England edge out Wales
August 6, 2011
England's James Haskell powers over for a try at Twickenham
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England stepped up their Rugby World Cup preparations with a 23-19 victory over Wales in their warm-up clash at Twickenham.
Tries from No.8 James Haskell and debutant Manu Tuilagi along with an assured display from fly-half Jonny Wilkinson - that included 13 points with the boot - carried the hosts to the win in the first of two back-to-back fixtures against their Six Nations rivals.
George North bagged a brace for Wales with fellow wing Shane Williams also crossing for his first try at English rugby's HQ. Fly-half Rhys Priestland - who stepped into the No.10 shirt at the last minute after Stephen Jones injured his calf in the warm up - added two conversions but it was not enough to deny England the World Cup boost.
England had the better of the early exchanges and when Wales' Dan Lydiate was penalised for holding on under pressure from England's James Haskell, Wilkinson opened his account with the long-range kick.
Wales looked intent on keeping the ball in hand and wing Shane Williams almost skipped around England's Manu Tuilagi with the debutant doing just enough to force his rival into touch. The visitors were equally committed in defence with England's pack doing their best to hammer an opening through the heart of the Welsh defence.
Wales were not shy of contact either with centre Jamie Roberts repeatedly taking the direct approach. He found plenty of willing cohorts and a sustained spell of pressure created space out wide for North who rode the tackle of England's Riki Flutey before touching down in the corner for a try that was converted by Priestland.
England did not appear too concerned by the score with a scrum penalty following the re-start kicked to the corner for a lineout. The gamble appeared to have back-fired when Wales' Toby Faletau hacked a loose ball away but England fullback Delon Armitage was able to snuff out the danger before setting off an electric run that was brought to a halt just short of the line.
Wales' subsequent lineout creaked under pressure and from the resulting scrum Haskell powered his way over for the second try of the game. The score gave England the lead once more and Wilkinson's conversion cemented that advantage.
A monster hit from Wales' Jonathan Davies on Wilkinson drew gasps from the capacity crowd but he was soon back on his feet orchestrating proceedings with boot and ball. But he and his team-mates were largely frustrated by their own errors and slow ball as they probed late in the half.
With a lack of direction threatening to derail another attack deep inside the Welsh half, Wilkinson ensured they came away with something with a neatly-struck drop goal to give his side a 13-7 lead at the break.
Another penalty against Lydiate at the breakdown following the re-start allowed Wilkinson to take the game back into the Welsh 22 but slow ball returned to plague England's best efforts to stretch their lead. But Tuilagi broke the Welsh resistance with a strong run on a great angle that carried him through three tackles and under the posts for a try with Wilkinson adding the simple conversion.
A break from Priestland soon had England back on the defensive with Williams also proving elusive but the hosts snaffled the ball with wing Matt Banahan countering up the wing only to flip the ball to Wales' Morgan Stoddart who was crunched by a mass of black shirts in a clash that saw him leave the game on a stretcher with a leg injury to be replaced by Scott Williams.
Shane Williams provided some comic relief moments later by running into team-mate Roberts at full pace - knocking both players to the ground - as the former was hunted down by a tackle-hungry Tuilagi.
Scrum-half Mike Phillips had more luck with a more direct line towards England's line before the ball was recycled to Shane Williams who was wrapped up - but the pocket dynamo soon wriggled free before popping up again out wide to squeeze in at the corner for his first try at Twickenham.
Despite the tight nature of the scoreboard, England opted to ring the changes debutant Mouritz Botha amongst those to enter fray. Banahan then forced some desperate defensive work from Shane Williams with a neat chip and chase before another debutant - winger Charlie Sharples - made his international bow at the expense of Tuilagi. And he was immediately involved in a move that ended with Wilkinson's second drop goal of the day. Celebrations were short-lived however, with captain Lewis Moody helped from the field with his troublesome right knee the apparent problem once again. As a result, Tom Wood returned to the openside berth he filled with distinction during the Six Nations.
Priestland caught the England defence napping with a kick into space as the game entered the last quarter of an hour but the bounce went against Roberts as he raced after the ball.
Wales continued to press with successive penalties kicked to the corner and their adventure paid dividends with a driving maul providing the platform for Warburton to cross in the corner - only to be denied by the Television Match Official who ruled he had been forced into touch.
Lock Bradley Davies and replacement Tavis Knoyle were the next to go close to breaching the England line with a promising passage of play ending with a pass from Scott Williams sailing into touch.
Wales built again with their fresh legs creating the space for Warburton to exploit inside the England 22 where he was hauled down just short by Armitage. But the ball was recycled quickly and replacement Ryan Jones capitalised on huge overlap to put North in for his second try that was converted by Priestland to bring his side back to within four points with three minutes remaining but it was as close they got.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.