By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) -England fought back to edge Wales 19-17 in a World Cup warm up full of incident, injury and yellow cards – and notably a red card for captain Owen Farrell that could see him suspended for their opening game of the tournament in France next month.
A dull game burst into life in the second half amid a flurry of sin-binnings for both sides, with one for England’s Freddie Steward leading to a penalty try for Wales.
England were reduced to 12 men with further cards for Ellis Genge and Farrell – later upgraded to red – and Tomos Williams put them further ahead with a breakaway try.
However, Maro Itoje hit back for battling England, replacement George Ford converted then kicked the decisive penalty four minutes from the end.
“I’m just proud of the boys. You never really envisage it will turn out like that, but the key for us is to think clearly in those moments and come up with a plan,” said Ford.
“The boys executed unbelievably well, up front at set-piece, at lineout time, at maul, at scrum, the traditional things of English rugby gave us a chance to win that game.
“You can’t put a value on stuff like that – three men in the sin-bin, points down and under the sticks. You can never replicate that, and this gives us unbelievable belief.”
England edged a largely forgettable first half via two Farrell penalties but neither side seemed able to build any sort of sustained attacking play.
The most notable action came after 32 minutes when they lost scrumhalf Jack van Poortvliet to a leg injury, just as winger Henry Arundell was sin-binned for an offside tackle.
Wales then lost captain Dewi Lake, with the hooker looking distraught on the sidelines with his World Cup hopes in the balance.
It was 9-6 when Wales suffered another injury blow when exciting new Number Eight Taine Plumtree went off clutching his wrist.
The game then exploded as Steward took out Josh Adams in the air. A penalty try was awarded and Steward joined Ellis Genge in the sin bin to leave England trailing 10-9 and down to 13.
It got even worse three minutes later when Farrell joined them after his shoulder crashed into the jaw of Taine Basham after the kind of no-arms tackle that has been his downfall before.
Wales took immediate advantage with a 70-metre break finished off by Williams which Dan Biggar converted for a 17-9 lead.
However, summoning the spirit of the “White Orcs on Steroids” who famously won when down to 13 against New Zealand in Wellington in 2003, the 12 men hit back, with seemingly all of them involved in shoving Itoje over.
Ford converted to cut the deficit to one point and suddenly the crowd were roaring.
Joe Marchant was inches away from catching a Ford kick to the corner but Adam Beard was then yellow carded to make it 14 v 14, and Ford slotted the resulting penalty to secure the remarkable win.
If it wasn’t the flowing, dominant display England coach Steve Borthwick might have hoped for, he was delighted with the spirit shown in adversity.
“I’m incredibly proud of the character and resilience and it is an immense credit to them after going down to 12. This is a group of players who just don’t stop,” he said.
Farrell will face a disciplinary hearing later this week and is almost certain to be banned from at least next week’s game against Ireland in Dublin and against Fiji at Twickenham on Aug. 26, while the World Cup opener against Argentina also looks in doubt.
While England named their World Cup squad earlier this week, Warren Gatland will unveil his after Wales’s one remaining warm up game against South Africa next week.
“I am hugely disappointed but it answered a few questions for us about a few individuals,” he said. “The final quarter wasn’t good enough, we should have won the game.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by Hugh Lawson)