Six Nations - England hold off Wales for victory

Eurosport - Sat, 06 Feb 16:50:00 2010

James Haskell scored two tries as England held off a spirited Wales fight-back to win their opening Six Nations clash 30-17 at Twickenham.

James Haskell - England - 0

The result will relieve the pressure on England manager Martin Johnson, whose side were in danger of letting a 20-3 lead slip until Haskell finished off a long-range attack in the 74th minute to put the game beyond Wales.

Neither side will be satisfied with their performances in what was a tight, scrappy affair that turned five minutes before half-time when Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones was sin-binned for a trip on Dylan Hartley.

England took full advantage of their extra man as Haskell scored his first try on the stroke of half-time, and Wales were made to pay again three minutes after the interval when Danny Care touched down for their second.

Jonny Wilkinson converted both tries and slotted two-first half penalties - one after the yellow card - to help England to a 17-point lead, only for Wales to fight back with tries from Adam Jones and a solo effort from James Hook nine minutes from time.

England, wearing an old-fashioned strip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Twickenham, were hanging on desperately at this stage and Wales were good value to repeat their come-from-behind win two seasons ago as Hook took control of the game with his silky running.

But with six minutes remaining, and England under severe pressure, Delon Armitage intercepted a Welsh pass and the ball was fed to Mathew Tait, who carried play deep into Wales' half.

The recalled centre was unable to shake off the covering Shane Williams, and instead flipped the ball inside to Haskell and the Stade Francais player rounded off what proved to be the winning score.

Wilkinson added a third penalty a minute before the end to add gloss to a score that flattered the home side.

Wales fans will point to the sin-binning of Alun-Wyn Jones as the deciding moment in the game and the British and Irish Lions lock was duly criticised by head coach Warren Gatland after the game for the crass infringement.

There was also a disallowed scoring chance for Tom James when he was adjudged to have knocked on a pass from Hook with the try-line beckoning.

Replays showed the ball had bounced off the Blues wing's chest, though referee Allain Rolland can be forgiven for missing such a tight call.

The first half performances from both teams were typical of sides playing in their opening Six Nations game, and had it not been for some wayward kicking by Hook Wales would have been in the lead by the time of the sin-binning.

But Wales will also have to look at their line-out which coughed up possession repeatedly in the first half and only improved when hooker Gareth Williams was replaced by Huw Bennett for the final quarter.

England skipper Steve Borthwick pinched a number of Wales' throws and produced a performance that will help silence his critics. The Saracens lock was a steadying influence at the set piece and also forced the turnover that lead to Care's try just after the break.

The hosts, as expected, struggled in the front row, where the returning Adam Jones reproduced his form from the summer's Lions tour.

As well as scoring Wales' first try, the Ospreys prop also prevented Ugo Monye going over in the first half when Wales were under severe pressure.

But after their recent struggles it was crucial England secured the win and they will travel to Italy next weekend confident they can make it two wins from two.

While there were few signs of the ambitious approach promised by Johnson ahead of the match, England's three tries were at least a marked improvement from the autumn when they managed to touch down just once in three games.

Care had clearly been given a licence to attack and he kept the Wales defence busy with a number of quick tap penalties and sniping runs, though he will need to work on his communication with Nick Easter at the base of the scrum.

The returning Easter also added some direction to England's forward play as they just about edged the back-row battle, and the Harlequins number eight was a calming presence as England rounded off a period of forward domination with Haskell's first try just before the break.

Wales will improve significantly when their injured front-rowers Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees return, though they will no doubt spend long periods of next week working on their line-out before Scotland arrive in Cardiff.

Even without a decent line-out they looked the better attacking side and it would not have been an injustice had they managed to sneak the game at the end.

While England still looked short of ideas in midfield, Stephen Jones, Jamie Roberts and Hook were full of invention and running with limited possession, and would no doubt have taken advantage of more set-piece ball.

Haskell may have been awarded the man-of-the-match award, but Hook was the best player on the pitch and showed real strength and balance as he kept the game alive with his superb 71st minute try.

But England too can look forward to the return of Andrew Sheridan and Riki Flutey to beef up their front row and add some much-needed spark to their midfield.

England have still to convince they are moving forward, but Johnson's side deserve credit for getting the win they so desperately needed, and one suspects their victory will look more impressive later in the championship.

Eurosport

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