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England close in on title after late Welsh scare, Ireland win

England’s Maro Itoje (right) holds off Welsh player Bradley Davies.

England’s Maro Itoje (right) holds off Welsh player Bradley Davies.

England survived a terrific late Welsh surge to put one hand on their first Six Nations title for five years as an Anthony Watson try and 20 points for Owen Farrell helped them beat Wales 25-21 in a Twickenham thriller yesterday.

The win secured the triple crown and sends England into their final game in France next week on course for a first grand slam since 2003.

England’s 58-point advantage over France, who visit Scotland today, means even a heavy defeat in Paris would be unlikely to deprive them of the title.

A Scotland win at Murrayfield would guarantee England top spot.

“The grand slam is a reality and we can’t wait to get to Paris and to do the business,” said England coach Eddie Jones.

“We need to prepare well and the grand slam is there for us to take.”

With Wales due to host Italy in their final match, yesterday’s Twickenham showdown was effectively a title decider – as well as a chance for some England revenge for their World Cup defeat – yet it was one-way traffic from the start.

England looked sharper and hungrier during one of the most dominant halves seen in a game between the two old rivals for many years. After 20 minutes three Farrell penalties had made it 9-0 and Wales had not created an attack.

England turned round 16-0 up at the break and soon stretched it with another penalty but then gifted Wales a lifeline when Dan Biggar charged down George Ford to score under the posts.

England looked unruffled though and added two more penalties.

In the last 10 minutes, however, with replacement scrumhalf Rhys Priestland pulling the strings and England down to 14 men after a yellow for Dan Cole, Wales suddenly rediscovered their verve.

George North and Taulupe Faletau scored within four minutes to cut the deficit to four and change the whole atmosphere.

Wales still had time to launch another attack but Manu Tuilagi, on as a replacement for the first time in almost two years, foiled it.

In yesterday’s opening game, holders Ireland rediscovered their form to record their first victory of this year’s championship, running in nine tries to thrash Italy 58-15.

Ireland had managed just two tries in their opening three games but had doubled that amount in the first half as Andrew Trimble, Jack McGrath, CJ Stander and the pick of the bunch from Jamie Heaslip overwhelmed bottom-of-the-table Italy.

There was no let up in the second half as Heaslip grabbed a second try and Jared Payne, Sean Cronin, Ian Madigan and Fergus McFadden got in on the act.

Results
Ireland vs Italy - 58-15
England vs Wales - 25-21

Playing today
Scotland vs France16.00

Standings
England (4-0-0) 8; Wales (2-1-1) 5; France (2-0-1) 4; Ireland (1-1-2) 3; Scotland (1-0-2) 2; Italy (0-0-4) 0.

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