Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Wilkinson inspires England victory

Manu Tuilagi

Jonny Wilkinson produced a man-of-the-match performance in what could be his last game at Twickenham as England opened their Rugby World Cup preparations with a 23-19 victory over Wales.

Wilkinson scored 13 points from a penalty, two drop goals and conversions to the tries scored by James Haskell and England debutant Manu Tuilagi.

England led 20-7 early in the second half but Wales pushed them all the way with tries from Shane Williams and a second from George North, who added to his first-half score.

But at what cost? Wales full-back Morgan Stoddart was carried off on a stretcher with his leg in a brace and his World Cup ambitions appear to be over.

England captain Lewis Moody limped out of the action with a worrying recurrence of the knee injury which had kept him out of the Six Nations.

There were some eye-catching individual displays - notably from Wilkinson, Haskell and full-back Delon Armitage - yet they never seriously threatened total control on an afternoon that wavered between full-blown Test match and pre-season friendly.

Wilkinson kicked England into a sixth-minute lead, but Wales bided their time, continued to move through the phases and England eventually ran out of defensive numbers as Stoddart sent North over. It was a simple try in terms of its execution, and Rhys Priestland showed no signed of nerves as he bisected the posts with his touchline conversion attempt.

England crossed themselves from an imposing attacking scrum, and it was Haskell who powered over, easily brushing off Wales flanker Dan Lydiate's attempted tackle. Wilkinson added the extras, giving England a 10-7 advantage, before a trademark drop-goal left Wales six points behind at the break.

England came out firing in the second period, and it took them just five minutes to prise open Wales' defence, courtesy of an exquisite Wilkinson offload that freed Tuilagi and the Leicester powerhouse required no second invitation, powering through three attempted tackles to touch down between the posts just minutes before Stoddart was hurt.

But the rest of the second-half belonged to Wales, as Williams and North touched down, underlining how a summer of relentless fitness work - it included two punishing training camps in Poland - had paid dividends.

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