England collapsed in spectacular fashion but Scotland were still unable to register their first victory at Twickenham since 1983 as the Six Nations climaxed in a remarkable 38-38 draw.
It took a try by George Ford in the final play of the game to rescue England as the injury-ravaged Scots stood on the brink of completing the greatest comeback in tournament history.
Avenging last year’s bitter defeat at Murrayfield was now England’s aim and as they ran in four tries to build a 31-0 lead inside half an hour, they were on track to mark their last competitive match before the World Cup with an ominous statement.
But it was the prelude to a stunning riposte from Scotland, who ran in the next five tries, two of them finished by jet-heeled wing Darcy Graham, as the overwhelming favourites fell to pieces.
Tied at 31-31, the final game of the 2019 Six Nations was to be decided by a thrilling final quarter as delirious Scottish fans rubbed their eyes in disbelief at the drama unfolding before them.
England were rattled and replacement scrum-half Greig Laidlaw fell short with a long-range penalty attempt in swirling conditions that if successful would have seen them creep ahead for the first time.
But that moment duly arrived with four minutes remaining and once again it was the home midfield that waved Scotland through, but the try still took some scoring from centre Sam Johnson, who broke three despairing tackles to touch down.
Exhausted and bewildered, England summoned the strength for one last assault that saw Ford sprint over to level the final score, although as holders the Scots retained the Calcutta Cup.
There appeared to be only one outcome as England crossed with just 66 seconds on the clock.
Elliot Daly sprinted through a non-existent midfield and fed Henry Slade, whose own run ended when Jack Nowell picked a sharp line that swept him over.
Ben Moon limped off after tacking a big tackle on his ribs but the setback failed to dent momentum as Tom Curry was on the end of a short-range line-out drive.
Sinckler barrelled into Sean Maitland and the ball was worked right where Joe Launchbury dummied his way over.
Slade had sight of the line as he galloped down the left touchline and at the perfect moment he slipped a sublime pass to Jonny May, who cut inside to touch down.
The one-way traffic was halted when Stuart McInally charged down an Owen Farrell kick, grabbed the ball and won the race to the line, shrugging off a tackle by May in the process.
And it was slick passing and clever lines that opened England up in the 48th minute, the backs interchanging wonderfully until Graham jinked his way over in the left corner.
The Scottish resurgence continued when Ali Price kicked and collected to give number eight Magnus Bradbury the chance to show his pace as the home defence was beaten too easily once more.
It was now England who were falling apart and it was the midfield where the visitors were running amok as incisive play gave Graham his second try that was finished when the wing switched on the afterburners.
And the comeback was complete when Farrell’s sluggish pass in a sluggish move was picked off by Finn Russell, who ran half the pitch to drive over.
With the score level, a grandstand finish awaited and it was one England were lucky to play with 15 men after Farrell escaped punishment for a shoulder-led tackle on Graham.
Laidlaw’s penalty lacked the legs and Farrell was replaced by George Ford as the tension ramped up, before Johnson and Ford exchanged tries in a heart-stopping finish.
Wales clinched the Six Nations with a 25-7 victory over Ireland on Saturday to win the title for the first time since 2013.
The home side got off to a flying start as centre Hadleigh Parkes scored after two minutes at the Principality Stadium.
Gareth Anscombe converted the try before adding six penalty goals to secure coach Warren Gatland a third Grand Slam clean sweep of his 12-year tenure.
Substitute Jordan Larmour dotted down for an Irish consolation try.
Here’s our report card from a one-sided contest.
Wales class: Superior in every facet of the game. They were that half a second quicker to everything, right from George North’s first tackle on Jacob Stockdale to Parkes early try after two minutes. They were accurate in their execution, more clinical with possession, played the referee really well and made less mistakes than Ireland. They drove through contact, worked incessantly at the breakdown and showed a general hunger to the contest that the Men in Green couldn’t match. They nullified Ireland’s key strengths from speed of ruck and attack from maul – areas where they have generally gained a foothold in the contest. If they can continue to play with this discipline and commitment, then they will be hard stopped in Japan later this year.
Warren Gatland: The Wales coach has now overseen three Grand Slams and three Six Nations titles as well as leading the Dragons to the World Cup semi-final in 2011. That’s not to forget the success he has enjoyed as Lions coach in 2013 and 2017. But, still the 55-year-old doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He seems to know how to get it done when it comes down to these big Test matches, producing a tactical masterclass to disrupt Ireland at maul and line-out time. His side were dominant, clinical and accurate throughout the championship, and although their football wasn’t champagne-like for three out of the five games, they are still well-deserved champions.
Ireland struggle: The Men in Green looked slow and sluggish from the start, beating themselves with their incessant penalty count. Joe Schmidt’s side pride themselves on their discipline, but the concession of eight penalties in the first half alone highlighted the pressure they were under. In total, they gave away 11 penalties and looked on the backfoot for the entire game. The back-row were non-existent, the line-out faltered and they couldn’t get into the game cause of their poor discipline and huge Welsh pressure.
Murray/Sexton worryingly bad: Ireland’s most important pairing have yet to show the same class from 2018. A world-class duo, they have been well short of their potential and general influence this campaign. Against Wales, their distribution was slow and inaccurate, the kicks were mixed and their general influence on proceedings was weak. Sexton looked nothing close to Player of the Year standard, while Murray doesn’t look a patch on the same player from 12 months ago. A lot of Murray’s flaws can be down to reduced power in his right arm from the neck injury he sustained during the second half of 2018. But for Sexton, is it a case of second season syndrome after scaling the mega heights of 2018?
2 mins: Jones wins the line-out and Wales shift the ball infield. A number of phases later, Anscombe cuts a well-measured kick from the outside of the boot in behind the Ireland defence. Parkes gathers and touches down. Anscombe converts (7-0).
18 mins: Anscombe knocks over a penalty (10-0).
35 mins: The 27-year-old slots a penalty after Tadhg Furlong was whistled for off-side (13-0).
40 mins: Anscombe tucks away a penalty from 33 metres (16-0).
48 mins: Anscombe steps up to put the ball between the posts (19-0).
54 mins: The Cardiff Blues man knocks over his sixth kick (22-0).
69 mins: Anscombe posts another penalty to make it 25-0.
80 mins: Larmour collects possession and races over the line to score a consolation try for Ireland. Jack Carthy converts (25-7).
TACTICAL TURNING POINTS
Wales controlled territory, possession and the breakdown in a manner that forced Ireland to make mistakes. They were smarter than Ireland, more streetwise and looked a more organised unit, even from Parkes early try. Trailing 16-0 at the break, Ireland never recovered and continued to make errors, given they were put under an immense amount of pressure from Wales. They couldn’t get into their flow and that was down to the tenacity of the Wales defence and how difficult they made it for Ireland at the breakdown. From this, Anscombe kept pushing Wales further and further ahead on the scoreline. A well-deserved Grand Slam and one hell of a performance to produce on the final day.
Wales – A+: Not many faults in this famous display. It wasn’t a classic by any means, but Gatland’s side dominated every facet of the game. Just like they did all tournament. Wyn Jones and Anscombe were magic.
Ireland – D: Perhaps one of the worst performances in the Joe Schmidt era. It was disappointing to see their high penalty count, lack of fight and not even a point on the board over the course of the 80 mins.
Wales will secure the Six Nations title and a Grand Slam if they beat Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.
England still have hopes of silverware, but they need to beat Scotland at Twickenham, while also requiring an Ireland victory over Wales.
Jones said on Thursday that Wales were “starting to look a bit tired” after making “more tackles than anyone else in the tournament,” and were facing an Ireland side “that seems to be peaking at the right time.”
When the Australian’s comments were put to him, Wales head coach Gatland corrected the Autralian, pointing out that it is actually England who have made most tackles in the tournament – 793 compared to Wales’ 660.
📹 Warren Gatland: 'We want to embrace this weekend....We don't want to let the opportunity pass us by." pic.twitter.com/sNPG0RltYf— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 14 March 2019
Gatland, laughing, said: “What the hell is Eddie Jones doing talking about our game?
“If it was me, I would be concentrating on playing Scotland. I’ve got no comment on Eddie Jones talking about us.
“If you look at the stats, England have made a hell of a lot more tackles than us in this tournament. My advice to Eddie is to concentrate on the Scotland match.”
Wales are bidding for a third Grand Slam under Gatland – it would be a record for any Five or Six Nations coach if his players accomplish it – and also leave them in great shape six months before their World Cup challenge in Japan.
“I pride myself on the record I’ve had in big matches when it has really mattered,” added Gatland, ahead of his final Six Nations game as Wales head coach before he steps down later this year.
“I even get more of a buzz when people write us off, which has happened on a number of occasions before.
“It’s about building belief and confidence in the players. We’ve worked in the (Six Nations) down weeks and we’ve trained as hard as any team I have seen.
“We’ve put that training in the bank, and there is no way anyone is training as hard as us in this Six Nations.
“If you want something bad enough and you really believe it can happen, then it often does.”
Gatland, meanwhile, readily acknowledges Ireland’s threat, particularly the one presented by their British & Irish Lions half-backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.
“It will be the same approach we had with England,” he said. “We put Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell under pressure, and Conor and Johnny are key.
“When we’ve had success against Ireland in the past, we’ve tried to put pressure on Conor and Johnny and shut their space down.
“There is no doubt that when Johnny gets front-foot ball he controls the game exceptionally well. We saw against England that when we did put pressure on Owen, we got some success from that.
“It’s very much part of the game. You look at opposition 10s and where their strengths are, and you try to negate some of those strengths.
“Johnny is world player of the year and absolutely world-class.
“We’ve got to put him under pressure, but in saying that Ireland have world-class players all over the place and they can keep the ball for long phases.”