England hung on to beat Wales 26-19 in the opening round of the Six Nations on Friday night, in a game that saw Wales one converted try away from levelling the scores with ten minutes still on the clock. Jonny Wilkinson’s penalty in the 76th minute saw England pull away, but Wales remained a constant threat until the final whistle blew and could easily have stolen the game at the death.
But although it was not pretty at times, and England had to dig deep and grind out the win, manager Martin Johnson insists that these victories are crucial to the team’s mentality and development.
“It was a bit ugly but you’ve got to win those Test matches and we’re very happy with the win,” said Johnson. “It was the game we expected, it ebbed and flowed, and there were mistakes made and penalties given away. The crowd played their part but in the end we had the momentum to take us forward to win.”
One man who agrees with this view is James Haskell, who carried well for England until he was replaced by Joe Worsley in the second half.
“It was a tough game,” admitted Haskell. “Everyone wants speed and momentum from the first game of the Six Nations, but sometimes you get more from winning dirty and we’re pleased to have ground out the win.”
There can be few more rowdy and intimidating places to go and play than the Millennium Stadium on a Friday night, and Johnson was delighted with the way his players dealt with the atmosphere.
“The pressure of the game was huge, but we still managed to win two tries to one,” said Johnson. “We’ve got the same guys back in playing the same way as they did in the autumn, and it’s great that they’re able to execute moves under pressure. I even thought some of the guys were too relaxed today, you get a bit worried!”
Despite showing improvement in their performance, Johnson still intends to “hand out the rollickings” on Monday morning for the things that did go wrong. Although England’s next three games are at home, Johnson won’t be taking a victory over their next opponents, Italy, for granted.
“Italy at home will be a different challenge and we need to be ready,” said Johnson. “It’s great to have won away from home, but we need to back it up with a win next week.”
Haskell added: “Italy have some top players, and they’re always so close to turning over the big teams in the Six Nations, so now it’s time to go back to the drawing board.”