England did just about enough to subdue a spirited but limited Wales with a 24-13 victory in Llanelli on Saturday to secure top spot in Autumn Nations Cup Group A and set up a probable title decider against France at Twickenham next week.
A Johnny Williams try gave new-look Wales an early lead but they were second-best for most of a messy, largely forgettable match as Henry Slade and Mako Vunipola crossed for England and, after their powerful bench wrested control, captain Owen Farrell brought them home with four penalties.
England topped the group with 13 points from their three wins. Ireland, who play Georgia on Sunday, are on four points and are likely to finish second, with Wales third, also on four.
England’s opponents in the final at Twickenham next Sunday will be decided later on Saturday when France host Italy, with the home side expected to win and secure top spot. Scotland, whose game against Fiji was called off due to COVID issues, are likely to finish second, ahead of Italy.
“It was a dogged game, no-one could really get a foothold and we couldn’t really get any momentum until the end there,” Farrell told Amazon Prime.
“They are a tough side and they showed that today. We’ve stuck to our guns and came down here to get a result and we have done that.”
England were fielding their most experienced starting team, boasting 807 caps, while the Welsh, who broke a run of six successive defeats with an unimpressive victory over Georgia last week, had very much a side building to a new era.
The hosts struck first when Dan Biggar charged down a Slade clearance and kicked ahead, with centre Williams – who scored a try for England in a non-cap game against the Barbarians last year – first to the ball.
Slade made amends with England’s first try after man of the match flanker Sam Underhill and Kyle Sinckler made deep inroads and Farrell shifted the ball wide.Slideshow ( 5 images )
England were on top for most of the half, though it was a disjointed effort, and could manage only two Farrell penalties to take them to halftime 11-7 ahead.
England stretched the lead when Vunipola cleverly spun off the side of a tryline ruck but they were unable to build on that score in a messy period for both teams.
Wales did gain some territory and earned two penalties that Biggar slotted to move within five points and spark hopes of an upset.
However, England regained control on the scoreboard as Farrell landed two more penalties to take them safely clear and they finished in comfortable control.
“Today was like a bit of an arm wrestle, it was a tough old game and I don’t think we’ve accelerated our rugby as much as we’d like to,” said England coach Eddie Jones.
“There was one phase in the second half when we moved it really well but then lost our shape a bit and space is hard to find. We weren’t as precise as we would have liked to be out wide but we are showing signs of where we want to go.”
Wales coach Wayne Pivac described himself happy with the energy and defensive effort of his team but complained about a missed in-the-air tackle ahead of England’s first try.
“We’re pretty disappointed with some of the decisions out there,” he said. “But there were a lot of young guys having a good game against the number two team in the world so they will have learned a lot.”