Planet Rugby

England begin to rumble

28th September 2007 21:48

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Paul Sackey v Tonga

Running away with it: Paul Sackey delivers a sucker-punch try just before half-time

England secured a quarter-final date against Australia on Friday with a comfortable 36-20 win over Tonga in Paris, marked by a second-half points blitz after they had trailed early on.

While Martin Corry and the rest of England will celebrate a vital win, which keeps alive their hopes of becoming the first team to successfully defending a World Cup crown, many questions remain unanswered.

To borrow a few words from a colleague: "This wasn't winning ugly, this was winning in a Quasimodo costume."

England dominated the set pieces and they had the majority of territory and possession.

Yet it took them 60 minutes to subdue a Tongan team that until a week ago was regarded as cannon fodder.

However, the big positive - a very big positive - is that England have advanced to the play-offs.

The England captain, Corry, was on the button with his post-match remarks: "We are going to Marseille." That, indeed, was the goal.

But as he admitted, there is a lot to work on and it did take England an awful long time to break down the islanders' resistance, but they stuck to their structures - as ugly as it may have a looked - and came away with four tries.

Fortuitous as some of those England scores were, England showed they can grind out victories in crunch matches.

Tongan captain Nili Latu also was on the mark when he said that you can't give England an inch, because they will make you pay.

Tonga enjoyed some early territorial advantage and looked the better of the two sides, with England decidedly nervous in their execution of plays.

It was deserved when Tonga took the lead in the ninth minute through a Pierre Hola penalty.

England managed to level the scores four minutes later - an easy Jonny Wilkinson penalty - after the Tongans were penalised for hands in the ruck.

The first try came in the 17th minute, with powerful centre Sukanaivalu Hufanga slid over from five metres out. The initial break came from fellow midfielder Epeli Taione, whose strong runs had been causing the England defence plenty of problems. Hola's conversion put the Tongans back in the lead at 10-3.

However, England hit back almost immediately - a try going to wing Paul Sackey. But the real creativity was in the sharpness of mind from fly-half Jonny Wilkinson who - while the Tongans expected him to take a penalty kick at goal - suddenly put in a cross-kick where Sackey was unchallenged. The call still went to the TMO, but he ruled a good try. Wilkinson's conversion drifted wide and Tonga held on to a narrow lead - 10-8.

Barkley tried to put his team back in the lead with a drop-goal in the 28th minute, but he was wide of the mark at a time when England piled on the pressure and had huge amounts of territorial advantage.

England did get returns for their period of pressure when Wilkinson slotted a drop-goal, and the England fly-half began to stamp his authority on the game.

Wilkinson stretched that lead to four points with a 36th minute penalty, as the 50/50 calls continued to go in favour of England.

And Sackey piled further misery on the Sea Eagles as a loose Tongan pass left the ball on the ground and saw the speedy Wasps wing sprint 80 metres for a soft try. Again Wilkinson's conversion attempt drifted wide.

Tonga had one last flurry in a half in which all the good fortune and calls went England's way and Tonga looked the more creative of the two sides. However, with no further scoring England took a nine-point lead into the break - 19-10.

Wilkinson had a chance to score the first points after the break and put his team almost out of touch, but for the third time (almost unheard of) the England fly-half's kick drifted wide.

The penalty was the result of a very ugly-looking high-tackle by Tongan captain Nili Latu on Lewis Moody and he was certainly lucky not to have had a yellow or red card flashed at him.

In fact it was Tonga who produced the half's first points, a penalty by Hola in the 55th minute, after England were caught with hands in a ruck.

However, England again hit back almost immediately and centre Mathew Tait slid over for the third try, with the initial break by Mark Cueto causing confusion and holes in the Tongan defence - even though the wing almost butchered the move by ignoring an overlap.

It was some quick clean-out work and neat stepping by Tait that made sure the half-chance was turned into a score. This time Wilkinson added the conversion and at 26-13 in favour of England the Tongans looked in trouble.

England now looked to have more bounce in their step and they started to dominate both territory and possession as the Tongan defenders got back slower and slower with every phase.

And this was no more evident than when Andy Farrell, on for Olly Barkley, strolled through a hole as big as a barn door in the 66th minute to score under the uprights. Wilkinson's conversion made it 33-13 and the game was over as a contest.

Even though England were in complete control on the scoreboard - not to mention the 50/50 calls still going their way - they still looked bereft of ideas on attack and it required a Wilkinson drop-goal (his second) to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

There was a late flurry by Tonga, with flank Hale T Pole sliding over in the corner in the 79th minute. The call went to the TMO, who awarded the try.

Hola added the conversion to make it 36-20 to England, but it was obviously much too little and far too late for the Pacific players.

Man of the match: Many will give it to England wing Paul Sackey for his two tries, centre Mathew Tait had his moments in the late stages of the second half and fly-half Jonny Wilkinson - his three missed kicks apart - also left his mark on the game. However, our award goes to Tonga flank Hale T Pole - the man who scored the match's last try, which was just reward for his tireless work on defence and attack all night.

Moment of the match: It was without doubt Mathew Tait's try, which finally broke the Tongan resistance and sent England on their way to a very important win.

Villain of the match: It is sad, because the Tongan captain did so much good, but Nili Latu gets this award for what was a very ugly high-tackle on Lewis Moody. He was lucky it was only a penalty. It is no good to keep on saying they don't intend to harm people, these tackles happen far too often and they remain illegal.

The scorers:

For England:

Tries: Sackey 2, Tait, Farrell

Pens: Wilkinson 2

Cons: Wilkinson 2

Drop goals: Wilkinson 2

For Tonga:

Tries: Hufanga, T Pole

Cons: Hola 2

Pens: Hola 2

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

Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Phil Vickery, 18 Lawrence Dallaglio, 19 Joe Worsley, 20 Peter Richards, 21 Andy Farrell, 22 Dan Hipkiss.

Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Tevita Tu'ifua, 13 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 12 Epeli Taione, 11 Joseph Vaka, 10 Pierre Hola, 9 Sione Tu'ipulotu, 8 Finau Maka, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Hale T Pole, 5 Lisiate Fa'aoso, 4 Viliami Vaki, 3 Kisi Pulu, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.

Replacements: 16 Ephraim Taukafa, 17 Taufa'ao Filise, 18 Maama Molitika, 19 Inoke Afeaki, 20 Soane Havea, 21 Hudson Tonga'uiha, 22 Aisea Havili.

Referee: Alain Rolland

Touch judges: Craig Joubert, Christophe Berdos

Television match official: Mark Lawrence

Assessor: Bob Francis

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