Wales 19-26 England
By ITV Wales staff and agencies
Wales’ challenge in this RBS 6 Nations was made even harder as England won in Cardiff for the first time since 2003.
Wing Chris Ashton scored two tries, the unflappable Toby Flood kicked 13 points before going off injured and his replacement Jonny Wilkinson slotted a clinching penalty five minutes from time.
Wales had their moments – wing Morgan Stoddart claimed a second-half touchdown, while Stephen Jones converted and added three penalties – and finished strongly, but they have now gone eight Tests without a win.
And there might be worse to come ahead of next weekend’s Murrayfield appointment with Scotland, as centre Jonathan Davies could be cited following a blatant trip on Ashton that all the officials missed.
England though now march on towards three successive games at Twickenham ahead of their tournament finale against Ireland in Dublin, a game that could easily see Six Nations silverware, a Grand Slam and Triple Crown at stake.
England’s forwards built an imposing platform, with lock Tom Palmer and debutant flanker Tom Wood at the forefront, while Ashton’s imperious finishing helped ensure they were never behind.
England are far from the finished article, but they showed character and commitment in abundance, which augurs well at the start of a World Cup year.
Wales though just cannot find the winning habit, and it could prove a long and painful Six Nations campaign after another morale-sapping loss.
Despite major motorway tailbacks in late afternoon – reportedly 25 miles at one stage – the game kicked off on time under a closed roof, and Wales experienced an immediate injury scare.
Jones needed treatment following an attempted tackle on Ben Foden, but Wales otherwise settled quickly, gaining a long-range penalty chance from the first scrum that Hook drifted narrowly wide.
Jones then missed an easier kick, before England showed their opponents how it should be done by finishing their first scoring chance in clinical fashion.
It took England 11 minutes to break into Wales’ 22, but the result was spectacular as Flood blasted through a huge gap between Wales props Paul James and Craig Mitchell, then sent Ashton sprinting over.
Ashton marked his fourth touchdown in eight Tests with a trademark celebratory dive, and England were up and running as Flood converted and then kicked a penalty for an imposing 10-0 lead as a frantic opening quarter reached its conclusion.
Wales had to make a rapid response, and they did not disappoint as Jones slotted penalties either side of threatening breaks by Stoddart and lock Bradley Davies.
England struggled to repel Welsh attacking waves, and when they resorted to illegal means – Louis Deacon knocking the ball out of Mike Phillips’ hands from an offside position – referee Alain Rolland had no hesitation yellow-carding the Leicester forward.
England though, dug deep after Deacon’s departure, restoring a seven-point advantage when Flood landed another penalty before the home lost number eight Andy Powell with a shoulder injury and was replaced by former Wales captain Ryan Jones.
Wales ended the first-half inside England’s 22, yet they trooped off at the break kicking themselves for not scoring more than three points in Deacon’s absence.
Wales had their moments, but too often they wasted promising attacking positions through poor kicking when keeping ball in hand would have proved a more threatening option.
Jones completed his penalty hat-trick within three minutes of the restart, yet Welsh indiscipline then surfaced as Mitchell was yellow-carded for a technical infringement.
It was the last thing Wales wanted, and another Flood strike put England 16-9 in front before Ashton poached his second try after Palmer’s powerful run spread-eagled Wales’ defence and Mark Cueto sent his fellow wing across.
Wales looked down and out, yet they struck back right on cue when Stoddart took Davies’ scoring pass after England centre Shontayne Hape blasted out of the defensive line.
The try gave Wales renewed hope, and an air of anticipation surrounded Hook’s move to fly-half after Jones went off with 13 minutes left.
Hook’s first act was to kick a penalty, leaving Wales just four points adrift, but England reverted to their forwards, substitute Lee Byrne conceded a penalty and Wilkinson did the rest.