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England show World Cup grit with stirring win over Wales

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Young gun: Wales’ hooker Richard Hibbard and prop Samson Lee fail to stop England scrum half Ben Youngs

Young gun: Wales’ hooker Richard Hibbard and prop Samson Lee fail to stop England scrum half Ben Youngs

AFP/Getty Images

Young gun: Wales’ hooker Richard Hibbard and prop Samson Lee fail to stop England scrum half Ben Youngs

England's World Cup year gained lift-off at the Millennium Stadium as they launched their RBS 6 Nations campaign with a stirring 21-16 victory over Wales.

Unlike in 2013 on their last Cardiff visit when England were humiliated by a record 27-point margin, this time Chris Robshaw's men delivered when it mattered.

Despite falling 10 points behind early on to a Rhys Webb try, plus a Leigh Halfpenny conversion and penalty, England built on some mighty work by their forwards as Bath backs and Six Nations debutants Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph both claimed touchdowns.

Fly-half George Ford added three penalties and a conversion - his second strike after Wales wing Alex Cuthbert had been sin-binned - while Wales failed to score in the second period after another Halfpenny penalty and a Dan Biggar drop-goal had given them what appeared to be a solid advantage.

The teams meet again in a crunch World Cup pool game at Twickenham on September 26 and England struck a psychological blow by outmuscling Wales up-front as flanker James Haskell, number eight Billy Vunipola and prop Dan Cole all produced five-star performances.

It was arguably the most notable and important win of Stuart Lancaster's coaching reign, with England now set up for a major tilt at Six Nations silverware.

Wales had talked throughout the build-up of making a fast start, and they duly delivered, leaving England in the starting blocks as they went 10-0 ahead after just eight minutes.

Halfpenny opened their account through a long-range penalty after England wing Jonny May was punished for not rolling away, then Wales undid their opponents from a close-range scrum.

Number eight Taulupe Faletau did brilliantly under pressure to find Webb, who darted and swerved outside May for a try that Halfpenny converted.

It took England almost 15 minutes to find any kind of fluency, but they responded to Wales' onslaught in impressive fashion when a couple of powerful forward surges found back-up through a neat Mike Brown kick that Watson gathered and finished off for his first Test try.

Ford's conversion hit the post, yet England were up and running, even if another Halfpenny penalty made it 13-5 early in the second quarter of a pulsating contest.

An opening Ford penalty cut the deficit 10 minutes before half-time, while Wales lost North, who took an accidental blow to the head from England lock Dave Attwood's boot, and Scarlets back Liam Williams replaced him.

North soon returned to the action, though, as Wales looked to regain some initiative during a half that saw England respond to their early problems by displaying plenty of verve, with Joseph playing a pivotal role, but England couldn't prevent Biggar from dropping a goal with the last act of a fast and furious opening 40 minutes, as Wales trooped off eight points clear.

Their advantage was then slashed within five minutes of the restart, with England posting their second try that was a monument to patient and accurate phase-play.

They went through 20 passages of action, using their forwards to drive deep into Welsh territory and the finish was expertly applied by Joseph, who glided over the line to score, before Ford's conversion made it 16-15.

Wales were again put under enormous pressure when Haskell stormed towards the line, only to smash into the post, but referee Jerome Garces spotted some technical indiscipline in the Wales ranks and Cuthbert received a yellow card before a resulting Ford penalty put England ahead for the first time.

England should have sealed victory five minutes from time when Attwood crossed, but the try was disallowed for obstruction by replacement Nick Easter.

It prompted a frantic finale, with Wales looking to rescue the game, but they conceded another penalty 45 metres out and Ford stepped up to seal the deal.

Belfast Telegraph