Six Nations favourites England got their 2011 campaign off on the right foot on Friday night as they overcame Wales 26-19 in Cardiff.
Six Nations favourites England got their 2011 campaign off on the right foot on Friday as they defeated Wales 26-19 at the Millennium Stadium.
Much of the midweek talk had been about the props, line-out and that man Dylan Hartley but in truth those three facets of this one were swamped by the men out wide as Chris Ashton's brace of tries saw the Red Rose silence a hostile Cardiff.
Victory on the road for the last instalment of the Friday night experiment will slide down even sweeter for England in the knowledge that they now have three games at Twickenham – a venue they seldom lose at in the championship.
Wales had come out of the blocks hell bent on proving a point to their bitter rivals. However, the English stood tall and weathered an early assault before launching one of their own that ultimately brought the first points on fourteen minutes. Toby Flood was the architect, ghosting through a hole on the home 22 before feeding Northampton winger Ashton who swan-dived under the uprights. The conversion made the scores 0-7.
Flood extended the lead further before the quarter before Stephen Jones succeeded where James Hook had failed twice earlier from distance. The Scarlet knocked over a couple of three-pointers after English indiscretions, the latter offence seeing Louis Deacon binned.
The man advantage didn't result in much joy for Wales though, who struggled to recapture that sustained possession they'd enjoyed in the opening stages. In fact, England were the ones who came out of the ten-minute spell on top in terms of the scoreboard if one discounts Jones' kick while Leicester's Deacon departed for the walk of shame.
And so with a seven-point margin at the break, England were most definitely the happier of the two as Flood was completely on top of his opposite number in terms of creativity.
Wales did have their moments though, but too often they wasted promising attacking positions through poor kicking when keeping ball in hand would have proved a more threatening option.
Jones completed his penalty hat-trick within three minutes of the restart, yet indiscipline then surfaced as Craig Mitchell was carded for a technical infringement.
It was the last thing Wales wanted, and another Flood strike put England 16-9 in front before Ashton poached his second try after Tom Palmer's powerful run spread-eagled Wales' defence and Mark Cueto sent his fellow wing across.
Wales looked down and out, yet they struck back right on cue when Morgan Stoddart took Davies' scoring pass after England centre Shontayne Hape blasted out of the defensive line.
The try gave Wales renewed hope, and an air of anticipation surrounded Hook's move to fly-half after Jones went off with thirteen minutes left.
Hook's first act was to kick a penalty, leaving Wales just four points adrift, but England reverted to their forwards, Lee Byrne conceded a penalty and Jonny Wilkinson did the rest.
Man-of-the-match: Ben Foden was a real threat when in possession while two tries from Chris Ashton deserves a mention. But fly-half Toby Flood was the director of matters.
Pen: Jones 3, Hook
Tries: Ashton 2
Con: Flood 2
Pen: Flood 3, Wilkinson
Wales: 15 James Hook, 14 Morgan Stoddart, 13 Jamie Roberts, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Andy Powell, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Matthew Rees (capt), 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 John Yapp, 18 Ryan Jones, 19 Jonathan Thomas, 20 Dwayne Peel, 21 Rhys Priestland, 22 Lee Byrne.
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Mike Tindall (capt), 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 David Wilson, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Joe Worsley, 20 Danny Care, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Matt Banahan.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Alan Lewis (Ireland), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)