Rugby Union / Five Nations Championship: Underwood over at last: Richard Williams sees a winger fly home to end the wait

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The Independent Online
AFTER five long, barren matches, it all happened in 11 minutes. De Glanville to the elder Underwood, a supersonic run down the sunlit left wing through the flailing remnants of the Welsh cover, and a smooth touchdown under the posts. One year and two weeks after he fed the ball to his brother for England's last try, Rory Underwood had put an end to the agony. How on earth had it ever looked so difficult? And as Tim Rodber proved, two minutes into the second half, it could be made to look even easier.

In truth, that first try had been coming for every second of those 11 minutes. England opened as if this were a fixture left over from 1992, when they were crossing the line four or five times a match. The contest opened with Rodber catching Walker's garryowen and feeding Tony Underwood, who ran hard for the right touchline until Moon nailed him. Andrew, revelling in the mood of adventure, ran the resulting possession back to the left, and then right again to profit from Hunter's appearance in the line.

With only two tries to show for his 12 previous appearances against Wales, it was fitting that Rory Underwood, so often the embodiment of the best of Geoff Cooke's England, should launch his side's attempt to give their manager a stylish send-off. Few of the 35 victories enjoyed by Cooke during his 49 matches in charge can have tasted as sweet as this emphatic riposte to those who believed that England's inability to score tries symbolised a lack of imagination and courage among their coaching staff.

'There were a few glimpses there of what this side can do,' Cooke said afterwards, and for 25 minutes England ran Wales ragged, with Will Carling outstanding in every phase of the game, most significantly at the heart of the sudden burst of improvisation that created Underwood's try. 'We're not going to throw caution to the winds,' he had said on Friday. He must have had his tongue firmly in his cheek, because yesterday his side played with as much expansiveness and creativity as their talent would allow.

In the second half, Carling himself was unlucky not to score twice. 'We played some great rugby today,' he said after the match. 'I was delighted, because we'd never have heard the last of it if Wales had come here and won the Grand Slam. Our guys were very keen to win. We're a young side, and we're learning all the time.'

Those words, from the man he raised to the captaincy, may be the most satisfying of all the many valedictions Cooke will hear over the next few days: the message is that, after seven seasons, he has left the national team not just with a bulging trophy cabinet but with the means to make the immediate future every bit as glorious.

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