Wales become No 1 after beating England 13-6 in Cardiff
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales became the No. 1-ranked test team for the first time after a 13-6 rebound win against England at home on Saturday, a month out from the Rugby World Cup.
Just six days after being thrashed by England 33-19 at Twickenham, Wales dominated the return match. It scored the only try to deservedly win the first half 10-0, and produced a typically strong defensive effort in Cardiff to hold out England in the second.
Wales became only the fourth team to reach No. 1 since the rankings began in 2003 and took over from New Zealand, which had held top spot since November 2009. The All Blacks were far more impressive hours earlier in their own 36-0 rebound win over Australia in Auckland, but Wales coach Warren Gatland was rapt that his players delivered the response he demanded after they were humbled last weekend.
Gatland was even more impressed that his patched-up side held together. Fullback Liam Williams was withdrawn with a tight hamstring just before kickoff, giving Leigh Halfpenny his first cap this year, and replacement flanker Aaron Shingler finished at lock and backup hooker Elliot Dee on the flank. They combined to ruin a last-gasp England lineout drive just four meters from the Wales tryline.
"No one panicked, everyone did their job. To see those players comfortable handling that was pretty good," Gatland said. "That showed great character ... Other teams are going to beat us but if you do you're going to have to play pretty well because they're not going to give it up easy."
England counterpart Eddie Jones, whose own side could have become No. 1 with a win, was also pleased.
"It was a perfect World Cup prep game up for us, absolutely perfect," Jones said. "We found out about the mentality of our young players, we found out we have a really good cohesiveness in the squad because they fought hard for each other in difficult situations, and we'll leave here with a smile on our face."
They had nothing to smile about early on as England failed to score a point in the first half for the first time since the 2011 World Cup match against France. Last weekend, England started fast and edged the set-pieces, but Wales held their own and didn't give the visitors a sniff of the tryline under the roof, which was closed despite it being a dry, summer day.
Still, it took a yellow card against England wing Anthony Watson in the 31st minute for Wales to score a try. While England also used the break in play to try and make a substitution, Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar showed his 71 caps of experience to play quick. He sent a crosskick right to wing Josh Adams, Wales recycled, and his crosskick left to North was caught and scored from.
Biggar started after incumbent Gareth Anscombe was lost for the season because of a knee injury last weekend. Wales great JJ Williams cast doubt during the week on Wales being able to win the World Cup with Biggar starting at No. 10. Biggar, named man of the match, thanked Williams sarcastically afterward for the "motivating" comments.
But Biggar's willingness in a warmup game to throw his body about, including jumping on Maro Itoje to stop the runaway lock, would have concerned Gatland. Biggar was replaced five minutes from time with a stinger to his arm and a tight groin.
The second half was scrappy as Wales tired and England tried to come back. The visitors were limited to George Ford's two penalties.
"I don't think many people will remember these games," Ford said. "What happens in the World Cup in a few weeks will be completely different. We're making sure we're ready for that."
England returns home to face Ireland next weekend, while Wales heads to Turkey for another camp before another home-and-away series against Ireland.