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Sun 3 Feb 2008 02:10 AM

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Wales overcomes England in Six Nations Triumph

Hosts panicked into succession of errors as Wales wins at Twickenham for first time in 20 years.

Wales dramatically overcame a 10 point deficit to beat England 26-19 in their Six Nations opener as they won at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years here Saturday.

New Zealander Warren Gatland claimed a victory in his first game as Wales coach and ultimately provided justification for his decision to field 13 players from the Neath-Swansea Ospreys in his starting line-up.

Wales, 19-9 down just short of the hour mark, took the game away from England in bold fashion as the previously in-control hosts were panicked into a succession of errors.

James Hook, who landed all six of his goalkicks, began the fightback proper when he was missed by England wing Paul Sackey and his pass sent in full-back Lee Byrne for the try.

From the re-start, Mike Phillips charged down full-back Iain Balshaw's clearance kick.

Gethin Jenkins recovered, found Martyn Willams and the Cardiff flanker released scrum-half Phillips who stretched for the line and touched down for the try.

Hook added the extras and England, whose only points in the second-half came from a Jonny Willkinson penalty, were in a state of disbelief as Wales triumphed at Twickenham for the first time since an 11-3 win in 1988.

"It's the most fantastic day of my career," said Wales skipper Ryan Jones.

"It was a fantastic effort and the win was thoroughly deserved. Even when we were 10 points down we had belief in ourselves. We have worked really hard and we knew we were good enough.

"We came here with a small squad and we turned them over on their own patch."

At half-time England, showing seven changes from the side that lost the World Cup final to South Africa, were 16-6 ahead.

But they could have been further in front had they made the most of their openings inside Wales's 22 having dominated up front and repeatedly turned over their opponents' ball.

It took England just 12 seconds to go into the lead.

From Wilkinson's kick-off, which saw Wales penalised for holding onto the ball, the outside-half made no mistake from 40 metres.

Hook responded in kind in the third minute but, soon afterwards, his kick out of defence was fielded by David Strettle and the England wing beat six Welsh players as he ran the ball back.

Strettle punted ahead and the chance of a try disappeared although Wilkinson's second penalty made it 6-3.

Sadly for Strettle, who missed the World Cup with a broken foot, it was his last meaningful act of the game before he hobbled off in the 13th minute with an ankle injury.

But his departure saw Tonga-born former New Zealand rugby league international wing Lesley Vainikolo come off the bench for his England debut.

Up front England were dominating and another visit to Wales's 22 provided the platform for a Wilkinson drop-goal which extended the lead to 9-3.

That pressure was rewarded with the only try of the first-half in the 23rd minute.

Wilkinson's expertly weighted cross-kick was well caught by Vainikolo, the man nicknamed the 'Volcano' overpowering Mark Jones and his pass released centre Toby Flood for a try. Wilkinson converted and England were 16-3 ahead.

It was a worrying situation for Wales but Hook kept them in touch with his second penalty.

Shortly before half-time, England came close to a second try as Sackey burst clear.

But, with Wales hooker Huw Bennett getting his arm under the ball and, after several minutes of study, Irish video referee Simon McDowell ruled 'no-try'.

At half-time England, who'd already seen Lewis Moody go off with an achilles injury saw the flanker's replacement, Tom Rees, have to be replaced by lock Ben Kay because of a knee injury.

But Wilkinson's third successful penalty still stretched their lead to 19-6.

Wales though got back into the game and Hook's third penalty reduced England's lead to 10 points heading into the final quarter.

Gavin Henson's surging break then set up the chance of a try before a pass from lock Ian Gough was intercepted by debutant England No 8 Luke Narraway.

England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall then saw his intended pass to Balshaw go to ground and, after England held on too long, Hook punished them with a simple penalty.

The hosts then suffered further disruption when centre Mike Tindall was carried off on a stretcher, allowing Danny Cipriani to make his Test debut off the bench.

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