England toiled at times but profited from a bizarre second-half try to defeat Japan 34-12 at the Stade de Nice and earn a bonus point in an unimpressive display that nonetheless leaves them in control of their Rugby World Cup Pool D.
With the game poised at 13-12, England captain Courtney Lawes cantered in for a try as the Japanese players stopped and watched, expecting to hear the referee’s whistle for a knock-on when the ball in fact deflected off the head of prop Joe Marler.
That turned the tide of the contest as England ran in four tries in all, No 8 Lewis Ludlam barging over in the first half before full back Freddie Steward crossed in the corner and centre Joe Marchant grabbed the bonus point with the final play of the game.
Before that England’s attack looked blunt as they battled to hold onto the ball and kicked away possession from promising attacking areas, but were let off the hook by a Japan side that did not have the quality to punish them.
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TRY! England 34-12 Japan, (Marchant, 80 mins)
England do find the bonus try as Marchant goes over in the final minute! It’s an almighty shove from the maul as England finally let their backs run free. Smith makes a good burst which nearly allows May to go over
The ball is eventually switched back to the left, with Marchant able to tap down and secure the crucial fourth tie. Ford adds the conversion and, with that, the whistle goes.
England 27-12 Japan, 78 mins
The game’s intensity starting to slow down as Japan know their race is run. England will surely still be eyeing up another try in the final few minutes in order to secure the bonus-point victory.
An opportunity from a scrum now...
Use your head! England score comical try against Japan at Rugby World Cup
During the second half of the Pool D clash in Nice, with England narrowly leading 13-12, they received a huge stroke of fortune when George Ford’s pass went backwards off the hands of Will Stuart, clattered off the head of the unwitting Marler and Courtney Lawes almost embarrassedly scooped the ball up to score the try.
Social media quickly reacted after the ball bounced off the unwitting Joe Marler’s head to allow Courtney Lawes to touch down
England 27-12 Japan, 74 mins
It’s taken 70 minutes but England beginning to really click into gear. Some lovely, free-flowing rugby down the right side through the subs Lawrence and Smith.
They are just inches from the line on numerous occasions but the pick-and-go game can’t get England their fourth try and they eventually give up a penalty at the breakdown.
England 27-12 Japan, 70 mins
A couple of late changes for England as Tuilagi and try-scorer Steward make way for Lawrence and Smith, the latter slotting in at full-back.
England 27-12 Japan
The Independent’s Harry Latham-Coyle at the Stade de Nice:
"A lovely bit of skill from George Ford off his wrong foot, spotting the space and putting it in Freddie Steward's breadbasket. How England needed that after a performance of missed connections."
TRY! England 27-12 Japan, (Steward, 66 mins)
And capitalise they do! The ball makes its way out to Ford and it’s an inch-perfect cross-field kick from the fly-half to find Steward open on the left wing.
The full-back makes no mistake and England stretch their lead further.
Ford adds the conversion for the extra two.
England 20-12 Japan, 65 mins
Much better from England. Pressure from the scrum and intensity with the defensive line as they force Japan over their own tryline and earn themselves a scrum on the five-metre line.
Can they capitalise now?
England 20-12 Japan, 63 mins
A few substitutes as England begin to show some incisiveness in attack. Marchant gets on the ball more, Genge makes a good break and then Ford surges through.
The pick and go is spilt just metres from the line by England but it’s far more encouraging from Borthwick’s side in the last few moments.
England 20-12 Japan, 58 mins
A stunning burst from Matsushima gets Japan right up the pitch. England are all over the place, scrambling in defence to try and quell wave after wave of Japanese pressure.
But it’s knocked on! England’s handling errors have rubbed off on Japan as they spill the ball forward at just the wrong time. A big let off for England and time for some drinks.
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