Planet Rugby

England reborn as Easter rocks Wales

04th August 2007 17:49

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Shaun Perry

Cloud Nice: Michael Owen attempts to tackle Shaun Perry

England gave their Rugby World Cup credentials a timely boost by putting Wales to the sword at sunny Twickenham on Saturday. Nick Easter contributed four of England's nine tries as the visitors slumped to a painful 62-5 defeat.

Shaun Perry, Lawrence Dallaglio, Steve Borthwick, Jason Robinson and Mathew Tait also touched down, while Jonny Wilkinson's seven conversions and a penalty saw him pass 900 Test points.

The win surpassed England's previous best of 50-10 against Wales during the 2002 Six Nations tournament.

Dallaglio, one of England's 2003 World Cup heroes, appeared for the final 20 minutes and scored a try, yet unsung Easter had already produced a headline-grabbing performance.

England head coach Brian Ashton will announce his 30-man World Cup squad in 10 days' time, and Easter apart, there were also significant contributions from centres Dan Hipkiss and Andy Farrell, together with Perry and lock Simon Shaw.

England could meet Wales in the World Cup quarter-finals on the opening weekend of October. If today's evidence proves an accurate gauge, it will be a no-contest.

England eclipsed their 43-9 World Cup warm-up victory over Wales in Cardiff four years ago.

On that occasion, they effectively sent a third team to the Millennium Stadium. Wales repaid the 'compliment' but it backfired miserably and England must expect a far sterner test against Twickenham visitors France next Saturday.

Glorious sunshine and a 66,000 crowd greeted England for the opening Test of their warm-up programme, but there was an inauspicious start when full-back Mark Cueto suffered an injury warming up.

England had already replaced back strain victim Peter Richards on the bench with Harlequins scrum-half Andy Gomarsall, when Cueto withdrew due to a pulled groin muscle.

Tait took over the number 15 shirt for his first England start in that position, but the injury seemingly came too late for the world champions to name an additional replacement, so they went into action with just six substitutes.

England still sent out a powerful line-up - their match-day 22 included five Test skippers, plus ex-Great Britain league leader Farrell - while Wales were nowhere near full strength.

Only a third of their starting XV could be considered World Cup certainties, and they arrived in south-west London without a win at Twickenham since their 1988 Five Nations Triple Crown season.

Cueto's injury though seemed to set a tone as Farrell went off for treatment to a head wound inside four minutes and Toby Flood took over.

Wales set the early pace and England struggled to settle, with Wilkinson rifling an opening 45-metre penalty chance wide of the target.

But any nerves were calmed on 14 minutes when Perry's sniping break reaped its reward after a posse of England forwards backed him up and Easter touched down.

Wilkinson botched the conversion attempt, but England's heavyweight pack had already started starving Wales of possession before Farrell - his head bandaged - returned after a 20-minute absence.

Wales struggled to cope with England's increasing physical intensity, and a second touchdown arrived on 20 minutes when the forwards drove possession from a lineout, enabling Easter to double his try tally.

Wilkinson arrowed a difficult conversion between the posts, and England could reflect on a 12-0 lead with an hour of the match remaining.

Wales, despite Ospreys flanker Alun-Wyn Jones's heroic defensive efforts, remained pinned on the back foot, unable to handle England's greater speed and cohesion around the critical breakdown area.

Gaps began to appear in midfield, and after Hipkiss exploded through one inviting opening, he was grounded by a dangerous Aled Brew tackle that resulted in the Wales wing being yellow-carded by French referee Joel Jutge.

Wilkinson's straightforward penalty hoisted England 22-0 ahead, but sanctuary finally arrived for Wales in the form of Jutge's half-time whistle, even though they faced an alarming damage-limitation exercise.

With the honourable exception of Jones and his fellow flanker Colin Charvis, Wales had been horribly outmuscled up front.

England skipper Phil Vickery, who went down nursing an injury to his left ankle just before the break, was replaced by Bath's Matt Stevens, with flanker Martin Corry taking over as captain.

But it was soon business as usual for England, taking barely five minutes of the second period to blow Wales apart once more as Easter claimed the first hat-trick by an England forward since Neil Back in a World Cup qualifier against Holland nine years ago.

Wales were all over the place, and Wilkinson's conversion of a 50th-minute Perry try made it 36-0 before Dafydd James at least provided the visitors with a well-worked consolation try.

Dallaglio quickly resumed normal service though and England could reflect on a job well done.

Man of the match: Hands went up across the England team, giving Brian Ashton a happy headache as he prepares to make the final cull. Nick Easter, Joe Worsley, Dan Hipkiss and Jason Robinson played out of their skins, but our award goes to the man who made it all happen - Shaun Perry. Suddenly the sad loss of Harry Ellis doesn't seem too critical.

Moment of the match: A bunch of moments, perhaps. England's resolve to play a wide game, and the many fine moments that sprang from that plan.

Villian of the match: A few high tackles and two yellow cards, but nothing too criminal. No award.

The scorers:

For England:

Tries: Robinson, Dallaglio, Tait, Borthwick, Perry, Easter 4

Cons: Wilkinson 7

Pen: Wilkinson

For Wales:

Try: D James

Yellow card(s): Brew (Wales) - dangerous tackle, 35; Jones (Wales) - killing the ball, 75.

The teams:

England: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 David Strettle, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Andy Farrell, 11 Jason Robinson, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Shaun Perry, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Joe Worsley, 6 Martin Corry, 5 Steve Borthwick, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Phil Vickery (c), 2 Mark Regan, 1 Andrew Sheridan.

Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Lewis Moody, 19 Lawrence Dallaglio, 20 Andy Gomarsall, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Mathew Tait.

Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Aled Brew, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Gareth Thomas (c), 11 Dafydd James, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Michael Owen, 7 Colin Charvis, 6 Alun-Wyn Jones, 5 Rob Sidoli, 4 Will James, 3 Chris Horsman, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Iestyn Thomas.

Replacements: 16 Gethin Jenkins, 17 Rhys Thomas, 18 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 19 Alix Popham, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 James Hook, 22 Tom James.

Conditions: Bright and sunny with highs of 28C and clear skies

Referee: Jol Jutge (France)

Touch judges: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Romain Poite (France)

Television match official: Christophe Berdos (France)

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