Thursday 22 March 2018

Defiant English victory buys Johnson more time

Mick Cleary

Dealing with victory will be as challenging a task for Martin Johnson as coping with defeat has been. When the squad gather again today to prepare for Sunday's match against Italy in Rome, any elation at beating Wales will have been replaced by a sobering sense of reality. One wallow does not make for a championship spring. Rejuvenation, yes; restoration, not yet.

England were defiant rather than imposing, opportunist rather than magisterial. Wales sparkled at times while England slugged. And, certainly, they were lucky. But fortune is invariably earned rather than donated. The first-half sending to the sin-bin of Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones did have a major impact on the match, with England scoring 17 points in his absence.

His transgression, though, was in part caused by pressure exerted by England at that precise moment. The prime trigger, of course, was his own hare-brained petulance. His shame trooping off was compounded by a post-match rollicking from assistant coach Shaun Edwards.

If anything, the fact that England had to hang on for dear life during an invigorating Wales second-half fightback, during which they closed to within three points, will stand Johnson's side in good stead. Wales spent an astonishing 31min 35sec in England's half after the break. England had to resist and grasp at fleeting opportunity to seal the much-welcomed win with a late, 70-metre interception try. The win will buy England time and it will breed belief, as well as a sense of security.

"Maybe it was a good thing the team went through that," Johnson said. "The crowd was getting tense and it was a nervous situation. It's then about finding a way to get the next score and the team had the wherewithal to get through it. Composure is not something you can give players in a box. "

The pack earned their Saturday-night ale, holding on in the scrum despite intermittent creaks. The England line-out, though, had a terrific afternoon, causing no end of turmoil in Welsh ranks. Steve Borthwick has taken a verbal battering and this was his most authoritative game in an England shirt.

His line-out presence reaped due return while his grappling in the loose forced the turnover from where England scored their all-important second try through Danny Care to give them a 20-3 lead in the 44th minute.

The Stade Francais blindside flanker James Haskell scored two tries, the fruits of all-consuming effort and a fair lick of pace to track Mathew Tait for the final try. His first came on the back of Jones' departure rounding off a tight-knit collective effort.

Wales will have cause to rue more than Jones' clodhopping indiscretion.

Their goal-kicking was also poor, James Hook missing two early penalty chances, Stephen Jones another. Jonny Wilkinson, by contrast, did not miss a thing, landing six pots at goal, three of them conversions.

Hook was the most inventive back on the field and deserved his try in the 71st minute, weaving and stepping past three defenders. Prop Adam Jones had sounded the bugle for the Welsh recovery with a 49th-minute try.

It was to little avail. For Johnson, this was the most significant win of his tenure. And for Gatland? Would this rank second only to losing the second Lions Test last summer? Yes, came the reply. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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, J Hook, J Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, G Cooper (R Rees 68); P James (L Halfpenny 65), G Williams (H Bennett 54), A Rhys Jones, A-Wyn Jones, L Charteris (B Davies 54), A Powell (J Thomas 68), M Williams, R Jones (capt).

REF -- A Rolland (Ireland).

Irish Independent

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