LONDON (Reuters) - Two first-half tries by winger Jonny May proved the difference as holders England beat a gutsy Wales side 12-6 in an absorbing Six Nations battle at Twickenham on Saturday.
On a freezing wet day in west London hardly conducive to silky skills, May capitalised on two moments of magic as England claimed a 15th successive home victory in the competition to stay joint top of the standings with Ireland.
England led 12-3 at the interval and although Wales threw everything at them in the second half they could not penetrate the white wall in front of them.
Gareth Anscombe’s late penalty, the only points in the second half, gave Wales a flicker of hope but England held out to record their 24th win in 25 games under Eddie Jones.
Wales, who started with 10 players from regional side Scarlets, could feel justifiably hard done by, though, after a key TMO decision went against them.
Fullback Anscombe, in for the injured Leigh Halfpenny, had a try controversially disallowed before the break after the video referee adjudged he had not grounded the ball.
England were also indebted to an astonishing try-saving tackle by replacement flanker Sam Underhill who denied Scott Williams what looked like being a certain score.
“It was a good old-fashioned arm wrestle today but we’re getting good at winning those arm wrestles,” Jones said.
“It’s great to see that when we’re not quite at our best we are getting the results. I never thought it would be a routine win. Wales are tough, well-coached and a good side.”
Wales coach Warren Gatland was proud of his team’s display but was left to rue the TMO decision.
“It looked like a try to me,” he said.
England got off to a flying start and were a try to the good with only three minutes on the clock.
Anthony Watson got the better of fly-half Rhys Patchell to knock back a 50-50 high ball and when Owen Farrell gathered he instantly spotted a yawning gap behind Welsh lines.
His grubber-kick was perfect and there was only going to be one winner as May raced through to gather and dive over.
“Only one player in the team could have scored that,” Jones said of his flying winger.
Farrell missed the conversion and Rhys Patchell failed with a long-range penalty for Wales before England launched a concerted assault on the Welsh line.
Wales defended desperately as England battered away for phase after phase but eventually cracked when lock Joe Launchbury off-loaded superbly in the corner to open the door for May to make the short dash to the line.
This time Farrell kicked the conversion.
Anscombe appeared to have scored for Wales when he seized on Patchell’s kick but French referee Jerome Garces took the decision upstairs and the video official deemed that Jonathan Joseph had got the first touch and that Anscombe had not applied enough downward pressure on the ball.
All Wales had to show for their first half effort was Patchell’s penalty.
England made a change at the interval with Underhill replacing Sam Simmonds in the back row and they were forced into another substitution when Watson tweaked a hamstring and was replaced by Jack Nowell.
Wales made little headway as handling errors and England’s tackling frustrated their efforts but when George North replaced Patchell with 25 minutes left Wales began to take control.
When the visitors did finally open up England Williams was denied by Underhill’s heroic last-ditch tackle.
In the end, England needed all eight replacements to subdue Wales and stay on course for an unprecedented third straight Six Nations title.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond