Saturday, February 05, 2011
In a physical contest that lived up to the pre-match hype, Martin Johnsons England side got their 2011 campaign off to the best of starts with a hard fought 26-19 RBS 6 Nations win over Wales.
With all the mud-slinging that has been going on this week, this volatile fixture was charged from the start, with plenty of hand-bags being thrown between the two-sides; especially from Paul James and Dan Cole in the front-row.
The heat of the 'Dragons Den' clearly got to a red-faced Andy Powell - who saw the shepherds crook on the 30 minute mark after conceding a soft penalty; Welsh coach Warren Gatland turning to Ospreys Captain Ryan Jones to provide a calming head to procedures.
But it was Englands young guns who came too the fore once again; with Foden, Youngs and Ashton masterfully steered by man-of-the-match Toby Flood.
The Tigers fly-half was faultless from hand and from the boot, and was provider for Ashtons first score - spotting a mismatch in midfield, drifting into the space and offloading to the supporting Ashton who tempted fate with an outrageous swallow-dive.
Ashton grabbed his brace early on in the second-half before Wales staged a fight-back with a scything break from Jonathan Davies leading to a score for winger Morgan Stoddart.
Yet as Johnson made a raft of changes, amongst which was the in-form Jonny Wilkinson, England snuffed out the dying embers of the Dragons attack, and a late Wilkinson penalty duly hammered the knock-out blow to Wales' hope of a win.
After the game, England manager Martin Johnson was optimistic that his team can build upon this win: "Next week we can say actually, we can play loads better than this and not give teams the chance to get out of jail.
"But we need to enjoy this win. We will hand out the rollockings on Monday. We made little mistakes, some of our own making, in the first half and gave them chances. We need to turn the screw there."
Wales Coach Warren Gatland was positive despite seeing his side slip to an eighth consecutive defeat: "I was pleased with how we soaked up a lot of pressure. In the final analysis there wasn't much between the teams.
"I thought at times we were fantastic, and we played a good off-loading game and caused England problems. I don't think England will go through this competition unbeaten, so if we can win the next two games, hopefully that puts us back into contention for the championship."