England v Tonga – it wasn’t pretty but it was ‘job done and move on’ for England on Sunday morning. A bonus point was the bare minimum for this contest and England just about got there.
The bright point was England’s defence in their 35-3 win over a physical Tongan outfit. They did not concede a try for the second game in a row and that will also please Eddie Jones. In reality, there were far too many handling errors and penalties by England. As Sir Clive Woodward said in the post-match analysis, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Charlie Inglefield looks at 5 talking points that came out from the game.
Lack of fizz from England
England wanted to manoeuvre Tonga’s sizeable pack around the park by playing for territory. But in what was a forgettable spectacle, the ball spent more time in touch or sitting stationary on the floor whilst scrums were constantly be reset. There was no pace in the game, which suited Tonga and blighted England. The fact that England coughed up the ball in promising situations or conceded penalties at the breakdown did not help their cause.
Farrell’s men lacked their usual punch and fizz in attack especially from the likes of Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola. These two are normally England’s go-to men, but they were subdued against the Tongans.
Physicality nullifies England’s go-forward
Tonga deserves great credit for upsetting England’s rhythm over the 80 minutes. Having conceded 90 points to the All Blacks a couple of weeks ago, they have improved considerably. Their handling and set-piece were vastly improved and they were brutal in the tackle. Tonga’s back row really caught the eye with Leceister’s Sione Kalamafoni and Zane Kapeli outstanding in defence.
They stifled Billy Vunipola and were not afraid to put the shoulder in. England was rattled and they made mistakes because of Tonga’s fierce defence.
Tuilagi back to his best
Manu Tuilagi deservedly won the man of the match award and he is going to be the first name on England’s team sheet. Tuilagi did what he does so well, which was to provide England with a muscular presence in attack and in defence. His fitness has improved out of sight as well, illustrated by supporting Jonny May for England’s second try.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) September 22, 2019
With the Ford/Farrell axis still a work in progress, Tuilagi has become integral to England’s backline. His performance against the Tongans was England’s big positive after the bonus point. Special mention to Anthony Watson, who also looked back to his best after a frustrating injury absence. What a shame we did not see more space for him and Jonny May to work in.
Familiar disciplinary problems
The handling errors, which were numerous by England can be fixed over the coming weeks. The discipline, however, is once again a talking point that England cannot seem to fix. This part of the game is a continuing concern for Eddie Jones as England head for tougher tests. Usual suspects like Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes were again culpable and England have to address this.
Eddie Jones does not need any reminding on how important discipline will be if England progress through to the finals. England never got any continuity in their game against Tonga because of the avalanche of errors and penalties.
Question mark on the Ford/Farrell axis
If this is the combination that Eddie Jones wants then Ford and Farrell should start against the USA. Because of the infuriatingly slow pace of the game, these two rarely got a chance to show off their combination. As ever the question is the balance of Ford and Farrell and whether it is an effective use of their respective talents. When Farrell is leading the line from fly-half he is at his best and on Sunday we did not see him enough.
With Tuilagi cemented in, there has to be an argument for Henry Slade or even Jonathan Joseph to be given a chance beside Farrell. It will be tough on Ford but England needs to make the call for the USA.
England will want a far sharper and clinical performance against the USA on Thursday. That said, England got the job done and didn’t concede a try, so there are positives. Only New Zealand and Ireland looked close to their best on this opening weekend of the World Cup, so it is definitely not panic stations yet.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images