Rugby Union / Five Nations Championship: England slam the door: Try famine is ended to give Cooke a triumphant farewell but Wales hold out to claim the Five Nations' Championship

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England. . .15

Wales . . . .8

IT WAS a bizarre sight. As Wales sombrely mounted the steps to receive their trophy as newly installed Five Nations champions, it was England who were performing rugby's equivalent of a lap of honour.

If the chalice handed to Ieuan Evans, the Welsh captain, was not exactly poisoned it was a bitter one in the wake of defeat in the 100th match between the two countries. But even England's celebrations were muted. With the amount of possession made available to them and with the countless chances offered, the margin of their victory should have dashed the cup itself from the parched lips of the Welshmen starved of success for so long.

Still, England will content themselves for the moment with a victory convincingly gained and with the denial of the two prizes Wales coveted most, the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam. After the glittering promise of the early play however, there was a disappointing sense of anticlimax.

It had all begun so promisingly. Wales, who had marched proudly to Twickenham on the back of their scintillating speed and dazzling plays were at times in the first half swept contemptuously aside by the power and majesty of England, who scored two tries and came tantalisingly close on at least three other occasions. There were times when the Welsh forwards were obliterated as wave upon wave of Englishmen bore forward in tight and controlled formation.

At the heart of all their efforts was Dean Richards, who had yet another mighty game for his country. The young buck, Scott Quinnell, will have to bide his time before he assumes control as the outstanding exponent of No 8 play in the home countries. Ever the vigilant sentinel in defence, Richards simply tore the heart out of the Welsh, time after time ripping the ball from their grasp.

Not far behind Richards were Brian Moore, who played surely his most effective game for England on his 50th appearance, and Ben Clarke, another who fetched and carried tirelessly. Had England maintained their composure at half-back, where Rob Andrew and Dewi Morris were too often overtaken by uncertainty, they would have achieved all their goals yesterday. Alas, Andrew's kicking was as indifferent as it had been against Ireland, lacking the accuracy and withering penetration of his performance in Paris.

Nevertheless, some of England's play was a joyous expression of rugby at its best and in the backs they showed a commendable desire to move the ball to the wings where Tony Underwood's running was electrifying. But it was his brother Rory who broke the year's drought with a sumptuous try. Tony Underwood and Moore had created mayhem on the Welsh left and when Phil de Glanville was given space in midfield he found England's left-wing, who had veered infield at full blast outside him. Underwood scored beneath the posts and Andrew converted.

But, encouraged by their early success, England attempted to gild the lily and became enmeshed in a web of their own trickery. It allowed Wales back into the game. Neil Jenkins kicked a penalty just before half-time and with the wind in their favour in the second half the Welsh appeared to have solid grounds for optimism.

It was sadly misplaced, however. England took such control at the start of the second half that there was no hiding place for Wales. Their forwards were battered, their backs bewildered. They were knocked over, turned over and run over. Wales had a line-out close to their line after Will Carling had been brought down a yard short. But Garin Jenkins, the Welsh hooker, could not get sufficient elevation to clear Tim Rodber, who had moved to the front. With an elegant leap and snatch Rodber was over.

A penalty by Rob Andrew after a needless altercation with Jenkins - who attempted to head-butt his opposite number - not only put the victory beyond doubt but also brought the possibility of the championship into England's sights.

Another infuriating lapse in concentration, however, allowed Wales back. In a rare Welsh offensive Ricky Evans and Phil Davies created space for Nigel Walker and there was at least a crumb of comfort for Wales. For both sides, though, victory was somewhat hollow. And so Geoff Cooke, without perhaps the completeness and symmetry he would have wished, departs as England manager content in the knowledge that he leaves his country in a far healthier state than he found it.

England: Tries R Underwood, Rodber; Conversion Andrew; Penalty Andrew. Wales: Try Walker; Penalty N Jenkins.

ENGLAND: I Hunter (Northampton); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), P de Glanville (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (both Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath). Replacement: M Catt (Bath) for Andrew, 77.

WALES: M Rayer (Cardiff); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies (Llanelli), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon (Llanelli); R Evans (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), G O Llewellyn (Neath), E Lewis, S Quinnell, M Perego (all Llanelli). Replacement: A Copsey (Llanelli) for Lewis, 50.

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).

----------------------------------------------------------------- Final standings ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Wales 4 3 0 1 78 51 6 England 4 3 0 1 60 49 6 France 4 2 0 2 84 69 4 Ireland 4 1 1 2 49 70 3 Scotland 4 0 1 3 38 70 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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