England taken to the limit

England 31 Wales 21: Welsh spirit goes unrewarded as Cohen's tries bring relief and Woodward's men begin to rebuild the fortress mentality
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The Independent Online

The world champions are still wobbling. The foundations of Fortress Twickenham, fractured by Ireland two weeks ago, were shaken to the point of complete collapse by a magnificent Welsh effort yesterday, only for two powerful tries from Ben Cohen and a late effort from Joe Worsley to shore them up for the time being. Young fly-half Olly Barkley put in an assured performance as England finished strongly to win their Six Nations match 31-21, but there was a definite sense of worrying cracks being rapidly papered over. The old citadel is starting to look a little jerry-built.

Two wonderful Welsh tries in the first 10 minutes of the second half had turned an entertaining match on its head. First full-back Gareth Thomas finished off a sweeping move in the right-hand corner, equalling Ieuan Evans's national try-scoring record in the process. Then centre Mark Taylor benefited from more creative build-up work to gallop over on the left. Wales were ahead, 21-16.

But then a frenetic English attack, initially held by some marvellous defence, yielded Cohen's second try. Matt Dawson and Phil Vickery were held but the big winger had the strength, as in the first half, to reach out and score.

Cohen's first, whichset up a 16-9 half-time lead, was a turnaround from a turnover. Wales lost their own line-out, England moved the ball left and Cohen shrugged off two tackles to score. Again, there were echoes of Ireland: half-held, Cohen had one knee on the floor as he reached out to plant the ball over the line. This time there was no double movement. Nor, with the ball squirting free after the touchdown, was there a knock on.

From shut-out to blow-out: at least England sorted out the line-out, so badly beaten by the Irish. The crowd's cheer for their first take was one of huge relief, and all for Richard Hill's straightforward leap at the front. In contrast Wales were ragged in the skies and scragged in the scrums and have work to do. By the end their forwards were struggling for breath as the white waves broke over them, and when the replacement flanker Worsley ran over with minutes to go, they were out for the count. But there is consolation in defeat. In that purple patch in the second half, Wales were magnificent.

"I am not sure that relieved is the right word, but we were a shambles on and off the pitch against Ireland," Clive Woodward said. "We won the game, and that was the most important thing. I thought that our passion came through in the last 20 minutes."

There was another game yesterday, or rather, there was a protracted wrestling match in a Dublin downpour. Ireland won it 19-3 against Italy, with tries from lock Malcolm O'Kelly, wing Shane Horgan and captain and centre Brian O'Driscoll. Italy's fly-half Roland De Marigny kicked a lone penalty in reply.

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