SIX NATIONS

England clinch Triple Crown at Twickenham

Maro Itoje was the star of the show as England held out against a spirited Welsh team to stay on course to clinch a second Grand Slam in the competition’s current format.

England clinch Triple Crown at Twickenham
FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA EFE

Maro Itoje starred as England beat Wales 25-21 at Twickenham on Saturday to put one hand on the Six Nations title and keep their Grand Slam hopes alive.

But England, 16-0 up at the break and leading 22-7 early in the second half, had to endure an anxious finish as Wales scored two converted tries in four minutes near full-time through George North and Taulupe Faletau.

Saracens lock Itoje, given his Test debut this season by new England coach Eddie Jones, had a superb all-round match as the home side gained a measure of revenge for their World Cup defeat by Wales.

Dylan Hartley and teammates celebrate winning the Triple Crown

England had a commanding half-time lead thanks to Anthony Watson's converted try, from a move Itoje initiated, and three Owen Farrell penalties. Fly-half Dan Biggar eventually got Wales on the scoreboard with a converted try.

But, with Farrell adding three more penalties, North and Faletau's scores after England prop Dan Cole was yellow-carded came too late to deny England a win that was effectively sealed when the returning Manu Tuilagu forced North into touch in the dying seconds.

Wales outscored England three tries to one but England's victory made it four wins out of four under Australian boss Jones and ended Wales' title hopes.

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It also meant England had claimed the Triple Crown and they will have their first Six Nations title since 2011 with a round to spare if Scotland beat France at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Even if that result goes against them, England can still win the Championship and claim a first Grand Slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003 if they beat France in Paris next Saturday.

When England and Wales last met, the Welsh had come back from a 10-point deficit to win 28-25 in a World Cup pool match at Twickenham in September -- a result that played a major part in hosts England's first-round exit.

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England's matchday 23 contained 13 survivors from that loss and one of them, Mike Brown, almost scored an early try.

However, the full-back cut inside when he might have gone for the corner and was tackled short of the try-line by Wales fly-half Dan Biggar.

At that stage England No.8 Billy Vunipola was outplaying childhood friend and Wales counterpart Faletau.England soon attacked again and won a penalty that Farrell kicked for a 3-0 lead.

They then laid siege to the Welsh line.Prop Dan Cole crossed but, with the grounding deemed inconclusive on replay, no try was awarded.Jones had accused Wales of 'illegal' scrummaging in the build-up, and from the ensuing five-metre home set-piece, South African referee Craig Joubert ruled Wales had infringed.

Farrell kicked a simple penalty and then landed a longer-range effort in the 20th minute to make it 9-0.Wales kicked a penalty for an attacking line-out but Itoje, winning just his third cap, stole the ball off their throw.

The try England had threatened came in the 31st minute after Itoje burst through a couple of tackles off a ruck and fed Brown, who had Watson on his shoulder and a well-timed pass sent the wing in at the left corner.

Eddie Jones happy after getting the job done

Wales needed a score but great ruck defence, with Itoje again prominent, saw England win a relieving penalty near their own line.

Farrell's early second-half penalty extended England's advantage to 19-0.By contrast, penalties were no longer an option for Wales. They pressed hard for a try off a couple of close-range scrums but England's defence held firm only for Biggar to charge down opposing fly-half George Ford's kick and run in under the posts for a try he duly converted.

But Wales then saw captain Sam Warburton carried off after a clash with England flanker James Haskell.England ended Tuilagi's 21-month, largely injury-induced, Test exile by bringing the centre off the bench and Farrell kicked two more penalties.

Cole was sin-binned inside the final 10 minutes, leading to a Welsh onslaught.

Giant wing North burst clear down the left in the 74th minute and set up Faletau's try three minutes later but England held out.