England battle to European crown

Rugby League Wales 12 England 26
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The Independent Online
England are European champions in one code of football but only after a titanic struggle from a Welsh side that once more far exceeded the sum of its parts.

Two late tries gave the illusion of a relatively relaxed English victory. In fact, Wales pushed them all the way and were the better, more creative side for much of the match.

It was shortly before half-time before England took the lead against a Welsh side which had been the more impressive during the first 44 minutes.

Their tackling, with Allan Bateman setting the standard despite only flying in from Australia this week, was superb and their use of the ball, based on their forwards' ability to make more ground than their counterparts, was more productive.

They took the lead in the ninth minute with a try that showcased their other built-in advantage - the running skills of Iestin Harris. Finding a gap in the English defence, he raced for the corner and, although he was caught by Steve Prescott's alert covering, he could still lob the ball inside for Chris Morley to score on his full Welsh debut, Harris adding the goal.

England were flat and uninspired and needed considerable Welsh help even to get on the scoreboard. Kieron Cunningham went high on Steve Blakeley and Bobby Goulding landed the penalty point.

As England gradually felt their way into the game, a combination of Morley, Bateman and Paul Atcheson somehow managed to stop Jason Robinson touching down after he had gone over the try-line.

Gary Connolly was also repulsed on the line but Wales could not stop Chris Joynt when he juggled a pass by Paul Broadbent to go over from close range, Goulding's goal giving England a tenuous advantage.

After the interval, Goulding finally made England pressure pay, darting from dummy half to find a Welsh defence for once failing to pay attention.

Wales' response was magnificent, Harris picking up Atcheson and his run denting the English defence for Jason Critchley to back up on the inside and score.

In the 67th minute of a match played in front of a gratifying crowd for such a hopeless night, England effectively clinched it when Connolly jinked his way from deep in his own half and found Shaun Edwards in support for the converted try that finally let them breath more easily.

A long-range effort from Prescott four minutes from time flattered England with what now looked a comfortable win. It had been anything but that.

WALES: Atcheson (Oldham); D Edward (Castleford), Bateman (Cronulla), Davies (Warrington), Critchley (Keighley); Harris (Warrington), Watson (Salford); Jones (Warrington), Cunningham (St Helens), Cowie (Wigan), Moriarty (S Wales), Perrett (Halifax), Morley (St Helens). Substitutes used: Hall (Wigan), Webster (Salford), Stephens (Hull), Phillips (Workington).

ENGLAND: Prescott (St Helens); Robinson (Wigin), Connolly (Wigan), McAvoy (Salford), Bentley (Halifax); Powell (Keighley), S Edwards (Wigan); Broadbent (Sheffield), Lawless (Sheffield), Molloy (Featherstone), Joynt (St Helens), Sculthorpe (Warrington), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes used: Blakeley (Salford), McDermott (Leeds), Goulding (St Helens), Cassidy (Wigan).

Referee: B Harrigan (Australia).

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