On their homecoming since finishing a gallant second in the World Cup final in Paris, England blew a handsome lead and finished in such disarray that they were runners-up to what virtually amounted to a club side. Wales, to the delight of twitchers everywhere but the Home Counties, originally contained 13 Ospreys, and the gamble by Warren Gatland, their new coach, paid off spectacularly.
"We are like a first division club going to Manchester United in a cup tie," Gatland had said. It certainly looked that way in the first half as England established a 16-6 lead which soon became 19-6 and then the red rose withered and died.
Wales scored 20 points without reply in a magical 13-minute spell in the second half, a period that included two tries, and England had no answer. Worse still for the Twickenham faithful, not to mention for the head coach, Brian Ashton, is that James Hook, the young stand-off from the Dragonhood, outplayed one Jonny Wilkinson, a unique sighting here. Hook didn't miss a kick at goal and his contribution of 16 points eclipsed Jonny's 14, but the story gets worse for England. For sighting read a possible citing – against Wilkinson, of all people, for knocking the Wales flanker Jonathan Thomas senseless with his forearm in the 10th minute.
It wasn't only in the goalkicking department that Hook excelled as Wales ended a 20-year jinx here. It was his brilliant break in the 67th minute that created a try for the full-back Lee Byrne and two minutes later England effectively threw in the towel.
Iain Balshaw's attempted clearance was charged down by the scrum-half, Mike Phillips, and, with a little help from his friends, he was rewarded with a touchdown in the left-hand corner. With Hook, who had earlier kicked four penalties to keep his country in the match, landing both difficult conversions, Wales were seven points in front and threatening to increase their lead.
"The potential for this side is there and when we get it right we'll be a very good side," Gatland said.
If Wales aren't there yet, where does that leave England? "The players are aware of what happened," Ashton said. "I was disappointed we were only 19-6 up. The message was 'more of the same' and not to let them back into the game. We were thinking about playing more of a territorial game and putting them under pressure in their own 22.
"It is difficult to understand why what happened happened. We need to sit down and talk about it."
It wasn't only Thomas who was forced to leave the field. England were severely disrupted by injuries to David Strettle, Lewis Moody, and Tom Rees. Rees, who had come on for Moody after 14 minutes, was himself replaced at half-time – by the second row forward Ben Kay, so England's back row was torn asunder.
Ashton, however, did not use the casualty list as an excuse for England's collapse in the second half. "To be honest with you I'm not sure the injuries had any effect at all. We were pretty well covered in all positions."
When Strettle, who had made one brilliant break which should have led to a try but led to nothing, limped off with a foot injury after only 13 minutes, it heralded the introduction of Lesley Vainikolo, the Tongan-born former rugby league winger from Gloucester and his first touch was sensational.
Wilkinson had kicked England into a 9-3 lead with two penalties and a drop goal when his cross kick to the left was won by Vainikolo, who towered over Mark Jones. As he hit the deck, Vainikolo flipped up a stunning one-handed pass that sent Toby Flood over for the try. Wilkinson's conversion made it 16-3 after 22 minutes and England appeared to be in total control.
Wales were guilty of innumerable turnovers which gave England the impetus and yet a remarkable transformation began to unfold. Hook's goalkicking kept Wales in the hunt and something else extraordinary happened – Wilkinson missed a kick at goal in the 36th minute.
However, it wasn't just for his goalkicking and try-making for which Hook was made man of the match. Just before half-time he also came up with a try-saving tackle on Paul Sackey, the video official ruling that a touchdown had not been made.
With Kay operating at No 8, normal service was resumed when Wilkinson landed his third penalty four minutes into the second half to restore England's 13-point lead. But then the tide began to turn, and how, as Hook's marksmanship reduced the deficit to seven points which became zero when he beat Sackey and Shaw in a jinking run that created Byrne's try.
"We had belief in each other," Hook said. "With Jonny kicking his goals they won the first half but we put in a tremendous effort in the second to come back. You should have seen the joy on the players' faces."
And the utter dismay on England's after they blew what appeared to be an unassailable lead. As the second half turned into nightmare for England they desperately needed an old hand on the bridge to steady a ship that had lost direction. Jonny was not the man and for the first time in his career he faces the prospect – it sounds a bit far fetched when you've just taken your points total for your country to 996 – of being dropped. Ashton values loyalty but he rates victory above everything else.
Man for man marking at Twickenham
4 Iain Balshaw Game of two halves for the full-back. Still weak under the high ball, compensated for by strong running in the first 40 minutes. Badly at fault from restart that led to a pivotal try for Mike Phillips.
6 Paul Sackey Looked dangerous when he was given the ball. Unlucky not to have been awarded a try when adjudged to have been held up over the line.
5 Mike Tindall Returning from injury, made his usual blunt-tool approach to back-line work. Strong breaks, good pace and always a threat, but left the field on a stretcher.
6 Toby Flood Solid, intelligent play. Great pace, accurate tactical kicking and took try well off Vainikolo.
5 David Strettle "Dai Kettle", as he is known in Wales, was on the boil for the short time he was on the field. One great break spoiled only by failure to see Sackey for what could have been opening try. Ankle injury ended his involvement after 13 minutes. Replaced by Vainikolo.
6 Jonny Wilkinson Kept the scoreboard ticking over and made opening try with clever kick that resulted in Flood's try. Swinging-arm tackle on Jonathan Thomas was one blot on his game, and a wild pass to Cipriani late on summed up clueless England.
6 Andy Gomarsall England's forward dominance gave him an easy ride early on. Produced solid link work between forwards and backs. Always a menace.
6 Andrew Sheridan Pivotal part of the England juggernaut.
5 Mark Regan Could not be faulted for line-out throwing as England had few problems there. Hurt in second half and replaced by Mears.
5 Phil Vickery (capt) Led England's solid forward effort in first half, but where was the cool leadership when it started going wrong?
6 Simon Shaw Solid in the line-out and energetic in the loose.
6 Steve Borthwick Popped up all over the field to rescue several awkward positions for England. The line-out organiser had a decent day at his main job.
7 James Haskell Forceful presence around the fringes and caused several Welsh turnovers in the first half. Will learn from the experience.
4 Lewis Moody Struggling from early on with Achilles injury. Replaced by Rees after 14 minutes
6 Luke Narraway Surprise call-up matched by solid, if unspectacular, contribution to the day's proceedings.
5 Lee Mears On for Regan (57min) but England were going backwards by then.
5 Matt Stevens On for Vickery (69) but struggled to make an impact.
5 Ben Kay On for Rees (h-t), the second-row found himself on the blindside flank for depleted England.
6 Tom Rees On for Moody (14). Replaced by Kay (h-t) after knee injury.
4 Danny Cipriani On for Tindall (63). Harsh baptism in international rugby.
7 Lesley Vainikolo On for Strettle (13). Set up Flood's try and looked a handful.
8 Lee Byrne Solid in attack, solid in defence, solid with the boot. And capped it all with Wales's first try.
6 Shane Williams A quiet game from the fleet-footed Osprey wing. Stood no chance when he came up against Vainikolo. Caught out a couple of times.
5 Sonny Parker Surprisingly ineffective in the centre. Handed England possession twice after restarts. Not one to remember for the Welsh Kiwi.
8 Gavin Henson Mr Church looked every inch the new man. Comfortably won the battle of the hairstyles with Vainikolo. Relaxed running style belies strength. He's back and Wales can breathe again.
6 Mark Jones Little chance to show pace. On the receiving end of a Vainikolo charge that resulted in Flood's try. Got himself in an awful pickle with Shane Williams near the Wales line that gave England a strong attacking position.
9 James Hook The new "Barry John" struggled to get his backs moving in the first half, but kept the scoreboard ticking over with the boot. Wonderful movement taking out three England players led to Byrne's try that brought Wales back from the dead.
8 Michael Phillips Made the most of limited service before the break. After the break, Phillips Mk II turned up and was on the receiving end of a Gethin Jenkins pick-up that stole the match for Wales.
7 Duncan Jones Heroic performance from the blond half of the hair bears against the might of England's tight five. Strong in the loose and tireless at the breakdown.
6 Huw Bennett Settled Welsh nerves with accurate throwing at the line-out. Never took a backward step until Gatland called him off in favour of Matthew Rees.
7 Adam Jones The dark half of the hair bears played his part with aplomb. Held out against the Sheridan juggernaut until replaced by Gethin Jenkins.
7 Ian Gough Took charge at the line-out and looked tasty in the loose.
7 Alyn-Wyn Jones Towering at the set-pieces. Wales' answer to their perennial line-out problems.
5 Jonathan Thomas Knocked unconscious by a Jonny Wilkinson tackle.
7 Martyn Williams Showed why Gatland was right to coax him out of retirement. Solid at the set-piece and a nuisance in the loose. Involved in a couple of skirmishes with England's forwards.
7 Ryan Jones Has the privilege of being captain of Wales on the day they broke the 20-year Twickenham hoodoo.
7 Matthew Rees On for Bennett (57). Rees brings a different flavour to his hooking duties. Lively in the loose.
8 Gethin Jenkins On for Adam Jones (46). Brought his characteristic influence to bear on proceedings. Great hands led to crucial Wales try.
6 Ian Evans Little chance to show skill but played his part in a heroic Welsh effort.
6 Alix Popham On for Jonathan Thomas (12). Gave away a couple of silly penalties but kept his composure and made his presence felt.
7 Tom Shanklin On for Parker (46). Strong defence and powerful running.Reuse content