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Men’s Rugby Union Unconvincing England dig deep for comeback victory over Wales

Hollie Davidson became the first female member of an officiating team for a men’s Six Nations game on Saturday

England 16-14 Wales
by David Nicholson
at Twickenham

A NARROW England home victory over Wales was noteworthy more for Hollie Davidson becoming the first female member of an officiating team for a men’s Six Nations game than the match itself.

Both sides are rebuilding and it takes a while for systems to work, but basic skills are non-negotiable and the game was littered by ill-discipline and mistakes.

New Zealand referee James Doleman added to the confusion with poor decision-making, especially at the scrum where he continually allowed the scrum to be reset.

England started brightly dominating possession and territory, but failing to score.

The first Welsh attack saw Ollie Chessum sent to the sin-bin for what was adjudged to be a shoulder to the head before the Welsh maul was brought down.

A penalty try was awarded to Wales and Ethan Roots was singled out by the referee for bringing down the maul and sent to the sin-bin with England reduced to 13 players for five minutes.

But the hosts hit back immediately when Ben Earl powered over from the base of a scrum, breaking four tackles before touching down with an outstretched arm.

Up stepped George Ford to take the conversion only for Wales to charge down the kick as the fly-half stepped to one side before starting his run-up.

To Ford’s astonishment, Doleman found in the visitors’ favour and England remained two points behind.

Warren Gatland’s men led at the interval after finishing the half 14-5 ahead through the penalty try and a nicely taken Alex Mann try after some excellent interplay stretched the home defence for the forward to score.

The second half was always going to be about which side made the fewer errors and centre Fraser Dingwall went over in the left corner for a home try.

Ford stepped up to land the decisive penalty in the 72nd minute, rewarding a slightly more polished second half.

New captain Jamie George had talked about his side reconnecting with fans and making Twickenham a fortress.

But the scruffy fare on offer failed to enthuse the crowd and a narrow two-point win over a new line-up of inexperienced Welshmen was hardly a warning to other teams.

Welsh coach Gatland had said he was not scared of coming to Twickenham and his latest side almost won.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t come away with a win, but I’m proud of the performance and the effort of the players,” Gatland said.

“I said to the players in the changing room that we have to be disappointed with that. We put ourselves in a position where we should have won that game.”

Both sides face daunting opponents away from home in the next round as Wales travel to Dublin to face Ireland, while England head to Edinburgh.

There is more talk in rugby circles about momentum than at a Jeremy Corbyn rally and England’s two successive victories give Coach Steve Borthwick’s side a winning boost.

The fact that they were narrow victories over the two softest sides in the tournament is a problem as England have the three toughest challenges to come.

"I am proud of the way the players stayed in the fight, that is the way a team finds a way to win,” Borthwick said.

Scotland lost narrowly at home to France in a game they should have won as Les Bleu continue to misfire without inspirational scrum-half Antoine Dupont.

The home side had a chance at the end to score the winning try but the television match official adjudged that Sam Skinner had not grounded the ball despite video evidence showing the ball touching the turf.

Coach Gregor Townsend said he and his coaching team were celebrating the try when we heard the TMO change his mind.

“We’ve got to take this defeat on the chin and get better for England,” Scots captain Finn Russell said.

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