England coach Eddie Jones praised his side’s “courage” after they saw off Wales 12-6 at a rainswept Twickenham to preserve an unbeaten start to their Six Nations title defence.
Jones’s men were 12-0 up come the 20-minute mark after wing Jonny May crossed twice for his first two Championship tries.
But Owen Farrell’s conversion of May’s second try marked the end of England’s points-scoring and they had to defend resolutely, with replacement back-row forward Sam Underhill making a superb try-saving tackle on Wales centre Scott Williams in the second half.
This was a very different contest from the 46-15 Rome rout of Italy with which England launched their title defence as Wales, who had enjoyed one day’s more preparation, pressed hard after a poor start.
“The win was built around a lot of courage and a lot of belief in the team,” Jones said.
“I thought the execution of the game plan by the players was absolutely outstanding and our application of courage and effort in defence was first-class.”
The Championship will take one of its traditional breaks following Scotland’s match against France on Sunday, with England resuming their bid for an unprecedented third successive outright Six Nations title away to the Scots on February 24.
‘A terrible mistake’
But Jones, whose ultimate goal with England is to win the 2019 World Cup in Japan, promised there would be no let-up ahead of a potentially tricky clash at Murrayfield.
“When you have success, it is easy to sit back and complacency sits next to you. It is important we keep doing those things that allow you to win those arm-wrestles,” explained the Australian, who has now won 24 of his 25 Teats in charge of England.
But it might have been a different story for England if Wales’s Gareth Anscombe had been awarded a try in the 24th minute, soon after May’s second score.
Anscombe appeared to get to the ball ahead of covering England wing Anthony Watson.
But television match official Glenn Newman ruled Anscombe, only playing at fullback after Leigh Halfpenny was ruled out with a foot infection shortly before kick-off, had not grounded the ball correctly and disallowed the try.
Former Australia and Japan coach Jones tried to downplay the incident by saying: “We have a guy up there that is a referee. He has got time to make a decision, and if he can’t make the right decision then what do we do?”
Unsurprisingly Wales boss Warren Gatland, whose side arrived at Twickenham buoyed by an opening 34-7 thrashing of Scotland, took a different view.
“You get a guy over from New Zealand to be the TMO, he has one big call to make and unfortunately he’s made a terrible mistake,” Gatland said of his Kiwi compatriot’s decision.
Jones had made it clear in the build-up that England would target Wales’s “third-choice” fly-half Rhys Patchell, who impressed against Scotland when given a chance following injuries to Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland.
Patchell was beaten in the air by Watson during the build-up to May’s opening try in the third minute, setting the tone for a match where England fullback Mike Brown once more showed his composure under the high ball.
“I thought England dominated the aerial battle and as a result they probably dominated territory and possession – that was what hurt us,” said Gatland after the lowest-scoring Anglo-Welsh encounter since Wales’s 11-3 win at Twickenham in 1988.
As for Patchell’s performance, the Wales coach added: “He would have learnt a lot from today’s game and he’ll go away with things to work on.”
Wales continue their Championship away to Ireland in a fortnight and Gatland said the experience of Saturday’s match would serve them well in Dublin.
“It’ll probably be quite attritional in the way that Ireland play and depending on the weather conditions.
“We’ll expect something similar in a couple of weeks time.”