Wales end Championship on a high
March 17, 2007
James Hook inspired Wales to a stirring RBS 6 Nations victory over world champions England that staved off the ignominy of a tournament whitewash.
Fly-half Hook was the dominant force in an enthralling Millennium Stadium encounter, amassing 22 points as England's distant title hopes floundered and left France celebrating a successful defence of their Six Nations crown.
In a game which constantly ebbed and flowed, 21-year-old Hook kept his composure to claim a try, conversion, drop-goal and four penalties.
Prop Chris Horsman also touched down, but England - 15-0 adrift after just 14 minutes - played their part in a thrilling spectacle as scrum-half Harry Ellis and wing Jason Robinson scored tries.
The visitors drew level at 18-18, but Hook once again raised himself to another level, scoring all of Wales' second-half points and leaving Scotland as recipients of the wooden spoon.
Hook, who only started in the number 10 shirt due to Stephen Jones' wrist injury, displayed a maturity way beyond his years, and England could not respond with an organiser and tactical controller of similar stature.
England, with three wins out of five, enjoyed their best Six Nations campaign since 2004, yet the day belonged to Hook and Wales, who showed tremendous courage, character and commitment in the face of adversity.
After events in Rome and Paris, England need a fanciful 57-point winning margin to secure an improbable Six Nations title triumph, but they ended up suffering a sixth successive loss away from Twickenham.
Hook booted Wales ahead inside 100 seconds, before the home side laid siege inside England's 22 as visiting number eight Joe Worsley received treatment after being dazed following what appeared to be a collision with his Wasps colleague Tom Palmer.
With Worsley still down, Wales struck an opening blow when Hook crossed for a try after opposite number Toby Flood saw his attempted clearance charged down.
Hook added the conversion, but worse was ahead for England as a groggy Worsley went off to be replaced by Magnus Lund, meaning a switch from blindside flanker for debutant James Haskell.
Worsley had barely reached the touchline before Hook rifled over a 45-metre penalty, yet Wales could - and should - have been even further ahead, but wing Shane Williams inexplicably ignored unmarked colleagues outside him, and a glorious chance went begging.
Wales though, only had to wait another five minutes before claiming their second try, with England again at defensive sixes and sevens.
Hook and skipper Gareth Thomas played pivotal roles during the build-up, and then the Welsh forwards took over, rumbling England into submission before Horsman claimed the touchdown.
Hook narrowly failed to add the extras, but England found themselves revisiting the low of Croke Park in Dublin three weeks ago, resembling a team totally outclassed by their opponents and facing a mountain to climb as Wales exerted suffocating pressure.
England desperately needed inspiration, and it arrived in the towering form of skipper Catt four minutes before half-time.
He left Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel for dead through a blistering break from inside his own half, before kicking into the Wales 22 and continuing his lung-busting run.
A vicious bounce wildly eluded the London Irish centre, but a supporting Ellis reacted superbly to touch down and put England back in the contest.
Flood converted, then landed an angled drop-goal, hauling England even further back into contention at 15-10 down to set up an intriguing second period.
It was a gripping first-half, and although Wales edged eight points clear when Hook booted a 25-metre penalty, England had the final say.
Ellis scooted away in open play, and with retreating Welsh defenders struggling to keep pace, his superbly-timed pass enabled Robinson to sprint clear and touch down.
England, 18-15 adrift, looked to make their presence felt early in the second period, yet they suffered an immediate setback when Catt, who had battled all week to overcome a hamstring problem, limped off to be replaced by his London Irish colleague Shane Geraghty.
Geraghty produced a sparkling Test debut against France last weekend, and he now had almost 40 minutes to leave another marker ahead of this summer's two-Test South Africa tour.
Robinson took over as skipper, and Flood hauled England level with a 44th-minute penalty, and the game continued at a frantic pace, which proved an immense testament to both teams' fitness levels.
Wales almost regained the initiative when full-back Kevin Morgan sliced through, but wing Mark Jones could not collect his pass.
Hook hoisted Wales 21-18 in front with 17 minutes remaining, but it remained anyone's guess as to which way an absorbing tussle would be resolved.
The Ospreys fly-half continued to torment England, slotting a drop-goal, before kicking another penalty to open up a nine-point gap and leave England reflecting on third place in the championship.
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