Friendly and phoney, or tellingly revelatory? Some old failings undermined England in the second of their three World Cup warm-ups and the most obvious straw to be clutched by those hoping they will achieve something in New Zealand next month is that to suffer in Cardiff is neither here nor, more importantly, there.
Oddly, each side possessed what the other lacked. England, who will not play before naming their squad of 30 on 22 August, were solid in scrum and line-out, and they will proclaim that winning a World Cup is a tough task without those pillars. But Wales ruled the breakdown and they had an effective flanker in their captain, Sam Warburton, and the simple ability to finish a try when the chance presented itself to James Hook with 23 minutes left. Hook also kicked two penalties from close to halfway in the final quarter, while England's effort – despite having a one-man advantage for 20 second-half minutes – petered out pathetically with a lack of incision and a stultifying inability to go through the phases at anything like the required pace.
The roof was closed so if nothing else the conditions prepared England for Dunedin, where they will face Argentina, Georgia and Romania in their first three World Cup matches, indoors at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. The cover there is transparent, unlikethe make-up of England's first XV, as the team manager, Martin Johnson, admitted. Midfield is a huge concern; the recent emergence of a novice 20-year-old, Manu Tuilagi, as the most obvious cutting edge reflects a paucityof alternatives.
The second quarter was a typicallymixed bag for England, who were trailing 6-3 to two penalties from Rhys Priestland to one by Toby Flood, resuming at fly-half after Jonny Wilkinson started the 23-19 win at Twickenham last week. Lloyd Burns had already overthrown in the England 22 – though it might have been a try for Jamie Roberts if he could have caught it – and now the Dragons hooker who was laying bricks for a living a year ago heaved a lob into Nick Easter's hands. Flood's up and under was fielded by Hook at full-back but Mike Tindall arrived to counter-ruck and Wales were penalised for sealing off (England fell foul of the 2007 World Cup final referee, Alain Rolland, on the same count more often). Flood slotted the kick.
With Courtney Lawes and Louis Deacon unflappable at the line-out, England were on the front foot. Yet they were faltering and frail. Mark Cueto's favourite midfield move fell apart when he got ahead of Shontayne Hape and the pass was forward. Ben Foden chipped to the corner but Luke Charteris rescued Wales at the line-out. Danny Care made a break from a line-out, then sent Tindall through. Yet in both cases Wales scrambled and held England out.
Of course England's scrummage was solid; threatening even, when Wales stood up on their line in the first quarter and were perhaps let off by Rolland. Wales's hooker and captain, Matthew Rees, and top props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones were missing. A well executed tackle by Gavin Henson cut Hape down when the ball went into midfield.
To add to the ifs, buts and haven't-a-clues, injuries intervened. The ever enigmatic Henson departed with a suspected broken arm. Neither Richard Wigglesworth, the England scrum-half, nor Priestland made it to the second half, which started with a yellow card to Roberts and Flood's penalty for 9-6. Hook switched to fly-half and soon yet another opportunity was wasted by England – a crossfield raid from a quick line-out ended with Tindall and Hape smothered.
When Wales worked a similar position, after 57 minutes, they scored. Shane Williams skipped and shimmied to the right, the ball was recycled towards the posts and Hook squirmed through a thicket of arms before kicking the conversion. Mike Phillips went to the sin-bin for diving over a ruck but somehow it emphasised the verve Wales were feeling. With Hook's superb kicking, defence did the rest. Faced with 14 men with 10 minutes remaining, England coughed up possession with a truck-and-trailer penalty then Foden kicking in the 22 rather than keeping the ball alive in a counter-attack.
Charlie Hodgson came on for Flood but fired an overcooked chip into touch. It cannot be ignored that all concerned are effectively in pre-season – Foden and Flood had not played for three months – but on the balance of the two friendlies Wales were aggregate winners and finished much happier with results and fitness. As to the 150,000 spectators who have watched the matches, they have Wales's meeting with Argentina here on Saturday and England's trip to Ireland a week later to enjoy or endure before the main event.
Wales J Hook (Ospreys); G North (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G Henson (unattached), Shane Williams (Ospreys), M Priestland (Scarlets), J Phillips (Bayonne); P James (Ospreys), L Burns (Newport Gwent Dragons), C Mitchell (Ospreys), L Charteris (Dragons), AW Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate, T Faletau (both Dragons), S Warburton (Blues, capt). Replacements Scott Williams (Scarlets) for Henson, 32; N Brew (Dragons) for Priestland, 40; H Bennett (Ospreys) for Burns, 53; J Turnbull (Scarlets) for Jones, 60; R Bevington (Ospreys) for James, 77; James for Mitchell, 77.
England B Foden (Northampton); M Banahan (Bath), M Tindall (Gloucester, capt), S Hape (London Irish), M Cueto (Sale); T Flood (Leicester), R Wigglesworth (Saracens); A Corbisiero (London Irish), S Thompson (Wasps), D Cole, L Deacon (both Leicester), C Lawes, T Wood (both Northampton), N Easter (Harlequins), H Fourie (Sale). Replacements D Care (Harlequins) for Wigglesworth, 30; J Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams) for Fourie, 50; L Mears (Bath) for Thompson, 59; M Stevens (Saracens) for Corbisiero, 59; D Armitage (London Irish) for Tindall, 59; Tindall for Banahan, 74; C Hodgson (Saracens) for Flood, 68; T Palmer (Stade Français, 68).
Referee A Rolland (Ireland).
Pens: Priestland 2, Hook 2
Pens: Flood 3
Wonderful Warburton has Cardiff cakewalk
The open-side question Seconds count for hours at Test level, and Sam Warburton's pace and instinct following the ball and doing damage at the breakdown did wonders for Wales. There is something lacking from England's back-row combination that Hendre Fourie was unable to provide at No 7.
Will the real England team stand up The defeat in Ireland last March suggested England were a long way off being World Cup contenders. And the non-appearance so far this summer of the injured Ben Youngs, Andrew Sheridan and Chris Ashton has stripped some more of the gloss from the Six Nations champions.
Lawes is a lock-in Courtney Lawes locked the left side of the scrum and looks a banker to start in New Zealand. But as with Manu Tuilagi, itmust be questionable to invest too much hope in one soyoung.
What next for Wales? Unlike England, the Welsh have one match to go before naming their World Cup squad. With Stephen Jones, Lee Byrne, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones and perhaps Leigh Halfpenny waiting to return, they may be hitting an upward curve.
Doors to No 10 England need to trust themselves and their talent. Whereas Toby Flood played to order, Wales had the more adaptable pizzazz of Rhys Priestland and James Hook at fly-half.
Don't write England off If the bunch of old salts who went to battle in 2007 were able to get to the final, anything is possible once the World Cup actually starts.Reuse content