Wales 19-9 England, Millennium Stadium, August 13
Gutsy Wales down England
Graham Jenkins at the Millennium Stadium
August 13, 2011
Wales' James Hook crosses for the only try of the game
© Getty Images
Wales got their Rugby World Cup prepaprations back on track with a battling 19-9 victory over England in their clash at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
James Hook pounced for a crucial second-half try to propel the hosts to a memorable victory that was built on a superb defensive display that shackled an England side that largely dominated territory and possession. Hook finished with a 13-point haul with Rhys Priestland slotting two early penalties but a thigh strain to their fly-half and a wrist injury for centre Gavin Henson are set to overshadow the win.
England notched three penalties through No.10 Toby Flood but repeatedly failed to capitalise on their opportunities and as a result failed to follow up their 23-19 victory over Wales at Twickenham last weekend.
Two penalties apiece for Priestland and Flood were the only scores of a half dominated by the home side's superb defensive work to keep their dominant rivals at bay.
A teasing kick off was pounced upon by Wales' George North and further pressure soon drew the opening penalty of the game that Priestland slotted to give the hosts a dream start. But their joy was short lived with an offside infringement from the re-start handing Flood an immediate chance to level the scores which he duly took.
Both sides appeared to feed on the intense atmosphere and the ferocity of the work at the breakdown and the tackles in the loose underlined what was at stake for sides and the players individually.
Wales laid down an impressive marker at scrum time after ten minutes and their reward was a simple penalty for Priestland from straight in front. But the hosts' eagerness to get a stranglehold on the game let them down again a few moments later with a penalty going against them at the breakdown that Flood kicked to the corner in a clear sign of intent.
Lawes leapt high at the subsequent lineout before the ball was worked wide to Matt Banahan who was denied by some desperate defence from Shane Williams and James Hook.
England looked to turn the screw by opting for a scrum when Wales coughed up another penalty on their own 5m line and the home side's pack came under increasing pressure from successive rests. Yet another penalty prompted a warning for the Welsh scrum and bemusement from the England forwards who were left empty-handed as a good tackle from Gavin Henson robbed them of momentum before the ball was cleared.
The visitors were soon back inside the Welsh 22 as referee Alain Rolland's whistle continued to hammer the Welsh. But again the Welsh defence held firm after a series of raids from England's big men in the shadow of the posts.
England continued to pepper the Welsh rearguard with a high kick from Flood putting Hook under pressure and with a lack of support the penalty soon came with Flood taking this opportunity to level the scores from the kicking tee.
The battle at the breakdown continued to go England's way with Flood happy to capitalise on his side's physical dominance by ensuring the game was played in Wales' half. Some slick handling threatened to open up the Welsh but although largely error-free compared to last week, the precision was still not quite there.
The introduction of Danny Care for Richard Wigglesworth after the England scrum-half picked up a knock did little to knock England out of their stride and the No.9 was involved as Foden found a great touch in the corner. The ball was cleared but having lost Henson to injury, to be replaced by Scott Williams, the penalty count returned to haunt Wales. The lineout was again the preferred option but again Wales slammed the door shut with some excellent defensive work.
There was no let up from England with an electric burst of speed from Care taking him deep inside the 22 but it was an all too familiar story as Wales once again cleared their lines. There was still time for one more raid from England with captain Mike Tindall exploiting a hole but a great tackle from Wales skipper Sam Warburton on Shontayne Hape brought a swift end to the move and ensured the sides went into the break all-square.
Wales introduced Aled Brew for the second half with Hook moving to No.10 as part of a re-shuffle but it was England who continued to dictate proceedings. Tindall spearheaded an early attack that forced Wales into another penalty and as Roberts made his way to the sin-bin, Flood slotted the kick to give his side the lead for the first time in the game.
England's shortcomings inside the Welsh 22 were still clearly evident but Wales were forced into desperate measures with North flirting with a yellow card as he attempted to put the brakes on another sweeping move.
Wales were forced to live off scraps but took heart from limited success and the return of Roberts to the fray. That momentum took them inside the England 22 where they finally found the breakthrough. Williams and North both went close to breaking England's stubborn resistance before the ball was worked back inside to Hook who shrugged off the tackle of Cole before stepping around Care for the try. Hook added the extras as Tindall limped off for England as part of a raft of changes aimed at bolstering their challenge.
Starved of the ball by a revitalised Wales, England struggled to make significant gains and were soon left chasing the game after Hook landed a long range penalty in the wake of some exemplary work at the breakdown by Warburton.
Hodgson, on as a replacement for Flood, did his best to turn the tide with a good kick to touch as the game entered the final ten minutes and while Wales cleared their lines they were soon down to 14-men once again with scrum-half Mike Phillips shown a yellow card for killing the ball. England looked to capitalise but repeatedly failed to do so as the clock continued to work against them.
Armitage and Foden combined to force Wales on to the back foot inside their own 22 with just three minutes remaining. England retained the ball at the lineout but were soon robbed of the ball by a determined Welsh defence. England's misery was complete when Hook hammered over one final penalty in the final minute after winger Mark Cueto had been penalised for holding on.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.