If you had told Steve Borthwick and his England players last month they would start their World Cup campaign with back-to-back wins, they’d have bitten your hand off.
During the misery of the August warm-up games, England were in all sorts of trouble on and off the field. At that stage, you weren’t sure where a victory in France was going to come from.
That Borthwick’s side have now beaten both Argentina and Japan is cause for cheer because on paper, they are the toughest opponents England will face in Pool D.
England’s players said we would see their attacking game come to the fore against Japan in Nice. But it didn’t happen.
In the end, England did enough for their 34-12 victory but unlike in the opening win over Argentina, their big players didn’t perform at their best.
England have won the first two games of their Rugby World Cup campaign against potentially their hardest opponents in their Pool
Steve Brothwick’s side were struggling coming into the tournament but will be pleased with winning their first two matches
Borthwick’s side beat Japan 34-12 on Sunday evening to maintain their top spot in Pool D
There was far, far too much kicking and too many spilled balls. England’s attack looked clunky when George Ford did try to get it going. There remains significant work to do.
I was pleased to see England generated quick ball — something which they badly struggled to do in the warm-up games — with barely a minute on the clock against Japan. Unfortunately, the theme didn’t continue.
Freddie Steward collected a trademark kick. We expect that of him, but this time he ran it back with intent. From the ruck, Alex Mitchell whipped the ball away with breakneck speed.
Elliot Daly’s decision to then kick the ball away was mindboggling. Yes there was space in behind, but when you have quick possession the last thing you want to do is give it back to the opposition!
At least England did open the scoring through Ford from that play when Japan full back Semisi Masirewa didn’t collect Daly’s kick. But that didn’t make it the right decision.
Japan had joy with an early cross-kick. That’s the sort of attacking play I’d like to see from England.
Ford did try one up and under to both Steward and Jonny May but after an OK start from England, it was Japan who looked the more dangerous going forwards.
I didn’t think Jamie Joseph’s side had the ability to play at the pace they did in 2019 when they beat Ireland and Scotland but they definitely caused England problems.
England weren’t at their best against Japan – there was far too much kicking and too many spilled balls
England looked clunky when George Ford tried to get them going but did enough for victory
Ford had a clearance kick charged down and at 3-3 after the first quarter, Japan certainly deserved to be level.
The first half was a real contrast in styles. Japan played with purpose and speed. England didn’t — their set-piece again focusing on driving lineouts.
England’s pack did drive one maul forwards but there was none of the quick ruck ball spread wide that we saw at the very start.
At one point in the first half, I did wonder if it would be better if England had another man sent off as they seem to play better with 14 men!
It was a stroke of luck Japan made a big mistake on their own line. When their lineout went all wrong, England were gifted a try for Lewis Ludlam.
Ford converted then missed a penalty. But England’s players couldn’t retain the ball for multiple phases before either kicking or the attack breaking down. They just gave the ball away. There were 19 first-half kicks from England and their poor execution was shown just before the break when Ford went for the corner.
Japan impressed early on and deserved to be level after the first quarter of the match in Nice
Showing positivity in turning down three points to go for a try is to be applauded but it means nothing if you then throw away the opportunity.
That’s what England did. There seemed confusion when Ben Earl popped the ball up as to whether he was looking to find Ludlam or Jamie George. The ball hit George straight in the head.
England did produce some nice hands at the start of the second half to send Daly down the wing.
May raced on to a chip ahead. They were promising signs.
There were promising signs for England in spells but in the end they were just happy to win at all in the end
Borthwick’s side should top Pool D but will have to improve if they are to go far in the tournament across the Channel
But then normal service resumed, Steward spilling a short ball from Ford. Mitchell’s kick attempt which ran dead was even booed by the England fans on the Cote d’Azur.
It was a tight contest. I wasn’t expecting England to put 60 or 70 points on Japan, but I did think they would win fairly comfortably. In the end, England were just happy to win at all.
Courtney Lawes’ scrappy converted try was a big relief and a key moment.
The performance, on the whole, was disappointing. But at World Cups, winning is all that matters and England are doing that — which is not something you could have guaranteed last month.
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