ENGLAND pulled off an astonishing comeback from the dead to bring Twickenham to its feet.
But Steve Borthwick’s men paid a heavy price with both skipper Owen Farrell and scrum half Jack van Poortvliet left sweating on their World Cup hopes.
Owen Farrell saw red and could miss the start of the World Cup[/caption]
A remarkable evening brought an almost inconceivable England second-half implosion which saw them down to 12 players at one point.
When Tomas Williams ploughed through the wide open spaces to put Wales – nine points down at one stage – eight points ahead, the only question seemed to be whether England would completely capitulate.
Yet that was followed by an equally unfathomable response.
Out of nowhere, England suddenly discovered hope, belief, desire, determination.
An old-fashioned forward drive to the Welsh line ended with Maro Itoje bulldozing over for England’s first try of the warm-up games.
And with the Twickenham fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief, the boos after Joe Marchant’s ‘try’ was rightly chalked off were soon replaced by victory roars as George Ford kicked the winning penalty.
It was all hard to come to terms with – although for Van Poortvliet and Farrell, the consequences will be digested over days and weeks.
The Leicester No9 may be ruled out of the tournament altogether, looking bereft as he was helped off the field after Marchant had accidentally stepped on the back of his ankle in the first half.
But there was no real pity for Farrell, who will again have to plead for leniency after he was rightly sent off – after a review from the TMO ‘bunker’ for a shoulder-first tackle into the head of Taine Basham.
Farrell, who only got the green light to play in the Six Nations after attending World Rugby’s “tackle school”, will be sweating on the ban that will follow for his latest indiscretion.
And if he does have to miss the World Cup opener against Argentina next month, he can have no real arguments.
To be fair, after 68 minutes, you would not have really put a price on England in that clash in Marseille.
A first half of missed chances, poor passes and knock-ons in contact had not prevented them from taking that 9-0 lead, courtesy of three Farrell penalties, the third after Tommy Reffell saw yellow.
Even at that point, England’s inability to give Henry Arundell a proper chance to run with the ball – he had hands on it just twice either side of his own yellow card for preventing Liam Williams’ quickly-taken mark was another failure.
Yet what followed was beyond indiscipline, beyond explanation. Simply, utterly, ludicrous.
Freddie Steward was sent to the sin bin for this tackle on Josh Adams[/caption]
Farrell kicked nine points for England before his early bath[/caption]
Two yellow cards in a minute, first for Ellis Genge soon after his arrival for a 50th cap, and then Freddie Steward when the full-back conceded a penalty try for a mid-air tackle on Josh Adams, were bad enough.
England’s self-inflicted woes then sent them down to 12.
Farrell initially only saw yellow for his latest tackling indiscretion, although he must have known what was coming.
It eventually did, the decision to upgrade confirmed at the instant Itoje rumbled over.
Yet from the depths of despair, England had, somehow, found a cause.
And, then, a win.
Marchant’s dive to grab Ford’s corner kick was rightly ruled to have ended in a spill as he tried to ground the ball yet the penalty was already in the offing.
Ford kept his head when most around were losing theirs. England, somehow, had won. But at a price. A major price.
Maro Itoje scored a crucial try to help inspire the comeback[/caption]
Joe Marchant was denied a stunning score when he could not take hold of the ball[/caption]