Wales 19-26 England, Six Nations, Millennium Stadium, February 4
Flood sets England on their way
February 4, 2011
Chris Ashton's brace sealed victory for England
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England defeated Wales 26-19 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Friday night to get their Six Nations campaign off to a flying start.
With three Twickenham fixtures to come, England placed themselves in a commanding position early on in this year's tournament by inflicting another damaging defeat on their fierce rivals, who are still searching for a first victory since the final game of last year's Championship.
Chris Ashton weighed in for a brace of tries to set the foundation for England's victory, although plaudits must be reserved for an immaculate display by fly-half Toby Flood, who converted both efforts and landed three penalties for a side captained for the first time by Gloucester's Mike Tindall.
Wales clawed their way back into the game in the second-half thanks to a Morgan Stoddart try and the collective boots of Stephen Jones and James Hook, but the hosts were made to regret an aimless period of play in the first-half while England lock Louis Deacon was in the sin-bin.
England hooker Dylan Hartley enjoyed a quiet, unruffled game in the face of the media storm that permeated the build-up and despite the best efforts of a packed house for the final Friday night game in the foreseeable future, Wales were unable to consistently breathe fire into their display.
The home side flirted with near disaster in the opening seconds as Jones was flattened in an early clash with Ben Foden, but the fly-half's knock on led to first blood for Wales as their scrum, shorn of British & Irish Lions Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, won one against the head. Hook failed to add a long-range three points and while the home side were able to generate quick ball in the aftermath, a loose kick from Andy Powell conceded possession.
A rash side-entry from Andrew Sheridan handed Wales another shot at the uprights but a dazed Jones was wide from 30 metres on six minutes. England enjoyed their first possession thanks to a loose kick from Stoddart, but Wales wrestled back the ball thanks to a fine cover tackle on Foden by Shane Williams.
Hartley's first lineout passed without alarm on nine minutes and England levelled the scrum penalty scores to set up camp deep in opposition territory. Wales survived the initial surge thanks to a horror pass from Tindall but then gift-wrapped the opening try for Ashton. Flood exploited a yawning gap in the Welsh fringe defence and his winger surged up on the inside to cruise over under the posts on 13 minutes.
Flood converted and from pressure at a scrum on the Welsh 22 soon added a simple penalty to establish a 10-point lead. Wales then pulled out some trickery through Hook and Jonathan Davies - who may feel the wrath of the citing commissioner for a trip on Ashton - and were rewarded with their first three points of the game after 22 minutes thanks to an errant foot at a ruck by James Haskell.
England ramped up the pressure again with a series of effective drive from their back-row but were caught cold by a Welsh counter-attack through Phillips and Stoddart, which eventually led to a yellow card for Louis Deacon as a break from flanker Dan Lydiate was ended cynically in the shadow of England's posts.
Jones added the penalty but Wales' composure deserted them during Deacon's cooling-off period. A loose boot at a ruck gifted Flood a further three points before a scrum against the head and woefully overthrown lineout allowed England to monopolise possession and grind down the seconds. Deacon returned at a vital moment in the half as a charge from deep by Davies led to a knock-on by Foden. Wales secured the ball and quickly looked for Williams, whose chip ahead ran dead to bring a close to proceedings.
Wales closed the gap with a Jones penalty three minutes after the restart but were soon on the back-foot as tight-head Craig Mitchell was shown yellow for playing the ball on the floor. The nerveless Flood took England's lead back out to seven and the visitors did not pass up their opportunity against 14 men. After Wales had survived several scares close to their line, Nick Easter playing a prominent role, a surge from Tom Palmer opened an overlap out wide, where Mark Cueto was able to put Ashton over in the corner.
Flood continued on his merry way with a touchline conversion but Wales lit the touchpaper to score their first try. Lock Bradley Davies provided impetus with a solid carry and his namesake, Jonathan, carved the opening. The Scarlets midfielder took Shontayne Hape on the outside and found Stoddart, who pirouetted across the whitewash as the clock ticked past an hour. Jones landed an equally impressive conversion from out wide.
England looked to bite back after Mitchell was again penalised but Wales were able to counter their maul on this occasion, with Mike Phillips clearing his lines with a box kick. Hook then added a penalty to cut the deficit to four points heading into the final 10 minutes but England were again handed a release valve as his replacement at fullback, Lee Byrne, was penalised for holding on in his own 22. With Flood withdrawn, the familiar figure of Jonny Wilkinson stepped up and sealed the deal with the final penalty of the game.
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Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.