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The 'just what we needed' England reaction to winning ugly in Lille

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

England No8 Ben Earl has shaken off his team’s scratchy display versus Samoa, claiming it was exactly what they needed heading into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

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Three September wins were enough for Steve Borthwick’s side to already qualify for their October 15 knockout stage game in Marseille, but they came within a whisker of heading into that fixture on the back of a group-ending defeat to Samoa.

The Pacific Islanders led for 44 minutes of the Pool D encounter in Lille and even after a converted Danny Care try put England back in front on 73 minutes, they needed a last-gasp try-saving tackle from their replacement scrum-half 75 seconds from full-time to protect their 18-17 victory.

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England’s sluggishness revived memories of their poor Summer Nations Series performances in August, but Earl, who has established himself at the finals at his team’s first choice No8, claimed what unfolded versus Samoa was the perfect tee-up going into next weekend’s last-eight match, most likely versus Fiji, a team they lost to in the warm-ups.

“It was just what we needed,” reckoned Earl about a dramatic spectacle in which England only looked comfortable in the opening period when they strode into an early 8-0 lead. “This is a World Cup and there are going to be some good teams.

Match Summary

2
Penalty Goals
1
2
Tries
2
1
Conversions
2
0
Drop Goals
0
92
Carries
110
8
Line Breaks
7
16
Turnovers Lost
12
7
Turnovers Won
5

“Every team has strengths and they are going to have massively good moments and purple patches. We have got to find a way to ride them out and we are pleased with the way we stuck at it.

“It had that feeling at times where they [Samoa] played without consequences. It felt like that was their biggest game of the campaign, they wanted to end on a high and fair play to them, I thought they were brilliant. They showed us where there are some holes in our game and we will be better for that experience.

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“We have seen glimpses of how good Samoa can be and that was probably their best game of the tournament. We certainly felt like we started the game well but in that middle 20, 30 minutes it felt like we weren’t quite at it.

“But we are just so pleased we found a way to win ugly. They played as well as we did but we won at the end of the day and that is what we will take away from it.”

Marcus Smith was one of the subs introduced from the bench in the second half to make good England’s comeback, the out-half coming on for George Ford and playing at full-back, a reshuffle that resulted in Freddie Steward switching to the wing and Owen Farrell moving from inside centre to No10.

“I thoroughly enjoyed watching that,” said Smith about his vantage point for 50-odd minutes from the England bench. “I saw 15 of my teammates who were trying their hardest. Massive credit has to go to Samoa.

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“We knew how passionate they are and how hard they were going to come out of the blocks. We got a good start and they came back into it as we expected. Watching from the sidelines, I was excited about getting the opportunity to come on.

What was the message he was given when introduced with England chasing a scoreboard deficit? “To be myself, to add energy and add communication from the back, try to add my super-strengths. When you get that message it gives you a lot of confidence to go out there, be yourself and watch a World Cup match, which is always special.”

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