WALES were the best side in the world for just over a day but must wait to hold the honour officially after being beaten 33-19 by England.

Avoiding defeat in the World Cup warm-up at Twickenham would have put the Six Nations champions to the top of World Rugby’s rankings, which are published at the conclusion of international weekends, for the first time.

At 12.36pm on Saturday the final whistle went in Perth where New Zealand had been drubbed by Australia to temporarily lift Wales above the All Blacks.

Yet a day later Gatland’s men tasted defeat for the first time since Dublin in February, 2018 to see their 14-Test winning streak ended.

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Of course, the bigger picture is about Japan and of more concern is the condition of Gareth Anscombe after he limped off after half an hour with an injury to his right knee.

Gatland would rather head to the World Cup without a glut of absentees than as number one – and it’s who is number one in November that counts.

Four tough Tests, with England heading to Cardiff before an Ireland double-header, will assist his side on that front.

Both teams were understandably rusty at Twickenham and made more mistakes than they would in a Six Nations clash, with the number of line breaks conceding likely to infuriate Wales defence boss Shaun Edwards.

There were also some huge collisions – viewed through fingers given Japan is on the horizon – and plenty of botched opportunities.

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The coaches adopted different approaches with Eddie Jones giving fringe players a crack ahead of his Monday announcement of the final English 31 for Japan while Gatland rolled out his first-teamers.

The logic is that Wales face a six-day turnaround between their group games against Georgia and Australia, so the management will ensure there is a week of focus and intensity before the majority of the 23 go again in the return game at Principality Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Given that 13 of the XV that clinched a Grand Slam against Ireland started at Twickenham, the pressure was on those in red rather than the hosts in white.

While winning isn’t the be all and end all in warm-ups – and this trip to London didn’t prompt the same butterflies as a Six Nations visit or the famous 2015 encounter – the prospect of overhauling the All Blacks was a big incentive.

Yet it was England that made the slick start, getting their power runners involved early and getting their reward with a converted try in the fourth minute.

Wing Joe Cokanasiga carried hard from a scrum in the 22 and England kept hammering before number eight Billy Vunipola, while the defence tried to hold the hosts up over the line, ripped the ball and wriggled over.

Wales were clearly rusty and after an intercept then chip and chase it took desperate defence to hold Vunipola up over the line, England didn’t have to wait long though – the Saracens number eight carried hard from the scrum, debutant Willi Heinz went close and then Cokanasiga powered over.

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George Ford converted again and Wales were in a position where they could show their World Cup credentials by responding to things going wrong.

They needed a response and got one through a superb Gareth Davies score, the scrum-half wonderfully weaving down the blindside from a scrum for a try that would earn a defensive rebuke for Vunipola, Cokanasiga and full-back Elliot Daly.

Anscombe converted to make it 14-7 after 23 minutes and that’s how it stayed until a mix-up on the stroke of half-time.

Wales defended strongly to push Daly into touch five metres out but then botched the lineout – the throw or the lift? – with a dummy to Justin Tipuric at the front followed by Ken Owens overshooting Alun Wyn Jones.

The ball went off the skippers’ fingertips into the hands of England hooker Luke Cowan Dickie, who crashed over with Ford adding the conversion for a 21-7 lead at the break.

Just like Cardiff last season, Wales had to come back from a deficit but it grew just three minutes after the restart through Ford’s right boot after an offside when defending manically on the line.

Wales responded after English indiscipline with Ken Owens peeling off a driving lineout for George North to then snipe over.

Dan Biggar’s conversion was wide but his task to make it 24-19 after 56 minutes was simple when replacement prop Wyn Jones powered over after the visitors hammered away at the line.

A high tackle on Ford allowed the England captain to calm home nerves from the tee on the hour.

Wales blew a couple of chances in the 22 and England were in control as the clock ticked into the 70s.

They extended their lead to 30-19 through Ford after a scrum penalty with seven minutes left and were 33-19 up after 77 when Daly pinged over a drop goal.

Wales needed a miracle to salvage a draw and become number one… perhaps it’s better to save them for Japan.

England: E Daly; J Cokanasiga, J Joseph (J Marchant 79), P Francis (M Tuilagi 73), A Watson; G Ford, W Heinz (B Youngs 49); E Genge, L Cowan-Dickie, D Cole (H Williams 52), J Launchbury (J Singleton 79), C Ewels, L Ludlam (G Kruis 67), T Curry (C Lawes 28), B Vunipola.

Scorers: tries – B Vunipola, J Cokanasiga, L Cowan-Dickie; conversions – G Ford (3); penalties – G Ford (3) Wales: L Williams; G North, J Davies, H Parkes (O Watkin 67), J Adams; G Anscombe (D Biggar 33), G Davies (A Davies 52); N Smith (W Jones 49), K Owens (E Dee 51), T Francis (D Lewis 49), A Beard (J Ball 67), AW Jones (captain), A Wainwright, J Tipuric (A Shingler 61), R Moriarty.

Scorers: tries – G Davies, G North, W Jones; conversions – G Anscombe, D Biggar

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).

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