A battle of wits developed very early on Saturday, both sides thinking they had the advantage on several occasions. There were several lulls punctuated by sudden bursts of activity. But enough about my battle for supremacy of the snooze feature with my alarm clock, you probably want to know about the rugby.
In the ‘greenhouse’ of the Dunedin stadium, England started brightly against a youthful, and dare I saw raw, Romanian side, Jonny dissecting the posts within a minute with a penalty.
After a brutally honest review, by all accounts, of the disappointing Georgia game, England played with a breath-taking energy for the next five minutes, twice ruined by soft penalties for not securing ruck ball and then a forward pass.
As is typical of such teams, it looked like it was the scrum Romania would put up the biggest challenge. But is was out wide England wanted to play, the first try coming from Ashton switching wings and feeding the returning Cueto. Wilkinson missed the conversion from an acute angle.
A quick tap penalty by the energetic Ben Youngs led to Mark Cueto getting his second try, skipping through a gaping hole created by fast ball. Almost instantly he became a hat-trick hero within the first half hour, the TMO confirming it (unlike his last RWC TMO decision – answers on a postcard).
With a 20 – 0 lead (Jonny kicked only one conversion), England settled into the pattern of kicking away from their own 22, securing the ball in the right places and then running it, quick and hard. Romania struggled to retain possession for more than a few phases, their eyes firmly on the much more winnable Georgia game still to come.
Next up was Chris Ashton on a beaut’ of a inside line, followed again by, er, Ashton from 30 metres out, AshSplash-ing down.
Straight away though, England gave away a penalty from the kick-off, giving Romania an easy three points.
The half finished with Moody in pain from a mid-air collision with Tindall and Romania receiving another easy penalty in England’s 22, which was unlucky to hit the post. Half time, 34-3 to England.
The penalty count had been less by this point, but the forwards were still conceding for silly little things, and they definitely switched off once the clock hit 40 minutes, despite play continuing for another two minutes.
Second half and blink and you missed it, Tuilagi and Youngs combined for the latter to score after twenty seconds, substitute Flood missing the kick.
David Wilson made his World Cup debut in the other half time change. No injuries were apparent to give reason to the changes, so I’m sure it was because both are Geordies. Might have been tactical amidttedly, but I’m sticking with the Geordie thing.
Romania missed another ambitious penalty kick and despite their best efforts, just couldn’t make a lasting impression on the England defence. Once back in possession, secured line out ball saw Tuilagi become provider again, this time for Foden who celebrated by pretending to rock a baby as he found out last week he was going to be a dad with celebrity girlfriend Una Healy. I’ll get it in now – no numbers for a name yeah? Ok? Good.
Now with several senior players on, Romania threatened England’s line for the first time after 55 minutes, miscommunication at a scrum lead to Haskell not being supported and the ball being turned over. A scrum and tapped penalty kept them within centimetres but the wall of white held firm, a mistake by the replacement scrum half allowing his opposite number to clear.
A calf injury to the impressive Corbisero saw Wilson move to the loosehead and Cole back on, with 38 year old Simon ‘Terminator’ Shaw replacing Deacon. Honestly, I’m just waiting for someone to hit him in the eye and that red light to appear…
Anyway, next on the conveyor belt of scorers was Tuilagi, the defence having no answer to his power and speed, dancing over with a big smile on his face. As Mears, Wigglesworth and Wood replaced Thompson, captain Moody and Youngs, with the job done the England management were now looking to keep injuries to key players to a minimum.
With 15 minutes to go, the rapier spirit of the England attack had diminished as is so typical after a series of substitutions, but England kept working hard, denying Romania no matter what, before, you guessed it, England scored, this time Croft running the ball in down the wing after another well worked passage of play, Toby taking the score to 60-3.
If the Romanians heads had not dropped by now they certainly would have at the sight of Tom Palmer and Haskell performing a round the back scissors move to send Ashton away for his third, the confidence of the whole XV with the ball in hand a joy to behold.
The best passage of play came in the final two minutes, substitute Armitage knocking the ball into the arms of a defender, who kicked through with the ball ending up just metres from the England line. An intercept was missed by fingertips as Flood charged up field, the ball flying across the backline before Romania conceded a penalty. The field was littered by players out on their feet and the sensible decision to call time on an entertaining spectacle was made. Full time score 67-3.
The energy and ruthlessness of the England side was good to see. Although not perfect, there was an improvement in discipline and the interplay between backs and forwards was a step up from what we’ve seen so far this tournament. A win by a margin more than against Georgia should always have been a given, but this was more than that. There was a buzz about the team, a determination to prove critics wrong, be they internal or external.
The team that started remains my first choice. Haskell has surely now made that 8 shirt his own, even if Easter returns to fitness. Cueto reminded us of the class he has and for me Wilkinson won the battle of the fly halves, though Flood’s game was always going to be different after coming on with a 30 point winning margin already.
There will be things to work on, but that’s for another day. For now, let’s enjoy an exciting England victory and get ready for Scotland – guaranteed to be a feisty affair and an opportunity to see if England really are back on track.
England – 67
Tries: Cueto 3, Ashton 3, Youngs, Foden, Tuilagi, Croft
Conversions: Wilkinson 3, Flood 4
Romania – 3
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