Rugby World Cup 2007
England book quarter-final berth
September 28, 2007
Paul Sackey races in to score one of his two tries
© Getty Images
England rallied from an early deficit to convincingly beat Tonga 36-20 at the Parc des Princes in Paris and book their place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
Paul Sackey's try double helped England into the World Cup quarter-finals - and a clash against Australia in Marseille tomorrow week.
Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson added 16 points from the boot, while there were touchdowns for centre Mathew Tait and substitute Andy Farrell, his first in England colours, as the reigning world champions clinched a bonus point to finish second in Pool A.
Tonga led 10-3 early on - centre Sukanaivalu Hufanga claimed a well-worked touchdown - but England had too much control and organisation up-front to avoid being victims of a major upset.
No reigning rugby world champion had failed to make the quarter-finals in 20 years, and England had no intention of creating some ignominious history.
England arrived at Parc des Princes knowing they were one defeat away from being condemned as the worst reigning champions in Rugby World Cup history.
No previous holder of the Webb Ellis Trophy had exited before the quarter-finals, yet that ignominious fate awaited England if Tonga could avange a 13-try, 101-10 defeat at Twickenham during the 1999 World Cup.
Victory though, and England could relish a last-eight clash against Australia - the team they beat to be crowned world champions four years ago - in Marseille tomorrow week.
England head coach Brian Ashton, buoyed by last Saturday's encouraging 44-22 victory over Samoa, made two changes, with lock Steve Borthwick and flanker Lewis Moody both called up.
But there was no place for World Cup skipper Phil Vickery. Despite completing a two-match ban, Vickery had to be content with a place on the bench as flanker Martin Corry retained captaincy duties.
Vickery's 2003 World Cup colleagues Lawrence Dallaglio and Joe Worsley joined him among the replacements, while Pool A surprise package Tonga were lifted by flanker Hale T Pole's return after suspension.
Tonga, already guaranteed the most successful World Cup campaign in their history, would progress alongside group winners South Africa if they endedEngland's hopes.
Heavy rain had lashed the French capital all day, and with temperatures also dipping, conditions were hugely in England's favour.
England wore black armbands on their tracksuit tops in memory of team manager Vivienne Brown's father, who died earlier this week.
The world champions were once again roared on by significant five-figure travelling support, and lock Ben Kay led the side out as he won his 50th cap.
Tonga performed their traditional pre-match haka just feet from the England side, with referee Alain Rolland keeping a close eye in case matters got out of hand.
England suffered an immediate injury fright when Moody took a hefty blow as he attempted to charge down a Tongan clearance, but he resumed after treatment.
Tonga looked to immediately attack England around the fringes, and their direct running tested the red rose defence.
England appeared nervous and edgy, and it was no surprise when Tonga went ahead through a 48-metre penalty by fly-half Pierre Hola, his country's record Test match points scorer.
England needed to assert themselves, and wing Paul Sackey's run following an impressive forward drive ended with Rolland awarding a penalty chance which Jonny Wilkinson gratefully accepted.
Tonga still looked more dangerous with ball in hand, and England had their work cut out, not helped by poor midfield tackling, with inside centre Olly Barkley being particularly exposed.
And it came as no surprise when Tonga forged ahead, with the Pacific islanders again prospering from weak midfield defence.
Centre Sukanaivalu Hufanga claimed the try, converted by Hola, and England were stung into action, responding just two minutes later.
Wilkinson sacrificed a kickable penalty, rifling a superb crosskick which wing Paul Sackey gathered brilliantly under pressure to touch down.
Video referee Mark Lawrence confirmed the score, but Wilkinson missed the touchline conversion attempt and Tonga led 10-8 after 20 minutes.
England knew they were in a major scrap as Tonga confirmed their pre-match position of second in Pool A was no fluke.
But Wilkinson's opportunism brought England quickly back into contention following an uncertain start, and it bred confidence as the world champions began impressively going through the phases.
England had to be patient and wait for gaps to appear, and there were signs of Tonga suddenly panicking under pressure.
But Barkley, who was struggling in all aspects, then missed a drop-goal from straight in front of the posts, handing Tonga a huge reprieve.
Barkley's blunder was a woeful waste of territory and possession, but Wilkinson showed him how it should be done by landing a drop-goal from similar range eight minutes before half-time.
Wilkinson's second penalty made it 14-10 to England, and then Tonga pressed the self-destruct button.
The islanders mounted a dangerous attack on the edge of England's 22, but Hola's reckless pass was dropped and collected by Sackey, who raced 70 metres to claim a try that extended England's advantage to nine points.
England, having toiled for the lead, had to ram home their advantage and stick to a solid, if unspectacular gameplan.
Moody was again in the wars, the victim of a high tackle by Tonga skipper Nili Latu, but Wilkinson missed the resulting penalty as the day's earlier rain returned.
England were content to play a territory game, and Tonga found themselves living off scraps of possession.
But the Pacific islanders relieved a long spell of England pressure by storming upfield and claiming a five-metre scrum, yet Moody's brilliant spoiling work meant any danger was negated.
The game had developed into a scrappy contest, with errors abounding in slippery conditions, yet England did not appear in serious threat of conceding another try.
England head coach Brian Ashton took Barkley off in the 52nd minute, replacing him with former Great Britain rugby league captain Andy Farrell, which promised to shore things up in midfield.
Hola kicked his second penalty two minutes later - the first points of a poor third quarter - and England had to regroup, with their lead cut to six.
And they delivered on 57 minutes when neat handling work by hooker George Chuter and number eight Nick Easter sent centre Mathew Tait over for a fine try.
Wilkinson's conversion - after Vickery had replaced Matt Stevens - gave him 950 points for England, hoisting his side 26-13 ahead.
England had belatedly done the hard work, and they hammered home their superiority during the closing stages.
Dallaglio replaced Corry and, with 14 minutes remaining, Farrell burst through for his first try in England colours, with Wilkinson converting.
Wilkinson's second drop-goal seven minutes from time put England 20 points clear, and then it was all about a possible consolation score for Tonga.
Flanker Pole duly came up trumps, with Hola landing the touchline conversion, but England were home 36-20.
England (19) 36
Tonga (10) 20
England: J Lewsey (Wasps); P Sackey (Wasps), M Tait (Newcastle), O Barkley (Bath), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), G Chuter (Leicester), M Stevens (Bath), S Borthwick (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), M Corry (Leicester, capt), L Moody (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: L Mears (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps), L Dallaglio (Wasps), J Worsley (Wasps), P Richards (London Irish), A Farrell (Saracens), D Hipkiss (Leicester).
Tonga: V Lilo (Fanga 'o Pilolevu); T Tu'ifua (Counties Manakau), S Hufanga (Brive), E Taione (Sanyo Wild Knights), J Vaka (World Fighting Bull); P Hola (Kobe Steel), S Tu'ipulotu (unattached); S Tonga'uiha (Northampton), A Lutui (Worcester), K Pulu (Perpignan), V Vaki (Perpignan), L Fa'aoso (Marist), H T Pole (Southland), N Latu (Bay of Plenty, capt), F Maka (Toulouse).
Replacements: E Taukafa (Lyon), T Filise (Cardiff Blues), M Molitika (Cardiff Blues), I Afeaki (Grenoble), S Havea (Marist), H Tonga'uiha (Vaini Club), A Havili (Worcester).
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).
Touch judges: Craig Joubert (South Africa) and Christophe Berdos (France).