Planet Rugby

Wilko keeps England alive

22nd September 2007 16:49

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Corry try v Samoa

Martin Corry opens England's account

England kept alive their World Cup dream with a 44-22 win over Samoa at Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes, on Saturday. The victory came courtesy of the defending champions' one bright star, fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.

It was Wilkinson's first appearance at the 2007 tournament, having missed England's first two matches through and ankle injury, and he yet again proved his value to a team that looked bereft of ideas for large periods of the game.

Stand-in captain Martin Corry, who scored two of his team's four tries, was obviously pleased with the win and England's ability to grind out a win.

But apart from Wilkinson's performance - which included 24 points and two classic drop-goals - they produced very little that would suggest the 2003 champions would be able to move past the quarter-finals.

Before they can start thinking of the play-offs England will still have to negotiate the tricky Tongans in a pool decider in Paris next Friday, September 28.

But for now they are alive!

While the English forwards were clearly superior against the Samoans on Saturday, it is what happened behind the packs that should be of major concern to England head coach Brian Ashton.

While Wilkinson's influence was there for all to see - and they indeed appeared to have become a one-man band - the Samoan's were far more creative in the backs.

They often broke tackles much more easily and were prepared to run from deep.

What let the Pacific Islanders down was their ball control and very poor display in the set pieces. While they found it easy to break the first line of defence, they were often stopped by the cover and were just never patient enough to ensure those many half-chances became real threats.

The second-half also brought no joy for the Samoans at set-piece time either, in fact it got worse, as they struggled to win anything decent at line-out time and their scrums were also in disarray. However, it was at the breakdown where they won most of their possession and a string of penalties with their energetic display.

The other aspect of this game that was glaringly obviously for all to see is how little there was happening in the England backline outside of Wilkinson. This is not a backline of international standards, not by any stretch of the imagination.

For one thing, the Wilkinson-Olly Barkley combination at 10 and 12 simply did not work and Ashton is no closer to an answer to his backline woes than he was in the Six Nations.

England got off to a flyer and within the first two minutes they not only went on the attack, they even got a try through stand-in captain Martin Corry.

Wilkinson slotted the conversion and then added a drop-goal as the England forwards enjoyed a period of dominance. Within six minutes England had taken a 10-0 lead.

At that stage Samoa were struggling a tad, as the English forwards managed to assert themselves.

However, the Samoans soon found their own rhythm, as England reverted to type and opted for a very slow, dour, forward-orientated game.

The Samoans were soon rewarded for their efforts as fullback Loki Crichton slotted penalties in the eighth and 12th minutes, to narrow the gap to just four points.

However, it then became the Wilkinson show for a long period of the first half. Not only did he restore the lead to 10 points with two penalties, but in the 32nd minute he put through a neat little grubber that gifted wing Paul Sackey a try.

Wilkinson's conversion gave England a comfortable 23-6 lead.

Samoa again managed to get themselves back into the game in the last few minutes of the half, with two more Crichton penalties taking the score to 23-12 at the break.

Crichton and Wilkinson exchanged early penalties in the second half, before a break and chip from Samoan hooker Mahonri Schwalger saw Junior Polu following through to get a hand ahead of an English chaser. The TMO had several looks at it, before the stadium exploded with joy when the Samoans were rewarded for their enterprise. Crichton's conversion narrowed the gap to just four points, 22-26. Allez les Bleus chanted the neutrals in the crowd...

Wilkinson had a great chance to increase the advantage to seven points in the 56th minute, but his radar was off the mark and Samoa remained within striking distance of a win.

The assertion that England are nothing without Wilkinson were given further credence when the fly-half slotted a drop-goal in the 69th minute to increase the lead - that at a period when England were taking the ball through numerous phases without looking like breaking down the Samoan defensive wall.

The Samoans' struggles at set pieces were further highlighted when they gave away a penalty on the halfway line soon afterwards and Wilkinson slotted the kick from just over 50 metres out to make his team's lead 10 points - 32-22.

Corry sealed the win for his team with a 76th minute try, set up by a turnover, as the Samoans started to tire and their concentration faltered. Wilkinson's conversion made it 39-22.

It was now a matter of England trying to secure the bonus point for a fourth try.

The try came in the dying seconds as Sackey stepped his way past the tired defenders to go over in the corner. The call went to the TMO, who ruled a good try. Wilkinson's conversion drifted wide, but it was job done - not very well, but done - for England.

Man of the match: The Samoans would look at full-back Loki Crichton as their star player, but the man with the biggest influence on the day was without doubt fly-half Jonny Wilkinson. He kicked his goals, especially those late in the second half, and the value and timing of those two drop-goals can never be underestimated.

Moment of the match: The bonus-point try by Paul Sackey in the 80th minute will be invaluable in the overall context of the tournament, but the score that sealed the game for England was stand-in captain Martin Corry's 76th minute try. At that stage Samoa were still within vague reaching distance of England and Corry put the matter beyond doubt.

Villain of the match: There were the usual questionable Samoan tackles, as was to be expected, but nothing that really could be termed "nasty". No award!

The scorers:

For England:

Tries: Corry 2, Sackey 2

Cons: Wilkinson 3

Pens: Wilkinson 4

Drop Goals: Wilkinson 2

For Samoa:

Try: Schwalger

Con: Crichton

Pens: Crichton 5

Teams:

England: 15 Josh Lewsey, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Paul Sackey, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Andy Gomarsall, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Joe Worsley, 6 Martin Corry (c), 5 Ben Kay, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 George Chuter, 1 Andrew Sheridan.

Replacements: 16 Mark Regan, 17 Perry Freshwater, 18 Steve Borthwick, 19 Lewis Moody, 20 Peter Richards, 21 Andy Farrell, 22 Danny Hipkiss.

Samoa: 15 Loki Crichton, 14 David Lemi, 13 Seilala Mapusua, 12 Brian Lima, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 9 Junior Polu, 8 Henry Tuilagi, 7 Semo Sititi (c), 6 Daniel Leo, 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Joe Tekori, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Kas Lealamanua.

Replacements: 16 Tanielu Fuga, 17 Fosi Pala'amo, 18 Justin Purdie, 19 Alfie Vaeluaga, 20 Steve So'oialo, 21 Jerry Meafou, 22 Lolo Lui.

Referee: Alan Lewis

Touch judges: Lyndon Bray, Alain Rolland

Television match official: Bryce Lawrence

Assessor: Ian Scotney

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