England struggle past Wales
March 20, 2004
Joe Worsley crosses to score the winning try at Twickenham
© Getty Images
England can still win the Six Nations if they beat France in Paris next week, but they came desperately close to being eliminated from contention as they struggled to beat Wales.
Seven points down at the break, Wales turned the match inside-out with two superbly-worked tries within 10 minutes of the restart. Full-back Gareth Thomas, beneficiary of a giant overlap, was over within a minute for his 33rd test try - equalling Ieuan Evan's record.
Steve Jones converted to level the scores but missed nine minutes later after Wales scored the best try of the afternoon. A multi-phase attack involving almost every Welsh player culminated in Shane Williams, outstanding in both attack and defence, escaping down the left to send the supporting Mark Taylor over.
Had Wales managed to round off a long break by venerable replacement lock Gareth Llewellyn, they might have won. But the move broke down. And where Ireland a fortnight earlier had been able to shut England out through their control of the set-piece, Wales were always struggling.
England never looked anywhere near their best - their attacks halting and incoherent, with forwards popping up where backs should have been and too many players crowding the midfield. But the pressure exerted by their pack was bound to tell eventually and did so on 65 minutes when Cohen picked up from a ruck on the Welsh line to stretch over for his second score.
Barkley converted to give England a two-point lead then added a penalty. Joe Worsley's late try confirmed a far from convincing victory.
After all the discussion of England's line-out failings, it had been the similarly afflicted Welsh who faltered first from the touch-line. A fifth minute throw by Robin McBryde was tapped back, but not controlled and England stole possession just inside the Welsh 22.
They worked the ball left until it reached Ben Cohen with a straight run at Welsh full-back Gareth Thomas who awaited him close to the line. Thomas held the powerful Cohen, but was unable quite to arrest his momentum and the Northampton man just reached the line for his 27th try in 39th appearance. Olly Barkley showed that he can imitate Jonny Wilkinson's accuracy as well as his set-up routine with a fine conversion.
That was the pattern for the bulk of the first-half, with England driving forward even though they were unable to breach Wales's line again. Wales had their moments - indeed making the first clean break of the afternoon inside three minutes when Ben Shanklin tore into the England 22, but losing possession when Shane Williams became isolated and was penalised for not releasing by referee Andrew Cole, who belied the stereotype of southern hemisphere referees being relaxed about offences at the break-down.
Wales were largely confined to their own territory, struggling to break England's impermeable midfield defence in the absence of the subtlety offered by centre Iestyn Harris, a late withdrawal. As wind played havoc with continuity penalties accounted for all the remaining first-half scores - Steve Jones trio for Wales cancelled out by three kicks from Barkley which seemed a moderate reward for England's domination of possession and territory as they led 16-9 at the break.