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Laboured England beat Japan to move a step closer to the quarter-finals : PlanetRugby

England made it two victories out of two in the 2023 Rugby World Cup as they overcame Japan on Sunday, winning 34-12 at Stade de Nice in the pool game.

It was far from pleasing on the eye but the Red Rose got the job done as they backed up their opening triumph over Argentina with a bonus-point success.

Tries from Lewis Ludlam, Courtney Lawes, Freddie Steward and a late crossing from Joe Marchant were added to by 14 points off the kicking tee from George Ford, but there was plenty of fortune in two of their scores especially in Nice.

For Japan this was their first loss in this year’s tournament after beating Chile last weekend, with Rikiya Matsuda slotting all their points via four penalties.

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Lawes’ try came after the ball had taken a comical bounce off Joe Marler’s head and while England celebrated their first World Cup tries since their 2019 semi-final victory over New Zealand, a madcap evening posed fresh questions.

Early in the second half they were booed by their own fans as they continued to kick the ball away at every opportunity, only to then throw the kitchen sink at enterprising opponents ranked 14th in the world.

The ambition paid off and with Ben Earl and Steward propelling them forward as well as impetus coming from Marcus Smith’s arrival off the bench, they stormed out of sight.

After routing Argentina 27-14 with 14 men in their Pool D opener, they at least avoided a potential banana skin and with fixtures against Chile and Samoa to come, they are destined to reach the last eight.

The ball squirted around unpredictably because of the humidity and while Japan produced the more glaring mistakes in the first half – including one costly line-out blunder – they also adapted better in attack.

It took England half an hour to fire their first shots, launching Manu Tuilagi in midfield and Earl into the wall of red and white shirts, but until then they had displayed little endeavour.

Half-backs Ford and Alex Mitchell seemed content to continuously kick the ball away, perhaps convinced that the greasy conditions meant it was wiser to wait for Japan to make a mistake.

That is exactly what happened in the 25th minute when Ford steered a clever chip into the left corner and the underdogs botched the line-out, enabling Ludlam to pounce from short range.

All the ambition was being shown by Japan as they strung phases together, mixing up a handful of kicks with slick passing and cute running lines, although at times they were guilty of playing too much.

Full-back Semisi Masirewa had been lost to an innocuous injury in the eighth minute but with Matsuda kicking three penalties, they trailed just 13-9 at the interval.

The second half started at a ferocious pace, but the ball continued to slip out of the hands of players from both sides.

England’s first instinct remained to kick, with Mitchell drawing boos when he booted the ball dead, but they were at least pinning Japan back in their own half and showing signs of building momentum.

Tension mounted as the Brave Blossoms escaped their own territory and claimed three more points from Matsuda, but when Earl went tearing down the right wing and the ball was recycled for Lawes to collect and score, their chances seemed to be fading.

Play swung from end to end and suddenly England were scrambling furiously, but Japan missed their chance and were made to pay when Steward caught Ford’s kick and strolled over. Marchant delivered the final blow in the closing moments.

The teams

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Jonny May, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Courtney Lawes (c), 5 Ollie Chessum, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 George Martin, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Ollie Lawrence

Japan: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Tomoki Osada, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Jone Naikabula, 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno (c), 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Amato Fakatava, 4 Jack Cornelsen, 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Warner Dearns, 20 Kanji Shimokawa, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Dylan Riley, 23 Lomano Lemeki

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (GRU)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (RA), Andrea Piardi (FIR)
TMO: Joy Neville (IRFU)

READ MORE: David Campese exclusive: Five takeaways as Wallabies a ‘painful’ watch against ‘bloody brilliant’ Fiji

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