Player Ratings - England
OPINION: This was supposed to be a World Cup luxury for Steve Borthwick’s team, who was through to the quarterfinals with this game to spare and gifted the chance to fine-tune their tactics.
However, rather than striding impressively towards their knockout October 15 date in Marseille, they were instead sucker punched by a Samoan team keen on an ambush.
The Pacific Islanders commendably led for a total of 45 minutes, only falling behind with seven minutes remaining when Danny Care skipped in by the posts off scrum ball for a converted try with Samoa a man down due to a yellow card for Tumua Manu.
We then got an epic finish, England needing a last-ditch Care tackle on Neria Foami with 75 seconds left to deny a try that would have given the Samoans a deserved win in front of a 47,891 attendance. That was enough to leave Borthwick’s side 18-17 winners and Samoa ruing an early missed penalty from in front of the posts from Lima Sopoaga.
This Pacific Islander intent shouldn’t have surprised. After all, it was shortly after their September 28 loss to Japan in Toulouse when skipper Michael Alaalatoa warned RugbyPass: “We still can do something special and upset a team like England.”
Heck, they gave it socks, hitting back from an early eight-point deficit to lead 14-8 at the interval and feel they should have been further clear, a knock-on from Manu and a foot in touch from the two-try Nigel Ah-Wong denied them further reward against an English side whose pre-tournament defensive frailties returned.
Their line-out also lost its sheen while the 10/12/13 combination of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi went down a cul de sac and was decommissioned early in the second period with the English in crisis mode and in dire need of inspiration from their replacements. Those fresh legs eventually stole the win. Here are the England player ratings:
15. Freddie Steward – 5.5
Started confidently, acting as the crucial link in the creation of the ninth-minute Ollie Chessum try, and he was also rightly praised for ripping Sama Malolo of possession with the line beckoning on 26 minutes. Caught out a few minutes later, though, Lima Sopoaga’s sweet crosskick eluding him and finding Ah-Wong instead. Struggled from there on, like so many of his teammates.
14. Joe Marchant – 5
Showed some nice first-half skills with a quickly taken throw and a catch while running back to his 22. He also had a second-half try disallowed on 57 minutes as the pass from Maro Itoje was forward. Worked hard but doesn’t have the threat that some unselected England players have.
13. Manu Tuilagi – 4.5
Began like an express train, making two huge breaks and giving the assist for the Chessum try on nine minutes. It was as if the reinstatement of the old 10/12/13 combination last used from the start in March 2020 was a smart call but the reunited band then started hitting some very bum notes and an overwhelmed-looking Tuilagi was pulled on 58 minutes not long after Ford had also exited.
12. Owen Farrell – 5.5
Kicked for history on 18 minutes, a penalty seeing him surpass Jonny Wilkinson to become England’s all-time leading points scorer. However, he was wildly jeered when the shot clock beat him on 66 minutes when on deck for another penalty kick. Generally tackled well and shifted to out-half when Ford was pulled, but the inability of the starting 10/12 to gel has given Borthwick a major quarter-final headache of Ford or Farrell starting but not both.
11. Jonny May – 4
It was his break that scattered the Samoan defence on 18 minutes in the lead-up to the infringement that gave Farrell his points record, but that was about it for him on the ball and he will instead be remembered for ineffectively clinging onto a leg of the tr-scoring Ah-Wong minutes later. England need a hurry up in this position, with May not looking the part.
10. George Ford – 4.5
One cheeky kick on a penalty advantage nearly had Jamie George regathering under the posts in the period when England 5-0 up but he generally struggled, and his best moment was restricted to him chasing down Duncan Paia’aua and preventing the Samoan from scoring a breakaway try early in the second half. Other than that, he failed to shine and was whipped off with 29 minutes remaining to allow Farrell to switch to 10 and bring Marcus Smith on.
9. Alex Mitchell – 5
Eclipsed by his opposite number, both in terms of a snazzy hairstyle and the array of passes. His uneasiness was encapsulated by the brutal kick he sent up and straight back down on the England 22 that would have been a Samoan try but for a knock-on in the jump by Manu. With Samoa ahead 14-8 at the time, it would have left his team with a mountain to climb. Played for 66 before the crucial introduction of Care.
1. Ellis Genge – 5
Wasn’t himself at this tournament last month and while there was a penalty win at the first scrum, he struggled to impress and was hooked with 25 minutes left for Joe Marler.
2. Jamie George – 6.5
Played the full 80, which shows you how desperate an ordeal this was as a fresh forward in Theo Dan was left on the bench. George can’t be happy with how the lineout went and while there was an entertaining moment in the first half when he kicked and chased from his own 22, this took a lot out of him, especially his high tackle count. It’s a good job England have an eight-day turnaround in between games.
3. Dan Cole – 5
It started off as his sort of game, England on the front foot and the prop clearing breakdowns and enjoying the scrum. However, once Samoa got possession and shifted it about, he was left flagging and was pulled eight minutes into the second half despite a chunky tackle count.
4. Maro Itoje – 6.5
His highlight was a big turnover penalty win on 39 minutes on his own line with Samoa threatening to add to their 14-8 lead. Hefty tackle count but there were some misses. Can’t be satisfied either with the lineout not that forward pass he chucked which denied Marchant a second-half try.
5. Ollie Chessum – 7.5
Ripped in the contact early doors, which suggested it would be a tough day for England, but he was soon racing in to score from the 22 off a Tuilagi pass. Denied a second try 14 minutes into the second half, but his work rate was crucial to England avoiding an embarrassing defeat.
6. Courtney Lawes – 5.5
Needed treatment on a couple of occasions in the first half and he eventually headed to the sidelines with 21 minutes remaining and England 11-17 down on the scoreboard. Theo McFarland was by far the better blindside on the day, but Lawes still wielded his immense experience when chasing back and ensuring he was in the right spot to dive on the ball in the second half and kill the move when Paia’aua threw a pass inside near the try-line. Was way down on the tackle count and offered no go-forward on the ball.
7. Tom Curry – 6
Another who struggled with the ferocity of the Samoans. Admittedly he had only played three minutes of Test rugby in 2023 coming into this, his latest setback being that red card last month versus Argentina, but he was left bloodied by the exchanges. His best moment was a trademark turnover penalty a couple of minutes into the second half.
8. Ben Earl – 7.5
Will learn a heck of a lot from this backs-to-the-wall experience. Massive tackle count and a regular ball carrier. Was crucial in keeping England in the fight.