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England beats Wales, sets up three-way fight in Six Nations

The Canadian Press

3/9/2014 1:48:42 PM

LONDON -- England secured its place in a three-way fight for the Six Nations title next weekend by blowing away Wales in a 29-18 win at Twickenham on Sunday, delivering a potent mix of clinical finishing, flawless place-kicking and non-stop intensity to capture the Triple Crown.

Welsh hopes of landing an unprecedented third straight championship outright were ended thanks to first-half tries by Danny Care and Luther Burrell and seven successful kicks - five penalties and two conversions from flyhalf Owen Farrell.

England banished the painful memories of a 30-3 loss to Wales in last season's Six Nations title decider by dominating almost every facet of a game played at a searing pace. The visitors' scrum was demolished, their tackling and handling was sloppy and they only stayed in contention because of fullback Leigh Halfpenny's own blemish-free record of six penalties.

"We've tried to remove the fear of playing, and when you've got the courage of your convictions, it generally pays off," England coach Stuart Lancaster said. "It's nice to put last year's result in Cardiff to bed. We lost fair and square on that day, but today was our day."

England joined France and Ireland on six points from four matches, setting up a thrilling last round of matches.

Owning a far superior points difference of +81, Ireland will win the title - and seal a perfect international sendoff for retiring centre Brian O'Driscoll with a victory over the French in Paris in the last of the three games.

England simply has to beat Italy in Rome, which should be a given on this performance, and hope Ireland lose. If that happens, Lancaster's side should lift the trophy for only the second time since winning the World Cup in 2003.

The English just keep raising the bar under Lancaster, who has changed the team's mentality and approach in his two years in charge. He claimed that the toughed-out 13-10 win over Ireland two weeks ago was the highlight of a reign that includes a record victory over New Zealand, but this success will take some beating.

It clinched the Triple Crown - a sweep of wins over the home unions for the first time since 2003 and was the perfect answer to a midweek taunt from Wales coach Warren Gatland - who challenged whether the English had turned from boys to men in the last 12 months.

This Wales side contained 12 players that featured in the British Lions' series-clinching win in the third test against Australia last July. Wales had more than double the amount of caps as England here.

"We didn't keep the ball well enough today, there were too many turnovers and we were hammered at the scrum very disappointing," Gatland said.

A bad day for the Welsh became even worse with the news that Halfpenny will miss the rest of this season after dislocating his right shoulder toward the end of the match.

On a red-hot day in southwest London, England brought a scorching intensity that the Welsh couldn't live with. At scrumhalf, Care was the conductor-in-chief and from one of his trademark quick taps, England went in front after just five minutes.

Care noticed Wales' defenders had turned their backs after referee Romain Poite awarded a penalty following a long advantage, and Care darted past Poite and into a gap to dive over the line. It was England's first try against Wales in 282 minutes.

Wales often had no answer to its opponent's line breaks and hard running, but with the adrenalin flowing England gave away some soft penalties at the fiercely contested breakdown that Halfpenny punished in the ninth, 23rd and 31st minutes. Two of those came from near halfway.

With Farrell booting two penalties of his own, England held a 13-9 lead just after the half hour but that lead turned to 11 points when Wales over-threw a lineout and the ball was recycled out to the English left wing, where Jonny May cut inside. Play was set up for Billy Twelvetrees to slither a grubber kick into the left corner where Burrell collected on the dive for a try, converted from out wide.

England was much the better side yet two more well-struck penalties by Halfpenny in the final three minutes saw Wales somehow jog back to the dressing rooms just five points behind.

However, Welsh errors - both handling and tactical, continued after halftime and Farrell was unforgiving from the kicking tee. England was never in danger of blowing its lead.

"We grew a lot as a team over the last year," England lock Courtney Lawes said, "and a performance like that has been a long time coming."