Whatever you think about England and their chances of winning a second World Cup, they know how to enjoy themselves. Three tries to each of the wings, Mark Cueto and Chris Ashton, brought broad smiles as the leaders of Pool B added try-scoring to the drinking, student-baiting, surfing, bungee-jumping and dwarf-grappling that have hallmarked an eventful campaign.
With Scotland to come in the pool decider in Auckland on Saturday – England leave the South Island today with opinion split over whether the wins over Argentina, Georgia and Romania will be remembered longer than a Queenstown bouncer's CCTV vendetta against Mike Tindall – it was easy to see why the team manager, Martin Johnson, was able to say, more or less: "The World Cup starts here." A win over the Scots will put England into the quarter-finals and it may be this happy-go-lucky team's good fortune that they laugh their way to the final before they encounter their acid test.
Certainly nothing much was proved in this romp over a Romanian team calamitously short of firepower and willpower, five days before a match they are much more interested in, against Georgia in Palmerston North. With tries in the 16th, 22nd and 26th minutes, Cueto marked his first World Cup appearance since the 2007 final (a back injury had kept him out) with an end to a run of one try in 25 Tests. With Ashton also enjoying himself, England had their first double hat-trick in a World Cup match and their first in any game since Romania were pasted 134-0 at Twickenham in 2001 and Jason Robinson, with four, Ben Cohen and Dan Luger ran in 10 between them.
On the face of it this showed the potential of the gameplan that allows Tindall and Manu Tuilagi to keep things simple in the midfield so long as they tie up the opposition and release the back three, among whom Ben Foden was also a try-scorer. Needless to say, stiffer opposition are unlikely to be as compliant as Romania in permitting the deft touches brought off by everyone from Ben Youngs at scrum-half to the lock Louis Deacon. There was also a try from England's favourite line-out move, the inside ball from Jonny Wilkinson to Ashton after a set-up pass by James Haskell.
If the Scots beat Argentina in Wellington today England will have qualified for the quarter-finals but the final placings in this pool are no minor consideration, with the winners almost certain to face France and the runners-up therefore to be thrown the crampons and oxygen masks for a mountainous task against the hosts and odds-on favourites, New Zealand. The memory of knockout wins over the French in the previous two World Cups will give England strength and they will not quiver at a possible Auckland semi-final against Ireland or Wales.
If, however, the Scots are beaten today, all sorts of scenarios, including elimination for England, will remain possible. Argentina take on Georgia on Sunday.
Ashton's second England hat-trick of the year came after his four-timer against Italy in the Six Nations in February, but though the Northampton man will be pleased at the more obvious power when he put his foot to the floor than in his previous appearances here, the greater relief belonged to Cueto. The Sale wing has had a stop-start year, thanks in large part to a nine-week ban for gouging, but he has been a Johnson favourite with 28 straight Tests before the injury here, and he will hope to have wrested his position back from Delon Armitage, who replaced Foden atfull-back here.
Romania's defence in the midfield channels would have shamed a fifth-division club side, and the hooker Bogdan Zebega Suman was busy staring at the big screen when Youngs tapped a penalty and ran past him to create Cueto's second try. But a handful of avoidable penalties against a slack defence continued to raise alarms over England's discipline and Wilkinson's faffing around over which ball to kick with was difficult to explain.
But Johnson anticipated that "everyone will be on deck on Tuesday" to build up to Scotland, including the lock Courtney Lawes, back from suspension, and No 8 Nick Easter, from injury. Tindall said: "It was a relief to get back on the field. Even though no one believes it we put it [the tabloid story of his Queenstown night out] to bed... two weeks ago. Our off-the-field antics are going downwards. Quiet ones from now on."
The centre and his manager have been through winning a World Cup, in 2003 – they know the ebb and flow of seven weeks of success. For now the tide is with the pair of them.
England B Foden (D Armitage, 51); C Ashton, M Tuilagi,M Tindall, M Cueto; J Wilkinson (T Flood, 40), B Youngs(R Wigglesworth, 61); A Corbisiero (Cole, 58), S Thompson(L Mears, 50), D Cole (D Wilson, 40), L Deacon (S Shaw, 58), T Palmer, T Croft, J Haskell, L Moody (capt; T Wood, 61).
Romania F Vlaicu (C Nicolae, 71); S Ciuntu, I Cazan (C Gal, 40), I Dumitras, A Apostol; M Dumbrava, L Sirbu (V Calafeteanu, 40); N Nere, B Zebega Suman (M Tincu, 50), S Florea (P Ion, 61), V Poparlan, C Petre (capt; M Macovei, 51), S Burcea,O Tonita, C Ratiu (D Ianus, 59).
Referee R Poite (France).
Tries: Cueto 3, Ashton 3, Youngs, Foden, Tuilagi, Croft
Cons: Wilkinson 3, Flood 4
Pen: DumbravaReuse content