The day Charlie left the Jonny jibes in the past

It has taken him time, but Hodgson has now settled into life as England's guiding light
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The Independent Online

It is 25 months since the man who preceded Freddie Flintoff as national icon played for England. Then his every action, every pronouncement was scrutinised for significance. He did not particularly relish it, but he probably yearns to be able to return to the role of reluctant hero once more.

Instead he has to look on as his replacement, Charlie Hodgson, continues to develop as his successor. Once Hodgson was regarded as a cuckoo in the nest; increasingly, he appears like a rather contented wise owl. The question of who is first in the pecking order when Wilkinson eventually returns, assuming he does with his powers of old, will provide an intriguing debate. Presumably the Sale Shark would maintain possession of the shirt, with perhaps the World Cup winner converting to centre. It was a 12th consecutive England appearance here yesterday for the Halifax-born fly half - how Wilko would love that - and in that time his image has been transformed from a man disegarded as Just Not Jonny to an indispensable member of Andy Robinson's team.

Stephen Jones, Hodgson's Wales counterpart yesterday, and fellow Lion, had warned beforehand that England were more of a threat to them with Hodgson than Wilkinson; that, notwithstanding the efficiency of the latter's kicking, Hodgson was a more astute, skilful player. Yesterday, the England fly- half did everything to justify the plaudit, demonstrating that he is not Jonny II but Charles I, with his control and influence in the England midfield.

His tackling still does not carry the menace of Wilkinson's, although he has worked hard on it, but his kicking from hand was admirable, and while he missed two conversion attempts and one penalty as England ultimately overwhelmed their opponents, he did amass 13 points.

But what would be the response from Twickenham man, and woman, to his observations about them? What is regarded as Engand's fortress had for Hodgson become "a weird place", a haven for too many corporate fans who drink and become abusive, according to his description of the atmosphere during defeat by France last year.

His first conversion miss yesterday, following England's second try from Lewis Moody, was received with a low groan. Yet, it was one of genuine disappointment rather than any criticism of a player who must be commended for his candour, if not his diplomacy. He has withstood the withering, wounding comparions with Wilkinson, and emerged stronger. The Twickenham crowd, despite his chastisement, respected him for that.

Perhaps he had brought some of the perceived unpleasantness on himself. For too long, he was considered not only mentally frail as a kicker, but his willingness to concede that fact added to the concerns about him. Because, of course, you'd never hear that kind of admission from the Boy Wonder. Hodgson was a Doubting Charlie when it came to the use of the boot.

During that France defeat, Hodgson missed three penalties and a drop goal. "It often feels like you're being abused by them," he said of the home crowd, perplexed that anyone should actually deem him "The Darling of Twickenham". But since then, he has undergone a renewal of confidence, notably against Ireland, before playing with great conviction for the Lions. His performances for Sale, inspiring them to claim the summit of the Premiership, this season have cemented his reputation.

If his stature has been enhanced, so has England's. A year ago at the Millennium Stadium it had all been so different. Young Mathew Tait's world was turned upside down by the showman Gavin Henson. Tait is currently in rehab Down Under, with England Sevens. Robinson's team have moved on from that ignominious display.

The Wales side of that day might have made something of a contest of it here, and lived up to the words of their inspirational skills coach, Scott Johnson, who issued the jibe at England: "Come full time, you will be calling for oxygen". At half-time, he might have had a point. But by the end, Wales, brutally depleted in resources, and lacking quality, were calling for the paramedics.

"Sexy" rugby? Robinson prefers effective rugby. That is what his men offered yesterday with a climactic conclusion to send the crowd home fully satisfied. This time, there were few doubts that the fly-half had found the spot.

MAN FOR MAN MARKING AT TWICKENHAM

By Paul Trow

England

Star performer: Charlie Hodgson 9

Aside from missing three goal kicks, his decisions were faultless. Passed long and short, defended when necessary and found touch effortlessly.

Josh Lewsey 6

England's only ever-present since the World Cup went off after 20 minutes with a shoulder injury. One spirited run out of defence but a clumsy offload.

Mark Cueto 7

Cut in clinically and accelerated past the Welsh defence for England's first try to relieve the pressure. Remained a threat but had few other chances.

Jamie Noon 7

Showed his strength by taking out two tacklers before deftly offloading to Cueto. Made several further breaks and almost sent Grewcock over.

Mike Tindall 6

"Prince and Pauper" display from the royal escort. Brave with ball in hand, perceptive as a kicker, dynamic in the tackle and feeble with his passing.

Ben Cohen 6

Solid and diligent in the discharge of all his duties - covering, defending, bursting into the line. Something's missing though - confidence perhaps.

Harry Ellis 6

Struggled early on when he was clearly targeted by the Welsh back row. Later made a couple of eye-catching breaks, one leading to Tindall's try.

Andrew Sheridan 7

Was charged with the all-important task of drawing the sting from a willing but lighter Welsh pack. His power helped create the gap for Moody's try.

Steve Thompson 7

For once enjoyed a largely incident-free afternoon with his line-out throwing and made his customary forthright contribution in the loose.

Matt Stevens 9

Ran Hodgson closest as England's finest and was the real plus for Robinson. Scrummaged hard on both sides and looked comfortable with the ball.

Steve Borthwick 8

Dominant display from the game's most improved lock. Bossed the line-out and worked tirelessly as England mauled and rucked their merry way.

Danny Grewcock 7

Cruelly denied a rare international try by Noon's slightly looped pass and a premature tackle. Posed the Welsh a typically stiff physical examination.

Joe Worsley 7

Had a stop-start match. Off early on for treatment to a cut and made few telling runs. But his work at close quarters and in defence was exemplary.

Lewis Moody 7

Did not look as though he'd only spent 40 minutes on a pitch during the previous 10 weeks. Showed welcome discipline and his reward was a try.

Martin Corry 6

Not seen too much in ball-carrying mode from the back of set-pieces, but was undeniably pulling the strings in the darker corners of the game.

Replacements

Lee Mears 6: Produced a couple of neat touches.

Julian White 6: Wheeled the scrum for Dallaglio try.

Simon Shaw 6: On in the last minute for Grewcock.

Lawrence Dallaglio 8: Made his point with a late No 8's try.

Matt Dawson 7: Crossed for a try with his first touch.

Andy Goode 6: Coolly slotted two late conversions.

Tom Voyce 7: Darted over for the final touchdown.

Wales

Gareth Thomas 7

Last line of defence proved hardest to breach. Calm under pressure and always looked to counterattack, but a bad knock-on blotted his copybook.

Mark Jones 5

Showed immense promise with an early scything run down the right touchline, then showed how long he had been away with some basic errors.

Hal Luscombe 5

Wales have tried him on the wing, and now he's had his turn at centre. He is strong and big and gives his all, but he seems to run only in a straight line.

Matthew Watkins 7

Owed his selection to the absence of others, but took his chance with alacrity. Tackled hard and ran in that mazy style beloved of his forebears.

Shane Williams 6

Marginalised by England's forward-dominated approach during the first half, but looked dangerous when play began to break down after the interval.

Stephen Jones 6

As in New Zealand, he seemed unable to stem the tide and play off the back foot. Landed three place kicks, but his distribution was increasingly ragged.

Adam R Jones 5

Handed the role of devouring Stevens and thus giving England's platform a dose of indigestion. Failed to deliver as the Bath man gobbled him up.

Rhys Thomas 5

Saddled with the thankless responsibility for trying to pinpoint his elusive team-mates in the line-out. The ordeal impacted on the rest of his play.

Duncan Jones 6

Drew the short, or rather very large, straw in having to pack down against Sheridan. He was duly knackered, of course, but stayed on the pitch longer.

Robert Sidoli 6

Will wake up this morning feeling as if he's been in a war. Outgunned in the set pieces and forced to cover more than his fair share of hard yards.

Ian Gough 5

A stopgap selection precipitated by an avalanche of injuries to first-choice forwards, and it showed. Was no match for England's second row.

Colin Charvis 7

A sad outcome to the day he returned to the Six Nations. Never really got to grips with England in the loose and was showing his age towards the end.

Martyn Williams 6

Took the Welsh try with panache by appearing on Peel's shoulder at exactly the right moment. Sin-binned later for cynical restart foul on Moody.

Michael Owen 6

The feeling persists that such a talent should now be stamping his authority more on proceedings. Positions himself well but fails to punch holes.

Replacements

Gethin Jenkins 5: Found himself up against White.

Adam M Jones 6: Had two outings in place of Gough.

Gareth Cooper 5: On late, then hurt a shoulder.

Lee Byrne 5: On briefly as a blood replacement.

Alix Popham 5: Anonymous when on for Charvis.

Mefin Davies: Not used.

Nicky Robinson: Not used.

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