England player ratings vs Japan | Rugby World Cup 2023
England player ratings live from Stade de Nice: First, the good news on a balmy night on the French Riviera; England eventually won 34-12 to chalk up back-to-back victories for only the second time in this underwhelming Steve Borthwick era, while they also managed to avoid card trouble and keep 15 players on the pitch for the full 80.
Now for the bad: You could spend every minute of an entire week watching tiki-taka Japan play with their brilliant sense of adventure and their willingness to put the ball through the hands and run.
It didn’t work out, the greasy ball ultimately leading to multiple handling errors that frustratingly stopped them dead in their tracks in a performance that didn’t feature a try.
However, they produced a lovely brand worthy of admiration from a global audience that would have tuned in from around the world. In contrast, hard-pressed England fans will be delighted they have a six-day break before they have to tune in again to see their team in action versus Chile in Lille.
On an evening where England needed to throw off some shackles to build on last weekend’s 14-man underdog win over Argentina in Marseille, they were infuriatingly blunt and that lack of creativity was roundly booed by the crowd around the 50th-minute mark when Alex Mitchell tamely kicked away possession rather than look to create with a pass or a run. That said it all about their general ineptitude in attack.
At that stage, English nerves were frayed as they had failed to build on a 13-9 interval lead that featured a Lewis Ludlam try and within minutes of the chorus of boos, the margin was cut to a single point by a penalty. The smell in the air was of a 2015 Springboks, 2019 Ireland-type ambush by the Japanese if they could just nail one of their moves.
Ironically, what averted a crisis result for Borthwick was hilariously typical of their inability to fashion polished moves. The ball was flapped at by sub Will Stuart but it wasn’t knocked on and it was then headed forward by Joe Marler in a comic manner for skipper Courtney Lawes to gather and score under the posts.
That madcap caper became the result-deciding score, giving England invaluable breathing space at 20-12, but they were made to wait until the clock was in the red to secure the bonus point, Joe Marchant touching down long after Freddie Steward had pounced on 66 minutes. Here are the England player ratings on a night that left numerous supporters in the stadium disenchanted with what they saw:
15. Freddie Steward – 6
Endured a heart-in-mouth flutter when his flap at a kick in behind nearly gave Japan a first-half try. Then knocked on trying to burst a line early in the second period. However, it was his catch on halfway that secured the possession that led to the decisive England try from Lawes, and he then added a sweet score of his own with another fine catch. Departed with a dead leg 11 minutes from the end.
14. Jonny May – 3.5
Not a game for wingers. When is it ever in the Borthwick era? It was again more like watching a 13-man rugby league team. May didn’t feature in the opening half apart from a leap to cover a Japan cross-kick that went into touch and then a late clip on a clearing kicker that gave the opposition a scored penalty from where the ball landed. Had one second-half break ended by a stern pull on his shorts.
13. Joe Marchant – 5
Came into this as one of England’s most consistent performers these past few months, but he wasn’t noticeable for a long period. Did better in the closing 20 minutes and finished with the bonus point try with the clock in the red.
12. Manu Tuilagi – 4.5
Took an age for him to feature with England’s attack offering crumbs and Japan’s flexible approach when they were in possession avoiding his channel. Gave way on 69 for Ollie Lawrence.
11. Elliot Daly – 3.5
Cagey start which featured getting a hospital pass from Ford that saw him bundled into touch. Then spilled possession with an England attack entering the 22 at the other end. Rarely noticed after that.
10. George Ford – 7.5
Having rated a 10/10 last weekend in Marseille for his scruff-of-the-neck display with England a red-carded man down after three minutes, the shackles were very much clamped back on here and Japan had him in their sights as evident in the charged down clearance kick following a first-half scrum. Wasn’t adverse to running with the ball but kicking was the primary approach, the tactic eventually paying off with the sweet assist for the Steward score. Within the night’s limited England game plan, Ford did well but it made for a dull spectacle. Not that he cared. As he insisted in the post-game mixed zone, it was all about winning.
9. Alex Mitchell – 5.5
Impressive against Argentina where he brought some unpredictability to the proceedings, but he was way more measured here and it was his 50th-minute kicking away of possession that rankled with the booing crowd. His passing was solid but much, much more was wanted from his bogged-down-by-the-system 59-minute display.
1. Joe Marler – 6
One of three changes to the XV from last week, he started well as it was his turnover penalty that put a positive end to Japan’s first visit to the 22. He then went down the other end to give Ludlam a try-assist pass. Was joint top of his team’s first-half tackle count but missed a few after that. Also had the bizarre assist with his head for the Lawes try. Another who exited on 59.
2. Jamie George – 6.5
Showed his experience with some decent throwing, such as over the top to Ben Earl five metres from his own line when the score was three-all, and then low to Lawes at the front. Butchered a chance when an inaccurate Earl pass was fumbled when he looped around at the lineout after Ford went for the corner shortly before the break. Helped England avoid a second-half crisis and his importance to Borthwick was underlined by how he was kept on for 75 minutes, but Theo Dan should have come on much earlier as the England approach needed a finesse.
3. Kyle Sinckler – 5
His first start since the Six Nations was about him bringing something to the party different from the rejuvenated Dan Cole but he had an ineffective first half. Improved marginally in the second, his passes to Ford and Lawes catching the eye, but he was hooked on 51 minutes with the result in the melting pot.
4. Maro Itoje – 6
His fingers were crucial in the lineout steal that got England their opening try from a fluffed Japanese set-piece. He enjoyed some carries, something that hasn’t been a feature of his game of late, and, like George, he ensured England didn’t panic when things briefly looked very sticky in the second half.
5. Ollie Chessum – 5.5
Should have been the try scorer on 24 minutes but was held short, Ludlam instead finishing the move. He mauled well and got about the place, but it was his failure to roll away a 53rd-minute ruck that allowed Japan to close to 13-12 and leave English nerves jangling. Played for 75.
6. Courtney Lawes – 7.5
The second England player we gave a 10 to last weekend along with Ford, it was inevitable that those giddy heights wouldn’t be fully matched here, yet his presence was defining as he scored the decisive try on 56 minutes and put himself about the place smartly.
7. Ben Earl – 7.5
Gave Japan their opening six points with penalty infringements but he was his team’s main ball carrier and tackler on a night where he personally will have learned much about cup tie rugby at Test level. Iy was his break along the tramline that was crucial in the lead-up to Lawes’ try.
8. Lewis Ludlam – 5
Produced a voracious work rate last week off the bench but it was a different story starting. Did score England’s opening try but his usual energetic effort didn’t materialise and he exited on 51.
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16. Theo Dan – No rating
Five token minutes but managed a couple of carries. Must start next week to see if he can offer something different to George.
17. Ellis Genge – 6
Brought the sort of energy that enabled England to finish the job in his 21 minutes. Carried well.
18. Will Stuart – 4.5
Sent on with 29 minutes remaining and with the result hanging in the balance. Had his handling issues as seen in the lead-up to the Lawes score and then wasting a chance on 63 minutes following a Ford break.
19. George Martin – 4.5
Given 17 minutes but this one passed him by.
20. Billy Vunipola – 4.5
Had 29 minutes in his comeback from his ban but it wasn’t his effort that decisively turned this result in England’s favour.
21. Ben Youngs – 5.5
Arrived for the closing 21 minutes as the wise old head to see out the win. Even managed a few breaks to try and snap England out of some of the predictability.
22. Marcus Smith – 6
Given just 11 minutes for Steward and while we liked his urgency and his appetite to get involved, his ability was wasted by the head coach not sending him on earlier.
23. Ollie Lawrence – 5
Had the same length of time as Smith, getting sent for Tuilagi, but another who will wonder why he wasn’t used earlier.
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