England eventually found a way through a determined but under-par Japanese outfit on Sunday evening. England won ugly yet momentum is growing, with two wins over the pool’s two toughest opponents, Argentina and Japan.
It was not pretty but, successful World Cup campaigns rarely are, and England ultimately might have one foot in the quarter-finals. Steve Borthwick will take a lot out of the last twenty minutes, where England’s bench made a big impact led ‘as ever’ by Marcus Smith. For the first fifty or so minutes England really struggled to break free from a resilient Japanese outfit; not helped by an avalanche of basic errors. Then the introduction of Ellis Genge, Marcus Smith, Ollie Lawrence, and Theo Dan made a big difference.
Charlie Inglefied dissects a turgid encounter as England starts to gather momentum.
England won ugly yet momentum growing; RWC Pool D
Like it or not there are a few sides out there who can consider themselves with one foot in the quarter finals. England are one, as are France and South Africa. Yes, England has the easiest pool but, they have avoided two potential upsets and now take a crucial bonus point win into their next two easiest pool games. Joe Marchant’s try in the last minute ensured a bonus point and with it a big sigh of relief from England’s fans and management.
It wasn’t pretty. If one looks back to where England was three weeks ago, victories against a much fancied Argentinian team and a dangerous Japanese outfit [in the space of eight days] is a significant step forward. They kept Japan scoreless as well, a very decent trait for harder challenges to come. Courtney Lawes ably assisted by his back-row cohorts Lewis Ludlam and Ben Earl, led from the front.
It was not perfect – far from it – but England are gaining momentum.
England’s bench makes the BIG difference
For the first 50 minutes, Japan were right in it, with just a point separating them. Enter Messrs Smith, Genge, Lawrence, Dan, Martin, Vunipola and Youngs. All of them contributed to England finishing strongly and providing a morale-boosting, four-try bonus point. Of particular interest was Smith’s injection from fullback. It has been said before in the last couple of months on how much Smith might bring from fullback.
Freddie Steward again performed admirably, particularly under the high ball and he took his try expertly. He remains England’s premier fullback. However, against Chile, it would be refreshing to see Borthwick give Smith 80 minutes to show what he can do. Against Japan, Joe Marchant had two meaningful runs in the first hour. Enter his mate and ally Smith, and he became England’s most incisive runner.
It would have been useful to see Smith come on with 20 minutes to go, rather than just a ten-minute cameo. There has been a well-worn discussion around England’s attack or lack there of at the moment. England won ugly yet the last 20 minutes saw England play beyond the first three phases, without coughing up the ball or putting boot to ball. Two tries followed and with it, the result. Smith had a lot to do with that.
There were times against Japan when England’s forwards dominated their Japanese counterparts. Sadly, most of those periods ended with a dropped ball or total indecision in the backs. Granted that the greasy conditions did not make it easy, it’s just England’s attack was again ‘completely blunt’. For all of Ford’s abilities managing the game, too often he, Alex Mitchell, and Elliot Daly wasted decent second-phase possession through aimless kicking.
They got away with it against Japan but when they come up against the big boys, they have to be better.
As an example, the backs looked totally devoid of direction and confidence, especially in the first half. England butchered terrific try-scoring opportunities deep in Japanese territory (just before halftime) and when England was chasing a bonus try, basic handling errors revisited the players. The likes of Daly, Ford, and Mitchell need to be better in their execution. In reality, an injection of twinkling feet and a new willingness to run the ball via Smith and Marchant in the last quarter, completely changed the complexion of the match.
RWC idea: unleash Smith, Arundell and Malins against Chile
England won ugly yet momentum is growing, and with Chile next up they have a great opportunity to score tries. With all due respect to Chile, England now needs to show a more ruthless streak in their attack. Henry Arundell and Max Malins can cause carnage if they get enough space to work in. One key is that suspended Owen Farrell is bound to be back in his favoured number 10 jumper, and he will be ‘champing at the bit’ to make his mark in this tournament.
How good would it be to give Marcus Smith 80 full minutes against Chile in the fullback position? A trio of Smith, Arundell and Malins in the back three, along with Lawrence and possibly Daly in the centres, has an edge of power and pace to experiment with. Borthwick needs to give his whole squad a run out and England have earned the right to do that with Argentina and Japan now dispatched.
The idea is that he will likely revert back to a favoured starting XV for the last pool game, against Manu Samoa. Thus Chile provides Borthwick a great chance to further experiment, and try to finally find the answers to England’s infrequent attacking edge.
Not perfect yet England is going in the right direction
Any England fan would have happily taken England’s current position in the standings. A big win with 14 men against a much fancied Los Pumas side followed by a bonus point victory against a dangerous Japanese outfit, has changed perceptions. Add in just one try conceded and England are showing very positive signs as the tournament starts to heat up.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) September 18, 2023
In a Rugby World Cup competition, getting through the pool stages intact is what it is all about. England won ugly yet momentum is growing, and with Chile and Samoa to come, Borthwick’s men are primed to continue their resurgence. The priority for Chile is to pick personnel who can potentially make England’s attack stronger. With all due respect to the Chileans, there will be available space and opportunity. Having Smith, Arundell and Malins start will go a long way to getting England’s attack going once again.
Not perfect yet, for now, England fans should enjoy where their team is at.
“Main photo courtesy of England Rugby site“