England 16-14 Wales: George Ford plays key part with two penalties as Steve Borthwick’s side come from behind to prevail in Six Nations clash

If Barry John was watching from heaven, he probably would have switched off with a few minutes to spare. It was hardly rugby of the gods. It was scrappy and tense and ended in an England victory that will not be remembered as one of the generational classics.

George Ford built a second-half comeback and fired and pushed England to two wins from two in the Jamie George era. There were moments when Welsh fans prayed Dan Biggar would trade his on-field kit for a pair of boots as the visitors raced into a nine-point lead. Their 12-year wait for a Six Nations win at Twickenham continues.

In the end it was just about a happy homecoming for the English. The standout was Wales’ Tommy Reffell, but his Ardie Savea-esque interventions in attack and defense were not enough. Ultimately, England’s strength in depth on the bench proved the difference, but much tougher tests lie ahead against Scotland, Ireland and France.

The big screens at Twickenham flashed black and white images of John, JPR Williams and Mike Weston, rekindling old memories before kick-off. There was a minute’s applause to acknowledge their brilliance in this historic blockbuster, which entered a new era on Saturday.

The sights, smells and sounds of Whitton Road remain the same on the walk down to the stadium. The annual pilgrimage past the fresh donut stands and the street preachers. The queues outside the Cabbage Patch and the ticket queues from east London to west. There was so much familiarity, yet so much uncertainty. There were 30 players across yesterday’s matchday squads who did not feature in the 2023 edition. The mural of Owen Farrell now has a haunting presence on the West Stand. A rivalry started again.

George Ford helped engineer the narrow victory that saw hosts England bounce back from Wales

George Ford helped engineer the narrow victory that saw hosts England bounce back from Wales

The home side ensured their opponents' 12-year wait for a win at Twickenham continued.

The home side ensured their opponents’ 12-year wait for a win at Twickenham continued.

The England players celebrated after the final whistle in front of a dejected Nick Tompkins

The England players celebrated after the final whistle in front of a dejected Nick Tompkins

ENGLAND 16-14 WALES MATCH STATS

ENGLAND: Steward 8; Freeman 5.5, Slade 5, Dingwall 6.5, Daly 5.5; Ford 6.5, Mitchell 6.5 (Care 69,6.5); Marler 5 (Genge 52.7), George 7 (Dan 72.6), Stuart 5 (Cole 52.7), Itoje 6.5, Chessum 5.5 (Coles 24-34,5.5), Roots 5, 5 (Coles 73,5,5), Underhill 6.5 (Cunningham South 63,6.5), Earl 8.

Not used: Smith, Feyi-Waboso. Sin-binned: Chessum, Roots.

T: Earl, Dingwall. P: Ford (2)

WALES: Winnett 7.5; Adams 4.5 (Grady 61.5), North 7.5, Tompkins 7.5, Dyer 6.5; Lloyd 5 (Evans 80.5), Williams 7.5 (Hardy 73.5.5); Thomas 6.5 (Domachowski 59.6), Dee 6.5 (Elias 55.5.5), Assiratti 7 (Griffin 55.4.5) (Assiratti 80.7), Jenkins (captain) 8, Beard 7 ( Rowlands 69.5.5), Mann 7.5 (Basham 69.5.5), Reffell 9, Wainwright 7.

T: man, Punishment. C: Lloyd.

Referee: James Doleman (New Zealand) 6..

Alex Mann would hardly be recognized if he walked these streets, but the Wales flanker, on his second cap, scored the try just before the break to give Wales a two-score lead. It was a result of Welsh discipline, who did not concede a single penalty in the first half, while England were on the receiving end of two yellow cards. England went into the game with seven penalties – but they conceded six in the first 40 minutes.

From day one, England talked about breathing life back into this old place. They extended their walk to the stadium and jogged around the perimeter of the field before kick-off. Small details that alone will do little to ease the scar tissue of just three wins here in 10 games. It came down to their performance on the pitch to get the pulse and that only happened in the closing stages.

England had three visits to the Welsh 22 in the first 10 minutes but left with zero points. New era, old problems. Ollie Chessum was booked for a high tackle on Keiron Assiratti and he was soon joined in the sin bin by Ethan Roots, who pulled off a free-kick as Wales raced to the line. Result: penalty try.

It took a moment of defensive brilliance to prevent Wales from going further forward. Maro Itoje naively caught rookie No.10 Ioan Lloyd trying to run the ball off his own line and forced a penalty kick. England chose the scrum and Ben Earl ran from the base to score. However, George Ford was brought down before he had the chance to kick the conversion.

England held off a 25-phase attack from Wales. A feather in the cap of their new defense coach Felix Jones, whose face appeared on the big screens when Joe Marler put in the hit to turn possession around. It was patient, disciplined and aggressive, but in the final minute of the half England were broken again.

England's Jamie George acknowledges the crowd after his team's 16-14 win

England’s Jamie George acknowledges the crowd after his team’s 16-14 win

Ben Earl of England celebrates with teammate Theo Dan during the win against Wales

Ben Earl of England celebrates with teammate Theo Dan during the win against Wales

Alex Mann scored Wales' first try to put the visitors on the front foot and silence Twickenham

Alex Mann scored Wales’ first try to put the visitors on the front foot and silence Twickenham

Wales used chip kicks and tried to lob the ball wide to pick off the rush defence. In the end, Reffell intervened with turnovers and clearances, before Mann’s three gave Wales their first half-time lead here in Six Nations history.

“We know how good Tommy is defensively but we wanted him to get more comfortable as a running threat,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said. “We’ve seen it and it can take his game to the next level. He was absolutely outstanding.’

Wales had to make just 37 tackles in the first half – compared to 117 by England – but rookie full-back Cameron Winnett was on hand to step in with a three-save tackle on Elliot Daly early in the second half. Ford kicked the opening points of the third quarter and there were vulnerabilities in the Welsh scrum when they tackled rookie prop Archie Griffin, who has yet to start a Premier League game for Bath.

In contrast, England have dropped the likes of Dan Cole and Ellis Genge to draw on every ounce of their experience. The penalty count swung and England hit their target of seven.

It felt like an age was spent resetting scrums, but England will have few complaints. They won a penalty at the set-piece and kicked for the corner. They attacked through nine phases, before Daly offloaded to Fraser Dingwall whose try reduced the deficit to one point.

Wales flyhalf Ioan Lloyd converts his country's first try as they lurch ahead of England early on.

Wales flyhalf Ioan Lloyd converts his country’s first try as they lurch ahead of England early on.

England head coach Steve Borthwick will feel his side had even more to give in the tense win

England head coach Steve Borthwick will feel his side had even more to give in the tense win

Ford took control of proceedings and targeted the Welsh with spiral bombs and a 50-22. The hosts began to take over the area and when Mason Grady was sin-binned for a deliberate tackle in the 72nd minute, England’s No.10 finally put his side in front.

It was tight until the end, although the itching feeling at the final whistle was that both teams had so much more to give.