So far so very good. Martin Johnson's record is played one, won one, with five tries to boot. The opposition were not as strong as the southern-hemisphere heavyweights to come but they were identified by England's new manager as a potential pratfall. The scoreline might have been slightly more convincing than the performance, but it still didn't bring a smile to Johnson's face.
More by accident than design, England appear to have found a genuine full-back in Delon Armitage, the London Irish utility back who took his chance brilliantly to leapfrog Josh Lewsey, Mathew Tait and Nick Abendanon, having been fast-tracked into the national No 15 jersey by the influence of Brian Smith, the Red Rose backs coach who moved to Twickenham from London Irish in the summer.
Armitage, who was born in Trinidad, did the rugby equivalent of scoring a ton on his debut. He did not put a foot wrong and with Paul Sackey, who was back to his best, and Ugo Monye, the Harlequins flyer, England have hit on a dynamicback three who have pace to burn.
Even Johnson was moved. "I don't think I've seen a better debut than that," he said of Armitage's display. "He was very assured. He looked great in training, but players don't always take that form into a Test. In fact, I thought the back three were outstanding."
As indeed they were. The half-backs – Danny Cipriani, who scored 19 points, and Danny Care – weren't bad either, although both made expensive mistakes.
"It's an exciting young team," Johnson said, "and it was our first game together. They're inexperienced and will move on from here." As will Johnson himself, who is a greenhorn in matters of managing and coaching a team.
"We got there in the end. It was a difficult game in difficult conditions against dangerous opposition. We played pretty well but there are lots of areas to improve on and work on." Next up is Australia. "The pacewill be higher against them," Johnson said."We wanted a quicker tempo against the Islanders but it never really happened. It was good to get this game out of the way. There was so much hoopla andrubbish spoken last week."
It is what can be described as the small print that invariably trips up the Islanders. After Pierre Hola had missed a penalty in the fourth minute – he had the right line but didn't give it enough welly – they were guilty of naïveté. Awarded another penalty, inside their own half, they went for distance rather than accuracy. When they failed to find touch it presented Armitage with an early opportunity to impress. The full-back put up a high kick and followed it up to regain possession. From that momentum, Cipriani landed a ninth-minute penalty.
Four minutes later it got a lot better. Care's pace enabled him to make a half-break and two Wasps, Cipriani and Tom Rees, linked in midfield to give Armitage a run down the right. Instead of allowing the move to die, Armitage lobbed an inside pass to Sackey and the wing, who scored four tries against Samoa and Tonga in the previous World Cup, this time got one against the combined forces of all the Islands. Nor was he finished.
Having made the conversion Cipriani, attempting to execute a straightforward clearance kick, was too casual, and Seru Rabeni followed up his charge-down for a try. England's lead was cut to three points. In the Six Nations match against Italy last season Cipriani suffered a similar fate.
Another moment of carelessness, from Care, cost England a try when an Islanders move broke down and Sackey countered. His kick enabled Care to wrongfoot what was left of the defence. With only the line in front of him, the scrum-half knocked on.
The reprieve for the Islanders was brief. They lost the subsequent scrum, could not get out of their 22 and Cipriani kicked a penalty. Then it was England's turn to get a let-off, when Nili Latu went over from close range. A nanosecond earlier the referee, George Clancy, had blown for Andrew Sheridan being offside.
On 36 minutes Monye, taking a pass inside his 22 from Cipriani, made a terrific run down the left and delivered a try-scoring pass back to Cipriani. This back three are tougher than they look, and Monye's breakout began with a Pacific-like charge against Vilimoni Delasau, who was rocked on his heels.
Three minutes after the restart England scored a clever try. In a line-out move familiar to Harlequins fans, the lock Nick Kennedy rose to secure possession, the unorthodox angle of his pass releasing Care, who slipped the scoring pass to... Kennedy. Even Johnson would have savoured that.
The Islanders managed a couple of penalties but England scored further tries through Lee Mears, after a fine run from Armitage, and Sackey, who survived a head-high assault from Semisi Naevo. Cipriani's missed conversion was his first failure. As Johnson said, they have things to work on.
Pacific Islanders: K Ratuvou; S Tagicakibau, S Rabeni (E Taione, 58), S Mapusua, V Delasau; P Hola (S Bai, 48),M Rauluni (capt; S Martens, 72); J Va'a, A Lutui (S Koto, 68), C Johnston (K Pulu, 58), F Levi (H T Pole, 62), K Leawere,S Naevo, N Latu, F Maka (G Stowers, 17).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).
Man for man marking, by Martin Pengelly
Delon Armitage 7/10
A very solid first cap – a lovely break and pass to set up a try for Sackey and he didn't visibly wet himself when faced with a high ball, Seilala Mapusua and Sailosi Tagicakibau in that order. Saying he's like the young Serge Blanco, as some have, is a bit much. But he did well.
Paul Sackey 7/10
Took his first try well, as he does, and did plenty of work. Made up for his own error by covering back on Vilimoni Delasau, for one example. Crunched later on, in the act of scoring his second try.
Jamie Noon 6/10
He got the ball, he got a Pacific Islander in the chops. Meat and drink to the Newcastle centre, fortunately. Rebounded happily about.
Riki Flutey 6/10
Quietly efficient, bar giving that ill-timed hospital pass to Noon who, clocked by an Islander, went down with a sort of metallic bong. The Maori-cum-Middle Englander from High Wycombe then suffered the same fate. Justice.
Ugo Monye 7/10
Solid enough under the high ball and bounced off Delasau for the break that led to Cipriani's try. He was caught by a prop, big Census Johnston, before offloading well. Slightly embarrassing? Didn't really matter. Encouraging.
Danny Cipriani 7/10
You could almost see the cogs whirring under the scrumcap: 'That's a pass back into my 22. Can I kick it out? Umm... what the hell... oh.' Those ELVs and gremlins messed with his hard wiring and Seru Rabeni scored, but he recovered to score a try and kicked well.
Danny Care 8/10
Sharp as the wind off Otley Chevin and well ahead of his replacement, Ellis, in the scrum-half stakes. Butchered a try in the first half, but set up the second score with a quick tap and the third with a dart off a line-out. Very good.
Andrew Sheridan 7/10
Scrums – against the almost equally enormous Johnston – started shakily and he was whistled for boring in, perhaps unfairly. Yet the man mountain mounted the pressure and began to pacify the Islanders. Nicely busy in the loose.
Lee Mears 8/10
Running, he looks a little like a cross between Oddjob and that bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Lancelot, legs whirring, never seems to get closer to the camera. As a sort of small wrecking ball, bowled at the other side's legs, he scored a nice try. His line-outs also went well and his hands were good. Well done.
Matt Stevens 7/10
Could just copy and paste the entry for Sheridan, really, other than to add that the tighthead prop was slightly more prominent away from all the wrestling. Scrums were a bit messy, but so was the weather. Gave way to Vickery.
Steve Borthwick 7/10
First home game as captain started with a copybook kick-off catch and then rumbled into gear with the usual good line-out work and short-range trundles around the sides of the rucks. If Mears is Oddjob, Borthwick can be Martin Johnson's Mini Me. Which is a compliment, honest.
Nick Kennedy 7/10
Roared when he scored his try from a line-out move. Apt, obviously, as that's his beat, but he's no plod. Moved about and leapt up and down to generally beneficial effect.
Tom Croft 7/10
Flanker with the pace of a back was involved in the heavy stuff in the first half, so it wasn't particularly surprising to find him off the field at the break, having a leak plugged. Playing him with his replacement, Haskell, from the start would be an interesting proposition.
Tom Rees 7/10
Gave away the odd penalty but, hey, he's an openside. Nice link for Sackey's try, looking like Neil Back with an assured pass. That can never be a bad thing.
Nick Easter 6/10
Rather a clumpy first half, featuring a couple of fumbles – one particularly nasty, from a kick-off – and the odd missed tackle. Better after, then off.
James Haskell On for Croft to charge about, then replaced Easter later.
Phil Vickery Replaced Stevens for the last 20 minutes.
Tom Palmer Came on for Kennedy after 60.
Harry Ellis Replaced Care, which was a slightly thankless task.
Michael Lipman Replaced Rees for the last quarter.
Toby Flood On for Cipriani at the last knockings.
Dylan Hartley Very late debut at hooker. Kicked it. Eh?Reuse content