Ashton double downs Wales
England start Six Nations with first Cardiff triumph for eight years
By Graeme Mair. Last Updated: 05/02/11 10:04am
Flying high: Ashton scored both England's tries
Chris Ashton scored two tries as England opened the RBS Six Nations with their first victory over Wales in Cardiff since 2003.
The Northampton winger crossed once in each half and Toby Flood converted both tries and kicked three penalties, as the visitors built a 14-point lead midway through the second period.
Wales staged a valiant fightback, Morgan Stoddart's 59th-minute converted try and a James Hook penalty bringing them back within four points with 10 minutes to play.
But veteran stand-off Jonny Wilkinson, on as a substitute for Flood, sealed England's 26-19 triumph with a 75th-minute penalty.
Wales, whose coach Warren Gatland had been vocal during the build-up, are now without a win in their last eight Tests, a run that dates back more than 10 months.
And there might be worse to come ahead of next weekend's Murrayfield appointment with Scotland, as centre Jonathan Davies could be cited following a trip on Ashton that all the officials missed.
Wales forced the early pace but failed to put any points on the board as Hook and Stephen Jones missed a penalty chance apiece.
The opening try came on 14 minutes after England's first sustained period of possession, although the score itself owed more to some inexplicable defending from the home side.
Taking the ball in his usual position at first receiver, Flood stepped left through a gaping hole and released Ashton on his inside shoulder to go in untouched under the posts.
Flood added the simplest of conversions and Wales, struggling at scrum time without injured Lions props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, soon found themselves 10-0 down when number eight Andy Powell hung on in the tackle after he picked up at the base and was immediately swamped.
Wales got on the board with a 23rd-minute penalty from Jones, awarded when James Haskell killed the ball at a ruck, an offence that prompted referee Alain Rolland to place the visitors on a collective final warning.
Just five minutes later and Rolland was as good as his word, sending England lock Louis Deacon to the sin-bin for another transgression at the breakdown.
Wales had kept the ball alive through several phases and, as they closed in on the line, Deacon came from an off-side position to stop the attack - an obvious yellow card that prompted no complaints.
Jones slotted the resulting penalty to reduce Wales' deficit to 10-6 but it was England, through a Flood three pointer, who scored the only points during Deacon's 10-minute break to leave the visitors 13-6 up at half-time.
Wales suffered a injury blow shortly before the break, Powell being forced off and former skipper Ryan Jones entering the fray to a generous reception.
Jones' third penalty got the hosts back within four points shortly after the restart but their cause was damaged when Rolland dipped into his pocket for a second time in the 46th minute.
On this occasion it was Wales prop Craig Mitchell who had drawn the ire of the eagle-eyed official for hands in the ruck.
And, in contrast to Deacon's absence, England were able to take advantage of the extra man, Wales surviving nine minutes before Mark Cueto exploited an overlap to put Ashton across from close range in the right corner.
Flood's conversion padded England's lead to 23-9 but any thoughts of easing through the final 20 minutes were soon erased as Wales hit straight back with a try of their own.
England centre Shontayne Hape was guilty of flying out of the defensive line, allowing opposite number Davies to round him, draw the last defender and release wing Stoddart, who had to pirouette to take the pass before touching down. Jones was on target with the extras from the right touchline to leave Wales trailing 23-16.
Martin Johnson opted to freshen up his half-backs by bringing on Danny Care and Jonny Wilkinson for Ben Youngs and Flood, while Wales withdrew Jones for Lee Byrne, who went to full-back to allow James Hook to take over at stand-off.
Hook landed a penalty after England were caught off-side in the 70th minute, leaving Wales needing to conjure a try to complete the turnaround.
But they never had the chance as Wilkinson closed out the result with a three pointer of his own in the closing stages.