Plymouth Albion's Henry Slade helps England Under-20s win Six Nations decider against Wales
CITY star Henry Slade and his former Plymouth Albion team-mate Jack Nowell played major roles in England Under-20s retaining their Six Nations crown in Wales.
While England's senior XV were crushed 30-3 by Wales at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, the under-20s were crowned Six Nations champions for an unprecedented third time in a row after an impressive 28-15 victory at Eirias Park.
The West Country input into England's title treble was not inconsiderable with Cornishman Nowell and Plymothian Slade scoring 18 of their country's points.
Nowell scored a try and former Plymouth College student Slade, who turns 20 tomorrow, kicked 13 points to thwart their Welsh counterparts.
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As with Stuart Lancaster's England in the Welsh capital, the under-20 title could hardly have been more tantalisingly poised, with the winners taking the championship in the tournament's final fixture.
Unlike the Cardiff clash, though, where the hosts were in the ascendancy, Friday's tie was on knife edge for large parts of the encounter.
Wales fly-half Sam Davies was a constant threat with the boot, but two tries from flanker Harry Wells and one from Exeter Chiefs' wing Nowell, plus Slade's invaluable contribution tipped the match in England's favour.
Chiefs and Albion back-rower Luke Cowan-Dickie also started.
Wales took the game to England in the opening 10 minutes and were rewarded with the first points, Davies kicking over a penalty to put the hosts 3-0 to the good.
England hit straight back and a break from scrum-half Callum Braley eventually freed up Nowell to touch down in the corner.
With 17 minutes gone, Wales regained the lead when Davies' second penalty made it 6-5 before Slade had the chance to put England back into the lead, but saw his kick sail wide.
Davies slotted his third successful kick of the night with 25 minutes gone to make it 9-5 to the hosts.
Slade brought England to within a point after 34 minutes, his first successful kick of the night, with a penalty from just inside his own half.
As the opening period drew to a close, England opted for touch instead of a kick at the posts, a decision which was justified as back-rower Wells touched down for his first England try, converted by Slade.
Wales were reduced to 14 men when number eight Ieuan Jones was sent to the sin-bin for repeat offences.
The hosts started the second period as they had the first, putting England under the cosh: pressure that was eventually rewarded as Davies stroked over his fourth penalty.
But Slade hit straight back for England to make the score 18-12 with 54 minutes played.
With the gap at six points, both sides were giving it a real go.
A Slade drop-goal increased the gap to nine, but Davies returned fire with his fifth penalty of the night to make it 21-15.
Wales pushed on knowing a converted try would win them the championship, but it was England who had the final say.
Slade again opted for touch with points on offer, but a strong driving maul was touched down by Wells for his second to give England a 28-15 victory and the title.
Departing England head coach Rob Hunter said: "It's a massive achievement and the guys deserve all the credit.
"They're a hard working group and this trophy is their reward for the work they have put in. Wales gave it a real go and full credit to them, we never felt comfortable."
England captain Jack Clifford said: "I'm so happy for all of the boys and the management. Everyone works so hard. To end up with this trophy as captain is a dream come true.
"Massive credit to the Welsh. At no point did we feel like the game was won until the final whistle."
England: Ollie Devoto, Anthony Watson, Tom Stephenson, Sam Hill, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Callum Braley; Luke Cowan-Dickie, Nathan Morris, Kyle Sinckler, Elliott Stooke, Dominic Barrow, Harry Wells, David Sisi, Jack Clifford. Reps: Max Crumpton, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, Danny Herriott, Tom Jubb, Gus Jones, Alex Day, Henry Purdy, Ben Howard