England survived repeated second-half comebacks from Wales to keep their Guinness Six Nations title hopes alive with a 23-19 victory at Twickenham.
Marcus Smith notched six penalties to keep Eddie Jones’ men clear, although there were nuances in the 2015 World Cup group clash – Wales’ solitary victory at Twickenham at the over the past decade – as a comfortable lead crumbled.
On that occasion, 17-0 became 17-12 as Josh Adams and Nick Tompkins crossed in the third quarter, capping a period of dominance from the champions, but Smith calmed the nerves with two timely penalties.
England ended a lackluster first half plagued by a drawn out game of stops and starts 12-0 up front, but when Alex Dombrandt brilliantly completed an opportunistic try the game came to life.
Wales finally found their mojo to shake up the home side but they lacked the firepower to keep the momentum going as their opponents showed resilience with Dombrandt and Ellis Genge at the heart of a period important after Tompkins had scored.
A try from Kieran Hardy added to the tension in the closing seconds as a final push was staged without reward.
For a second game in a row, Smith was named man of the match and apart from his 18 points, his repeated attempts to unleash a labored attack drew attention.
England revealed their revamped backline shortly before kick-off and in the vacuum created by Manu Tuilagi’s strained hamstring, Elliot Daly entered, with Henry Slade moving inside the center.
But for most of the first half play completely bypassed midfield as Smith’s first two penalties set the tone until the interval.
Alex Cuthbert quickly became Wales’ most potent threat as he bulldozed his way through several white shirts, but his side were whistled by referee Mike Adamson, who had earlier hit a tap-try and-go from Tomos Williams not to be pulled from the right-hand mark.
England were nearly finished in the 20th minute but Charlie Ewels fell just short of the line and Liam Williams was sent to the trash for illegally dislodging the ball from the hands of the Bath lock.
Play slowed to a snail’s pace as the home scrum sought the breakthrough until Kyle Sinckler, earning his 50th cap, was finally penalised.
Luke Cowan-Dickie’s afternoon was over, damaging his right leg and as England quickly returned to attack the game continued its scruffy trajectory with barnstorming runs from Cuthbert the culmination of a first lifeless halftime.
A third penalty from Smith extended the lead, but neither team looked able to gain control as Welsh attempts to fire their attack saw them simply move sideways down the field.
Smith desperately tried to inject some pace into the game and after two half breaks his side responded with their most incisive attack which ended with his opener uncovering the posts.
England started the second half with the same intention and they were rewarded with their only try, although they needed a helping hand from a terrible shot from Ryan Elias.
The ball sailed high over the jumpers for Wales and fell into the arms of Dombrandt who accelerated towards the line, mounted a tackle from Cuthbert and hit the ground with an outstretched arm.
Stung into action, the champions responded with a sustained attacking spell that ended when Williams brilliantly fed Adams who exposed the blocked Slade to score with a change of pace.
Wales were now in full swing as they came from deep within their own half, their back activating the afterburners to devastating effect.
Attention turned to their pack as they pulled away down the line, led by Taulupe Faletau, and with a long overlap created, Tompkins was able to beef up with Biggar’s conversion.
England’s position looked increasingly precarious but Ben Youngs came on for a record 115th cap and Smith eased the tension with back-to-back penalties.
Hardy landed with seconds to spare to set up a stand finish before Wales’ search for the winning try ended when they were penalised.