DUNEDIN, New Zealand, September 18 – Shontayne Hape and Chris Ashton scored two tries apiece as England beat Georgia 41-10 at the Otago Stadium here on Sunday to set the seal on a tricky week for Martin Johnson’s side at the World Cup.
New Zealand-born Hape struck twice in the first half as England, bidding to reach a third straight World Cup final, took command of Pool B after last week’s 13-9 win over Argentina despite again conceding a rash of penalties.
Victory though was what England needed after the furore surrounding their night out in Queenstown last Sunday, which led to allegations Mike Tindall, England’s skipper against the Pumas, had behaved improperly in a bar.
But Georgia, who had to cope with a four-day turnaround after a 15-6 defeat by Scotland on Wednesday, briefly had a shot at the greatest World Cup upset of all-time.
They were only 17-10 down at half-time after England, for the second match in a row, had a player yellow-carded, with hooker Dylan Hartley sin-binned shortly before the break by experienced South African referee Jonathan Kaplan.
“We made it hard for ourselves and gave away a lot of penalties, but we came away with six tries,” England skipper Lewis Moody said.
“Fair play to Georgia, they played a fantastic game. We got some things to work on. But you can only win every game that is put in front of you.”
Georgia skipper Irakli Abuseridze said: “It was a very hard tough game. Very hard to recover after the Scotland game.
“But I am thankful for my guys. They showed so much courage and engagement. I think we need much more practice and games like this to perform better.”
England, with fit-again skipper Moody recovered from a knee injury , ran the ball from the kick-off.
And their approach was rewarded with a fourth minute try when former Kiwi rugby league international Hape, in for Tindall in one of eight changes Johnson insisted were solely due to squad rotation, burst off a ruck and ran in unopposed from 45 metres.
But there was no avalanche of points similar to England’s 84-6 win against Georgia in their only previous meeting, in Perth during the 2003 World Cup.
England scrum-half Ben Youngs was harried out of possession at the base of a scrum and Georgia worked the ball to Irakli Machkhaneli who reached for the corner before being bundled into touch, with the video referee denying the wing a try in his 50th Test.
Georgia’s Merab Kvirikashvili failed to punish England’s indiscipline, with the fly-half missing his first three penalty attempts in the indoor stadium.
Those errors were compounded by Hape’s second try, in the 20th minute.
England, who had to make a late change when No 8 Nick Easter dropped out with a back injury, saw Flood put Ashton into space before the wing found Hape, who forced his way over.
Kvirikashvili eventually landed a penalty to cut England’s lead to 14-3 before Flood replied in kind.
But Georgia, capitalising on Hartley’s absence, saw No 8 Dimitri Basilaia bundle his way over from a close-range scrum for a try on the stroke of half-time which Kvirikashvili converted.
England’s nerves were soothed though when wing Delon Armitage, went over for a 45th minute try after Youngs spun the ball wide.
Georgia kept coming but when England, who conceded 11 first-half penalties to the eastern Europeans’ three, infringed again Kvirikashvili hit the left post from right in front.
And just after the hour mark England put the game beyond Georgia’s reach, with two tries.
Samoa-born centre Manu Tuilagi, after Tom Croft had won a lineout, scythed through on a well-angled, cut back run from a pass by Youngs before the express Ashton, released by flanker Tom Wood, had too much speed for a tired defence.
In the dying seconds, Ashton crossed in the corner for his second try.