Match Report – Wales 20 – 9 England

Marc Bazeley


Gareth Davies and George North both scored tries, while Leigh Halfpenny kicked two goals and two penalties; Marcus Smith kicked England’s points; England head coach Steve Borthwick names his squad for the World Cup on Monday, with the sides clashing again at Twickenham next Saturday

Last Updated: 05/08/23 8:59pm

Gareth Davies goes over for Wales' first try against England

Gareth Davies goes over for Wales’ first try against England

Second-half tries from Gareth Davies and George North saw Wales kick off their Rugby World Cup preparations with a 20-9 victory over an out-of-sorts England at the Principality Stadium.

It was a battle of the kickers in the first 40 minutes, with three successful penalties from the boot of Marcus Smith compared to two from Wales’ Test centurion Leigh Halfpenny, giving the visitors a 9-6 lead at half-time.

But the hosts seized the initiative eight minutes into the second half when Gareth Davies was on hand to finish for a try and they surged further in front thanks to George North going over from close range just before the hour mark, with Halfpenny converting both.

Louis Rees-Zammit was unfortunate not to add a third try for the hosts before full-time when he was adjudged to have knocked on after a TMO review, but that did not take the shine off the result or the performance from Warren Gatland’s new-look team.

Inexperience no barrier as Wales youngsters seize opportunity

Halfpenny may have been making his 100th Test appearance for Wales, but the relative inexperience of the rest of Gatland’s team was shown by the fact the only other members of the starting XV with more than 50 caps were North and scrum-half Davies.

They were dealt an early blow too when hooker Ryan Elias was forced off six minutes in with a suspected hamstring injury, which will be of particular concern to Gatland given Ken Owens has already been ruled out of the World Cup due to a back problem.

Nevertheless, several of those players with only a handful of caps to their name came to the fore, with lively fly-half Sam Costelow, making his first Test start, and skipper in only his 10th appearance Jac Morgan playing key roles in the first try of the game.

Wales: Tries – Davies, North; Conversions – Halfpenny (2); Goals – Halfpenny (2).

England: Goals – Smith (3).

Having kept in touch with England thanks to Halfpenny’s goals in the first half, Wales took a 48th-minute lead after 22-year-old Costelow put a deft attacking kick to the right wing for Aaron Wainwright. The No 8 then sent fellow back-row Morgan racing away, who in turn fed support-runner Davies to finish.

Then it was the turn of the big guns to make their mark, with Dan Biggar – off the bench in place of Costelow – putting in a testing grubber kick which set in motion an attack finished by North on 59 minutes after he stepped a defender to create space and ghost over from close range.

Exciting winger Rees-Zammit, still only 22 but with 26 international caps already, was unfortunate not to add his 10th Test try when he chased down his own chip kick, knocking on while trying to ground the ball. Nevertheless, it was still a dominant display from Wales and a proud day for the 23-year-old Morgan, who was named player of the match as well.

Disjointed showing leaves England with plenty of questions

For England, meanwhile, the intrigue beforehand had been as to how Harlequins club-mates Smith and Danny Care would perform alongside each other in the halves, although in the 49 minutes they were on the field together there was not much to show for their partnership.

George North dives in for Wales' second try against England

George North dives in for Wales’ second try against England

Care’s kicking game was solid and his determination to get quick ball from the ruck encouraging, yet he was unable to make any of his trademark sniping runs before being replaced by Jack van Poortvliet, while in the first half Smith was always looking to run and put in some good kicks along with booting three penalties to put the hosts in front.

England’s best chance for a try arguably came when the fly-half and two other Quins team-mates, Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant, linked up in the 29th minute for an attack which opened Wales up. However, Max Mallins was unable to finish and Wales regathered the ball after a wayward offload.

Handling errors were a concerningly recurring theme for England in the match and they ended with those in double figures by full-time, ceding scrum dominance and the foothold they had given themselves in the first half by gaining more metres and dominating the territory.

What they said

Wales head coach Warren Gatland, speaking to Amazon Prime:

“I was a little bit apprehensive this morning because I wasn’t quite sure how things were going to go. I know the players have been working hard.

“I was looking for a performance and it was a good start today. It was a performance I was looking for and I thought the guys out there gave a performance today.”

England head coach Steve Borthwick, speaking to Amazon Prime:

“I thought in the first half we created lots of opportunities, but we turned over too much ball in the opposite 22 and you can’t do that in Test rugby. There are areas for improvement, but I thought the positive was how many entries we got into the opposition scoring zone.

“This game is one piece of information to help build a full picture [for selecting England’s World Cup squad], and I’ll make the decision in the next 24 hours.”

England did look the better side in the opening period, their sloppiness in possession aside, but as Wales stepped up their intensity in the second half, the visitors inexplicably dropped off.

“Credit to Wales in that 50-65 minute period, they were very, very good,” Borthwick said.

“Every one of these experiences will be positive for us as we build over the next few weeks to the World Cup.”

What’s next?

Wales and England do it all again on Saturday August 12 when they reconvene at Twickenham for the second Rugby World Cup warm-up clash against each other. First, though, England’s players face a nervous wait to see who will make Steve Borthwick’s 33-player squad for the global gathering when it is announced on Monday.

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