Rugby Union: End of England's dream

Wales 32 England 31 Tries: Howarth, Gibbs Tries: Luger, Hanley, Hill Conversions: Jenkins 2 Conversions: Wilkinson 2 Penalties: Jenkins 6 Penalties Wilkinson 4 Half-time: 18-25 Attendance: 75,000

THE WELSH have been enjoying the green, green grass of someone else's home for two long years now and yesterday afternoon, their English landlords marched into Wembley to reclaim the title deeds. They left empty- handed.

Scott Gibbs, the sort of squatter no police force would even contemplate trying to shift without three different court orders and a riot squad in support, broke the red rose defence - and its heart - clean asunder in the first minute of injury time to deny the overwhelming favourites a fourth Grand Slam in nine years and a first under the joint stewardship of Clive Woodward and Lawrence Dallaglio.

As a finale, it was no more than a classic Anglo-Welsh contest deserved. Gibbs' try was a mind-boggling combination of the rapier and the broadsword as he busted and sidestepped English tacklers by the half-dozen, starting with Tim Rodber and ending with the debutant, Steve Hanley.

Wales were a point adrift even then, but there was not the remotest possibility of Neil Jenkins missing a do-or-die conversion from 20-odd metres. Old Jug-Ears would have slotted it home had it been from his own 22, let alone England's.

Dallaglio, certainly England's stand-out performer and quite probably the man of this nerve-shredding occasion, was left to contemplate the Celtic double whammy to end them all: defeat by Wales and Scotland in the same afternoon. The triumph of Red Dragonhood presented the Five Nations' Championship to Scotland, whose equally vibrant victory in Paris on Saturday left them comfortably in the box seat in terms of points difference. It was certainly not a day for the smoked salmon set who had so blithely swapped Twickenham's West car park for the wilds of North West London.

Perversely, Wales will never again play in the shadow of the twin towers: their own Millennium Stadium, reaching ever upwards on the Cardiff skyline, will soon be ready to receive them. Still, they will be tempted to rip up the Wembley greensward by its roots and cart it down the M4. Having been left for dead by a confident England during the first 40 minutes, they drew so much physical and spiritual sustenance from the half-time break that they proceeded to cover the finest playing surface in world rugby like a red shroud.

In their funereal mood, England will remember Andre Watson, the South African referee, as their hanging judge and undertaker. They can have few complaints about the torrent of penalty awards that helped the relentless Jenkins keep his countrymen at the races during a first half entirely dominated by England: some of the offences, like Neil Back's bone-headed refusal to give up the ball after the whistle, deserved whatever punishment the Pontypridd stand-off felt equipped to dish out. But was Tim Rodber's thunderous assault on Colin Charvis in injury time a fair hit or a calculated misdemeanour? That one will rage for ever and a day.

Charvis, running the ball out of the Welsh 22 in a desperate attempt to spark something that might wipe out his side's six-point deficit, came up against Rodber in his "this far and no further" guise. It looked a reasonable tackle, even though the Swansea flanker was left on the floor in a dozen pieces, but Watson saw it differently, yellow-carding the Englishman for a shoulder charge. And to think JPR Williams once won a Grand Slam for Wales with what has always been described in the valleys as "the shoulder charge from heaven".

Jenkins, swinging the priceless tool of his trade like Tiger Woods in a smooth groove, banged his penalty punt from one 22 to the other, and when Chris Wyatt, magnificent in the Welsh second-row, won the line-out with an arching stretch of the back, Gibbs was duly released on his glory run into history. England, a point adrift and horribly aware that they had only 60 short seconds to conjure a reply, quickly worked Mike Catt into drop-goal range, but Catt is no Jenkins. He sliced his opportunity and knew instantly that he would not be granted a second chance.

The comforting events of the first half, which included a slashing try for Dan Luger on two minutes and an imperious first-cap gallop to the line for Hanley at the end of the opening quarter, now seemed light years away to English minds. Dallaglio, aided and abetted by the faithful Richard Hill and some productive ploughing from the tractors in the front five, denied the Welsh meaningful possession for minutes on end: indeed, the "home" side, so to speak, had to wait until injury time to put together anything resembling a sustained attacking move. And no, it did not result in a try. Just another Jenkins penalty, his sixth.

Indeed, when Gareth Thomas and Shane Howarth made the mother of all nonsenses of a straightforward Dawson punt two minutes before the break - the unflagging Hill was there to hoover up the spilled ball and crash over in Mark Taylor's tackle - the whole affair looked done and dusted. No such English luck. Back's uncharacteristic fumble in the opening minute of the second half gave the Welsh the platform to manufacture a clever right-flag try for Howarth and from that point, it was an afternoon for neurotics. Most of them, if not all, turned out to be wearing white shirts rather than red.

"I thought it was close to the posts but really I felt comfortable all day," Jenkins said. "I'm so chuffed for the boys, the management and all the fans. It's been brilliant."

Howarth said he owed his thanks for his effort to a pin-point ball from Jenkins.

"Thanks Jenks," he said on television after the game.

Asked if he had known anything like it as an All Black, the full-back said: "I've never experienced anything like this. It's great to repay the fans like that. We didn't repay them in the first half but we repaid them with a bit of magic from the two old fellas in the midfield."

WALES: S Howarth (Sale); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Pontypridd); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (London Irish), G Jenkins (Swansea), B Evans (Swansea), C Quinnell (Richmond), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), B Sinkinson (Neath). Replacements: N Walne (Richmond) for Thomas, 63; A Lewis (Cardiff) for Rogers, 68; D Young (Cardiff) for Evans, 68.

ENGLAND: M Perry (Bath); D Luger (Harlequins), B-J Mather (Sale), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), S Hanley (Sale); M Catt (Bath), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), N Back (Leicester).

Referee: A Watson (South Africa).

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