England chalk up solid win
November 8, 2008
England's Danny Cipriani dives in to score England's second try
© Getty Images
Martin Johnson insists he does not care about his England team playing "sexy rugby''. But the managerial era of England's legendary captain began with as seductive a brand of football as Twickenham has seen for some time.
Inevitably, at the heart of it was fly-half Danny Cipriani, who scored 19 points, including his first try for his country which he celebrated with a typically flamboyant swallow dive.
Two tries from Paul Sackey, one each from debut boy Nick Kennedy and Lee Mears were the other vital statistics as Johnson's men absorbed the big hits of the stars from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga and hit back with a display of pace and panache of their own which was promising for the future.
Rarely can four new caps have bedded in quite as comfortably as Kennedy, Riki Flutey, Ugo Monye and fullback Delon Armitage, who deservedly received the man of the match award.
And seldom has an England scrum-half demonstrated such fleetness of foot and mind as Danny Care who had a hand in three of England's tries. On top of that captain Steve Borthwick and Kennedy were totally dominant in the line-out while the pack were rock solid, albeit against opponents not renowned for their scrummaging.
Of course, we should not get carried away. This, after all, was only the seventh Test the Islanders have played since their inauguration in 2002 and they have yet to win a match. They have obvious talent in players such as fly-half Pierre Hola and Samoan centre Seilala Mapusua but discipline has never been one of their strong suits.
Australia, South Africa and New Zealand visit Rugby HQ in the next three weeks and they will provide a much sterner challenge. But, despite Twickenham being littered with empty seats - a combination of the credit crunch and the reputation of the opposition drawing a crowd of just 55,457, Johnson could not have hoped for a more solid start,
Johnson's last task on national duty at Twickenham five years ago had been to parade the World Cup around the stadium. His ambition would be to do so again in three years, this time as the architect rather than the coal face foreman whose shift as captain and legend saw England win 15 of their 16 matches at Twickenham.
As it was, following a bright opening by the Islanders, Cipriani eventually got the scoreboard ticking after 10 minutes with a simple penalty. But it was the try which followed four minutes later which gave a glimpse of the power England have under the engine.
Nippy work from Care set up the platform for the ball to fizz across the line, Cipriani, Flutey and Armitage all involved before Armitage flipped an intelligent reverse pass over his shoulder for Sackey to run in unopposed.
Simple rugby, precisely executed, with impressive pace and no little flair. It brought barely a flicker from Johnson up in the stands, although those famous eyebrows did narrow markedly two minutes later when Cipriani's kick was charged down by Fiji's Seru Rabeni who gathered the ball and dived over the England line.
Not Cipriani's finest moment, but then genius rarely comes without the occasional flaw. Another one followed immediately when Cipriani's restart went straight into touch. At that stage it was a curate's egg of an England performance. Promising in parts, error strewn at times. Lacking the dominance of old. Frustrating.
No wonder prop Andrew Sheridan was warned for swearing by referee George Clancy. But gradually it improved. Another Cipriani penalty was converted before the back line again showed its fleetness of foot, this time Harlequins wing Monye rounding the defence on the outside to give the supporting Cipriani the easiest of run-ins for his first England try.
The dive was ostentatious. But that is Cipriani. Kennedy and hooker Mears, players more of the bread-and-butter variety, added further tries and more basic celebrations to give the scoreline a deserving look of authority.
The one sour note came late on when Fiji number six Semisi Naevo received a yellow card for a nasty high tackle on Sackey as the Wasps wing went over for his second try. Thankfully, Sackey emerged with senses intact. As for England there was a genuine sense of sparkle and rejuvenation which was encouraging.
England: Armitage, Sackey, Noon, Flutey, Monye, Cipriani, Care, Sheridan, Mears, Stevens, Borthwick, Kennedy, Croft, Rees, Easter.
Replacements: Flood for Cipriani (76), Ellis for Care (62), Hartley for Mears (76), Vickery for Stevens (58), Palmer for Kennedy (58), Lipman for Rees (62), Haskell for Easter (68).
Pacific Islanders: Ratuvou, Tagicakibau, Rabeni, Mapusua, Delasau, Hola, Rauluni, Va'a, Lutui, Johnston, Levi, Leawere, Naevo, Latu, Maka.
Replacements: Taione for Rabeni (58), Bai for Hola (48), Martens for Rauluni (72), Koto Vuli for Lutui (68), Pulu for Johnston (58), T-Pole for Levi (62), Stowers for Maka (17).
Sin Bin: Naevo (75).
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU).