiquitous in the loose. Halfpenny kicked his goals and didn't miss a trick in the air, while Jamie Roberts won his head-to-head against Manu Tuilagi in the battle of giant centers.

Fireworks and fire-blowers welcomed Wales onto the pitch and went off again as Jenkins raised the trophy aloft soon after the final whistle, with Wales having won its last four matches and restored its reputation.

"To lift that trophy is the best experience I have ever had," said Jenkins, who took over as captain in the absence of the injured Ryan Jones. "No one would have thought it after that first game."

Wales 30 (Alex Cuthbert 2 tries; Leigh Halfpenny 4 penalties, Dan Bigger conversion, penalty, dropped goal), England 3 (Owen Farrell penalty). HT: 9-3.

- AP

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