For the first 30 minutes of this test it looked like Tonga’s fairy tale might go all the way, but in the end England just had too much nous. The forwards in white were able to strangle the game when needed forcing the Tongans to make mistakes that Sackey and Tait had the pace out wide to take advantage of.
The wobble early came from the Tongan centre Huganga running through Wilkinson and then running around and through 3 more defenders to slide over the line. This wasn’t the last time that Wilkinson wobbled both in defense and with the boot from both floor and hand. He’s a long way from the 2003 version.
And it wasn’t just Wilkinson. The islanders made yards all night, even in hit outs around the rucks. One on one they simply looked stronger than the Poms, right across the park. The one exception was Nick Easter, the best English forward by far, who had a ding dong battle with his opposite number, super ‘fro Finau Maka. Easter looked great with the ball in hand and surely has made 8 his own, showing Dallaglio for the mouthy retiree he is. Maka not only managed to clear up a stack of ball going backwards, but then make yards and hits as well.
Other bright spots for England included Tait and Farrell who both got themselves on the score sheet with speed and guile respectively. Sackey is also proving to have that happy knack of scoring ties. The England openside slot is still a gaping wound though. Moody did his usual headless chicken impersonation and copped two first class twattings for his trouble. “Injecting energy” is not a good enough trait to snaffle the 7 shirt. How can this still be such a quandary on the eve of a quarter final?
So England go into the Quarters against Australia as rank underdogs, which will suit them just fine. Right now, with Mortlock penciled to spearhead the charge through the England centers this is about right. But take Mortlock away and that balance evens up a long way….
See match stats here
Tries: Sackey 2, Tait, Farrell
Pens: Wilkinson 2
Cons: Wilkinson 2
Drop goals: Wilkinson 2
Tries: Hufanga, T Pole
Cons: Hola 2
Pens: Hola 2
England: 15 Josh Lewsey, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Andy Gomarsall, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Martin Corry (c), 5 Ben Kay, 4 Steve Borthwick, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 George Chuter, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Phil Vickery, 18 Lawrence Dallaglio, 19 Joe Worsley, 20 Peter Richards, 21 Andy Farrell, 22 Dan Hipkiss.
Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Tevita Tu’ifua, 13 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 12 Epeli Taione, 11 Joseph Vaka, 10 Pierre Hola, 9 Sione Tu’ipulotu, 8 Finau Maka, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Hale T Pole, 5 Lisiate Fa’aoso, 4 Viliami Vaki, 3 Kisi Pulu, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ephraim Taukafa, 17 Taufa’ao Filise, 18 Maama Molitika, 19 Inoke Afeaki, 20 Soane Havea, 21 Hudson Tonga’uiha, 22 Aisea Havili.
Referee: Alain Rolland
Touch judges: Craig Joubert, Christophe Berdos
Television match official: Mark Lawrence
Assessor: Bob Francis