England hold off Wales as both sides suffer

England held off a spirited Wales 23-19 at Twickenham here on Saturday to win their opening World Cup warm-up match.

But both sides suffered injuries just weeks before the showpiece tournament in New Zealand.

Wales outscored England three tries to two, coming from 20-7 behind to set up a grandstand finish when wing George North crossed for the second of his two scores with four minutes left.

But, not for the first time, England great Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking proved the difference in the scores with the fly-half landing two conversions, a penalty and two drop-goals in front of a crowd of more than 80 000.

Wales had earlier seen Morgan Stoddart carried off on a stretcher before England captain Lewis Moody, who missed the Six Nations, also exited in the second half with what looked like a recurrence of the flanker’s knee injury.

Wales suffered a setback shortly before kick-off when veteran fly-half Stephen Jones had to pull out through injury on the verge of winning what would have been a Welsh record 101st cap.

Full-back Rhys Priestland moved to No 10 with Stoddart coming off the bench to fill Wales’s last line of defence.

England took a fifth minute lead through Wilkinson, starting in place of Toby Flood, after Wales were penalised for not releasing in the tackle.

But Wales scored the first try of the match.

They kicked a penalty close to the England line to set up an attacking line-out and then regained possession.

Centre Jamie Roberts tried to barrel his way over from close range but was repelled by England, wearing an all-black away kit that has angered New Zealand fans, even though they were at home.

Tricky conversion
However, Wales recycled the ball out wide on the right where Stoddart’s pass created the space for North to go over for a 17th minute try.

Priestland, taking over from Jones as Wales’s goalkicker, added the tricky conversion and Wales were 7-3 in front.

But seven minutes later, England regained the lead with a converted try of their own.

England full-back Delon Armitage, making his first Test appearance since November, regrouped from Wales No 8 Toby Faletau’s hack and counter-attacked.

He was bundled into touch but Wales’s tap-back from the ensuing lineout was too strong and they conceded a five-metre scrum.

England then cleverly wheeled the scrum to create a gap on the blindside which No 8 James Haskell exploited to score a try.

The hosts then laid siege to Wales’s line but were unable to profit from it until Wilkinson, reviving memories of his match-winning score in the 2003 World Cup final, kicked a drop-goal to leave England 13-7 in front at half-time.

And four minutes into the second half, dynamic Leicester centre Tuilagi, who comes from a family of Samoa internationals, scored a well-worked try.

From a ruck in Wales’s 22, the ball was fed to Wilkinson and Tuilagi, qualified for England on residency grounds, cut back on the inside in a classic ‘scissors’ move and crossed for a try under the posts.

Wilkinson added the easy conversion and England had a healthy 20-7 lead.

But Wales, who dominated possession in the second half, hit back.

Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips almost caught England napping with a burst towards the line that saw him just held up short but the ball was worked out to the right where wing Shane Williams scored a 57th minute try.

But Priestland missed the conversion to leave England two scores in front at 20-12.

Wilkinson then landed his second drop-goal.

Wales captain Sam Warburton went close to a try only to be denied by the video referee before North’s second try came just too late for the visitors.

The teams continue their World Cup preparations when they face each other again on Saturday week in Cardiff. — AFP

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