Rugby: Vunipola leads the way as England deny Wales world top spot

 England's Billy Vunipola scores their first try.
England's Billy Vunipola scores their first try.PHOTO: REUTERS

TWICKENHAM (AFP) - England denied Wales top spot in the world rankings as Billy Vunipola led a fine forward effort in a 33-19 win at Twickenham on Sunday (Aug 11) in their opening Rugby World Cup warm-up match.

Wales, who kicked off on the back of a 14-match unbeaten streak, would have gone top of the standings following reigning world champions New Zealand's shock 47-26 loss to Australia on Saturday, had they avoided defeat.

"To have a structured game suits us more and for most of that game we stuck to it," Vunipola told Sky Sports.

"There were times Wales crept in but they're a great side and that's going to happen."

England, who will announce their World Cup squad on Monday, led by 17 points early in the second half before two Wales tries in quick succession from George North and replacement Alun Wyn Jones that cut the gap to just five points.

Wales coach Warren Gatland tried to downplay the defeat ahead of next week's warm-up return clash with in Cardiff.

"We weren't at our best, especially in the first half - a couple of soft tries," said Gatland, who will stand down as Wales boss after Japan 2019.

"England went back to traditionally what they're really good at. We had a different strategy and tactics during the Six Nations and tried to play differently today.

"We will be a lot better next week," the New Zealander insisted.

The bulk of the Wales side at Twickenham had clinched this season's Six Nations Grand Slam.

England, by contrast, were fielding an experimental side, with scrum-half Willi Heinz given a Test debut and named vice-captain.

They had been forced into three late changes after injuries to centre Henry Slade, flanker Sam Underhill and wing Ruaridh McConnochie with Jonathan Joseph, Cokanasiga and Lewis Ludlum all propelled into the starting 15.

Full-back Mike Brown and centre Ben Te'o were not even in the squad after a reported training camp bust-up.

England had a 14-0 lead as early as the 15th minute following two converted tries.

Powerhouse No. 8 Vunipola ripped the ball clear from a close-range maul to force his way over the line.

Fly-half George Ford and Heinz combined to work the ball on the left hand side before winger Cokanasiga crashed over for their second.

A brilliant solo effort from scrum-half Gareth Davies got Wales back into the game in the 22nd minute.

England lost impressive flanker Tom Curry to injury and Wales saw fly-half Anscombe go off before the break as well.

Wales hooker Ken Owens missed captain Alun Wyn Jones, making his 135th Test appearance, at a line-out and hooker Cowan-Dickie caught the ball to score his first Test try.

An early second-half penalty saw Ford extend England's lead to 24-7.

But Wales hit back when North powered over from a close range scrum, and they soon had another try when, after several phases replacement prop Jones went over.

This time Biggar converted but Ford gave England breathing space with three penalties, the last one putting England 30-19 up with just seven minutes left There was still time for Daly to put the icing on the cake with a 77th-minute drop-goal to the delight of a capacity crowd of over 80,000.