England survive late mayhem to pass fierce Wales test and seal Triple Crown
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Neither was particularly edifying but, in these days of coronavirus and flooding wreaking such havoc, nothing tends to surprise.
Jones’s inference that referee Ben O’Keeffe aided Wales in any way during this absorbing Test match was risible.
The New Zealander had red-carded England centre Manu Tuilagi for a no-arms head hit on George North in the 75th minute.
They were already down to 14 men at the time after Ellis Genge’s yellow card.
Replacement full-back Henry Slade excelled racing across to deny winger North with a perfect tackle into touch.
A desperate Tuilagi had offered support, too, but replays showed, in doing so, his shoulder made contact with his opponent’s head.
England were 33-16 ahead but conceded two late converted tries to Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar to almost come unstuck.
In a withering post-match assessment, Jones claimed it was a “bizarre” decision, adding the no-arms aspect was “absolute rubbish” given his player was simply trying to kill the tackle and there was a lack of “common sense” applied by the official.
But he also said: “We were expecting a tough Test right to the end and we got it – but when you get 13 against 16, it’s pretty hard.”
O’Keeffe, though, cannot be blamed in any way.
Rules clearly state that a shoulder charge – no arms arms tackle – direct to the head or neck of the ball carrier results in a red card.
Granted, it was widely conceded Tuilagi – who apologised and embraced North as he departed the field – could have done little else in that situation, given his opponent was falling towards him.
However, O’Keefe is not allowed to apply “common sense”, only to adhere to the rule.
The sport’s governing body has rightly made changes to try and minimise head injuries but this was an example of where that rule needs to be relaxed.
Tuilagi is only the sixth England player to be sent off in their 149-year history of Test matches (Mike Burton’s dismissal in the Battle of Brisbane in 1975 was the first) but if this rule is not altered, that number could easily double before the next World Cup.
Joe Marler, meanwhile, was the player caught on television replays ‘squeezing’ Wyn Jones’s nether regions after a large-scale scuffle in the eighth minute of a feisty Six Nations encounter.
The England prop was seen smirking while his bemused opponent turned to the officials looking for some action to be taken.
They did not see the incident but Marler will surely be cited.
He has become renowned for his eccentric behaviour and that, largely, has been a breath of fresh air in the sport. However, this took things too far and any ban should certainly be greater than any punishment Tuilagi receives.
Wyn Jones should not have had to face questions about such matters in the aftermath of such a quality Test match. He was clearly disappointed with what occurred but admitted he could not react in fear of being dismissed himself so rather diplomatically suggested World Rugby might look at it.
Scrum-half Ben Youngs excelled in his 99th Test, providing the impetus, dash and guile in all three of England’s tries.
But he was well-supported by the likes of No8 Tom Curry and Maro Itojoe, who both proved towering in the Red Rose pack.
They got off to a flying start when Anthony Watson, the winger playing his first Test since the World Cup final, latched onto Youngs’s inside pass after a clever line-out set move. Owen Farrell converted and exchanged penalties with Biggar before England added their second try via Elliot Daly – the last England player to be sent off in 2016 – who had switched to the wing following Jonny May’s early concussion.
Biggar added his third penalty with the last play of the first period and then converted after a stunning try straight from the kick-off in the second period.
Tipuric finished off the lightening raid that was initiated down their right flank and suddenly England were in touching distance. But Farrell’s boot and a Tuilagi try in the 61st minute got them clear again until that mayhem in the closing stages.
George Kruis waved to the crowd as he was replaced suggesting the England lock is on his way to play club rugby in Japan.
He claimed he was waving to his mum but, interestingly, Jones said: “Just because he goes to Japan doesn’t mean he can’t play for England.”
England, with their final game in Rome postponed due to the corona virus, claimed the Triple Crown with a third straight win, fallen champions Wales suffering a trio of successive Six Nations defeats for the first time since 2007.
England: Daly; Watson, Tuilagi, Farrell, May (Slade 8); Ford, Youngs (Heinz 70); Marler, George (Cowan-Dickie 58), Sinckler (Genge 66 -Stuart 78)), Itoje, Kruis (Launchbury 58), Lawes (Ewels 66-Marler 76), Wilson (Earl 76), Curry.
Wales: Halfpenny; North, Tompkins, Parkes, L Williams (McNicholl 66); Biggar, T Williams (Webb 46); Evans (Carre 58) , Owens (Elias 75), Lewis (Brown 40), Ball (Shingler 58), Wyn Jones, Moriarty (Faletau 58), Tipuric, Navidi.