England: Two wins from two but shortcomings laid bare ahead of tougher Rugby World Cup tests

England: Two wins from two but shortcomings laid bare ahead of tougher Rugby World Cup tests

Jamie George wheeled round as England went for the jugular in Japan's 22, only to be smacked in the face by Ben Earl's bullet pass.

England hooker George did not even see the ball coming. Unless England sharpen up markedly, Steve Borthwick's men will know nothing about their eventual World Cup knockout blow until they come round from it.

The Red Rose men scored four tries in beating Japan, kept 15 players on the pitch and are now two wins from two pool matches.

England ticked a lot of boxes at the Allianz Riviera, but administrative exercises alone do not win the toughest of Test matches.

Borthwick's men grew into this game and eventually overran a shattered Japan side in the last quarter, but they endured an error-strewn first 50 minutes.


A Test opponent of true substance would have taken full advantage.

Lewis Ludlam, Courtney Lawes, Freddie Steward and Joe Marchant all crossed in the end for a bonus-point win that puts England in control of Pool D.

Repeat this performance against France, Ireland or South Africa, however, and England would be out for the count with not even a hint of that late victory flurry.

England fans loudly booed their team for incessant kicking, but then came three tries in 24 minutes, and the supporters ended up satisfied with the new complexion.

Borthwick's England argue that every Test team has to kick — and regularly — to win top Test matches. There can be no doubting that all the best international teams do indeed put boot to ball without limit.

But right now England often wind up kicking as a fall-back option, when their preferred plan falls apart.

Where others are crystal clear in their approach, using tactical kicking to pilot themselves around the field, England at times kick when lost.

Borthwick might consider the booing somewhat pantomime, but that supporter unrest certainly speaks to England's continued shortcomings in attack.

England do not trust themselves to compose multi-phase attacking sequences, and there comes a point in possession where Borthwick's men cut their losses and leather it.

Elliot Daly frequently became the man to nudge the ball in behind, having adopted a floating role crucial to England's chances of connecting one edge with the other.

The left wing added a second-wave attacking option in midfield, allowing England to link one side of their backline with the other.

The problem came when England could not create smooth enough passage for both ball and men from left to right, or vice-versa.

This invariably left Daly staring down the choices of trying to force a pass that was not on — or to send a grubber in behind Japan.

On the few occasions where England's build-up was smooth and well-executed, the Saracens star was able to find Steward or Jonny May out wide to continue the attack.

England's developing attacking shapes ultimately only point one way — towards a reunion for Ford and Owen Farrell.

Captain Farrell will be available for Saturday's clash with Chile in Nice, after his high-tackle suspension.

The telling selection will be for the expected quarter-final, however, and the patterns England are running so far look for all money set up for Ford-Farrell at 10 and 12.

England will need Billy Vunipola back to his barnstorming best to add a threat on Ford's shoulder, with Manu Tuilagi lurking in wait outside Farrell.

If England do turn to friends reunited in Ford-Farrell at 10 and 12, then the 2019 World Cup gameplan will be fully restored.

Eddie Jones spent three-and-a-half years trying to find a new dimension — perhaps Borthwick believes the previous measurements are still an exact fit.