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Billy Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler impress but Maro Itoje penalties costly

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<p>Billy Vunipola was among England’s improved performers against Wales</p> (Getty Images)

Billy Vunipola was among England’s improved performers against Wales

(Getty Images)

England’s Six Nations title hopes look over for 2021 after they suffered a second defeat in three matches against Wales in Cardiff.

Eddie Jones’ side fought back from some hugely controversial first-half decisions to level things up at 24-all with 20 minutes to go on Saturday evening, but their ill-discipline and high penalty count ultimately cost them the game during a disappointing final quarter.

While England look to be out of the title picture, Wales claimed a 22nd Triple Crown and remain on course for a potential Grand Slam ahead of trips to Rome and Paris in March.

Standard Sport‘s rugby correspondent Will Macpherson was at the Principality Stadium to run the rule over England’s players…

Backs

Elliot Daly – 6

This was his 50th cap, on the site of one of his finest moments in an England shirt. Was so much better than recently, full of intent with ball in hand. And yet still turned over too often, and maybe a little dozy for Kieran Hardy’s try.

Anthony Watson – 7

Hit high notes against Italy, and made it three tries in two matches here. Good under the high ball.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Henry Slade – 6

Some nice touches, and was able to stretch his legs in attack, which is a rare sight in an England shirt.

Owen Farrell (c) – 5

An improved performance. Attacked the gainline, hard. But as captain, has to take responsibility for the final quarter meltdown and the general ill-discipline.

Jonny May – 6

Tested under the high ball, but passed with flying colours. Little to report in attack, but was chasing Louis Rees-Zammit in the final moments.

George Ford – 5

Some nice passing got England moving, but his kicking was less accurate, including one shocker in the second half when his side had a platform and the scoreboard was ticking in the right direction.

Ben Youngs – 7

A nice break in the first half, and a sharp bit of work for his try. England’s tempo in attack was much better, but his passing accuracy still let him down occasionally.

Forwards

Mako Vunipola – 6

Responsible for two of the penalties but did some grunt work as a carrier and made a dozen tackles.

Jamie George – 6

Recalled after a rare game on the bench and was solid. England lost one of their five lineouts, but his pass for Watson’s try was delightful and he was high on the tackle charts.

Kyle Sinckler – 7

Brilliant against Italy and excellent again. Strong in the scrum and prominent around the park – not least with his barking voice.

Maro Itoje – 5

Lives on the edge and could easily question some of the calls, but five is a staggering personal penalty count. Made Hardy’s life tricky and the scrum-half did well to ride it out.

AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Jonny Hill – 5

Dim penalty left England vulnerable early in the second half, and Hardy capitalised. Was hooked soon after. Had rather sullied a steady showing.

Mark Wilson – 5

Struggled against Scotland, and was only playing here because of Courtney Lawes’s injury. Put in 10 tackles and was typically industrious without making an eye-catching contribution.

Tom Curry – 7

A superb charge down and catch late in the first half, but another to give away a dim penalty. Made a game-high 17 tackles, and is such an important player for England.

Billy Vunipola – 7

Complained in the week that his form was “rubbish”. Well, like Daly, this was much better. Carried plenty, and put himself about.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Replacements – 5

England’s bench was held back, showing a lack of trust from Eddie Jones, and outperformed by Wales’ replacements, who were excellent.

Luke Cowan-Dickie – Given 20 minutes to shine, and made five tackles.

Ellis Genge – Another to be pinged for one of the key penalties late in the game.

Will Stuart – With Sinckler among England’s best players, Stuart never made it onto the field.

Charlie Ewels – Delightful cut-back pass in the build-up to the second try but gave away one of the many second-half penalties.

George Martin – Never made it on for his debut. Why not have an extra back on the bench?

Ben Earl – Might have been a good time to get his first start, and then only given 10 minutes.

Dan Robson – Lively as ever around the park, but gave away a penalty.

Max Malins – Only got five minutes, but showed a little sparkle in attack.

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