Sharp shooter: England fly half Jonny Wilkinson scored 24 points on his return from injury

NANTES, 22 September - England's defence of the Webb Ellis Cup took a turn for the better with the return of Jonny Wilkinson and a bonus point in their 44-22 win over Samoa in the Pool A match at Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes.

In a confidence-boosting return, Wilkinson notched 24 points from three conversions, four penalties and two drop goals and played a hand in England's two first half tries. It wasn't a faultless display from Wilkinson but England looked more composed with him back at the helm.

Samoa belied their earlier tournament form, stretching the defending world champions all the way, getting the better of England for patches of the second stanza by turning defence into attack at any opportunity.

Trailing 23-12 at the break it was the trusty boot of Samoa full back Loki Crichton getting the second half underway with his fifth three-pointer in the 42nd minute before Wilkinson snapped his third penalty.

A converted try to half Junior Polu in the 47th minute, after chasing through a kick from his hooker Mahonri Schalger, set the game alight, bringing Samoa within four points at 26-22.

In the final 20 minutes Samoa continued to spoil England's tactics at the breakdown and adopted a good kick-chase game. But Wilkinson's second drop goal in the 69th minute and a deadly accurate penalty from halfway gave his side some much-needed breathing space.

Late tries to Corry and Paul Sackey presented England with a bonus point.

In an entertaining first half it took less than two minutes for the much-awaited return of Wilkinson to have an influence on the match, with a signature cut-out ball from the No.10 allowing captain Martin Corry to cross out wide.

The mercurial fly half also had a hand in England's second try, putting a deft grubber through for wing Sackey. The accurate boot of Crichton kept Samoa within range, converting four penalties.

England play Tonga next in a match that will determine the second quarter-finalist from Pool A, while Samoa complete their campaign against USA on 26 September.


RNS md/mr