By Rich Jones
Wales launched a remarkable late fightback but saw their Six Nations dreams brought to an abrupt halt by a 25-21 defeat against England at Twickenham.
Late tries from George North and Toby Faletau saw Warren Gatland’s side come within a whisker of completing one of the all-time great rugby comebacks.
However, they were ultimately made to pay the price for a lifeless, error-strewn first half performance as England completed the Triple Crown and gained revenge for last year’s World Cup heartache.
Straight from kick-off the visitors were forced to withstand heavy English pressure as they twice thought they had scored only to be denied by the TMO.
Ben Youngs was the first to be called back for a knock-on as he dived on a loose ball from a scrappy breakdown in the third minute before Gareth Davies excellently held up Dan Cole after a quarter of an hour.
England nonetheless emerged with a nine point lead to show for their early dominance as Owen Farrell slotted over three straightforward penalties, and with Wales continuing to struggle at the breakdown and in the scrum there was no respite.
After threatening from the outset, England finally crossed over after 33 minutes as the impressive Maro Itoje shrugged off Dan Biggar to break clear, setting free Mike Brown who fed Anthony Watson to score in the corner.
Another cool kick from Farrell added the extras and at half-time it was all England.
When the second half got underway, Wales finally enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure in England territory – yet when they were penalised at the scrum it seemed their chance was gone.
However, Biggar charged down a kick from opposite number George Ford and duly scored under the posts to give his side a lifeline with half an hour remaining.
They were dealt a blow as skipper Sam Warburton was stretched off following a nasty collision knocked him unconscious, although he was fortunately able to offer a reassuring thumbs up as he was carried from the field.
Whilst Wales were much-improved at the scrum with the introduction of a new front row, England remained sharp at the breakdown with two quick-fire penalties from Farrell seemingly ending the game as a contest with just over ten minutes remaining.
Yet a wonderful offload from the lively Liam Williams allowed Jonathan Davies to burst clear and set free North under the posts with five minutes to go.
When Faletau hammered his way through just three minutes later and replacement fly-half Rhys Priestland slotted over his second conversion it appeared a quite unbelievable comeback may be on the cards.
Unfortunately, it was not to be as England stood firm, forcing North into touch as he burst into the 22 in search of the winning try to bring a breathless encounter to a close.
Whilst Wales showed plenty of character in the final ten minutes, it was nonetheless a disappointing performance as their flat first half showing ultimately left them with too much to do.
For England, it was a largely dominant display as they completed just their second Triple Crown in over a decade and set-up a mouth-watering encounter with France in Paris next weekend to complete the Grand Slam.