England (16) 25
Penalties: Farrell (5)
Drop goal: Farrell
Wales (9) 28
Try: G Davies
Penalties: Biggar (7)
England face a real battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup on home soil after suffering a late defeat to an injury-plagued Wales in their keenly anticipated Pool A clash on 26 September. The hosts led for much of the evening at Twickenham, but now must beat Australia if they are to progress any further as an excellent performance from fly-half Dan Biggar inspired a famous and hugely courageous Welsh victory that left Stuart Lancaster and captain Chris Robshaw with difficult questions to answer.
England, who dropped George Ford in favour of Owen Farrell for this match and introduced Sam Burgess in the absence of Jonathan Joseph, were by far the more ambitious attacking unit early on, although their frustrating habit of giving away regular penalties threatened to stem any positive momentum. After Tom Youngs had been penalised very early for not rolling away, Courtney Lawes was whistled for the same offence after bringing down a maul and Biggar duly accepted the opportunity to put Wales ahead.
The visitors struggled badly at the set piece in the first half, conceding penalties at each of the first three scrums as well as struggling to keep their lineout straight. That allowed Farrell, whose considerable defensive effort was a key factor in keeping the opposition's ball carriers at bay for the most part, to kick three successful penalties that kept the scoreboard ticking over along with a drop goal that he did not catch cleanly but still squeezed over the posts after Tom Youngs had been driven back by a fierce combination of Sam Warbuton and Dan Lydiate.
Leading for the first time 9-6 after Farrell's third successful kick, the hosts notched their only try of the opening 40 minutes. After working a swift lineout, the ball was recycled quickly into space. The attack looked as if it might have broken down when Anthony Watson's offload was too low for Mike Brown to take in first time, but the full-back did extremely well to let the ball bounce twice against his boot before picking it up and making a few extra yards. Ben Youngs, criticised by some after his forgettable performance in the opener against Fiji, then looked down the blindside for Jonny May and he raced clear of Hallam Amos to touch down and cause an eruption of pure joy from the expectant home crowd.
With Wales' set-piece creaking and the team struggling to mount any sustained attacks, it looked as if England would seek to put clear daylight between the two sides at half-time. That did not happen, however, and a great burst from Scott Williams – the Scarlets centre who Burgess playfully claimed not to have heard of during the pre-match press conference – re-energised them. Warren Gatland's side still did not make much of a dent in their opponents defence and consistently struggled to work the ball through more than five phases, but they went in at the break only seven points behind as Brown was penalised for offside and Biggar kicked a late penalty.
Lancaster brought on Joe Launchbury for Lawes at the break after the big-hitting Northampton lock suffered an injury and Farrell quickly extended the lead as hooker Scott Baldwin was penalised for not rolling away. Referee Jerome Garces simply refused to tolerate any infringements in this regard and Tom Wood was the next to be whistled for the same offence as Wales were allowed to reduce the deficit to single figures once more.
The penalty count continued to escalate as reliable goal kickers Farrell and Biggar exchanged efforts from the tee once more to leave the score at 22-15. England's lack of composure looked as if it would prove decisive as their lead was persistently eaten away by pure indiscipline at the breakdown.
With Wales within striking distance at the hour mark, they began to come forward at speed as the previously anonymous George North carried with no shortage of menace. Watson made an interception and sent a kick down the line to chase, but Amos did superbly well to collect on the slide and the chance of a lineout in a dangerous position was forfeited due to a needless late tackle.
Having already lost Jonathan Davies, Rhys Webb, Leigh Halfpenny and hat-trick hero Corey Allen over recent weeks, Gatland's injury woes in midfield only increased as Scott Williams needed to be carried off on a stretcher with a knee injury following a tackle from Brad Barritt and Amos looked to have suffered a dislocated shoulder courtesy of a strong hand-off. England were not without their fitness problems before this one either as Joseph was joined on the sidelines by Ben Morgan and his replacement Vunipola limped off to be replaced by the experienced James Haskell.
Liam Williams was the next Welsh back to go down after taking an accidental boot to the head from Wood and that led to a lot of necessary re-shaping across the line with North shifting inside to play at outside centre, Alex Cuthbert coming onto the wing and the half-back duo of Lloyd Williams and Rhys Priestland also thrown on as cover.
Wales could be forgiven for letting their heads drop at this stage with incredulity at the sheer number of injuries that had robbed them of so many key players, but instead they fought back admirably to score a great try of their own. Jamie Roberts, who failed to make much of an impact for the most part, drew the attention of Watson and cleverly released Lloyd Williams down the left flank. With Barritt out of position, he then played a delightful diagonal grubber into the path of scrum-half Gareth Davies who touched down underneath the posts ahead of Richard Wigglesworth.
The excellent Biggar then set pulses racing around the ground as he showed great power and composure to convert a kick from near the halfway line with just eight minutes remaining after Brown was penalised for not releasing. England then won another penalty with just three minutes to play, but Robshaw inexplicably chose to follow in the footsteps of the brave Japan side that stunned South Africa in similar fashion and kick for touch instead of towards the posts. That decision proved to be wildly incorrect in hindsight as Wales' fierce defensive maul bulldozed the home pack off the field to set the seal on a memorable night for the men in red.
In Saturday's two other games, Italy just about managed to avoid being on the wrong end of a shock result in Pool D as Gonzalo Garcia's late try secured a 23-18 win over plucky Canada at Elland Road. In Birmingham, South Africa bounced back from that aforementioned humiliating defeat and ran in six tries - three of which came from Sharks wing JP Pietersen - in an emphatic 46-6 bonus-point rout of Samoa.