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Just a 'first step' but England win 'vitally important'

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Published in Rugby
Saturday, 10 February 2024 14:57

England were desperate to entertain against Wales on their return home but, in the end, only the result mattered.

They had to do it the hard way as George Ford's 71st-minute penalty denied Wales a first Six Nations away win in England since 2012 as the hosts overturned a half-time deficit to win 16-14.

Hooker and new captain Jamie George is the driving force behind England's ambition to re-energise their London base with an attacking brand of rugby, but for now the underwhelming victory against their neighbours from the west was deemed a "huge step".

"The result was massively important," a relieved George said after his first home Test as skipper.

"I loved every second of it from the walk into the stadium to the final whistle. The fans look like they had a really good day out and that is what we ultimately wanted to do. Did we want to put a better performance on the field? Of course.

"But I loved every second and I really felt everyone in the stands did to. We felt a huge amount of pride coming from the stands and that is what we love.

"This is just the first step but getting back to winning ways at Twickenham was vitally important."

Twickenham has felt less like a fortress and more of a nervy cauldron in the last 12 months.

The hosts suffered a first ever loss to Pacific Islanders Fiji in their last home match before the World Cup, five months after a record home defeat by France.

But the atmosphere on George and England's return was palpable before a ball had been kicked.

Thousands of fans lined the walkway to greet their heroes and guide them into the sanctuary of the home dressing room, deep inside the bowels of the stadium.

The noise followed the players on to the pitch as they warmed up before rising to a crescendo as they re-emerged for the anthems.

England banged on the door early on but their attack failed to pierce through. A pause in play saw the live band quickly launch into a performance of Gala's Freed from Desire.

The crowd responded and the decibels remained high.

But while the attack failed to light the touch paper, England's new blitz, implemented by defence coach Felix Jones, remained relatively resolute.

"I thought we were physically in control of the game," George added.

"Wales' attack was good but I felt comfortable in our ability to keep going and put them under pressure.

"I think Felix would love us to defend 100 phases at a time.

"We would like to avoid that but we love it. [Previous defence coach] Kev Sinfield did a brilliant job in laying the foundations and Felix has come in with a crazy amount of energy. It's infectious.

"The boys have bought into what he is doing and we have a greater understanding of what he wants from us."

When the game looked to be edging away, England reverted to their pragmatic kicking game to test the Wales defence.

The pressure told and the hosts opened the door to victory after Josh Adams knocked on the high ball before Fraser Dingwall scored in the corner and Ford added the match-winning penalty.

Bigger tests for England will come in their remaining three matches against Scotland, Ireland and France but four points against Wales is reward for their vociferous fans and allows time to continue working on their attacking fluency.

"We are pretty clear on who we want England to be moving forward. The conversations we have with the coaches and players is inclusive," George said.

"We want an environment people love but it's not just the laughing and joking, it's the process of getting better.

"It's important for us to keep building on that.

"To come out on the positive end of that result, with the fight and the character we showed, is a huge step for us."

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