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England shoot down Welsh 6N title hopes

Wales’ ambitions of retaining their Six Nations rugby title have been extinguished with a 23-19 loss to England despite a three-try fightback in the second half by the champions at Twickenham.

An 18-point haul from flyhalf Marcus Smith on Saturday underpinned England’s second straight win of the championship which keeps alive the title chances of Eddie Jones’ team.

But England still have the hardest finish possible – games against Ireland and then away to table-topping and grand slam-seeking France in the last two rounds.

Wales couldn’t recover from falling 17-0 behind, thanks to four first-half penalties from Smith and a try from No.8 Alex Dombrandt, who collected an overthrown lineout by the Welsh and barged over the line.

Wales had been dominated up front until that point, giving away sloppy penalties as a result, but gained a foothold in the match when winger Josh Adams ran onto a flat pass from scrumhalf Tomos Williams and raced over in the left corner in the 54th.

And when centre Nick Tompkins was fed by Williams in a central position and barrelled over from close range six minutes later, Dan Biggar’s subsequent conversion meant the teams were separated by just five points.

Smith snuffed out any danger by kicking his fifth and sixth penalties of the game in the final 12 minutes, allowing England to back up their 33-0 win in Italy two weeks ago.

A third Welsh try of the second half, by replacement scrum-half Kieran Hardy, at least earned the visitors a losing bonus point to take back over the Severn Bridge.

And there was a desperate final, 16-phase attack in injury time that reached the halfway line only to end, much to the relief of England’s fans.

Their opening-round loss to Scotland at Murrayfield is likely to be a setback that will cost England a shot at the title, but at least the dream is still alive ahead of Ireland’s visit to Twickenham in two weeks.

England are four points behind France, who beat Scotland earlier on Saturday for a third straight win.

As for the Welsh, they have lost two of their opening three games of a title defence that always looked tough owing to a string of injuries to key players, particularly captain Alun Wyn Jones.

Taulupe Faletau returned from a long-standing ankle injury and played the full game but it wasn’t enough for Wales.

Scrum-half Ben Youngs came on as a second-half replacement to break the record for most Test caps for England – 115 – that he had shared with retired prop Jason Leonard.

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