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Player Ratings: England

OPINION: What a crazy, crazy game.

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There we ready, ready to pen the obituary to another dreary England shambles that looked way worse than last week’s 9-20 loss to Wales in Cardiff when they suddenly sprung to life in the most remarkable of circumstances to fashion the sort of inspiring come-from-behind win that can propel them to unexpected heights in France.

Ahead 6-0 at the interval after a totally forgettable first half which ended with them getting booed by the home crowd for taking a shot at the posts for three points rather than looking to engineer something off a lineout drive, they were 9-3 ahead nearing the mid-point of the second half when things went haywire.

Between minutes 57 and 64, they lost three players to the sin-bin, Ellis Genge with the scrum on a general warning, Freddie Steward for taking out Josh Adams in the air at the cost of a lead-losing penalty try, and then the loss of skipper Owen Farrell of his crude shoulder to the head of Taine Basham.

It was an utter shambles and it got worse, Tomos Wiliams finishing off a counter-attack to put Wales 17-9 clear, yet the concession motivated England like never before under Steve Borthwick in 2023.

Despite being three players down, they struck back with a maul try scored by Maro Itoje that was converted by George Ford.

Before play restarted, word came from the TMO bunker that the Farrell yellow was upgraded to a red card, but that blow didn’t deter England who fought forward to force the winning penalty for Ford to kick to seal the crazy 19-17 win.

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Of course, there will be a huge cost. Farrell is now facing missing the opening match at the World Cup versus Argentina through suspension while young scruhalf Jack van Poortvliet is an injury concern after he limped out of the first-half action.

But the manner of the victory in the last quarter-hour will provide plenty of encouragement that England just might not be going to France just to make up the numbers.

Liam Heagney rates the England players!

15 Freddie Steward – 3.5
Was doing okay defensively until his rating-killing yellow card which he will now hope won’t have a citing officer sequel. There was no need for him to tackle Josh Adams in the air but he did and he paid a heavy price with a sin-binning and the concession of a yellow card.

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14 Henry Arundell – 3
Just his second start and his first at Twickenham, this was another limp effort similar to Dublin in March where he didn’t get going at all. Bar one gallop after an early Farrell grubber, he wasn’t seen in attack. Finished the opening half in the bin for cynically preventing Liam Williams from playing quickly off a mark. That incident came a few minutes after he delayed his chase to a clearance kick, a clear sign that Test level requirements are taking much getting used to. Hooked on 57 minutes.

13 Joe Marchant – 7.5
One of the major winners in England’s RWC squad of 33, he came agonisingly close to being the try-scoring hero before Ford kicked the winning points. A lack of downward pressure as he dived to catch the crosskick was the verdict. Played enterprisingly and was also good in defence, winning a ruck penalty turnover. Was stretched for the second Wales try, though.

12 Ollie Lawrence – 7
Another who will take great encouragement that he is heading in the right direction as regards his form and his willingness to try and do something to get England going. Lasted 72 minutes.

11 Elliot Daly – 7
A first Test outing since the 2022 Six Nations, he had some classy touches in the opening half. Less prominent in the second period, but put his hand up to be considered a World Cup starter.

10 Owen Farrell – 0
When you have a reputation for suspect tackling, the last thing you want to do in the lead-up to a World Cup is to invite serious trouble. Farrell, though, couldn’t help himself, his ugly shoulder contact to the head of Basham rightly upgraded to a red card after TMO bunker review of the yellow he initially received. Now faces missing England important pool opener versus Argentina. Had started well, with good variety in his game but doesn’t matter a whit now.

9 Jack van Poortvliet – 5.5
Started full of energy but limped off prematurely eight minutes before the break. Mixed effort encapsulated by a rare direct snipe through the ruck that raised a cheer only for him to knock on when looking at getting a second touch on the next phase.

1 Joe Marler – 6
Another seasoned operator who has been out of the Test loop since the spring of 2022, he wasn’t the main culprit for the scrum issues and while he was gone after 54 minutes, this was an okay return to the international fold.

2 Jamie George – 7.5
Had a field day feasting on Welsh lineout overthrows, he spoke well with the referee at times and showed why there is currently no one fit to rival him in England in this position. Topped his team’s tackle count.

3 Will Stuart – 5
One of just four players who started last weekend who was named to start again, this was an excellent chance for him to build on the excellent first-half scrum at the Principality and put some heat on Kyle Sinckler but too many infringements damaged his report.

4 Maro Itoje – 7
With the World Cup start just four weeks away, it was time for the once world-class operator to show glimpses that he is heading towards his peak and he delivered with his team staring down the barrel and set to be beaten. Scored the rejuvenating maul try and was joy unconfined near the end celebrating a Wales knock-on.

5 George Martin – 5.5
Played with heavy strapping on his left leg but managed to come through the game. Wasn’t as effective as last week.

6 Courtney Lawes – 6.5
Another important player who has been rarely seen in recent times due to repeated injury, there was a concern when he took a first-half head bang but he recovered and showed nuisance value, such as the steal of a Welsh lineout in the second half. Hung tough and fought when it most mattered.

7 Ben Earl – 8
Incredible to think that one of the Premiership’s most dominant performers was only making his first Test start after 16 appearances. He has put it up to Tom Curry with his impact, clocking up big metres and tackling well.

8 Billy Vunipola – 5
Borthwick has staked the house on this previous surplus to requirement No8 becoming the gain line monster that Alex Dombrandt struggled to become. Said to be as fit as the coach had ever seen him, he was like a jumbo jet struggling to gather speed on the runway. Exited on 61.

Replacements:

16 Theo Dan – No Rating
Didn’t get off the bench.

17 Ellis Genge – 6.5
A down and then up 50th cap, the loosehead getting yellow-carded within minutes of arriving in when both teams were on a scrum warning from the referee. Got stuck in when he returned, looking dangerous when taking a cut down the left near the line.

18 Dan Cole – 6
Did the workhorse stiff to helping 12-man England bounce back, including steadying the scrum.

19 Jonny Hill – No Rating
Didn’t play despite looking set to arrive in for treatment-receiving Martin late in the first half.

20 Jack Willis – 6
Arrived on for Vunipola with England in disarray. Like Cole, did the gritty to help force the momentum shift.

21 Ben Youngs – 6.5
An early arrival eight minutes before the break, he played much better with Ford at 10 than with Farrell.

22 George Ford – 8
Struggled last week, so we needed to see much more and boy did he deliver. Eventually cranked it up to brilliant effect at 9-16 after coming on for Arundell.

23 Max Malins – No Rating
Given just the last eight minutes in place of Lawrence.

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