England relieved to keep title dreams alive
PARIS, 29 September – England booked a quarter-final date with Australia and kept their hopes of retaining the Webb Ellis Cup alive by beating Tonga 36-20 in their final Pool A match at Parc des Princes on Friday.
The defending champions showed their class at times and, even though the final margin was 16 points, Tonga were not in any way embarrassed and showed moments of great strength, ability and courage.
"It was a very tough and physical Test match, exactly what we were expecting," England captain Martin Corry noted.
"They are a total credit to themselves and their nation."
Fly half Jonny Wilkinson, who again pulled the strings for England and kicked 16 points, also expressed relief his team had escaped with victory to get their title defence back on track.
Positives for the quarter-final
"It's a fantastic result for us to be where we are at the moment," Wilkinson said.
"I think a few weeks ago it was looking pretty tough for us in the pool phase, with two games to go and two games to win and against guys clearly showing that they can play some serious rugby.
"To come here and win, we are over the moon with that."
England head coach Brian Ashton was ecstatic with the performance, especially given the pressure his side were under going into this winner-takes-all match.
"I'm delighted for the players that the game was won. Firstly, it was a knockout game, so (to win) that was pleasing. Secondly, we scored a bonus point with four tries, but we know we didn't put in a perfect performance," Ashton said.
Ashton will also have been pleased with the improved performance of replacement inside centre Andy Farrell, who proved more effective than Olly Barkley and also scored his first international try with a crafty dummy and quick dash to the line.
Close, but not close enough
Tonga were hampered by their tactical kicking at times as they failed to find touch, but they showed several moments of the brilliance that has become their trademark in this world cup - their most successful ever with two wins.
Head coach Quddus Fielea wasn't too disappointed after the match despite seeing Tonga's quarter-final dreams crushed, but was left ruing the fact that fatigue again played a role in the team's downfall.
"It's our old enemy (fatigue). Our execution was not great but the boys did score in the last minutes (through flanker Hale T Pole in the 80th minute)," he said.
Tonga's inspirational captain and flanker Nili Latu was also able to take some big positives from the game, but was left feeling that they lost the match midway through the second half.
"Our concentration went out the window and they scored two quick tries and that was the turning point for us. When you play the world champions you can't give them an inch because they punish you," he said.
Tonga may have missed out on their first ever quarter-final, but they can take comfort from having secured automatic qualification for IRB Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand by finishing third in Pool A behind South Africa and England.