Joseph strikes as England draw first blood in Six Nations

Bath centre caps dynamic display with brilliant second-half score against Wales

England winger Anthony Watson gets ahead of the Wales defence to score his side’s first try at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP

England winger Anthony Watson gets ahead of the Wales defence to score his side’s first try at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP

 

Wales 16 England 21

Great occasions do not always produce great games but England will long remember this frantic, nail-biting outcome. Under the Friday night lights this was as tense and breathless an occasion as any in recent memory, a classic example of why the Six Nations retains its allure. If it is an indicator of what lies in store for the tournament, it is going to be some ride.

Hurled themselves

World CupStuart Lancaster

Highlights

While Lancaster, prior to kick-off, had won 12 of his previous 15 Six Nations games in charge, this was as welcome a success as any of them. There were several notable English performances, not least from Jonathan Joseph in the centre. Lancaster’s teams have struggled for midfield fluency but the 23-year-old Joseph oiled the hinge cleverly all night and scored the crucial try early in the second half that altered the course of the contest.

James Haskell and Anthony Watson were also conspicuous, the former coming close to wrapping the game up when he smashed through to the Welsh goalposts and, but for the padding, would surely have scored. Ford’s subsequent penalty and the sin-binning of Alex Cuthbert, however, put Wales behind for the first time in the game and, with another potential English try from Dave Attwood ruled out for obstruction, the last quarter proved as suffocatingly taut as everything that had preceded it.

Lift the trophy

Still, it didn’t start well for England. By nine minutes, Wales already had a 10-point lead, Rhys Webb having nipped around the outside to score a try that will have infuriated England’s frontrow. Seconds earlier they had been surging forwards, threatening to take a key defensive scrum against the head, only for a retreating Toby Faletau to perform a muscular pirouette that took him past Haskell and gave Webb just enough room to outwit Jonny May down the blindside.

The open roof dissipated some of the stadium din but England did not need to hear the roar that greeted Halfpenny’s conversion to know they required a swift riposte. It came almost immediately, Brown’s little grubber kick down the right being collected by a speeding Watson for a wonderfully sharp try on his tournament debut. Another Halfpenny penalty extended his side’s advantage and England were grateful to Jamie Roberts tackling May without the ball, allowing Ford to reclaim a welcome three points.

With Biggar knocking over a handy drop-goal that stretched Wales’s interval lead to 16-8, England were left with the rugby equivalent of Snowdon to climb. Step forward the fast-rising Joseph. England had been battering away for almost 20 phases without necessarily looking certain to score until the ball reached the Bath centre with Biggar in front of him. One soft-shoe shuffle later and the outhalf was left flat-footed, his hesitation compounded when Joseph opted to cling on to the ball and twisted out of North’s grasp to score his first Test try. For those worried that modern rugby is no longer a place for subtle, quick-thinking centres it was timely reassurance. Guardian Service

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