Tuilagi shines but England are a pale shade of All Black

England 23 Wales 19: Rusty display contains sparks of promise but the world's No 1 team will not be losing much sleep, writes Hugh Godwin at Twickenham

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The Independent Online

As Martin Johnson, the England team manager, had said during the build-up to this first of three World Cup warm-ups, it is easy to copy what the All Blacks do but quite another to do it as well as them.

England got the kit bit right, decked head to toe in black for no reason other than a money-making one.

But aside from some polished interventions by Jonny Wilkinson and some reassuring rearing of the head by the power game – like the red rose and the white strip, both are more familiar English touchstones – there was not much to suggest they are on the same plane as New Zealand, who earlier yesterday had a clear-cut win over the planet's second-ranked side, Australia.

Of course, yersterday's result at Twickenham was unimportant and the teams, with some reshuffling, will meet again in Cardiff on Saturday, before the Welsh face Argentinaand England go to Ireland. Eventually, all concerned will head down under for the real thing.

In the balance of risk versus reward, England's debutant centre, Manu Tuilagi, scored a slashing try and Matt Stevens, in his first Test since a two-year ban for taking cocaine, completed a 17th win in 17 matches for Saracens, the Saxons and England and played a good tighthead prop's part in making a try for the No 8, James Haskell.

On the down side, Lewis Moody, the captain, limped off after an hour, gingerly keeping the weight off his bandaged right knee; the same knee in which a damaged medial ligament kept him out of the entire Six Nations. In his absence England won the title. They may be contemplating another competition without their leader, last night describing the flanker's substitution as "precautionary" while confirming Moody would have a scan tomorrow.

Both sides were ready for a hit-out after weeks of lifting weights and, in Wales's case, two trips to a fitness centre in Poland specialising in deep-freeze. They too were unable to make it through unscathed, losing the Scarlets full-back Morgan Stoddart to a broken leg. Stoddart had only started due to the 100-cap fly-half Stephen Jones tweaking a calf in the warm-up. Rhys Priestland swapped his No 15 jersey for the No 10.

Even in the rank amateur days of flying to the first World Cup in 1987 fuelled by beer and blind hope, England have never been in such a shambles. Four of yesterday's XV – Delon Armitage (twice), Tuilagi, Stevens and Mark Cueto – are on the comeback from suspensions, variously for verbal abuse, punching, drug-taking and gouging. Quite a rap sheet to go alongside the administrative aggro at the RFU and injuries and operations afflicting Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes, Louis Deacon, Chris Ashton and Shontayne Hape.

Perhaps, then, a narrow win, with Wilkinson dropping a goal off either foot in either half, was not so bad. Wales were close to full strength, set on avoiding anything like their 62-5 hammering in the corresponding friendly in 2007. England settled themselves with a 50-metre penalty by Wilkinson, but the first try went to the Welsh. A line-out drive was held but after 14 phases, including a thrust by Jamie Roberts and some mature prompting by Priestland, the defensive line shrank and wide passing set up Stoddart to send George North in at the corner. Priestland converted.

England abandoned the take-the-points mentality. Wilkinson put a penalty to touch and Tom Palmer caught the line-out, leading to an overlap missed at scrum-half by Danny Care, a hacking clearance by Toby Faletau and a rousing counter by Armitage. A dodgy Welsh line-out tap gave England a five-metre scrum at which Stevens, with Simon Shaw behind him, skewed Wales expertly – or illegally, depending on your take on the tighthead's scrummaging angle – and Haskell drove over. Wilkinson converted and followed with a left-footed drop for a six-point lead.

Three minutes into the second half Tuilagi (below) cut an unstoppable angle off Wilkinson's shoulder for England's second try. Wilkinson converted. Metaphorical hillocks of rust were forming on both sides. Shane Williams was jeered when a cross-field raid ended in an ankle-tap by Tuilagi and running slap into Roberts. Scorned, perhaps, he responded with a try in the 56th minute. Mike Phillips' leap over a ruck was repelled by Stevens but a huge overlap soon presented itself. Though Bradley Davies did his best to ignore it, Williams sped past Cueto to the corner.

Wilkinson's second drop-goal had England 23-13 up and Moody's replacement, Tom Wood, tackled Sam Warburton to prevent a try after 67 minutes. Wales scented victory. With the benches emptied of all but one man, Wales outflanked their hosts on the right and North scored his second try from Ryan Jones's pass. Priestland converted.

That was North's fifth try in six Test matches; for Williams it had been a 54th try on his 80th Wales appearance. Between them they were able to achieve much more out wide than England's Matt Banahan and Cueto.

England: D Armitage (London Irish); M Banahan (Bath), M Tuilagi (Leicester), R Flutey (Wasps), M Cueto (Sale); J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Care (Harlequins); A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Hartley (Northampton), M Stevens (Saracens), S Shaw (Wasps), T Palmer (Stade Français), T Croft (Leicester), J Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams), L Moody (Bath, capt). Replacements: L Mears (Bath) for Hartley, 57; D Wilson (Bath) for Stevens, 57; M Botha (Saracens) for Shaw, 57; T Wood (Northampton) for Moody, 60; R Wigglesworth (Saracens) for Care, 57; C Sharples (Gloucester) for Tuilagi 59; Stevens for Corbisiero, 69; C Hodgson (Saracens) for Wilkinson, 76.

Wales: M Stoddart; G North, J Davies (all Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); P James, H Bennett (both Ospreys), C Mitchell (Exeter), B Davies (Blues), AW Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate, T Faletau (both Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Blues, capt). Replacements: S Williams (Scarlets) for Stoddart 48; R Jones (Ospreys) for Faletau, 54; T Knoyle (Scarlets) for Phillips, 60; L Burns (Dragons) for Bennett, 64; R Bevington (Ospreys) for James, 64; L Charteris (Dragons) for AW Jones, 64.

Referee: S Walsh (Australia).

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