A rivalry defined by Grand Slams and late drama, Kit Shepard looks back on the great England v Wales clashes
England v Wales: Five of the best Six Nations matches
The fixture’s Six Nations history tells the story of Wales’ transformation from also-rans to regular title contenders, as well as England’s knack for ending up on the wrong side of tight contests.
Featuring comebacks, Grand Slams and refereeing drama, here are five of the best England v Wales Six Nations matches
Related: Six Nations England v Wales Preview
Henson sets Wales on Grand Slam path: Wales 11-9 England (2005)
England v Wales was a no-contest in the Six Nations’ early years. England won each of the first five encounters by an average margin of 26 points, as they enjoyed a golden era that delivered World Cup glory. Wales, by contrast, never finished in the top half of the Six Nations table during that stretch.
That all changed in round one in 2005, when an England side on the decline met a promising Welsh team. With a feverish Millennium Stadium sensing English vulnerability, the hosts went ahead on 10 minutes when Shane Williams scored in the corner.
It proved to be the game’s only try, but the match was pulsating throughout. Gavin Henson’s iconic tackle on Matthew Tait, where the Wales centre thwarted the debutant and carried him backwards, epitomised the encounter’s physicality.
England clawed their way to a 9-8 lead with five minutes to play, but this was Henson’s moment. The Ospreys man converted a long-range penalty from the right touchline to edge Wales back in front, and they would hold on for their first victory over England since Scott Gibbs’s famous try in 1999. The result began a Grand Slam-winning campaign for Wales and hinted at the sustained period of success that was to come.
Gatland era begins with remarkable comeback: England 19-26 Wales (2008)
Despite another home win in 2007, Wales remained underdogs on their visits to Twickenham. The 2008 trip, which followed a humiliating Rugby World Cup group stage exit and was the first match under new coach Warren Gatland, was no different.
The first half followed the script. England controlled proceedings and led 16-6 at the break after an outstanding offload from rugby league convert Lesley Vainikolo created a Toby Flood try.
The lead briefly rose to 13 before a pair of James Hook penalties cut it to seven, and then the drama began. Lee Byrne levelled the score with a 67th-minute try and Mike Phillips crossed three minutes later, finishing off a counter-attack he initiated with a charge-down.
Twickenham was left shocked while Wales, for the second time in four seasons, would win the Grand Slam after a dramatic opening weekend victory over their greatest foe. The Gatland era could not have started more appropriately.
Superman Scott and TMO controversy: England 12-19 Wales (2012)
No Welsh slam is complete without a dramatic win over the English. In 2012, Stuart Lancaster’s new-look England side faced Gatland’s World Cup semi-finalists, with both sides having perfect records after two rounds.
This was a game of big hits, marginal gains, and the boots of Owen Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny. With the sides locked at 12-12 and under five minutes remaining, something spectacular was required for victory.
And, on cue, Wales replacement Scott Williams delivered. The centre ripped the ball from Courtney Lawes on halfway, grubbered into the vacant England backfield and regathered to score, raising a triumphant arm as he dived over.
Needing a try to earn a draw, England launched a final desperate assault and appeared to have breached the Welsh line in the last play through David Strettle. However, after a nerve-jangling TMO review, no conclusive evidence that the winger had grounded the ball could be found. Wales had another win at Twickenham and, three weeks later, would have another Slam.
Slam denied in emphatic fashion: Wales 30-3 England (2013)
The following season, an opening-day defeat to Ireland scuppered Welsh hopes of back-to-back Slams. Still, they entered the final round with the chance to do the next best thing – deny England one.
Lancaster’s side had won four out of four but had shown signs of fallibility during the tournament, and they ran out of luck under the roof in Cardiff.
As if that was not enough, Wales’ huge margin of victory saw them take the title over England on points difference. It was not a Slam, but there have been few wins more satisfying for the Welsh.
Daly leaves it late to keep streak alive: Wales 16-21 England (2017)
Sick of being the loser in modern classics between the sides, England turned the tables on Wales in 2017.
Eddie Jones’ side arrived in Cardiff on a 15-match winning run and had captured an elusive Slam of their own the previous year. Still, although their opponents were without Gatland, who was on a sabbatical, the days of Wales rolling over for England were long gone.
The two sides were evenly-matched and, if anything, the hosts deserved to win. Wales led 16-14 after a Liam Williams try came in response to Ben Youngs’s score, and the end of the streak was in sight.
Yet, this iteration of Jones’s team possessed a winning habit and they capitalised on a huge error by Jonathan Davies in the 76th minute. The Lion failed to find touch with a clearance and, after inch-perfect passes from George Ford and Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly scored in the corner to secure win number 16.
High drama indeed.
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