Tuesday 23 January 2018

Ruthless England exploit foolish Jones sin-binning

England 30
Wales 17

Paul Rees

Rarely has a yellow card had such a profound impact on a match. Wales were looking the more threatening of two sides deadlocked at one penalty each towards the end of the opening half when a moment of crass stupidity by the second-row Alun-Wyn Jones gave England an advantage they seized with a ruthlessness of old, scoring 17 points in the 10 minutes the Lion was off the field.

If victory over a Wales side who have lost their way in the past year hardly amounts to an England renaissance, the way they took a grip after Jones had seen yellow for tripping Dylan Hartley showed a penchant for thinking on their feet that has been absent for many years. Three tries in one match contrasted to one in three last November and if England were hardly fluent, they did not lack enterprise or desire.

There was a retro feel to centenary celebrating Twickenham: sepia tints in the £10 programme in the manner of 100 years ago, when England played Wales in the first international at the ground; old-fashioned shirts sported by the home side; and a suitably atavistic build-up to an encounter between two countries who have never been friendly neighbours.

England had played in the autumn as if they had been born in 1910, but a meeting between players and management last month led to a change in emphasis. No more school lessons in classrooms, but university tutorials, with a two-way exchange, instead. And the men in white, or rather cream, started as if intent on banishing their November nightmare.

England dominated possession for the first five minutes, keeping the ball in hand but making no ground. Wales had the first chance to score, but James Hook was short from close to the half-way line after Simon Shaw had been caught off-side.

Wales were struggling in the lineout, losing three of their first five throws, and their ascendancy up front was compromised by the failure of the referee, Alain Rolland, to take a firm grip at the scrums -- five were reset in the opening half, while four resulted in penalties or free-kicks.

England did get a grip in the scrum when Jones was sent to the sin-bin after 37 minutes. Ryan Jones had got away with doing the same to Jonny Wilkinson in the opening minutes and the Wales captain received prolonged treatment after mistiming a tackle on Lewis Moody and jolting his right shoulder.

The score then had an old-fashioned hue, 3-3; Wilkinson's 12th-minute penalty after Andy Powell had flopped off his feet at a ruck was cancelled out by a long-range kick from Stephen Jones, awarded after Toby Flood had failed to release the ball, but the match turned in the minutes that Lions second-row Alun-Wyn Jones was off the field.

Wilkinson kicked the penalty and England increased the tempo. Wales had made basic mistakes all half: Lee Byrne knocked on three times in the first period, and the third proved costly. England surged forward and after Ugo Monye, Steve Borthwick and David Wilson had been held up on or close to the line, pressure told when James Haskell found space at the side of a ruck after the countdown clock had reached zero.

Wilkinson's conversion gave England a 13-3 interval lead, the same margin they had enjoyed two years ago before collapsing in the second half, and they still had three minutes to play with a man advantage. By the time Jones returned to the field, his team were 17 points down.

Borthwick robbed Tom James in the Wales half, Monye and Nick Easter made inroads and scrum-half Danny Care, who had troubled Wales with his alertness all game, dummied over after wrong-footing his opposite number, Gareth Cooper, and Wilkinson's conversion made it 20-3. Jones returned to a changed landscape.

Before, Wales had appeared the more threatening of two sides: Hook had prompted a few openings and Martyn Williams popped up in threatening areas.

Wales reasserted control with 15 men, but England remain an obdurate side to play catch-up against.

Jones made partial amends three minutes after coming back on when his long pass found Adam Jones lurking in the midfield. The prop only had a hop, step and a jump to make the line but he looked uncertain.

Shane Williams made an attempt to loop outside the forward but Jones decided it was easier to run than pass and flopped over.

Stephen Jones nailed the conversion but soon after missed a long-range penalty after Easter was blown for holding on. England started conceding penalties at the scrum again but Wales lacked fluency, making one basic error after another. They struggled to get Williams into the game but, as England settled on containment, only needed one moment of inspiration.

It came from Hook who surged between Tim Payne and Mathew Tait and handed off Care before touching down close to the posts. Stephen Jones's conversion brought Wales to back within three points and they scented victory. Their sense of smell failed them: Jones's pass to Leigh Halfpenny just inside his own half was picked off by Delon Armitage.

He fed Flood who put Tait away and although the centre was caught by Williams, he found Haskell outside him and the flanker claimed his second try for Wilkinson to convert. The out-half had the last word with a long-range penalty that gave the scoreline a distorted feel, even if Wales were the more worthy losers.

Scorers -- England: Haskell 2 tries; Wilkinson 3 cons, 3 pens; Care try Wales: A Jones, Hook try each; S Jones 2 cons, pen

England: D Armitage; M Cueto, M Tait, T Flood (D Hipkiss 77), U Monye; J Wilkinson, D Care (P Hodgson 76); T Payne, D Hartley (S Thompson 60), D Wilson (D Cole 60); S Shaw (L Deacon 70), S Borthwick (capt); J Haskell, L Moody (S Armitage 76), N Easter.

Wales: L Byrne; T James (L Halfpenny 65), J Hook, J Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, G Cooper (R Rees 68); P James, G Williams (H Bennett 54), A Jones; A Jones, L Charteris (B Davies 54); A Powell (J Thomas 68), M Williams, R Jones.

Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).

Sunday Independent

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