AFTER the mutiny, there was no bounty for Wales as England ground out victory in a Six Nations, high on tension but low on quality.
Warren Gatland’s men had threatened to go on strike and have this fixture called off – and if they had downed tools, we would have lost precious little in entertainment value.
Anthony Watson scored the first of England’s three tries[/caption]
Watson went over on his return to the side[/caption]
Tries from Anthony Watson, on his first start for two years, Kyle Sinckler and Ollie Lawrence earned Steve Borthwick’s side a welcome win.
Welsh industrial action was only averted when a compromise deal over playing conditions and the lessening of the controversial 60-cap rule was thrashed out less than 72 hours before kick-off.
And England, while far from fluent, capitalised on the chaos to win what was likely to prove a play-off for fourth place in this tournament.
There was little here to suggest that Borthwick’s side are capable of troubling either France or Grand Slam-chasing Ireland in their final two fixtures – but victories in Cardiff are always cherished by English rugby men, whatever the circumstances.
Owen Farrell kicked a conversion and a penalty but also missed opportunities[/caption]
Unlike nurses, paramedics, teachers and train drivers, it is unlikely that striking Welsh rugby players would have been missed much anyway, such was their recent form.
But even though the pre-match male-voice choir were banned from signing Delilah at least there was still a match on, line-outs not picket lines, and the locals were fired up for it.
Cardiff city centre on Wales-England day is like a vast dystopian stag do, to which the entire nation seems to have been invited.
It was unclear early on whether the Welsh dispute would act as a powerful bonding exercise or an exhausting hindrance.
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When a Freddie Steward kick was charged down by Taulupe Faletau in the opening minute, and cheered to the rafters, it felt like the former might be true.
But England soon settled, and enjoyed a decent spell, looking to play a more expansive game than we have been used to for some time.
After Owen Farrell’s long-range penalty opened the scoring, Borthwick’s side started slinging it about with pace and purpose.
Max Malins burst through the Welsh lines and England rapidly worked it out to the left flank where Alex Dombrandt’s pass sent Watson crashing over the line.
The Leicester wing has had a nightmarish time with injuries but this was the perfect way in which to mark his first international start since 2021.
But as in their opening-day defeat by Scotland, the English failed to seize the initiative once they had scored.
Farrell’s conversion attempt struck the post and when Dombrandt conceded a penalty from the restart Leigh Halfpenny’s kick reduced the deficit to five.
England were physically superior, dominant in the scrum and clobbering full-back Halfpenny at every opportunity.
Steve Borthwick’s side ground out a win over Wales[/caption]
But Farrell squandered a fairly straightforward penalty as the visitors struggled to turn pressure into points.
And the tide began to turn before half-time, when England twice thwarted their hosts within inches of the line.
Immediately after the restart, Malins sent a dozy pass straight to Louis Rees-Zammit who surged for the line to bring the house down, Halfpenny taking care of the afters.
This stung England into life and from a line-out, Sinckler forced his way through a mass of bodies to score beneath the posts, quelling the roars of the locals.
It was scrappy, attritional stuff between two fearful sides.
Borthwick’s side won a scrum penalty but Farrell missed again, his goal-kicking becoming a concern for England.
With nerves frayed on either side, Halfpenny dropped a routine Farrell kick, inviting severe pressure but England were penalised close to the Welsh line.
Finally England forced their way over to secure victory, Steward finding Lawrence, who forced his way over to break Welsh resistance.
England have now won two of their three Six Nations matches so far[/caption]