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Wales 23-15 England, Six Nations, Febraury 14
Wales battle past England
Graham Jenkins
February 14, 2009
Date/Time: Feb 14, 2009, 17:30 local, 17:30 GMT
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Wales 23 - 15 England
Attendance: 74594  Half-time: 9 - 8
Tries: Halfpenny
Pens: Halfpenny, SM Jones 5
Tries: Armitage, Sackey
Cons: Flood
Drops: Goode

Wales held off a determined England to notch a 23-15 victory in a pulsating Six Nations clash at the Millennim Stadium in Cardiff.

The hosts were outscored two tries to one by a much-improved England but made them pay for another indisciplined performance that saw both Mike Tindall and Andy Goode yellow carded. Leigh Halfpenny grabbed a second half try for Wales to add to a first half penalty but it was five penalties from the reliable boot of Stephen Jones that saw the defending champions remain on course for back-to-back Grand Slams.

Winger Paul Sackey and fullback Delon Armitage both scored tries and flanker Joe Worsley was named man of the match after a superb defensive display as England threw everything they had at Wales but they were unable to overhaul the impressive home side who recorded their third straight Championship victory over their old foes.

Wales coach Warren Gatland, whose side opened their Six Nations challenge with a 26-13 victory over Scotland last weekend, was stripped of talismanic winger Shane Williams on the eve of the clash after he failed to recover from an ankle injury but his team underlined their growing maturity by taking his loss in their formidable stride. Mark Jones was promoted into the starting line-up while skipper Ryan Jones also returned to the back row after shaking off a calf injury.

England manager Martin Johnson also made two changes after failing to impress in their opening victory against Italy with Mike Tindall returning at outside centre for Jamie Noon, while Joe Worsley was drafted into the back row ahead of what was expected to be a bruising encounter.

Wales were quickly into their stride in front of a vociferous capacity crowd at the Millennium Stadium while England, huge underdogs coming into the clash, struggled to find their feet. Early pressure had England stretched while there was little doubt about the physicality of contest with both sides happy to go toe-to-toe on the gainline.

A cheeky long-range drop goal attempt from Armitage sailed wide in the first minute but signalled England's willingness to mix things up in attack. But it was their defence that was called upon in the opening exchanges as Wales closed in on the England line. Wales flanker Martyn Williams went close but when play was called back Jones opted to slot the easy penalty.

Referee Jonathan Kaplan saw fit to issue an early warning to England after a series of early infringements but Halfpenny was unable to make them pay with a long-range penalty. England struggled to find any real direction with an ineffective kicking game and their cause took a further blow on the quarter hour when Kaplan lost patience with the visitors.

Mike Tindall was sent to the sin-bin for going off his feet at the breakdown to bring England's yellow card count to seven in the last three games. Jones rubbed salt in the wound by slotting the penalty and Halfpenny stretched the lead to 9-0 with a well-taken penalty midway through the half.

But 14-man England rallied in the face of adversity to notch the first try of the game. Centre Riki Flutey danced through the Welsh defence with a jinking run on half way before the ball was recycled and worked wide. Goode then changed the angle of the attack before chipping ahead into space and Sackey then won the foot race with Mark Jones to claim his 11th Test try.

Goode missed the tough conversion but was on target with a smartly-taken drop goal on the half hour to reduce the deficit to a point. Wales were by now well aware that they were in a true Test match with England matching their hosts, Worsley in particular tackling himslef to the limit to stop the progress of the likes of Wales centre Jamie Roberts and No.8 Andy Powell.

Wales raised their game after the re-start and the pressure soon told on England with their indiscipline again costing them dear. With England scrambling in defensive, Goode hauled down Halfpenny to prevent a try but he was penalised for killing the ball and was sent to the sin-bin as a result.

This time, instead of allowing England to steal the initiative, Wales turned the screw and a blistering attack saw Stephen Jones and Lee Byrne stretch the England defence before feeding Halfpenny for the score. But England were in no mood to roll over and rallied once more.

Armitage pounced in midfield before scorching through the Welsh back division for his first Test try and Toby Flood, who had replaced Goode, added the extras to close the gap to 20-15.

Johnson emptied his bench as the game entered the final quarter hoping that Julian White, Luke Narraway, Dylan Hartley and Mathew Tait could provide a telling contribution but Wales refused to buckle. Jones' fifth penalty settled the home crowd's nerves and took them beyond a converted score.

England valiantly attempted to conjure a late turnaround but Wales closed the game out to seal a memorable win and keep their Grand Slam dream alive.

Wales will now target their ninth straight Championship victory when they travel to Paris for the first-ever Friday night game on February 27 while England will look for further improvement against Ireland in Dublin.

Wales: Lee Byrne; Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Mark Jones; Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Alun-Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones (capt), Martyn Williams, Andy Powell.

Replacements: Huw Bennett for Rees (66), John Yapp, Luke Charteris, Dafydd Jones for Powell (60), Dwayne Peel for Phillips (73), James Hook, Andrew Bishop.

England: Delon Armitage; Paul Sackey, Mike Tindall, Riki Flutey, Mark Cueto; Andy Goode, Harry Ellis; Andrew Sheridan, Lee Mears, Phil Vickery, Steve Borthwick (capt), Nick Kennedy, James Haskell, Joe Worsley, Nick Easter.

Replacements: Dylan Hartley for Mears (65), Julian White for Vickery (65), Tom Croft for Kennedy (55), Luke Narraway for Haskell (54), Paul Hodgson, Toby Flood for Goode (53), Mathew Tait for Sackey (65).

Sin Bin: Tindall (16), Goode (42).

Man of the Match: Joe Worsley (England)

Att: 73,000

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Assistant referees: Alan Lewis (Ireland), Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

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