Player Ratings: Bouncing back
OPINION: Eddie Jones’ England tuned up for next weekend’s showdown with the All Blacks with an encouraging seven-try demolition of an out-of sorts Japan to draw a line under last Sunday’s loss to Argentina.
There has been much pre-game dissatisfaction with the way Jones has gone about his business of trying to mould this group into potential World Cup winners. The defeat to the Pumas was the fifth England loss in nine matches in 2022 and the fear has been that he is running out of time to get things properly right.
It’s a rejuvenation challenge he has managed before – the last time Japan visited London, England were running at six defeats in ten matches in that 2018 calendar year yet they went on to contest the following year’s World Cup final. Here, with an initially sunny day providing a perfect backdrop, Jones got things back on track again with another much needed win over the Far East visitors.
England were booed for pointing at the posts to take an early 3-0 but the mood became far more jovial by the time Marcus Smith was touching down for his team’s second try on 24 minutes, twelve minutes after the immense Freddie Steward had benefited from a Smith assist.
Seventeen points ahead, England were unable to build on that advantage for quite some time. Instead, they gave up six points from penalties, losing Jonny May to a yellow card for that second infringement.
However, they finished the opening period on the high of a Guy Porter try while still down to 14 players and the third Owen Farrell conversion of the afternoon had the hosts 24-6 clear at the break. That score was effectively the end of the Japanese resistance as they were a shadow of the display that ran the All Blacks close a fortnight ago in Tokyo.
Quickfire tries from Ellis Genge and Porter soon spun the scoreboard out to a generous 38-6 margin, setting the stage for the bench cavalry to arrive, but the reserves initially stumbled maintaining the direction as Naoto Saito had a converted Japanese try back for the visitors.
That, though, was only a fleeting mishap as England finished well, a penalty try being followed by a second for Smith to seal the 52-13 win. Here are the England player ratings:
15. Freddie Steward – 9
The pattern is usually for swashbuckling first season young stars to endure some second season difficulties but that doesn’t apply to Steward and his class was quickly evident. He raced in for the opening try, embarked on a searing gallop to create the momentum for the second, he kicked well and was a dominant presence in the air. Lovely, lovely stuff.
14. Joe Cokanasiga – 7
Wasn’t supposed to be involved after getting dropped for Jonny May, but Jack Nowell’s late cry-off enabled him to get back in and he had a more incisive outing, lasting through until 16 minutes from time.
13. Guy Porter – 8.5
In for just his third cap, partly due to Jones wanting to mind Manu Tuilagi but also to see what rapport might be struck with Farrell, with whom Porter hadn’t before combined with. There were plenty of encouraging involvements, capped off by his try on the stroke of the interval and then his second on the resumption. Stayed around until the 64th minute treble substitution.
12. Owen Farrell – 8.5
There has been much conversation about his value stationed at inside centre but he mixed play up much better here with Smith. For instance, he stepped into the ten position to free up Smith on his outside for the first England try. His passing was mostly crisp – see the late pass to put Henry Slade away – as was his kicking, play summed up by the left-footed dink for Porter’s second try. Excellent off the kicking tee as well, landing all six of his conversions and a penalty.
11. Jonny May – 7.5
Amazing recovery from his serious-looking injury at London Irish 22 days ago. He sent a surge through the crowd with a helter-skelter ball chase on nine minutes, but he blotted his report card with his late first-half yellow card for not rolling away after an excellent chase back. Nearly had a try at the end only for the bobbling ball to roll dead on him.
10. Marcus Smith – 8.5
The wait has been ongoing for Smith to be more like his Harlequins self. It’s a difficult thing to produce within the more restricted England structure, but there were positive signs of an improved understanding with Farrell. Also helped by quicker service inside him. Scored two tries. Now for his litmus test versus the All Blacks.
9. Jack van Poortvliet – 9
England needed an injection of tempo and the player who scored within seconds of coming off the bench last Sunday gave zip to his team with speedier ball movement. His lovely running was also a joy. Look at his early second half break down the left not long after he was putting in an important tackle on the other side of the field. The big question now after an industrious 64 minutes is will be start next Saturday?
1. Ellis Genge – 8.5
Would have been pleased with the first half set-piece, the scrum wrangling three penalties from the Japanese. Then chipped in with a well-finished try eight minutes into the second half before trooping off with a job well done a few minutes later.
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie – 7.5
Had more energy about him than six days ago and his ambition with his throwing was evident. Played 53 improved minutes.
3. Kyle Sinckler – 7.5
More energetic than last weekend, which he needed to be, and he nearly went the distance, playing nearly 70 minutes. A well-timed tuned up with the ABs and the Springboks on their way to London.
4. Dave Ribbans – 7
Another weekend, another Northampton player getting a Test debut in the England engine room alongside Jonny Hill. The South African, who qualified through residency, is a lovely operator and he showed some neat touches here. Gone for clubmate Alex Coles on 54.
5. Jonny Hill – 7.5
England need a Hill fully firing to be at their best and he is on his way back towards that summit. The penalty conceded for tackling high at the start of the second half indicated he is not quite there yet, but a great steal and one-handed pass was brilliant in the creation of the second Porter score. Gave way on 62.
6. Maro Itoje – 7
Playing this world-class lock at blindside is a debate that will run and run, no matter what excuse Jones will suggest in defence of his selection. Enjoyed a whopping clear out to free up Japanese ruck ball for the fifth England try before finishing the game back at second row after Billy Vunipola replaced Hill.
7. Tom Curry – 7.5
Got through his work with great efficiency to ensure that a tricky back row battle wasn’t at all as worrying as billed.
8. Sam Simmonds – 7.5
Back in for Vunipola, he showed he hasn’t lost his eye for activity near the try line with a lovely in and out to draw the last defender and provide Porter with his first-half run in.
16. Jamie George – 7
Another player that looked to be unavailable for the series through injury, he stepped off the bench on 53 minutes with the score at 38-6. Would have enjoyed the late maul penalty try.
17. Mako Vunipola – 6.5
On for Genge with 27 minutes remaining, a scrum penalty was conceded at his first set-piece.
18. Joe Heyes – 7.5
There were just twelve minutes remaining when he was introduced but that was enough for him go lead the maul to the line produced a penalty try.
19. Alex Coles – 6.5
A starter on his debut last Sunday, he was a 54th minute introduction here but the going was initially tough.
20. Billy Vunipola – 6.5
His 62nd minute arrival for Hill allowed Itoje to jump back into the engine room, but he didn’t get much to do himself.
21. Ben Youngs – 6.5
Arrived on 64 minutes with the score at 38-13, he helped to up the tempo after it dipped for a short spell.
22. Henry Slade – 8
Milestone 50th cap arrived off the bench on 64 when in for Cokanasiga, it was his hack on that created Smith’s second score and he then made an excellent break that ended with the kick which nearly had May in.
23. Manu Tuilagi – 6.5
An unusual bench role for the midfield powerhouse, he played the closing 16 minutes and was quiet enough.
By Liam Heagney @RugbyPass