England hold off Wales in RWC warm-up

by RUGBY.com.au staff

England held off a spirited Wales 23-19 to win what could prove to be a costly World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham on Saturday.

Both sides suffered injuries just weeks before the showpiece tournament in New Zealand, Wales having Morgan Stoddart carried off on a stretcher while England captain Lewis Moody - who missed the Six Nations - suffering a recurrence of a knee injury.

Wales also suffered a setback shortly before kick-off when veteran fly-half Stephen Jones had to pull out through injury on the verge of winning what would have been a Welsh record 101st cap.

Wales outscored England three tries to two, coming from 20-7 behind to set up a grandstand finish when winger George North crossed for the second of his two scores with four minutes left.

But, not for the first time, England great Jonny Wilkinson's kicking proved the difference in the scores with the fly-half landing two conversions, a penalty and two drop-goals in front of a crowd of more than 80,000.

Fullback Rhys Priestland moved to No.10 for Jones with Stoddart coming off the bench to fill Wales's last line of defence.

England took a fifth minute lead through Wilkinson, starting in place of Toby Flood, but it was Wales who scored the first try of the match.

Centre Jamie Roberts tried to barrel his way over from close range but was repelled by England, wearing an all-black away kit that has angered New Zealand fans, even though they were at home.

However, Wales recycled the ball out wide on the right where Stoddart's pass created the space for North to go over for a 17th minute try.

Priestland, also taking over from Jones as Wales's goalkicker, added the tricky conversion and Wales were 7-3 in front.

But seven minutes later, England regained the lead with a converted try of their own through No.8 James Haskell.

The hosts then laid siege to Wales's line but were unable to profit from it until Wilkinson, reviving memories of his match-winning score in the 2003 World Cup final, kicked a drop-goal to leave England 13-7 in front at halftime.

Four minutes into the second half centre Tuilagi, who comes from a family of Samoa internationals, scored a well-worked try, Wilkinson's conversion establishing a healthy 20-7 lead.

Again Wales hit back when Shane Williams scored a 57th minute try only for Wilkinson to land his second drop-goal.

North's second try came just too late for the visitors, the teams to face each other again on Saturday week in Cardiff.