England 34-12 Japan: Steve Borthwick’s side on course for Rugby World Cup quarter-finals but work to do

England 34-12 Japan: Steve Borthwick’s side on course for Rugby World Cup quarter-finals but work to do

Joe Marler’s cushioned header sent Courtney Lawes home for England’s crucial try to seal a 34-12 Rugby World Cup win over Japan in Nice.

Harlequins prop Marler was as nonplussed as everyone else at the Allianz Riviera as the television officials awarded England’s match-sealing score.

Captain Lawes strolled in and dotted down, expecting to be pulled back for a knock-on – as Japan watched on anticipating the exact same call.

The TV officials had other ideas though, and awarded England their second try, and the score that broke the Brave Blossoms’ resistance.

Japan boss Jamie Joseph’s thunderous expression spoke volumes. Marler’s football-style assist proved a default scoring route for an England team still desperately seeking attacking fluency.

England's second straight win in France put them on the cusp of control in Pool D, but all the poise and accuracy of last week’s 14-man thumping of Argentina dissipated amid cloying climes.

England spent most of this match unable to string the phases together to lap up the French Riviera heat – languishing instead on the Cote d’Unsure.

England spent most of this match unable to string the phases together to lap up the French Riviera heat – languishing instead on the Cote d’Unsure.

Lewis Ludlam’s close-range punch proved England’s only try of a cluttered, messy and staccato first half, with Steve Borthwick’s men only leading 13-9 at the interval.

Lawes tiptoed in just ahead of the hour to kill the contest, before George Ford pinged a sumptuous cross-field kick for Freddie Steward to ghost in at the corner.

And when Joe Marchant busted home, England finally had their bonus-point try in the bag – on the stroke of full-time to boot.

England will roll into clashes against Chile and Samoa to complete their Pool D programme, and must already have one eye on the quarter-finals.

A cheap knock-on from Semisi Masirewa gifted England the platform for their opening score, three points from Ford’s boot.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Red Rose men were then extremely lucky to avoid leaking a try, when Alex Mitchell inexplicably threw a pass into traffic that Japan ate up. The scrum-half could see the Japan swarm in front of him, but pressed ahead anyway.

A loose cross-field punt let England off the hook, with Rikiya Matsuda levelling from the tee instead.

England then botched their lineout entry to gift Japan a free-kick, Ford was charged down – and Matsuda plundered a 6-3 lead for the Brave Blossoms.

At the first water break, England were in all sorts of trouble. Straight afterwards, finally, some try-scoring poise. But do not get excited, this was not pretty.

Ludlam powered home after Maro Itoje pinched Japan’s lineout deep in their own 22. Ford’s conversion had England 10-6 ahead. After so much dross, at least this was effective. But the bar had been set so low that almost anything positive was welcome.

Matsuda’s third penalty cut England’s momentum again, with Jonny May gifting the chance through a needless and extremely late barge off the ball. England steadied themselves again, rolled up their attacking sleeves and sent the ball wide.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The only fruit proved Elliot Daly ghosting into the 13 channel to grubber in behind. There was nothing else – and this was proved when Ford dropped into the second line to try to generate an attacking wave, only to whip a pass to nobody.

England compiled some phases in midfield with Ben Earl and Manu Tuilagi physical and mobile, but Marchant knocked on in contact.

Ford then punted a penalty to the corner to go for the lineout maul jugular, only for Earl to fire a pass to Jamie George that smacked the Saracens hooker full in the face.

Sale fly-half Ford closed the half with an assured penalty to hand England a 13-9 lead, but there was nothing confident or calming about the Red Rose approach.

Less than 10 minutes into the second half, England’s supporters resorted to booing their team’s relentless kicking.

The supporters felt England were wasting attacking platforms, and while Borthwick will always disagree, the paying punters know their rugby and also know they are fully entitled to vent their frustrations.

England finally connected their full backline for the first time in the 55th minute, with Daly finding Steward for a sweeping break. Lawes cantered in and dotted down after the ball ricocheted off Marler’s head though, and everyone expected a scrum for a knock-on.


Television officials saw otherwise however, and the try was duly awarded. Play to the whistle endures as an edict at any level of this at times absurd sport.

Ford converted and England were 20-12 ahead, and yet still not out of the woods. Ford's pinpoint cross-field kick then sent Steward in for England’s third try, as Japan struggled to maintain the pace.

England cut loose in search of a bonus-point try, and Marchant eventually delivered. Encouraging signs once Japan’s will was broken, but still plenty of work ahead.