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England 34-12 Japan: Steve Borthwick's side record bonus point win

England 34-12 Japan: Steve Borthwick’s side move top of Rugby World Cup group but struggle to dominate in error-strewn victory

  • England move top of pool D after beating Japan 34-12 in Nice on Sunday
  • Steve Borthwick’s side struggled at times but scored four impressive tries
  • England managed a bonus point win as Joe Marchant scored late on 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

Job done, but it wasn’t pretty, until the closing stages. England won another game, but for much of it they didn’t win hearts and minds. They have one foot in the quarter-finals, but a lot of work to do.

The good news for the national team is that they kept 15 players on the field for a change. They also managed to score some World Cup tries, courtesy of Lewis Ludlam, Courtney Lawes and Freddie Steward. 

But prior to a late flourish, their cautious approach made for a dull spectacle and their supporters grew so frustrated after half-time that they started booing when England players kicked the ball away, time and time again.

Hours after Fiji illuminated the tournament with their glorious play against Australia in St Etienne, this was rugby of a very different kind. This was all about pragmatism and programmed systems. It was supposed to be about substance over style, which is fair enough, but a torrent of errors and infringements undermined the meticulous, rigid game-plan.

It summed up the messy, disjointed proceedings when England’s second try came via a fumble and a ricochet off the head of Joe Marler. They all count, but the attack remains at a formative stage. At least the training-ground graft can go on from a strong position at the top of Pool D, with a formality against Chile to come on Saturday in Lille.

There is every chance for Steve Borthwick’s side to qualify in first place, but there was fresh evidence here – despite the growing, marauding impact made by Ben Earl as the game wore on – that they remain a long way adrift of the title favourites, France, South Africa and Ireland. 

England moved to the top of pool D as they recorded back-to-back Rugby World Cup wins with a dominant 34-12 victory over Japan

And if Fiji are the team they meet in the last eight; that could be an uncomfortable occasion too, with the ghosts of a Twickenham defeat last month still haunting English minds.

England went into this match in buoyant mood after igniting their campaign with a resounding 27-10 victory over powerful pool rivals Argentina in Marseille, despite the inconvenience of being reduced to 14 men for 77 minutes. Tom Curry’s early dismissal for a dangerous head clash led to a two-match ban, but Borthwick responded by handing Ludlam a deserved start after his explosive cameo against the Pumas.

Also included in the XV were props Marler and Kyle Sinckler, as England sought to maintain their set-piece improvement in the opener, while also offering dynamism and creativity around the field. All the talk in the build-up had been about how the Japanese would pose a different threat to Argentina, and that a repeat of the defensive and kicking master master-class may not suffice again.

Borthwick and his players were respectful when discussing these opponents, but the last meeting between the countries yielded a 52-13 English win at Twickenham and the national team had also won their two previous encounters with the Brave Blossoms comfortably. Japan’s recent troubles were reflected in a world ranking of 14 going into this game, while England lay far ahead in sixth.

Yet, Jamie Joseph’s men made the brighter start, in front of a crowd which appeared to be some way short of the 35,000 capacity. George Ford’s fourth-minute penalty put England in front after Semisi Masirewa had spilled Elliot Daly’s kick through on the left, but after that it was Japan who produced the more threatening, daring rugby.

In the ninth minute, from an attacking lineout, the Japanese launched a wave of drives at England’s line and appeared to be poised to strike when Joe Marler intervened, brilliantly – winning a crucial turnover penalty in front of his own line. After a couple of faltering English raids broke down, the underdogs came again, at pace, and earned a penalty which Rikiya Matsuda struck to level the scores at 3-3.

The fly-half repeated the feat in the 23rd minute, but England swiftly hit back. Ford’s shrewd kick through on the left put pressure on the Japanese lineout, their throw was spilled, the ball fell to Ollie Chessum and he charged at the line. The Leicester lock was stopped short, but from the ruck, Ludlam blasted over for England’s first try of the World Cup.

Ford converted, but he missed his next shot – a long-range penalty – and Japan closed the gap again as Matsuda was on target at the other end. Ford had the last word before the break, with a kick to make it 13-9, but England were far from commanding at the halfway stage.

After the break, Borthwick’s men set about raising the tempo and playing with more intent, for a short spell, before the kicking routine resumed. Kazuki Himeno halted one English surge into the red zone with a breakdown penalty and five minutes before the hour, his side clawed their way back to within a point through another Matsuda penalty.

But a minute later, England struck lucky. Earl broke down the right flank and when the ball was switched in-field, Ford’s pass was fumbled backwards by Will Stuart, bounced off Marler’s head into space and Lawes pounced to score.

Ford converted again and with 14 minutes to go he created a third Red Rose try, with a cross-kick from an attacking scrum, which Freddie Steward caught to touch down. Ford’s extras made it 27-12 and the game was up. Right at the death, Joe Marchant crashed over for the bonus-point try, to create an emphatic scoreline, even if it hadn’t been an emphatic performance.

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