|World Cup warm-up: Wales v England|
|Wales (10) 13|
|Try: North Pens: Biggar, Halfpenny Con: Biggar|
|England (0) 6|
|Pens: Ford 2|
Wales will rise to the top of the world rankings for the first time after they ground out a 13-6 victory over England in the World Cup warm-up in Cardiff.
George North’s try after inspired play from Dan Biggar helped Wales build a 10-0 lead at the end of a keenly contested but disjointed first-half.
England edged into it with two George Ford penalties as defences dominated.
But Leigh Halfpenny struck the decisive penalty on his return to the Wales side after an injury-ravaged year.
That means on Monday morning, when the next world rankings are released officially, Warren Gatland’s men will sit at the summit for the first time since World Rugby introduced the ranking system in 2003.
It also ends New Zealand’s uninterrupted 10 years at the top, despite the All Blacks’ 36-0 victory over Australia earlier on Saturday.
Biggar inspires Wales improvement
By making only three changes to the team that lost 33-19 to England at Twickenham last Sunday, Gatland said he was giving his players the chance to “redeem” themselves in Cardiff.
And while this Wales side is still evidently a work in progress where the World Cup is concerned, this was a marked improvement.
Whereas they were 14 points down in as many minutes at Twickenham, Wales wrestled their way into a position of strength at the Principality Stadium.
Their scrum may have still creaked a little against a powerful England pack, but in Biggar they had a fly-half made for these tight encounters – and perhaps with a point to prove after former British and Irish Lions wing JJ Williams claimed Wales would not win the World Cup with the Northampton man at 10.
Biggar was starting as a result of fellow fly-half Gareth Anscombe’s tournament-ending knee injury and he peppered England’s back three with an early bombardment of high balls that was a taste of things to come.
When England wing Anthony Watson was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on, Biggar – whose earlier penalty had put Wales 3-0 up – sensed an opportunity from the resultant penalty and took it quickly.
His long cross-field kick found Josh Adams and, after the wing made ground, from the next phase Biggar repeated the trick to set up North in the opposite corner for a fine try that the fly-half converted for a 10-0 lead.
There were precious few opportunities for Biggar to demonstrate such creativity in a second-half in which both attacks were frustrated by disciplined defences.
He did, however, show his appetite for the physical side of the game, stopping galloping England lock Maro Itoje with a shuddering tackle that might have been called high had referee Pascal Gauzere reviewed the footage.
But the intervention illustrated Biggar’s willingness to put his body on the line for his country and sealed his deserved man-of-the-match award.
England fail to ignite
While Wales’ players were still auditioning for a place in their final World Cup squad – expected to be named on 1 September – England coach Eddie Jones has already decided on his 31-man party for Japan.
There was therefore less on the line for them in Cardiff perhaps, but there was no lack of motivation, with Jones imploring his side to be “absolutely brutal” in their attempts to halt Wales’ 10-match winning run at home that stretches back to a defeat against New Zealand in 2017.
The likes of Billy Vunipola certainly heeded that call, the man mountain of a number eight bulldozing towards Welsh tacklers at every opportunity.
But England struggled to cut through the opposition defence as they did at Twickenham and, while the scrum remained a weapon, their driving maul was less of a threat.
Neither side was at its fluent best in attack and it was not until Watson’s yellow card left England a man down that the visitors found their defence meaningfully breached.
The Principality Stadium crowd found its voice after North’s try but, despite that setback, Jones’ men gathered themselves and chipped away at Wales’ advantage in the second-half.
Ford, keeping the kicking duties despite the introduction of Owen Farrell at centre, struck two penalties to reduce England’s deficit to 10-6.
There was no way through Wales’ determined defence though as England failed to replicate their attacking precision from Twickenham and missed out on their own opportunity to top the world ranking.
Wales: L Halfpenny; North, Jonathan Davies, Parkes, Adams; Biggar, G Davies; Smith, Owens, Francis, Ball, AW Jones, Wainwright, James Davies, Moriarty.
Replacements: Dee, W Jones, Lewis, Shingler, Navidi, A Davies, Evans, Watkin.
England: Daly; McConnochie, Joseph, Francis, Cokanasiga; Ford, Heinz; Genge, Cowan-Dickie, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Ludlam, B Vunipola.
Replacements: George, Marler, Sinckler, Kruis, Singleton, Youngs, Farrell, Tuilagi