England v Wales: Jonny Wilkinson sends out a World Cup message
Man of the Match Jonny Wilkinson, who didn’t start a game for England last season, kept his nerve to steer England to a 23-19 victory over Wales and laid down the gauntlet to his former Newcastle understudy Toby Flood ahead of the World Cup.
Flood has been Martin Johnson’s preferred choice for a while now but Wilkinson, with 13 points and a calm all-round performance, clearly demonstrated his determination yesterday to regain the starting position at fly-half for the World Cup
which could prove to be his international swansong.
"Jonny doesn’t have to prove anything to me, we know he can start a Test match," said Johnson afterwards. "It’s just a question of which way we want to go. There’s never been any doubt about Jonny. There is always a ’reason’ to start Jonny, I thought he handled the game very well but never expect anything less of him."
captain Lewis Moody, who departed in the second half with what looked like a worrying recurrence of his knee injury, was in chipper mood after the game and insisted it was only a ’tweak’ and that he came off as ’precaution’. The England medics will monitor the injury in the next 48 hours to assess if there is any chance of being considered for next Saturday’s return game at the Millennium Stadium.
For Morgan Stoddart, however, his World Cup is over before it even started after suffering a nasty broken leg in the second half. Ironically the unlucky Wales full-back was only playing because Stephen Jones, who was due to make a record 101st Test appearance for Wales, withdrew half an hour before kick off after feeling a calf muscle tighten during the warm-up. Rhys Priestland moved up to fly-half and Stoddart came in at full-back.
Afterwards both coaches seemed happy enough: “It was a full blooded Test match and gives us something to work with next week,” said Johnson. “At 20-7 up we needed to control the ball but we had five or six turnovers and invited them right back onto us.
“Jonny managed it well with Lewis but we didn’t finish it off and in the end it was very close. Manu Tuilagi played well, it was a pretty good debut, and it was great work by Wilko to put him in for a try. Delon played well again and Matt Stevens was good.”
coach Warren Gatland was pleased with his side’s gutsy performance, which was in marked contrast to two heavy defeats Wales suffered in warm-up games against England ahead of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.
“I’ve come away thinking things are pretty good,” he said. “Rhys Priestland handled the pressure well. We finished strong, scored three tries to two and created other opportunities. We created some good stuff while defensively there were things we could fix up, for example Haskell’s first try and a couple of nothing kicks.
“We prioritised conditioning before the game but England looked like they’d done a lot more rugby than us. After our players got their second wind, they felt pretty good and it gives us confidence to play with that tempo and intensity."