England too strong for Wales in Six Nations opener
England manager Martin Johnson believes his side have plenty of room for improvement after they ended their eight-year Cardiff losing streak against Wales.
The Six Nations favourites withstood a ferocious late rally from Wales – who clawed their way back from 23-9 to 23-19 in a tense rear-guard action – to close out for a vital opening 26-19 triumph.
Victory was particularly sweet for Johnson, who last year saw England squander a winning position against Ireland with minutes to play and also suffered an agonising two-point loss to France in their final game.
“We talked about going into the last 15 minutes and having to put it away and we did that,” Johnson said.
“(Wales) will look at it and say they had chances and they did. But that’s the game and ultimately you’ve got to finish it off. I thought it was good for us when they came back with their try.
“The crowd was in the game, momentum had shifted a bit, but we fought to the end and held on for the win. Some of the guys thought it was a bit ugly but you’ve got to win those Test matches.”
England’s points had come through a try in each half from winger Chris Ashton, with man-of-the-match Toby Flood contributing 13 points with the boot.
World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson added a late penalty to settle English nerves after a converted Morgan Stoddart try and a James Hook penalty had brought the Welsh to within four points of England with 10 minutes left.
Johnson was also happy with signs that England are gradually developing a clinical streak. That was evident when they absorbed early Welsh pressure before forging into a 10-0 on their first visits to the opposition 22.
“But there’s lots of improvement in this team. Every game you play in Test rugby is a different challenge. Italy at home next week is a different challenge and we need to be ready for it.
“We’ll have a good weekend, and we’ll hand the rollickings out on Monday when we sit down and look at what went wrong.”
The eye-catching form of fly-half Flood was particularly pleasing, Johnson said.
“He’s a very smart guy and he wants to get better and listen and learn,” he said.
“Overall he’s done a brilliant job. The great thing for us is you can see players get better week on week and the team as a whole.”
Johnson shrugged off suggestions that the win in Cardiff represented a defining match for his team, who now have three home games against Italy, Scotland and France, before a potentially climactic duel with Ireland in March.
“They’re all defining games until the next defining game aren’t they? Yeah, we’ve not won away from home for a while so getting the win tonight is great.
“But if we play badly next week (against Italy) and get beaten, what will that feel like? We’ll be on the cusp of something else then.”© AAP 2013
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