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The Wales try from heaven

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The 206-second attack that has turned Geography Six outcast Cory Hill into a household name

Cory Hill has climbed a mountain these past 20 months, journeying from anonymity to becoming an England Grand Slam killer who is now suddenly a household name to anyone following the compelling drama of the 2019 Six Nations.

It’s been some journey, emerging from the almighty stink in geothermal Rotorua for daring to temporarily join up with the 2017 Lions to adding the finishing touch to Wales’ sublime lead-taking, 35-phase try in Cardiff on Saturday. No wonder he celebrated with a bellowing fist-pumping roar to the crowd before leaving the scene of where he dotted the ball down. 

It was firmly one in the eye for the desultory English media who had led the charge in ridiculing Hill and the other five parachuted-in players who made up the notorious Geography Six chosen as mid-tour Lions cover due to their proximity to New Zealand.

When he landed in fresh from a low-key win over Tonga in Auckland, eyebrows were raised in bemusement that a lock who had only started twice for Wales was suddenly rubbing shoulders with the elite of British and Irish rugby. 

Making the “Cory Who” story all the more outrageous was the fact that he had been released in 2012 by Cardiff and had to prove himself at Kevin Maggs’ Moseley in the English Championship to save his career and earn a contact at the Dragons. 

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Now, after what seems a lifetime battling in the shadows for proper recognition, the 27-year-old will be remembered as the lock whose try secured the lead in the pulsating win over England that has put Warren Gatland’s team in the history books as the first from Wales to win a dozen Test matches in succession. 

It was fitting that Hill was the scorer as it was his 11th appearance in the record winning streak (only sub hooker Elliot Dee has a similar number of caps), and the multi-layered story about how he came to touch down on the right hand side with the clock showing 67:26 will live in the memory of every Wales fan as it rounded off the complete team move.  

All 15 Welsh players handled the ball during the spell-binding 206-second attack that began on their own 10-metre line and finished up over the English try line.

Cory Hill warms up in Hamilton as one of the 2017 Lions’ much ridiculed Geography Six (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Fourteen players carried to the 34 rucks, scrum-half Gareth Davies – another of the criticised Geography Six – the only one who didn’t go to ground and set up a recycle. Davies, though, was heavily active as the busiest of the half-dozen Welsh passers of a ball that was passed 28 times during the scintillating move ignited by a sloppy English error. 

In total, there were four minutes and five seconds of non-stop action between the ball being kicked off at the halfway line by Dan Biggar on 63:19 following Owen Farrell’s successful penalty kick for a 13-9 advantage and it being touched down for Hill’s try.

What will infuriate England is they twice had the ball and didn’t best look after before the Welsh conjured their breathless 35-phase play. A box-kick clearance from the 22 on 63:39 by Ben Youngs was caught by Biggar near the Wales 10-metre line. Liam Williams then handled before skipper Alun Wyn Jones threw a high pass that was intercepted by Jack Nowell.

England, though, retained the ball for just 11 seconds as Youngs’ pass from the ensuing ruck bounced away from Mark Wilson, who was distracted by Josh Navidi. Davies gathered with the clock exactly on 64:00 and what followed was a magical three-minute 26-second sweep that ended with the game-changing score that exhilarated the capacity Principality Stadium crowd. 

Cory Hill scores Wales’ first try in their win over England (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The 34 phases in between Davies gathering and Hill crashing over were exhaustingly marvellous, one of the finest passages of Six Nations play ever knitted together by any team. It left England punch-drunk and bereft of a response.

Hadleigh Parkes made the greatest number of metres in the drive, the centre carrying in the move’s embryonic stage to take play from the Welsh 10-metre line to near the England 22 where he was double-tackled by Manu Tuilagi and Jonny May. 

It took Wales three more phases to edge into the 22, replacement prop Dillon Lewis rolling on the ground to get in there. A gripping game of inches then developed, another 13 phases being required before George North took play to the five-metre line after skipper Jones demonstrated brilliant athleticism with a one-handed pick-up followed by three rolls on the ground and excellent ball presentation.

Another 13 breakdowns were necessary before England were prompted to infringe, referee Jaco Peyper signalling a penalty advantage for offside prior to Jonathan Davies getting double-tackled in the centre of the pitch by Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry.

Wales players celebrate their victory over England (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Wales now cut loose, flinging the ball wide to the left for two more rucks before they switched swiftly to the right. It was Biggar’s long pass to North, who for depth took the ball at full pelt nearly back on the 22-metre line, that caught the English cold.

Five white shirts were sucked into defending North’s ruck in the right hand corner before Biggar’s popped pass invited Hill to evade the tackles of Billy Vunipola and Harry Williams to dive over the line and spark pandemonium. Cory Who had inspiringly made his mark. 

WHO DID WHAT IN THE MULTI-PHASE MOVE THAT BURIED ENGLAND

THE 14 RUCK MEN 5 carries to the breakdown – Nicky Smith, Ross Moriarty; 4 – George North, Ken Owens; 3 – Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones; 2 – Dillon Lewis, Josh Navidi; 1 – Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Justin Tipuric.

THE HALF-DOZEN PASSERS 22 passes – Gareth Davies; 2 – Dan Biggar; 1 – Josh Adams, Ken Owens, Cory Hill, Justin Tipuric.

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The 206-second attack that has turned Geography Six outcast Cory Hill into a household name