Wales’ brief reign as the world’s top-ranked team was ended in smashing fashion at Twickenham on Sunday.
An experimental England team not only ended the Welsh’s 14-match winning streak, but the 33-19 demolition of their Six Nations rivals also meant New Zealand returned to the top of the world rankings 24 hours after conceding it to Wales.
The All Blacks’ 26-47 loss to the Wallabies in Perth this past Saturday saw Wales overtake the Kiwis.
That all changed back on Sunday with England’s win in a World Cup warm-up match.
Wales have not won at Twickenham since the last World Cup and never looked like ending that run to spoil the occasion of skipper Alun Wyn Jones becoming his nation’s most capped player.
Wales were taken aback by the ferocity of a England line-up featuring only a handful of regular first-choice starters – in what was England’s final match before coach Eddie Jones names his World Cup squad on Monday.
Wales found themselves 17 points behind early in the second half.
But despite two Wales tries in quick succession from powerhouse wing George North and replacement prop Wyn Jones – the latter converted by Dan Biggar – that cut the gap to just five points, England held their nerve.
The pack’s pressure allowed George Ford to kick three second-half penalties that saw England end the match well ahead.
All of England’s three tries, each converted by Ford, came in a first half that ended with them 21-7 ahead after Vunipola, Joe Cokanasiga and Luke Cowan-Dickie crossed Wales’ line.
The bulk of the Wales side at Twickenham had clinched this season’s Six Nations Grand Slam.
England, by contrast, were fielding an experimental side, with scrum-half Willi Heinz given a Test debut and named vice-captain.
Moreover, they had been forced into three late changes after injuries to centre Henry Slade, flanker Sam Underhill and wing Ruaridh McConnochie.
As a result, Jonathan Joseph, Cokanasiga and Lewis Ludlum were all propelled into the starting XV, with Mike Brown and Ben Te’o not even in the squad after a reported training camp bust-up.
And yet it was England who were 14-0 as early as the 15th minute following two converted tries.
An early catch by the returning Anthony Watson led to a fine collective drive by the pack after good work by Heinz.
That in turn yielded a close-range scrum and, as the ensuing maul threatened to collapse, powerhouse No.8 Vunipola ripped the ball clear to force his way over the line.
It was not long before England had their second try when, from a five-metre scrum, fly-half Ford and Heinz combined to work the ball on the left hand side before powerhouse wing Cokanasiga crashed over.
A brilliant solo effort from scrum-half Gareth Davies got Wales back into the game in the 22nd minute.
From some 35 metres out, he burst off the back of a scrum, went through a gap between Heinz and Cokanasiga before sidestepping England fullback Elliot Daly for a superb score.
England lost impressive flanker Tom Curry to injury and Wales saw flyhalf Anscombe go off before the break as well.
But despite Curry’s absence, England’s pack were still on top and late in the first half they forced a breakdown penalty which in turn led to a Wales line-out near the visitors’ line.
Wales hooker Ken Owens missed captain Alun Wyn Jones, making his 135th Test appearance, and hooker Cowan-Dickie caught the ball to score his first Test try.
An early second-half penalty saw Ford extend England’s lead to 24-7.
But Wales hit back when North powered over from a close range scrum, although replacement fly-half Biggar missed the conversion and they soon had another try when, after several phases replacement Wyn Jones went over after Justin Tipuric was held up.
This time Biggar converted but Ford gave England breathing space with three penalties, the lasting putting England 30-19 up with just seven minutes left
And there was still time for Daly to put the icing on the cake with a 77th-minute drop-goal to the delight of a capacity crowd of over 80,000.
Replacement scrumhalf Ben Youngs had a last-minute try ruled out for a forward pass but there was no denying this was England’s day.
Tries: Vunipola, Cokanasiga, Cowan-Dickie
Cons: Ford 3
Pens: Ford 3
Tries: Davies, North, W Jones
Cons: Anscombe, Biggar
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 George Ford (captain), 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Currie, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Jack Singleton, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 George Kruis, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Joe Marchant, 23 Manu Tuilagi.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Alex Ruiz (France)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
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