Wales bounce back to beat England and leapfrog New Zealand in world rankings

Wales 13-6 England: Wales will rise to the top of the world rankings for the very first time after they ground out a narrow victory over England in Cardiff

Jack de Menezes
Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Sunday 18 August 2019 08:39
Rugby World Cup 2019: England's 31-man squad

Wales made no mistake against England the second time round, as a 13-6 victory in Cardiff not only made up for their Twickenham defeat, but sent them to the top of the World Rugby rankings.

How it is worked out by World Rugby that a side who had earlier in the day thrashed Australia 36-0 can be so quickly overtaken remains a mystery, but the important lesson from the afternoon is how quickly Warren Gatland’s side responded to last week’s disappointment at Twickenham.

Their World Cup preparations are already back on track.

There would be only one try in a tight affair, with George North’s first-half score ultimately proving the difference. Five points from Dan Biggar and a long-range penalty from Leigh Halfpenny also helped to hold off the visitors, who could only muster two George Ford penalties in return.

The six tries of Twickenham last weekend felt like a long time ago with it taking 26 minutes here for the scoreboard to change. But the morning was not without drama.

First, England’s uncapped World Cup bolter Ruaridh McConnochie was replaced by Anthony Watson to rob him of his debut for the second week running. Last weekend it was a hip flexor injury. This time around it was a muscle strain. And then later the injury curse spread to Wales, too, as Liam Williams did not make it through the warm-up because of a tight hamstring. Halfpenny was to take his place at full-back.

Wales dominated the early exchanges but wayward kicking from Gareth Davies and Biggar - now their first-choice fly-half in the absence of Gareth Anscombe - meant that their possession was not transforming into anything of note.

The pair clearly knew what was going wrong, though. And a noticeable adjustment to start putting up competitive kicks instead of long-clearing ones brought Wales into the game, largely thanks to the aerial supremacy of Halfpenny, Josh Adams and North.

So it was fitting that, after Biggar kicked the opening penalty of the match, Wales scored through a try crafted in the high heavens. Having won a penalty for Anthony Watson’s deliberate knock-on – which was to earn him 10 minutes in the sin-bin – Biggar turned down the kick at goal and took a quick penalty, spotting Adams out in space on the right. The wing galloped onto the ball and beat Daly, offloading to Jonathan Davies to keep the move rolling. It was played back to Biggar, who then launched a second cross-field kick for North to collect with ease and score.

England will not be happy with the manner of the try, though. With Watson off, the visitors also saw scrum-half Willi Heinz head down the tunnel for a head-injury assessment, but for some reason his replacement Ben Youngs was not sent on.

The 10-point lead was retained until the break, but England appeared to move up through the gears after the restart, largely because of the introductions of Jamie George, Joe Marler and Owen Farrell.

Two George Ford penalties cut the deficit to four points, but as the game grew increasingly looser, both sides saw promising opportunities go begging.

Wales bounced back from last weekend's defeat

Lewis Ludlam and Maro Itoje combined to seal a crucial turnover on their own line, while a breakaway from George and Anthony Watson ended in a Wales scrum and a 46-man flare-up, such was the increasing tension.

But England looked to have worked themselves a late chance to draw the match, with Farrell making a half-break that brought a penalty deep in Welsh territory. The replacement skipper sent the ball to touch on the five-metre line, but despite getting strong go-forward with the driving maul, Wales managed to kill the ball and with it, the match.

With just five weeks to go until the opening match in Japan, Wales already find themselves on top of the world.

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