England canter to Triple Crown
March 2, 2002
Jonny Wilkinson dives in to score during an outstanding personal performance
© Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson duly landed the Triple Crown for England with another fly-half performance as brilliant as the spring sunshine which enveloped Twickenham on Saturday.
The Newcastle star scored 30 points to become the first Englishman to pass the 500-point barrier in Tests and record the most points ever scored by an Englishman against Wales in the Five or Six Nations.
It was also five-try England's record winning margin against the men in red shirts whose dragon no longer breathes fire.
Yet England manager Clive Woodward learned little from a scrappy game of mediocrity and occasional splendour other than what was already known - England are virtually unbeatable in their Twickenham fortress even when they appear to be suffering from a Paris hangover.
And this Welsh side is a pale, almost embarrassing, shadow of the great teams which once brought such fear and apprehension to rugby headquarters.
The likes of Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies and 'Merve the Swerve' must have been hanging their heads in shame at the lack of spirit and rugby nous displayed by their successors.
To be fair the Welsh preparations could hardly have been worse - political machinations and the strike threat.
And on top of that the late withdrawal of fly-half Stephen Jones with a back muscle spasm, which pitched in Iestyn Harris for only his second international in the position.
By necessity the rugby league convert has been given the role of Welsh saviour since his move from the Leeds Rhinos, only to find that its tough being a Messiah when you are still learning the rudiments of the game.
Harris scored his first try for his country and all their points, plus he managed a couple of mesmerising runs, but still he contrived to look hopelessly out of his depth tactically at this level.
For England, Woodward - missing the spark of the injured Jason Robinson and the drive of suspended captain Martin Johnson - could be delighted with the inclusion of Leicester flanker Lewis Moody whose all-action style fits snugly with his enterprising vision.
As it was Wales spent the first two minutes of the match camped on England's line.
If they had breeched England's steely defence then who knows what might have been the result of such a confidence shift?
A couple of wrong options and several smothering tackles, however, repulsed the Welsh and when Wilkinson slotted over a precision drop goal after five minutes the signs were already looking ominous.
So it proved when four minutes later Wilkinson, shimmying and scampering through the middle, chipped a delightful ball into the path of the on-rushing Will Greenwood.
He simply gathered up the ball on the run and crashed over along with two defenders, the referee waving away Welsh protests that he had not grounded the ball, though television appeared to support their claims.
The resulting conversion saw Wilkinson become the first Englishman - and only the eighth player in history - to score 500 Test points.
If only the action could have possessed such an historic tone.
Instead, it was stilted and unimaginative, England too often complicating their rugby and struggling to throw off the disappointment of their Grand Slam setback in Paris.
Wilkinson edged them further ahead with a steepling penalty before Wales got their first points on the board via the boot of Harris.
The formality of proceedings was becoming depressingly dull, though Moody at least was enhancing his reputation with a series of crunching tackles and some enterprising running in the loose.
Two more penalties from Wilkinson, one on the stroke of half-time, gave England a commanding 19-3 interval lead.
The second-half could not have started worse for Moody, who was knocked out cold during a crunching drive into the Welsh defence.
Joe Worsley deputised to give Moody time to recover but it was the Welsh defence whose brain appeared scrambled under the mounting pressure.
And soon Wilkinson again was exploiting the mediocre opposition, receiving the ball from a ruck 10 yards from the Welsh line and shimmying his way over for a touchdown of undisputed class.
He added the conversion to notch 21 points which equalled the individual points-scoring record for an Englishman against Wales.
Two tries from Dan Luger were the highlight of the second half, the second coming after Greenwood had taken a long ball from Wilkinson and shipped on the pass with exquisite skill for his wing to stroll home.
And that was the only word for it - a stroll.
There was even the ignominy for the Welsh of seeing Tim Stimpson, on for Mike Tindall and making his comeback for his first game under Woodward, going over in injury time to allow Wilkinson to round off the victory by notching up the half-century.
England were too good, Wales were so bad - and Wilkinson once more was the king who deserved to wear the Triple Crown.