Martin Johnson had been at pains to point out that the rest of the Six Nations' Championship and the year ahead would be waiting for his side this morning, but the inhibition inherent in the warning was swept away in the smiles of his players at the relief of victory. Two tries by the blindside flanker James Haskell, another from the scrum-half Danny Care and a couple of crucial errors by Wales set the sweet chariot rolling, with Italy to come next in Rome on Sunday.
Wales suffered horribly from conceding 17 points in the 10 minutes the lock Alun Wyn Jones spent in the sin-bin either side of half-time; later, having fought back to trail 20-17, they gave up an interception which led to the exultant Haskell's second try. The Welsh scrum, in a contest lacking two first choice front-rowers on each side, had their opponents fretting and James Hook, a try-scorer for Wales at outside-centre, enjoyed the latest switch of roles in his up and down career. It was not enough to prevent England ending a run of three Championship defeats by their bitter rivals.
"We scored the 17 points, they didn't give them to us," Johnson said, before adding with the twinkle of humour afforded only to victors: "We've all been there and done silly things that have an influence on the game."
This match marked Twickenham's centenary. Though the old cabbage patch attracted no kings there were two princes as Harry and William, respectively vice patrons of the English and Welsh unions, engaged in royal sibling rivalry in the East Stand. England wore an old-style off-white kit and some of their forwards – notably the gut-busting flanker Lewis Moody and line-out master Steve Borthwick – were cream-crackered by the end. The result soothed the muscles and the anxiety left over from an awkward autumn.
At 3-3 after half an hour the match was more evenly balanced than the line-out, where England stole at will from the diminutive thrower Gareth Williams, in for the injured Matthew Rees. Only England's perennial inability to move the ball convincingly in any channel, narrow or wide, held them back. Their plans of expansion based on Riki Flutey had, perhaps, foundered on the centre's withdrawal on Friday. That and the Wales flanker Martyn Williams working like stink.
Most crucially, England were emboldened in the 34th minute by one of the daftest acts seen in the fixture's ancient history (the score had stood at 53 wins each before kick-off). Care had been through a sticky patch but his sharp snipe through the remains of a line-out alarmed the Welsh. Their law-studying lock, Alun Wyn Jones, was bang to rights for a yellow card the instant he stuck out a foot to trip Dylan Hartley as the hooker blasted onwards.
The resulting kick, 30 metres from the posts was chipped over by Jonny Wilkinson every bit as smoothly as his 11th-minute effort inside the 22, and it put England 6-3 up; Stephen Jones had kicked a penalty after 26 minutes when Toby Flood, for the second time, was isolated and whistled for not releasing. Hook had already missed twice from the 10m line – the same distance from which his fly-half, Jones, succeeded.
The one-man advantage was the bread of heaven to England and Care was the master of his and his team's redemption. A couple of tap-and-go charges pinned Wales back and, in the first minute of first-half added time, Simon Shaw rolled off a ruck and Haskell finished the try. Wilkinson converted for 13-3 and did the same when Borthwick stripped Tom James of possession and Care found a gap on the short side to score three minutes into the second half.
England had led 16-6 at the break here two years ago and lost; something similar looked possible when Alun Wyn Jones returned and passed beautifully off his right hand for the prop Adam Jones to flop over. Stephen Jones converted.
These were very nervy moments for England. They might have led only by three when Tom James moaned he had been unfairly denied a try after the ball bounced off his chest. They did lead only by three when Hook, in a dream scenario for a No 13, had only England's loosehead prop, Tim Payne, to hand off to finish a sweeping attack in the 71st minute.
Stephen Jones's conversion cut the deficit to 20-17 but Wales, fatally, pushed too hard. Stephen Jones tried to find Leigh Halfpenny, only just on as a substitute, but Delon Armitage intercepted and England suddenly had four or five attackers streaming up the right wing with only Shane Williams to impede them. Flood fed Mathew Tait, mostly bottled up before this but at liberty here to turn the eminent Wales wing inside out before flipping a lavish pass behind his back to Haskell who ran in his second try. Wilkinson's conversion and a medium-range penalty in the penultimate minute did the rest.
Man for man: England
DELON ARMITAGE 6/10
It's frustrating to see such a talented chap hoofing the ball down the middle so often. His game went off a bit in the second half, possibly as a consequence... and he might have been offside for the interception that won the match. But wasn't, officially.
UGO MONYE 6/10
Solid enough, no doubt glad not to be at full-back. Stormed into tackles and surged forward very well to set up the second try.
MATHEW TAIT 7/10
Didn't suffer too badly against the bulkier Welshmen in front of him. Didn't have many chances to do too much in attack either, until he made use of Armitage's interception with a beautiful slip pass to Haskell.
TOBY FLOOD 6/10
Got himself isolated a couple of times and conceded penalties for hanging on early on, but otherwise the Leicester centre stuck to his task, of standing up to Hook and Roberts, pretty well.
MARK CUETO 6/10
Solid in defence and subtle, ish, in attack – made some amusingly operatic gestures of disgust when England failed to spot him in whole savannahs of space late in the first half.
JONNY WILKINSON 6/10
Started with his collar up like a City boy in the Fulham Rat & Parrot, and with the ball in hand he played a bit like one turning out for Barnes Twos in the morning. Kicked every single one of his goals, of course.
DANNY CARE 7/10
A Baker Street Irregular of a scrum-half and, appropriately enough, he sniped well. There are some ragged edges to his game but he took his try – thanks to Borthwick's steal, Monye's surge and Easter's run – very well.
TIM PAYNE 6/10
Much maligned as a scrummager but he didn't cave in here. Missed Hook for the second Wales try.
DYLAN HARTLEY 7/10
If Brian Moore could start a fight in an empty room, this chap could probably kick off a fracas in a vacuum. That said, he kept things relatively under control here and was pretty good for an hour.
DAVID WILSON 6/10
Got his hands on the ball for a couple of charges, but subsequently struggled a bit at the scrum. Most England props seem to do that when Mr Rolland is in charge, mind.
STEVE BORTHWICK 7/10
Took Wales's line-out to the cleaners and his pack handed out a fearful battering – except at the scrum, oddly – to their opponents. Won the turnover that set up the second half and was very harshly penalised leading up to Adam Jones's try. One of his best games for England.
SIMON SHAW 7/10
Gave away the odd rather dull penalty, but that's part of the old lag's charm and he's showing no signs, at 36, of lagging behind the pace. A canny bit of play – meaning, a subtle little foul – on Gareth Williams to set up Care's try.
JAMES HASKELL 7/10
Facing Powell must have been a bit like looking into a fairground mirror – his oppo was a bit broader and a bit taller but just as, shall we say, 'uncomplicated'. Scored from half a picometre for starters and finished the breakout for the third.
LEWIS MOODY 7/10
One classic openside flanker facing another, Mad Dog against the Nugget. The latter shone, but if there was nothing spectacular from the former, there was nothing regrettable either.
NICK EASTER 7/10
As usual, the big lump showed surprisingly subtle hands. So it shouldn't be a surprise, though perhaps his turn of pace to set up Care's try was. A reassuring presence who, it turns out, was very badly missed in the autumn.
Dan Cole First cap in place of Wilson with 20 minutes to go. Steve Thompson On for Hartley at the same time. Louis Deacon On for Shaw. Dan Hipkiss On for Flood. Paul Hodgson On for Care. Steffon Armitage On for Moody.
Man for man: Wales
LEE BYRNE 5/10
Caught a spot of dropsy from his mates early on and it lingered, leading to a frustratingly bitty performance in what was largely a frustratingly bitty game.
TOM JAMES 5/10
Thought he'd scored a try in the first half – Byrne had knocked on. Again. And then he started knocking on too, including right on the England line in the second half. Will wonder about that for a while.
JAMIE ROBERTS 6/10
Tried a clever drop-out early on. Didn't work. After that he thundered about, looking like the world-class centre he is without getting much done – until his surge and surge again led to Adam Jones's try.
JAMES HOOK 6/10
Missed his first two penalties which, in the final reckoning, he could have done without doing. Took his try well after seeing Payne looming in front of him and looked good late on.
SHANE WILLIAMS 6/10
Picked Jonny Wilkinson up and chucked him into touch, showed a few subtle touches and dangerous darts.
STEPHEN JONES 6/10
Kicked his first penalty from the kind of distance from which Hook had missed twice. Given that he looks a bit like Ray Reardon, it's appropriate that he tends to kick the ones that... count. A strong enough display.
GARETH COOPER 5/10
The Cardiff Blues' No 2 No 9 was picked ahead of his region's No 1, Rees, as Wales's No 3, with Dwayne Peel and Mike Phillips injured. Did pretty well to start with, before fading quite badly.
PAUL JAMES 6/10
Won a penalty to relieve pressure at the first five-metre scrum and generally made life difficult for Wilson and Hartley, before they were replaced. Did so by seeming to win referee Rolland's sympathy, which is more than half the front-row battle, of course.
GARETH WILLIAMS 5/10
Dynamic about the pitch but the line-outs were more than a bit of a mess and the hooker, as per, has to take most of the blame for that. Replaced relatively early on.
ADAM JONES 7/10
Part of a strong scrummaging effort and put in a decent shift in defence, as he usually does – although some rather dull English back play made it easier for him and his mates to do so for most of the match. Took his try well, though he looked astonished to have the chance to do so.
ALUN WYN JONES 4/10
Last up when Wales held up Easter in the first half. Credit for that. Debit, however, for the trip on Dylan Hartley that essentially made it 20-3 to England. Got the yellow card he deserved. Silly, silly boy. Line-outs are his beat too. Not his best.
LUKE CHARTERIS 5/10
Bled for the cause early on. Holes plugged, he showed up well enough, but oh, those line-out woes...
ANDY POWELL 5/10
Not a stranger to a whistle and an admonishment for hands in the ruck, or some such naughty thing.
MARTYN WILLIAMS 7/10
Proper tidy, as they say over Offa's Dyke, apparently. One track-back tackle on Monye, who was at more or less full pace, was a beauty and so, predictably, was his work in the tight and with the ball in hand. Had an amusing wrestling bout with Easter at the end.
RYAN JONES 6/10
Wobbly under the high ball before he took a whack on the shoulder, then handed Wilkinson a whack of his own with his boot. Had a good old battle with Easter, in which he came second. Just about. Maybe.
Bradley Davies On for Charteris for blood in the first half and again in the second. Huw Bennett On for Gareth Williams to try to sort the line-out. Leigh Halfpenny On for James for 15 minutes. Richie Rees On for Cooper for 10 and looked sharp. Jonathan Thomas On for Powell for 10.