England survived a major scare early against Japan to record a 35-15 victory over the Cherry Blossoms at Twickenham.
Eddie Jones’ former side gave his current one all they could handle in the first half, but as England grew into the contest and sent for some reinforcements from the bench, they moved through the gears and took the game beyond the visitors.
We’ve rated all 23 of England’s performers from Saturday afternoon’s encounter.
- Elliot Daly – 7
The rust of not playing 15 week in, week out for his club was further knocked off, as Daly looked more of a threat on the counter-attack, as well as covering across the back field well. He was adept at identifying space, whether he was running into it or kicking into it, whilst England also made good use of his titanic boot, with the full-back knocking over a penalty from over 50m in the first half. Didn’t consistently dominate the space under the contested high balls, though.
- Chris Ashton – 6
Ashton was unfortunately subbed off just after the 30-minute mark with an apparent leg injury and didn’t have too much opportunity to influence the game. He did, however, showcase his impressive work rate on Danny Care’s early try, tracking the play from the other side of the pitch and being an option for the scrum-half, had he needed it.
- Jack Nowell – 6
He was caught narrow once early, but ultimately defended well in the challenging 13 channel, including making some important one-on-one tackles. He had a bit more influence on the attacking game once he was moved out to the wing but will be kicking himself for knocking on early in the second half when Owen Farrell had unleashed him on the outside.
- Alex Lozowski – 5
Got the shepherd’s crook at half time after struggling to influence the game positively. The centre missed a couple of crucial tackles, including the one on Ryoto Nakamura, who went over for Japan’s first try, and didn’t provide the control or incision in the role that Owen Farrell has previously provided.
- Joe Cokanasiga – 9
A strong debut for the Bath man, who did not freeze in the spotlight. His speed and ability to chase kicks and compete in the air was noteworthy, whilst his impressive carrying threat was also on display. He looked comfortable defensively, too, rotating back into the middle when Daly was pulled out of position by Japan, as well as making good defensive reads and executing the one-on-one tackles. His first try for England was created by his own work rate on the chase and skill in the air, winning the ball back for his team.
- George Ford – 6
Far from the masterful display that Ford would have wanted to stake a claim for resuming his role as England’s starting fly-half. The positives included missing just one kick at goal and a nice inside ball for Mark Wilson’s try, but his control on the game was lacking in the first half. He couldn’t quite pull the strings and get England moving offensively until Japan tired and fell out of contention.
- Danny Care – 5
After a bright start, where Care brought tempo and excellent support-running for the first try of the game, the scrum-half fell out of his groove somewhat. His miss-pass from the base of the ruck was read and intercepted by Japan, he mishandled a lineout steal from Charlie Ewels and a missed tackle on Michael Leitch led directly to a Japan try.
- Alec Hepburn – 4
Another quiet performance from Hepburn, who hasn’t been able to translate club form onto the international stage over the last few weeks. England had no set-piece advantage and his characteristic domineering runs for Exeter were not on display at Twickenham.
- Jamie George – 8
George swallowed a yellow card for going off his feet in the ruck, but it was a penalty conceded that arguably saved England from a try. Otherwise, it was a solid showing from the hooker, who linked up well in the loose, including helping to create tries for Care and Cokanasiga, whilst he also made a try-saving tackle on Yu Tamura in the first half.
- Harry Williams – 5
The tighthead looked uncomfortable against Keita Inagaki early on but did manage to fire back later in the first half, forcing a penalty out of the Japanese loosehead. Like Care, he also missed a tackle on Leitch, which saw the back row canter over the try line.
- Charlie Ewels – 7
On a day of England doing the basics on defence badly, Ewels stood out with the understated efficiency of his performance. He tackled strongly and cleanly and provided England with a good second option at the lineout when not calling to Maro Itoje. Popped up with a steal on Japan’s throw, too.
- Maro Itoje – 7
A strong early showing from the lock, who was breaking tackles as a carrier, disrupting the Japanese lineout and getting his hands inside the opposition maul and onto the ball. A couple of individual moments of brilliance, including a steal on the ground when England were under pressure and an athletic lineout take on a poor throw. Came strong in England’s ‘second wave’ at the 60-minute mark.
- Courtney Lawes – 6
The lock-turned-blindside started and finished the game strongly, with a sizeable quiet period in the middle of the game. He made some trademark momentum-changing tackles and demonstrated his ability in the wider channels, linking play with soft hands that didn’t exist a couple of seasons ago. Won a crucial breakdown penalty 10 minutes from the end, with Japan pressuring the English try line.
- Mark Wilson – 6
Short of the impressive performance he turned in against South Africa. Wilson got on the wrong side of the referee, pinged for being offside at the maul and not rolling away in the opening 15 minutes, as well as gifting Japan an advantage for being offside earlier in the game. He also knocked on early and struggled to have the same positive influence on the game that he had against the Springboks, although his second half try eased English worries.
- Zach Mercer – 5
A quiet performance from the number eight on his first start, who couldn’t make his presence known as his team struggled around him. He had a couple of noteworthy moments on the gain-line, either evading the tackle and getting England moving forward, or showing soft hands to bring in players inside or outside him.
- Dylan Hartley – 6
Connected with an early lineout when George was sinbinned, as well as one to club teammate Lawes in the second half that he was able to drive over the try line from the maul.
- Ben Moon – 7
Just as he did coming off the bench against South Africa, Moon significantly bolstered the English scrum. England went from set-piece inconsistency to set-piece dominance once he and Kyle Sinckler arrived.
- Kyle Sinckler – 7
The tighthead brought real impact off the bench, both running hard and straight at the Japanese defensive line and acting as a playmaker on the gain-line, shifting the ball on with good hands.
- Ted Hill – 6
Came on late for his debut but didn’t have an opportunity to influence the game.
- Sam Underhill – 6
Put himself about defensively after coming on, bringing much-needed efficiency wrapping players up in the tackle. Grabbed a late turnover to cap his display.
- Richard Wigglesworth – 6
Clinical cameo from Wigglesworth, who showed good awareness to send Cokanasiga over for his first international try.
- Owen Farrell – 8
Sizeable impact from the bench, bringing leadership and communication in the defensive line, a better link to the outside channels on offence and a number of examples of good hands and clever kicks creating space for England.
- Henry Slade – 6
Had a nice break late that was unlucky not to lead to more and tracked back well defensively, saving England’s blushes on one particularly dangerous Japanese attack.
Watch: England scrum-half Danny Care speaks to RugbyPass.
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