Hat-trick by Tassell gives Wales solid start

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The Independent Online

A hat-trick of tries from the Salford centre, Kris Tassell, made sure that Wales opened their campaign in the Lincoln Financial World Cup with a convincing win, even if they made heavy weather of it in the first half.

A hat-trick of tries from the Salford centre, Kris Tassell, made sure that Wales opened their campaign in the Lincoln Financial World Cup with a convincing win, even if they made heavy weather of it in the first half.

Held to a half-time draw by a side competing at this level for the first time, they got it right after the interval as Iestyn Harris and Keiron Cunningham began to exert an influence and Tassell's finishing did the rest.

Wales made a solid enough start, a gliding run from Paul Stirling taking them into Cook Islands territory and, after Anthony Farrell had been stopped on the line, Cunningham's long pass gave Lee Briers the space to step inside the covering defenders for the game's first try, converted by Harris.

The Welsh twice went close in the first quarter - Tassell just scraping the touchline with his toe as he touched down in the corner and Stirling being denied a try by Jason Critchley's forward pass.

They were made to pay for those failures to turn their territorial advantage into points when the Cooks silenced a decent Wrexham crowd for the terrible conditions by equalising.

Kevin Iro, the Cook Islands captain and by far their most illustrious player, did the damage, running at the badly aligned Wales defence, drawing Stirling in off his wing and giving Karl Temata a clear run to the line.

Richard Piakura, taking over as kicker after Steve Berriman had missed an easy penalty earlier, put over the conversion from the touchline. That, embarrassingly for a nation that likes to regard itself as a major power in any form of rugby, was the way it stayed until half-time.

The blushes faded a little two minutes into the second half when Cunningham, subdued compared with his form with St Helens, at last made one of his typically rampaging runs.

That set up the position from which the lively Briers released Tassell with a pass that had a hint of forward about it.

Harris matched Piakura's touchline kick and also put over a penalty after the Cook Islands' substitute, Tere Glassie, tripped Briers as he chased his own chip kick. Harris had shown little of the magic he produces so regularly for Leeds, but after 55 minutes he virtually sealed the game by running at the line, spinning out of tackles and dropping the ball off for Mick Jenkins to score.

It was now comfortable for Wales as the tiring Islanders found the struggle with the conditions an increasingly uneven one. Cunningham went over from close range and, with 10 minutes to play, Tassell, an Australian whose grandfather came from Pontypridd, exchanged passes with Anthony Sullivan to claim his second try.

His hat-trick came courtesy of Briers' double kick-ahead and regather while Harris finished with seven goals from seven attempts.

The Welsh captain said that he had not been unduly concerned by being held at half-time. "We said before the game that it was going to be tight in the first half," Harris said. "We weren't going to win it in the first half but we were quite happy at half-time because we knew they would tire."

The Welsh coach, Clive Griffiths, paid particular tribute to the efforts of the Leigh prop Dave Whittle, who kept coming back for more despite taking a battering from the opposing forwards. That is the spirit that Wales will need if they are to prosper in their two remaining group matches against Lebanon and New Zealand.

WALES: Atcheson (St Helens), Sterling (Leeds), Tassell (Salford), Critchley (Leicester), Sullivan (St Helens), Harris (Leeds), Briers (Warrington), Farrell (Leeds), Cunningham (St Helens), Whittle (Leigh), Morgan (Canberra), Jenkins (Hull), Busby (Warrington). Substitutes used: Watson (Widnes), Davies (Wigan), Highton (Salford), Carvell (Hull).

COOK ISLANDS: Piakura (Ngatanglia/ Matavera), Tongia (Canterbury) , Berryman (Wellington), Iro (St Helens), Kemata, Bowen (Brisbane Wests) , Joe (Whitehaven), Tuakura (Mangere East), Clarke (Cessnock Goannas), Temu (Newcastle), Kuru (Tumburamba), Pau (Ponsonby Ponies), Samuels (Workington). Substitutes used: Andersson (Calounpra), Lewis (Auckland), Glassie (Newtown), Cooke (Wynnum Manly).

Referee: T Alibert (France).

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