23 - 15
(Half Time 9 - 8)
Sat 14th Feb 09, 17:30
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Mark Cueto & Leigh Halfpenny
14 February 2009, 7:38 pm
Wales exploit England indiscipline
Wales piled more misery on Martin Johnson as they continued their quest for a second successive RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam with a 23-15 win.
But England manager Johnson could take comfort from arguably his team’s best display of a fraught six-Test reign.
Wing Paul Sackey and full-back Delon Armitage scored tries as England responded impressively from a 9-0 deficit that ensured Wales were taken to the wire.
England’s continued disciplinary woes surfaced again though, with referee Jonathan Kaplan sin-binning centre Mike Tindall and fly-half Andy Goode, which confirmed a disease Johnson just cannot rectify.
Stephen Jones ensured Wales’ third successive Six Nations victory against their arch-rivals by booting 18 points.
His immaculate five penalties from five attempts - plus Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty - ensured Wales kept their heads above water, while wing Halfpenny’s second successive Six Nations try kept England at a safe distance.
Goode dropped a goal for the visitors, yet while Wales continue to chase successive Grand Slams for a first time since 1909, English clean sweep hopes have again evaporated.
The Millennium Stadium roof was open at England’s request as they looked to stave off a hat-trick of Six Nations defeats against Wales.
Wales were quickly into their stride, dominating early territory and taking a 3-0 lead through Jones’ opening penalty inside three minutes.
England were penned inside their own half, and after Halfpenny arrowed a long-range penalty strike wide, the home side soon doubled their lead.
Jones duly obliged, profiting from England receiving a seventh yellow card in three Tests when Mike Tindall was sin-binned for killing possession.
Johnson could scarcely disguise his sense of frustration, and his mood darkened when Halfpenny landed a third penalty for a 9-0 advantage.
The visitors had offered next to nothing, yet they provided a bolt out of the blue for their long-suffering supporters by conjuring a try from nothing.
Goode, who had experienced a testing time in defence, floated a kick into space, and England reacted quickest as Sackey won the race to claim an opportunist touchdown.
Goode failed to land the difficult conversion, but England had served notice they were not in Cardiff simply to make up the numbers.
But just when England needed a solid start to the second period, their technical indiscipline surfaced again.
Goode became the second England player to be sin-binned, and it had significant consequences for the visitors.
Jones slotted the resulting penalty, but worse was to follow for England as Wales struck a potentially telling blow.
Quick ball moved wide - Wales’ trademark under head coach Warren Gatland - resulted in a slick try for Halfpenny, and England were suddenly staring defeat in the face at 17-8 adrift.
Johnson sent on Leicester’s Toby Flood for Goode, but Jones’ fourth successful penalty left the visitors with a mountain to climb at 12 points adrift.
England knew they had no option but to play, rather than adopt safety-first tactics, and it had the desired effect after 57 minutes when Armitage sprinted to the line from distance.
Armitage’s angled run and score gave Wales food for thought, especially when Flood converted to make it 20-15.
England, despite trailing, were far more adventurous than at any time during their laboured victory against Italy last weekend, and Wales knew they could not relax entering the closing quarter.
Johnson made a quadruple 65th-minute substitution, sending on Julian White, Luke Narraway, Dylan Hartley and Mathew Tait, hoping that fresh legs might make a telling difference.
Wales, despite the promise of a healthy lead before Armitage struck, struggled to close the game out, and it was as if a muted audience sensed their struggle.
Jones’ fifth penalty eased Welsh nerves as the clock ticked down, and when Flood missed an angled strike six minutes from time, Wales could begin to breathe a little easier, knowing their job was effectively done.