England stutter to bonus-point win
WORLD CUP REPORT: England got their 2019 campaign off to predictable start – a 35-3 win over a hopelessly outclassed Tonga in Sapporo on Sunday.
The four-tries-to-nil triumph secured England a bonus point and cemented their position as one of the tournament favourite.
However, it was not as smooth as coach Eddie Jones would have liked.
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Two tries by centre Manu Tuilagi helped set the stage of England’s comfortable, albeit scrappy over a tough and resilient Tonga.
Mindful the three-time world champions New Zealand had demolished Tonga 92-7 two weeks ago, Eddie Jones’s side were keen to flex their muscles and send a message that they could match the tournament favourites with a similar performance.
The Tongans, led by big-hitting loose forwards Sione Kalamafoni and Zane Kapeli, however, proved difficult to break down and it was only rampaging centre Tuilagi’s tries that gave England an 18-3 advantage at half-time.
Hooker Jamie George and his replacement Luke Cowan-Dickie added second-half tries for the 2003 champions, who controlled territory and possession and had a smart tactical kicking game but could not finish off the numerous chances they created.
England, playing within themselves, also appeared to avoid any injuries to key players.
“We had to toil hard and I was particularly pleased at the end of the game when we were under the pump a bit, we defended really well,” said England coach Eddie Jones.
“That’s two Tests now we haven’t conceded a try so we’re pretty happy with that. We’ll just build our game as we go along.
“We’d like to be sharper with the ball and that will come. But I was really pleased with the efforts of my players. They worked hard and what a great effort by Tonga. They fought really hard.”
England, whose humiliating first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup led to Jones’s appointment as coach, took an 11th-minute lead when captain Owen Farrell scored the first of his 15 points with a penalty.
Tonga scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua equalised three minutes later, after a thumping hit by flank Zane Kapeli on England No.8 Billy Vunipola, whose father and uncle both played in the Tonga side thrashed 101-10 by England at the 1999 World Cup.
England thought they had scored the opening try when flank Sam Underhill charged over after fullback Elliot Daly ran a loose kick back.
But with the grounding unclear to the television match official, the score was disallowed.
From the resulting five-metre scrum, however, Tuilagi bundled over for a 24th-minute try which the TMO did award. Farrell missed the conversion but England still led 8-3.
England lock Maro Itoje then gave away a penalty to the obvious fury of Jones, in charge of his native Australia when England beat the Wallabies in the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney.
But Takalua was off target and his miss was made worse for Tonga, hammered 92-7 by world champions New Zealand in a warm-up match this month, when Tuilagi scored his second try.
Daly released Jonny May and the left wing made a surging run before his well-timed inside pass to Tuilagi allowed the midfielder to charge in the 31st minute.
Farrell converted and England led 15-3.
England, declining a kickable penalty, almost had another try before half-time.
But, with Tonga defending desperately on their own line, an infringement led to a penalty in front of the posts which Farrell landed to give England a comfortable 15-point advantage at half-time.
Farrell made it 21-3 early in the second half with a 39-metre penalty and now it seemed as if the only issue remaining was whether a Tonga team coached by Toutai Kefu, who played under Jones for Australia, could stop England scoring four tries.
England, after Sam Underhill knocked-on when well-placed, eventually scored their third try when a thunderous rolling maul saw hooker Jamie George power over in the 57th minute.
But England lost momentum as Jones rang the changes, although their fourth try did arrive three minutes from time when wing Anthony Watson’s surging run and pass released Cowan-Dickie.
England now have a quick turnaround before their next Pool C match against the United States in Kobe on Thursday, with Tonga playing Argentina, looking to bounce back from an agonising loss to France, on Saturday.
Tries: Tuilagi 2, George, Cowan-Dickie
Cons: Farrell 3
Pens: Farrell 3
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Curry, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Dan Cole, 19 George Kruis, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Jonathan Joseph
Tonga: 15 David Halaifonua, 14 Atieli Pakalani, 13 Siale Piutau (captain), 12 Cooper Vuna, 11 Viliami Lolohea, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Zane Kapeli, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Halaleva Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Sosefo Sakalia, 1 Siegfried ‘Fisiihoi
Replacements: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Latu 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Faleafa, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 James Faiva, 23 Nafi Tu’itavake
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)